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How to Apply for VA Benefits For Spouses & Dependents?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a broad range of benefits to veterans, their dependents and caregivers through the Veterans Benefits Administration. Following President Lincoln’s pledge to “care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan”, VA’s mission is to take good care of Americans who sacrificed themselves to defend their country and everything it stands for.1

Just like in the US Army, VA relies on “compassion, commitment, excellence, professionalism, integrity, accountability, and stewardship” to honor US veterans whether they are active, awaiting deployment or discharged from the force (other than dishonorable). VA’s aim is to provide American veterans with high-quality benefits that are comparable to those offered in the private sector and in some cases better.1

Benefits that are offered to veterans and members of their families through the VA extent to:2

  • Education opportunities.
  • Disability compensation.
  • Health care including services inside nursing homes, clinics, and other medical centers.
  • Vocational rehabilitation services and employment.
  • Pensions.
  • Home loan.
  • Insurance.
  • Compensation payments for disabilities or death related to military service.
  • Burial and memorial benefits.

What Are VA Benefits?

If you are a veteran, or a family member of a veteran, like a spouse, a child, or a parent of a deceased or disabled veteran, you may be eligible to apply for VA benefits programs. You might also be eligible for some form of support if you are a caregiver who is looking after a veteran, both for yourself and to be able to take better care of the veteran. VA provides benefits that cover fields like health, education, employment, as well as survivor benefits, and benefits that apply in case of death.3

VA Health Benefits

VA health benefits are designed to cover most of the healthcare-related services of veterans and their beneficiaries. Since each individual’s health situation differs, every veteran will receive a unique combination of medical benefits. They will extend to medical services aimed to treat and provide help with:4

  • Injuries.
  • Illnesses.
  • Enhancement of quality of life.
  • Improvement in ability to function.
  • Identifying and preventing future health related issues.

In practice, this means that benefits and coverage will extend to things like preventative care, including services such as:3

  • Health screenings that aim to assess the overall health situation and diagnose potential problems.
  • Health education which includes mental health, substance abuse, nutrition and healthy living.
  • Immunization and vaccination against infectious diseases like coronavirus and seasonal flu.
  • Counseling about certain genetic predispositions and diseases that might be part of familial legacy.

VA benefits will provide coverage for inpatient treatment in hospital settings, including:3

  • Surgical procedures that are deemed necessary.
  • Medical treatments that must be provided inside a medical facility, like kidney dialysis.
  • Acute hospital care that encompasses emergency, critical, and urgent treatment for severe medical conditions or short-term after-surgical care and stabilization.
  • Specialized care, like organ transplants, intensive care for treatment of mental and physical challenges, or severe and traumatic injuries.

These benefits are provided through the program called TRICARE. TRICARE is a healthcare program that provides coverage to military personnel and their beneficiaries around the world. It combines Military Health System (MHS) resources with civilian healthcare providers in order to offer the best possible health related solutions to its recipients.5

TRICARE is managed by the Defense Health Agency that is part of the Department of Defense (DOD). MHS operates an integrated global system of military hospitals and clinics that works closely with Department of Defense and civilian providers to give its members an option to choose the best and most comprehensive treatment to fully address their healthcare needs.4

CHAMPVA, or Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs, is a VA run health benefits program that eases the burden on eligible beneficiaries by sharing the cost of health care services. It’s managed by the Veterans Health Administration Office of Community Care (VHA OCC) from offices in Denver, Colorado. VHA OCC verifies eligibility, authorizes benefits, and processes medical claims.6

Since the adoption of The Affordable Care Act (ACA), health care coverage was extended and codified to improve the quality, availability, and affordability of health coverage for Americans, including veterans and their beneficiaries. It defines essential health benefits and minimum standards that all health plans must ensure under the name of “minimum essential coverage”. It identifies CHAMPVA as a program that meets these requirements.7

It’s important to note that CHAMPVA is a program for those who aren’t eligible for TRICARE. CHAMPVA is not a program for veterans, but provides coverage to spouses and children of veterans that fall under one of these categories:7

  • Permanently and totally disabled as a result of service-related disability.
  • Deemed permanently and totally disabled as a consequence of service-connected condition at the time of death.
  • Died as a consequence of a service-connected disability.
  • Died while on active duty and their dependents don’t meet eligibility criteria for TRICARE benefits.

Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC) is for people who take care of veterans and covers eligible veterans who have incurred or aggravated an already serious injury while fulfilling their duty before May 7, 1975 or after September 11, 2001. PCAFC provides resources, support, education, financial stipend, and if eligible a health insurance and beneficiary travel to people that are taking care of veterans.8

To be eligible for this program, you must provide a veteran with personal care services that make their lives easier, including:8

  • Assistance with their everyday needs and activities like bathing, dressing, meals, and help with toileting.
  • Giving them instructions in their daily living environment.
  • Maintaining their overall health and general mental and physical well-being.
  • Taking care of their safety.

VA Education Benefits

VA benefits programs also include education benefits that aid and assist eligible veterans and their families with educational and training issues, such as:9

  • Helping them find the appropriate school.
  • Paying for college tuition.
  • Hooking them up with various vocational and skills training programs.
  • Offering career counseling and advice.

Educational benefits for veteran’s dependents and survivors are called Chapter 35 benefits and are a part of Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program. Through this program, beneficiaries receive a monthly payment for 36 to 45 months, which is meant to cover the costs of:10

  • Educational and career counseling.
  • College and graduate degrees.
  • Various courses that offer career-training certificates.
  • Certain apprenticeships.
  • On-the-job training.

VA Employment Benefits

For veterans who experienced a service-connected disability that prevents them from working or impairs their ability to work, VA offers the Veteran Readiness and Employment program. Also known as Chapter 31 and VR&E, this program provides help to veterans in searching for potential employment opportunities as well as aiding them with potential educational or job training requirements. Family members and dependants are also potential beneficiaries of this program.11

The Veteran Readiness and Employment program offers 5 support-and-services tracks that are designed to help veterans in finding and keeping a job, getting a suitable education or training to do so and, ultimately, live as independent members of the community. These 5 tracks or options are:12

  • Reemployment track that helps veterans return to their previous jobs.
  • Rapid Access to Employment track that takes into account veterans existing job skills and helps them find employment.
  • Self-Employment track that helps veterans who want to become entrepreneurs and start their own business.
  • Employment Through Long-Term Services that aids veterans by providing them with education and job training needed to start working in a different field.
  • Independent Living track is for those who are unable to return to work right away but who may qualify for independent living services that will restore their daily-living activities.

For dependents and family members of veterans who suffer from service-connected disability, VA offers Personalized Career Planning and Guidance, also known as Chapter 36, which takes care of educational and career counseling benefits. Chapter 36 benefits provide help with:13

  • Exploring dependents skills and interests.
  • Charting a possible path to employment.
  • Optimizing the use of available VA benefits.

VA Survivor Benefits

Surviving spouses, children, and parents of service members may be eligible for tax-free monetary benefit provided by VA called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (VA DIC). The exact amount individuals receive will depend on the type of survivor they are. There is also the option of Survivors Pension in the form of monthly payments to surviving spouses and unmarried dependent children of wartime Veterans. All applicants must meet certain income and net worth limits that are set by the US Congress.14, 15

VA Death Benefits

VA helps veterans and their family members plan and pay for a burial, memorial service and other death benefits in a VA national cemetery. Family members will also have an option of ordering memorial items that are meant to honor their loved ones’ service to the country. Burial benefits that are available at no cost to the family include:16

  • A gravesite in a National cemetery.
  • Ceremonial opening and closing of the grave.
  • Commemorative government headstone.
  • Maintenance and perpetual care of the burial site.
  • A marker, medallion, burial flag, or a Presidential Memorial Certificate.

Burial benefits that are available to spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery include:16

  • Burial with the Veteran.
  • Inscription of spouse or dependents name, date of birth, and date of death on veteran’s headstone at no cost to the family.
  • Perpetual care.
  • The possibility for spouses and dependents to be buried even in cases when their death precedes the veterans.

What Are VA Benefits For Spouses?

In addition to above listed benefits, spouses have the option of Fry Scholarship, named after Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry. It’s reserved for children and spouses of veterans that died in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001. It applies to veterans who served in the Armed Forces, or who were members of the Selected Reserve and died from a service-connected disability.17

Fry Scholarship provides up to 36 months of benefits, including:17

  • Money for tuition (covering full tuition at in-state public schools and up to $22,805.34 per year at private or out-of-state schools).
  • Money for housing while studying.
  • Money for study related books and supplies.

If you are eligible to apply for both DEA and Fry Scholarship programs, you’ll need to decide which program you prefer but keep in mind that you won’t be able to change your mind after you’ve made the decision. There is an exception for individuals whose parent died in the line of duty before August 1, 2011, since they are eligible for both programs. They can get up to 81 months of full-time training, on the condition that they use only one program at a time.17

Who Is Eligible for VA Benefits?

If you did your duty in the active military, naval or air service and didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge you are eligible to apply for VA health care benefits. Current and former members of the Reserves or National Guard who took part in active duty by a federal order and completed the full period for which they were called are also eligible.18

Minimum duty requirements state that you are eligible to receive benefits if:19

  • You were discharged due to a disability that was caused or aggravated by your active-duty service.
  • You were discharged for hardship or got an “early out”.
  • You served prior to September 7, 1980.
  • You enlisted after September 7, 1980, or served actively after October 16, 1981, and completed 24 continuous months of service or the full period for which you were called to active duty.

Will VA Spouse Benefits Cover For Drug And Alcohol Rehab?

Substance abuse among veterans is a widespread issue in the US. Due to stressful and life-threatening experiences they represent one of the most vulnerable segments of the population when it comes to substance abuse. According to some research 1 in every 10 veterans suffers from some form of substance misuse, with alcohol being the most common substance misused.20

Being fully aware of this issue, the VA offers veterans and their spouses the option of choosing an appropriate addiction treatment program that will best match their individual mental health situation. VA Spouse Benefits will cover for up to 3 substance abuse treatment procedures during the course of their life time through CHAMPVA benefits program in a TRICARE approved or Medicaid certified facility.21

According to their medical needs, spouses can choose between:21

  • Outpatient rehabilitation, including individual, family and group therapy sessions.
  • Detoxification in an inpatient facility under medical supervision, with the service being limited to seven day stay per admission.
  • Inpatient or partial hospitalization rehabilitation programs, which are limited to no more than 1 inpatient stay during a single benefit period of up to 21 days.

Will VA Health Benefits Provide Coverage for Mental Health Treatment?

Treatment coverage for mental health issues is considered in the US as an essential health benefit according to the definition by ACA. On average, veterans more often suffer from mental health challenges than other segments of the US population. Most common mental health conditions that veterans have issues with are PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. VA health benefits programs like TRICARE and CHAMPVA will provide coverage for proven mental health treatment.22

Can I Lose My VA Benefits For Drug Use?

VA recognizes that drug use and substance abuse more broadly is not an uncommon issue among the veteran population. Substance abuse is considered as mental health issues that can be related to other conditions like PTSD and depression. If you struggle with substance use VA won’t be taking away your benefits and will offer you several options of proven addiction treatments.23

Some of the available addiction rehabilitation options that VA offers are:23

  • Detoxification which uses FDA approved medication for safe treatment of substance use.
  • Drug substitution therapies that utilize medicines in order to reduce cravings.
  • Nicotine replacement to treat tobacco use.
  • Outpatient counseling programs.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment.
  • Self-help group therapy.
  • Inpatient programs and residential (live-in) care.
  • Continuing care for relapse prevention.

How To Apply for VA Benefits?

If you meet previously stated eligibility requirements and you want to apply for VA benefits, you’ll need to have the following:24

  • Social Security numbers for you, your spouse, and your other qualified dependents.
  • Military discharge documents (DD214 or other military separation files).
  • Insurance card information for you and your spouse, including Medicare, private insurance, or insurance provided by your employer.
  • Gross household income from the previous calendar year for you and all your dependents.
  • Your deductible expenses for the past year, including various health care and education costs.

After you collected all the required documentation, you can apply in 4 different ways:24

  • By phone, calling a toll-free hotline at 877-222-8387, Monday to Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
  • By mail, filling out an Application for Health Benefits form, also known as VA Form 10-10EZ. Application should be sent to the address:  Health Eligibility Center 2957 Clairmont Rd., Suite 200 Atlanta, GA 30329.
  • In person, by filling out an Application for Health Benefits (VA Form 10-10EZ) and then going to your nearest VA medical center or clinic. 
  • Apply with the help of a trained professional called an accredited representative, who will guide you through the application process. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does Spouse Get VA Disability Benefits After Death?

No veteran’s disability compensation payments will be discontinued for a surviving spouse after his death. However, surviving spouses and children may be entitled to receive a monetary tax-free benefit called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (or VA DIC).14

Are VA Benefits Taxable?

In short, no they aren’t taxable. Since Department of Veterans Affairs’ benefits are tax-free, listing them on your tax return slip isn’t necessary.15

How Long Does It Take to Get VA Survivor Benefits?

It’s hard to say since the VA processes survivors benefit claims in the order they receive them. There are certain cases that might proceed faster than usual if the claim requires priority processing.15

Do I Need Health Insurance if I Have VA Benefits?

No, because whether you have health insurance or not won’t affect the VA health care benefits you are entitled to. But, you’ll need healthcare insurance for treatment of your non-service-related conditions (illnesses and injuries that aren’t connected to your military service).26

Are All Veterans Eligible for VA Benefits?

All persons who served in the active military, naval, and air force and who were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, as well as qualifying Reserve and National Guard members will be eligible to apply for VA health care benefits.1