Response: VA does offer survivor benefitsNov 22, 2021 02:35PM ● By Teddi Kulkoski, Denver VBA Regional Office
I’m writing in response to the op-ed published on October 25th, titled, “Opinion: Suicide should not affect VA survivor benefits.” In it, Mr. Jarnig writes, “…if an active-duty military person or a veteran dies from suicide, by rule their spouse and minor children lose all benefits. No survivor benefits, period—even if the soldier was being treated for PTSD”.
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) very mission is to “Care for him who shall have borne the battle, and his widow, and his orphan.” Congress has mandated VA to compassionately consider each claim for benefits. As a categorical statement, Mr. Jarnig’s statement is not accurate. Suicide as the cause of death does not automatically exclude survivors from entitlement to benefits.
VA provides benefits to survivors and dependents of veterans who have passed, even in tragic cases of suicide. According to VA regulations, the surviving spouse may be eligible for benefits if VA can connect the suicide to a service-connected illness or injury—the very same consideration afforded to any survivor applying for VA benefits.
When the death is determined to be service-connected, the surviving spouse and dependent children are eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Education Benefits, Loan Guaranty and other survivor benefits (38 CFR 3.302). If a death is not ruled to be service-connected, some survivor benefits are denied. However, basic burial and insurance benefits, such as Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI), are still payable.
VA Burial Allowances are flat-rate monetary benefits to help cover eligible veterans’ burial and funeral costs. Generally, they are paid at the maximum amount allowed by law. Claimants may seek reconsideration of any adverse VA decision using the administrative process managed by the Veterans Benefits Administration and may also file a formal appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Even though the rate of suicide among veterans decreased from 2018 to 2019, veteran suicide is a national tragedy. VA Secretary Denis McDonough is a forceful advocate for victims of suicide and its causes: “Suicide prevention remains a top priority for VA, with the most significant amount of resources ever appropriated and apportioned to VA suicide prevention. Suicide is preventable, and everyone has a role to play in saving lives.”
To learn more about VA regulations that govern these benefits, resources are available at www.va.gov/opa/persona/dependent_survivor.asp. In addition, veterans can speak individually with a VA benefits counselor over the phone by scheduling an appointment with a local counselor.
The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans and service members in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential 24/7 toll-free hotline, online chat, or text. Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.
Teddi Kulkoski is the Director’s Office CMA and Public Affairs Officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration Denver Regional Office located in Lakewood, CO.