The VA’s Dependents Indemnity Compensation Benefit
By Thom Stoddert, 2/17th Cav, 1970
There seems to be a lot of confusion on the subject of benefits for the widows of those veterans who were totally disabled prior to their passing. I am writing this article, not because I am trying to embarrass anyone or any organization. However, there may be many widows of totally disabled veterans that were given the wrong information from a military retiree services office. In this case my wife was told that the VA’s rating of Individual Unemployability is not a total disability rating, and thus she and others would never be eligible for any further benefits than a pension and that only if they were poor enough.
A widow is eligible for the VA’s Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits if the veteran had a total disability rating and meets certain time criteria. The information concerning the VA’s total disability ratings, from the VA’s Benefits Handbook is not clear. The information distributed by the Dept. of Defense’s military retiree services may be presented incorrectly.
A VA rating of either Individual Unemployability or Schedular 100 %, are both separate paths to achieve the same purpose and are essentially the same. They are both total (permanent) disability ratings and they provide monetary benefits. The confusion lies with the interpretation of what a total disability rating is. I sincerely hope the following helps someone.
“38 CFR § 4.16 Total disability ratings for compensation based on unemployability of the individual.
‘Total disability ratings for compensation may be assigned where the schedular rating is less than total, when the disabled person is, in the judgment of the rating agency, unable to secure or follow a substantially gainful occupation as a result of service-connected disabilities:’”
“Considering Entitlement to DIC Under the Provisions of 38 U.S.C. 1318
‘Pay Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) under the provisions of 38 U.S.C. 1318 to a surviving spouse or children in the same manner as if the death were service-connected (SC), if a veteran was in receipt of, or entitled to receive, compensation for a totally disabling SC disability…
Important: A total rating based on individual unemployability (IU) meets the total disability requirement under 38 CFR 3.22.’”
Translated, this means that when a veteran is unable to work because of service connected medical condition(s); the VA can award a total disability rating to the veteran just as if they had been rated at a schedular 100% disabled. This total disability rating is called Individual Unemployability (IU). Later on this can provide benefits to surviving family members.
What is IU? It is a benefit for a vet when they have a rated medical condition at only 70%, or has at least two service connected medical issues, one at 60% and another at 40% or higher. Then the veteran must show that he or she is unable to be reasonably employed by completing VA form 21-8940.
Now for the surviving spouse/children, the monetary benefits from either of the total disability ratings can be continued on for the widowed spouse through the VA’s Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program. There are three scenarios for the benefit, only one must be met under 38 CFR 3.22 and 38 CFR 4.16
Scenario 1: the veteran must have died in the service for any reason other than for misconduct.
Scenario 2: to have died for any reason, after five years, if discharged from the service with a total disability rating.
Scenario 3: to have died for any reason, after ten years, when having been continuously rated during that time with a total disability
In summary- there is more than one total disability rating; there is the 100% schedular rating and there is the Individual Unemployability rating. The first is computed by using VA math to count up the disabilities so to arrive at 100% and that is the subject for a future article. The second is achieved by evidence showing the veteran cannot work because of service connected medical issues. Both provide benefits to surviving spouses and in some cases the children.
To illustrate all of this - a sailor who has injured his cervical spine while on active duty is an example. The sailor leaves the Navy and the VA grants service connection for the ruptured spinal disks in his neck. After working twenty or so years, the veteran is forced to leave all employment as the spinal injury has worsened with age. He applies for Individual Unemployability from the VA and is awarded that total disability rating with evidence clearly showing he cannot work, though the veteran is rated at only 70%.
Some twelve years later he passes away from a heart attack which may or may not be related to the cervical spine problem. The veteran’s spouse can be granted benefits under the DIC program because the veteran was given a total disability rating that lasted over ten years. In time she ages and requires skilled medical care. The DIC payments are elevated to the levels of housebound and/or aid & attendance for additional monetary support.
Please note that at each stage the veteran, surviving children, and/or spouse must make application to the VA. Never assume that benefits will come automatically. Also, be aware there are “fantasy” advocacy groups with designs on your wallet. So stay in contact with the VA’s Regional Office and/or use the free services of a federally chartered veteran service organization. Also, be sure to look at the state Department of Veteran Affairs where you live when searching for help.