How does one apply for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)?

For some veterans deaths, DIC is automatic and the Regional Office will recognize from its records and from a death certificate that a benefit is forthcoming. The surviving spouse will receive an application to apply for benefits. For others the benefit is not automatic.

There are a number of ways to create entitlement to DIC.

  1. The veteran died while on active service
  2. The veteran had a service-connected disability or disabilities that were either the principal or contributory cause of the veteran’s death
  3. The veteran died from non service-connected injury or disease AND was receiving, or entitled to receive VA Compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally disabling (rated 100% or TDIU) for at least 10 years immediately before death;
  4. The veteran died from non service-connected injury or disease AND was receiving, or entitled to receive VA Compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally disabling (rated 100% or TDIU) for at least 5 years after the veteran's release from active duty preceding death;
  5. The veteran died from non service-connected injury or disease AND was receiving, or entitled to receive VA Compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally disabling (rated 100% or TDIU) for at least 1 year before death, if the veteran was a former prisoner of war who died after September 30, 1999.

It is important to note that total disability for purposes of DIC means either a rating of 100% or being totally disabled due to individual unemployability (TDIU). This alternative allows a veteran rated 60% or more for a single disability or 70% or more for combined disabilities (with at least one at 40%) to qualify due to unemployability for the 100% rating.

Understanding the Different Types of Claims

The different benefit triggers for receiving DIC result in 4 different options for filing applications for the benefit. Although all claims for DIC have certain elements that are common, each of these options has a different approach to making application that is beyond these common elements. Here are the 4 types of claims.

  1. Automatic Benefit
    The veteran was on claim for Disability Compensation and was married to a surviving spouse when the veteran died. The veteran did meet one of the three non-service-connected death requirements at 100% disability or TDIU above and as such the benefit should be automatically awarded based on filing VA Form 21P-534EZ for DIC.
  2. The Veteran Was on Claim for Compensation and the Death Was Service Connected
    The veteran was on claim for Disability Compensation and was married to a surviving spouse when the veteran died. The veteran did not meet any of the requirements for non-service-connected death for the automatic benefit of total disability, but the death certificate shows that the service-connected disability was the primary or contributory cause to the death.
  3. The Veteran Was Receiving Compensation but the Death Certificate Was Deficient
    The veteran was on claim for Disability Compensation and was married to a surviving spouse when the veteran died. The veteran did not meet any of the requirements for non-service-connected death for the automatic benefit of total disability. The service-connected disability was the primary or contributory cause to the death. However the death certificate fails to identify the service-connected disability as a cause of death.
  4. The Veteran was not on Claim for Compensation but Death Was Service-Connected
    The veteran was not on claim for Disability Compensation and was married to a surviving spouse when the veteran died. A claim for Disability Compensation was never made while the veteran was alive, but the surviving spouse believes that the death was caused by an injury, exposure or illness incurred during service that is presumed to be service-connected. This type of claim could be very feasible if the veteran was in Vietnam and exposed to Agent Orange and died as a result of one of the presumptive conditions for Agent Orange such as type II diabetes or arteriosclerotic heart disease. However, the veteran never made claim while the veteran was alive.

Elements Common to All Four Claims for DIC

  1. You must submit a death certificate for the deceased veteran for a claim for DIC. If the veteran died under circumstances where there is no death certificate or has been missing and presumed dead, there are equivalent ways to establish death. There is VA Form 21-1775 – Statement of Disappearance, on the Claim Support Disc if the veteran has been missing and presumed dead for seven years or longer. VA will accept that as evidence of death if the absence is of this length or longer. For alternative evidence of death, refer to the section above. See regulation above for alternative proof of death.
  2. A copy of the marriage license is required for application for DIC. It may not be required for other applications for other benefits, but it is in this case. If a marriage license is not available there are alternative ways to establish a marriage relationship.
  3. Entitlement to DIC will be from the first day of the month in which the veteran died if a claim is made within one year of the date of the veteran’s death.
  4. If a claim is made beyond one year of the date of the veteran’s death, entitlement will from the date on which the claim was received.

Obtaining Evidence of the Death

We discussed in a previous section how under Title 38 CFR 3.211 evidence of death is determined. In almost all cases, evidence will be provided through a civil record death certificate. The following is a description from Wikipedia concerning a death certificate.

Nature of a certificate
Each governmental jurisdiction prescribes the form of the document for use in its preview and the procedures necessary to legally produce it. One purpose of the certificate is to review the cause of death to determine if foul-play occurred as it can rule out an accidental death or a murder going by the findings and ruling of the medical examiner. It may also be required in order to arrange a burial or cremation to provide prima facie evidence of the fact of death, which can be used to prove a person's will or to claim on a person's life insurance. Lastly, death certificates are used in public health to compile data on leading causes of death among other statistics (See: Descriptive statistics)

Before issuing a death certificate, the authorities usually require a certificate from a physician or coroner to validate the cause of death and the identity of the deceased. In cases where it is not completely clear that a person is dead (usually because their body is being sustained by life support), a neurologist is often called in to verify brain death and to fill out the appropriate documentation. The failure of a physician to immediately submit the required form to the government (to trigger issuance of the death certificate) is often both a crime and cause for loss of one's license to practice. This is because of past scandals in which dead people continued to receive public benefits or voted in elections.[1] Death certificates may also be issued pursuant to a court order or an executive order in the case of individuals who have been declared dead in absentia. Missing persons and victims of mass disasters (such as the sinking of the RMS Lusitania) may be issued death certificates in one of these manners.

In some jurisdictions, a police officer or a paramedic may be allowed to sign a death certificate under specific circumstances. This is usually when the cause of death seems obvious and no foul play is suspected, such as in extreme old age. In such cases, an autopsy is rarely performed. This varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; in some areas police officers may sign death certificates for victims of SIDS,[citation needed] but in others all deaths of individuals under 18 must be certified by a physician. Accident deaths where there is no chance of survival (decapitations, for instance) may be certified by police or paramedics, but autopsies are still commonly performed if there is any chance that alcohol or other drugs played a role in the accident.

A full explanation of the cause of death includes four items:
• the immediate cause of death, such as the heart stopping,
• the intermediate causes, which triggered the immediate cause, such as a myocardial infarction,
• the underlying causes, which triggered the chain of events leading to death, such as atherosclerosis, and
• any other diseases and disorders the person had at the time of death, even though they did not directly cause the death.[2]

Here is the top portion of the standard form a version of which should be used by all jurisdictions . This form is issued by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). We provide this sample in order to show that not only the primary cause of death should be listed, but any contributing conditions to the death should also be listed. This form as should be the case with most state death certificates has spaces for at least 3 causes of death. Having a complete cause of death with contributing conditions is extremely important for a claim for DIC which is not automatic.

U.S. Standard Certificate of Death

 

The Case Where the Death Certificate Is Deficient

This problem arises where the primary cause of death was not service-connected, but underlying causes or contributing causes were service-connected. For example, type II diabetes from exposure to herbicide is a presumptive service connected condition and the veteran may have been on claim or even not have been on claim for diabetes. If not on claim for diabetes and the record shows the veteran was stationed in Vietnam, the Regional Office will infer service connection for the purpose of granting DIC but not necessarily grant an award. This is because diabetes by itself is not often a cause for death. The death could be due to heart failure or any number of organ failures brought on by the diabetes. In this example, if the death certificate were complete and the relationship between the diabetes and the actual cause of death were certified to be connected, there would likely be an award for DIC. On the other hand, in this example, if the death certificate were not complete, there would be no award.

In the case where the government issuing authority uses an incomplete death certificate which does not list all of the contributing causes, or the contributing causes are not filled in for some reason, we can help you to submit a claim where the primary cause of death would not be considered service-connected by VA, but the death is actually service-connected.

You may have to provide alternate evidence of death as outlined in Title 38 CFR 3.211. For this you will either need an amended death certificate that shows the alternate cause of death or you will need a medical opinion from the treating physician or attending physician of the deceased veteran that supports a contributing cause of death not listed on the death certificate. Getting an amended death certificate with alternate cause of death may be a difficult task due to the demanding requirements for this option from various states. Getting a medical opinion is generally the easiest way to go about providing the evidence.

Death Caused by Treatment at a VA Medical Facility

VA will also help you develop a claim for DIC that is not automatic if the veteran was treated at a VA medical center prior to his or her death and the treatment record could be tied to the death. In this case make sure you fill out this portion of the VA Form 21P-534EZ shown below.

Section VI

 

Death Suspected to Be Direct Service-Connected and Not Presumed Service-Connected

A direct service-connected Compensation claim has to be proved through evidence such as medical evidence from service treatment records or combat related injuries or illnesses that later resulted in disability or disease after discharge. In order to be entitled to Compensation from direct service connection, the veteran would need to be alive to submit a VA Form 21-526EZ. Direct service connection supposedly cannot be established in any other way. A deceased veteran cannot establish direct service connection. On the other hand, presumed service connection does not require submitting evidence for service connection. It is presumed and therefore there would be no need to submit a VA Form 21-526EZ. It is also the case that secondary service connection which was never claimed but which was a contributing cause of death could actually trigger the underlying service-connected rating without filing a 526 EZ. This of course would require extensive medical records as well as a doctors opinion.

Even though regulations require that the proper form be used to establish direct service connection, it might be possible to bypass those rules by establishing direct service connection through submitting a VA Form 21-534EZ if the link between the in-service incident and death from direct service connection is pretty clear. For example, asbestos exposure is known to produce certain types of cancer and if the veteran was exposed in service and died from one of these cancers, it would only take certain records and a medical opinion to establish that. That direct service connection theoretically could be established through filing a VA Form 21-534EZ.

The only definitive possibility for establishing direct service connection for a deceased veteran is when the veteran died while awaiting a decision for direct service connection. This can certainly happen and one of our case studies on the Claim Support Disc is based on a real claim where this happened. It took several years to get the claim adjudicated and the veteran died along the way. His wife took over as a substitute claimant and eventually received an award with all of the back payment due. In addition, she received the $2,000 burial benefit for a service-connected death and she received entitlement to DIC for the rest of her life.


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