Question number 16 on VA Form 21-534 EZ asks the applicant what benefit they want to apply for.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers three choices: Death and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension, and Accrued Benefits.
Naturally the VA doesn’t provide clear guidance on what box to check. Before I tell you why it may not matter what box you check, I’ll explain what each choice means.
Death and Indemnity Compensation, or DIC, is not Aid and Attendance. DIC is compensation. Compensation is not a means tested benefit, which means income and net worth aren’t eligibility issues. The applicant could have five million dollars in the bank and still be eligible for this benefit.
DIC is given to the surviving spouse of a veteran who dies during service or as a result of an injury related to that service. It’s a bit more complicated, but those are the basics. If the veteran wasn’t injured during service or a pre-existing injury wasn’t exacerbated due to service, the spouse isn’t eligible for DIC.
Death Pension isn’t quite Aid and Attendance, but anyone who wants Aid and Attendance benefits should check this box.
Applicants are often confused by this choice because the surviving spouse is not deceased. The “death” part of Death Pension refers to the veteran’s death, not the surviving spouse.
Accrued benefits are benefits that were owed to a decedent, but never paid. The benefits are never paid because the recipient dies before the VA disburses the benefits. These benefits can be claimed by certain people and under specific conditions.
If the applicant was awarded benefits and then dies before benefits were paid, accrued benefits may be available.
Or even if the veteran wasn’t awarded benefits, but would have been, accrued benefits may be available.
Does It Matter?
But what box you check may not matter. Sometimes, the VA will review the applicant’s eligibility for each benefit, regardless of what box is checked. The VA ought to do that, per law.
Sometimes, however, the VA will send a letter to the applicant that states the VA didn’t review for all three benefits because not all the boxes were checked. I’ve even seen the VA delay the claims process by sending a letter to the surviving spouse asking if she meant to check more than one box.
My best practices dictate only checking the Death Pension box on VA Form 21-534 EZ. Doing so will result in faster award letters.
If you need to know whether your loved one qualifies for Aid and Attendance, and think an experienced advocate can help guide you through the application process, contact VA Legal Team for a free consultation.