We receive quite a few questions on our YouTube channel and emails regarding VA spousal benefits. Many of these questions are from Veterans who are currently receiving DIC (disability indemnity compensation) or VA pension (Aid & Attendance). These Veterans are concerned about their husband or wife receiving VA spousal benefits if something happens to them.
There are several things to consider to determine eligibility for VA spousal benefits. The first thing you need is a qualifying family relationship for your surviving spouse to receive your VA benefits. Remember that a dependent or survivor is not entitled to benefits on their own. Benefit entitlement always belongs to the Veteran and no one else.
Marriage Validation for VA Spousal Benefits
Let’s look at the situation where a Veteran is receiving benefits and then passes. The entitlement of that benefit usually goes to the surviving spouse. But for the VA to recognize you as a surviving spouse, the marriage must have been valid under state law. So we have to provide adequate proof of a valid marriage for that survivor to receive VA spousal benefits.
To determine the validity of a marriage, the VA will consider the state law where you live currently, where you lived at the time of the marriage, or where the Veteran lived at the time when VA benefits were approved. In order to form a marriage under state law, both parties must have been married under no coercion, also called “free to marry.” I like to refer to this as “no shotgun marriage.”
So if you were married by your own free will, then you’re good to go under state law. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a same-sex marriage. As long as the marriage is valid under state law, it’s valid for VA spousal benefits.
When applying for VA benefits (DIC or VA Pension), you also have to prove all prior marriages. This means you have to provide the first and last names of who you or your spouse married and the Social Security number of your current spouse. You then have to provide information regarding how your previous marriage(s) ended. If it was death, you’ll need a death certificate. If it was divorce or annulment, you’ll need court papers showing that.
Why Do I Need All This?
We get this question quite a bit — “Why does the VA care about my prior marriages or the prior marriages of my spouse?” They do this because the VA is trying to determine if your current marriage is valid. Because believe it not, there are people who have multiple outstanding marriages without any official divorce or annulment documents.
We had a client several years ago that was married to two women and planning to marry another. Before we could get him qualified for VA benefits, we had to file the proper documents to get him divorced from his previous two marriages. So you have to show that any prior marriages were ended by death, divorce, or annulment. If they were ended via divorce or annulment, you need court documents to substantiate that. You also have to tell the VA where the prior marriage ended.
As a general rule, the surviving spouse must have been married to the Veteran for at least a year to qualify for VA spousal benefits. There are some exceptions to that rule, however. If you have any questions about that specific time period requirement, send us an email to [email protected] and we’ll be glad to help.
Additional Requirements for VA Spousal Benefits
The one year marriage requirement applies in all cases, even under common law marriage. As you may be aware, common law marriage is not a ceremonial marriage, but a marriage as a result of living together for a certain period of time. Georgia stopped recognizing common law marriages in 1997 and Florida stopped recognizing them in 1968. But if you were living together and acting as husband and wife prior to those dates, the VA will respect your common law marriage for VA spousal benefits.
Another requirement for VA spousal benefits is that you must have continuous cohabitation. This means you can’t be living in separate houses or places, having separate lives. Now I have seen the situation where the husband lived in Georgia and the wife lived in Florida due to job reasons. That was considered acceptable in the eyes of the VA. But you can’t be living separately, having separate lives, and only married for convenience purposes.
VA Spousal Benefits: DIC vs Pension
Now let’s discuss the differences in VA spousal benefits as it relates to DIC versus VA Pension. If the Veteran was receiving DIC, the surviving spouse is entitled to all of those benefits. You just have to make sure you apply in a timely manner with the proper documents in the application.
The amount of VA spousal benefits is a little different with VA Pension, however. Remember this is a benefit for those requiring assistance with the activities of daily living — activities like feeding, bathing, dressing, transportation, financial management, etc. In these cases, we have to provide documentation to the VA that the surviving spouse needs these benefits. Unlike the DIC benefit mentioned above, this is a reduced spousal benefit.
This year (2022) the maximum amount for a couples VA pension is $2,430. A surviving spouse who is a non-Veteran is entitled to the reduced amount of $1,350. So you don’t receive 100% of the benefit like you do with DIC. If you’re the surviving Veteran, the maximum pension is also reduced because you no longer have a dependent. That amount is approximately $1,950.
Contact Us So We Can Help
We hope this discussion of VA spousal benefits has been helpful to you. We always want to honor and help our Veterans, but also honor and help their surviving spouses. If you need assistance qualifying for VA spousal benefits, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (229-226-8183) or send an email to [email protected]. You can also COMPLETE THIS FORM and we’ll contact you to schedule an appointment. If you’d like to see this blog in video format, you can watch it below. Please be sure to SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel and click the bell notification button so that you’re notified each time we publish a new video.