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What Happens to My VA Claim When I Die?

veteran appeal claim after death

It is not always easy to think about dying, but it is important for each veteran to know what happens to pending claims at the Regional Office or Board of Veterans’ Appeals if he or she dies. This post will only discuss VA substitution and what can happen to claims currently before VA when a veteran dies, not what happens if a service-connected disability leads to a veteran’s death. For that, keep your eyes peeled for a coming post about Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. This post will discuss what happens when a veteran initiates or continuously appeals a claim prior to his or her death, and what happens if someone close to them wishes to take the reins and be substituted in the VA process.

First, a claim must have been pending at the time of the veteran’s death. This means that if a claim was never made or the VA issued a final decision for which the appeals period has expired, there is no way for another person to continue the claim. If there was a claim for service connection or higher rating pending when the veteran died, a qualified person can be substituted. 

Once it has been established that a claim was pending, VA then looks to see if the person filing is permitted to be substituted. VA has created a priority order to substituting claimants. This means that, if a person higher on the list to be substituted exists, one lower may not pursue the claim. The person filing to be substituted must file evidence showing he or she is eligible, such as a marriage certificate or birth certificate. The order for potential substitutes who may file is:

  1. His or her spouse
  2. His or her children (in equal shares)
  3. His or her dependent parents (in equal shares) or the surviving parent if there is only one remaining 

If a substitute or substitute class higher on the list does not exist or has passed away, individuals lower on the list become eligible. A note on children—VA offers this preferential view for dependent children. This means that a child in the above scheme must be under 18-years-old, or under 23-years-old and in school. 

If no one in any of these categories are present, the individual who bore the expense of last sickness or burial may file for substitution. However, this person may only be paid the amount necessary to reimburse their expenses. Adult, independent children of a deceased veteran can fall into this category. 

If there is a qualified person, he or she may request to be substituted by filing a 21P-534EZ with the VA Regional Office. They must do this within one year of the veteran’s death. Failure to do so will prevent any grant of any accrued benefits. 

Finally, VA will review the filed paperwork to determine if a person can be substituted. If there was a claim pending, the filing person is eligible, and the proper paperwork was filed on time, VA should grant substitution. Then, the substituted party can continue the claim. He or she can submit evidence, hire an attorney, and continue to appeal the matter until withdrawn or resolved. 

If successful, VA can pay accrued benefits to the enumerated parties. As noted above, if the person filing is not an enumerated party, he or she can only receive reimbursement of expenses spent towards a veteran’s sickness and burial. A veteran’s spouse, children, and dependent parent(s) can be awarded the compensation that would have been awarded were the veteran still alive, up to the date of death. VA calls this the “past-due” benefit. This means that there are no continuing payments, but only a retroactive award. 

If you want to learn more about continuing payments because the veteran’s death was caused by a service-connected disability, please wait for a coming post about Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).