Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a specific kind of brain injury that affects about 15% of veterans who served in the Middle East— specifically, operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Global War on Terror suffer greatly from the effects of loneliness, isolation, combat, explosions, and various other symptoms of PTSD. Like other brain injuries, PTSD is a severe condition that requires extensive treatment and care.
A study in the New York Times found that suicide rates among post-9/11 veterans were four times as high as the number of deaths in combat. It is important to note that even if a veteran did not die during combat, their beneficiaries might still be eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits.
However, proving a service connection can be challenging, as with all VA benefit claims. If you have been wrongfully denied DIC benefits and are unsure how to proceed, you can partner with a VA disability lawyer to appeal a denial of benefits or seek back pay if you have recently been granted service connection.
Eligibility for DIC Benefits: Basics
DIC benefits are available to survivors in a few different scenarios:
- The veteran died in the line of duty
- The veteran died because of a service-connected condition or injury
- The veteran’s service-connected condition did not cause their death, but they were rated totally disabled at the time of death:
- for at least 10 years immediately preceding death,
- from the date of discharge and for five years preceding death,
- or for at least one year and were former prisoners of war.
There are a few other requirements to satisfy, including that the veteran cannot have been dishonorably discharged during the period of service in which their condition originated, and their death cannot have been caused by their own willful misconduct.
Most DIC applicants are surviving spouses. These individuals are eligible for benefits if they meet one of the following requirements:
- Married to the veteran at the time of their death
- The marriage took place before 1957
- Married a veteran who died from a service-related injury or disease, if the marriage began within 15 years of discharge
- Had a child with the veteran and cohabitated with the veteran until their death
Divorced spouses are eligible for benefits if the marriage dissolution was a no-fault divorce or the veteran was legally at fault. Divorced spouses who remarry are eligible for DIC benefits in some cases.
Other eligible survivors include children and parents, but the eligibility requirement for these DIC applicants can be stringent.
Proving Service Connection
Usually, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a presumptive illness. Therefore, veterans, or in this case, their survivors, must prove that the veteran’s PTSD was service-related.
The standard of proof is that it must be “as likely as not” — or 50% likelihood — that the veteran’s condition was caused by or originated in service. This is a relatively low burden of proof, and the claimant must get the benefit of the doubt.
Service records may not be enough to establish a service-related connection, even though the burden of proof is so low. Frequently, service records are more like deployment records. These records often contain little or no information about the operations the veteran participated in, to say nothing of the veteran’s role in those operations.
Therefore, in appealing a denial of benefits or seeking additional compensation, many veteran disability attorneys rely on buddy statements to establish this connection. Fellow service members who served alongside the deceased veteran are in an excellent position to provide information about the veteran’s daily activities. Additionally, these witnesses are usually very compelling. They have nothing to gain by coming forward and sharing their stories.
Similarly, military medical records often do not provide a complete picture, so the VA PTSD rating may be inaccurate. Many military doctors are general practice doctors. They are not familiar with the ins and outs of brain injuries, especially since medical science in this area is still emerging.
It is not possible for an independent doctor to examine the veteran, run tests, and form conclusions based on that examination and those results. However, it is possible for an independent doctor to review the medical records in the case and form conclusions based on those records.
Other Survivor Benefits
DIC compensation is not the only way the VA supports surviving family members. Qualifying individuals can also receive educational benefits such as the G.I. Bill, burial benefits for the veteran, health care at VA facilities, and other services.
Appeal with a VA Disability Attorney
An attorney is a valuable partner when appealing a VA decision on disability benefits. For a free consultation with an experienced veterans disability lawyer, contact the Cameron Firm, PC at (800) 861-7262 or fill out the contact form on our website. We are here to represent veterans nationwide.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.