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The loss of a loved one is never easy, particularly for the family of a veteran. Whether their passing occurred during their service or years after their retirement, it can lead to significant emotional and financial challenges. 

To honor their service, the federal government offers dependency and indemnity compensation for certain survivors or service members who passed away due to a service-related injury or illness. Just like with standard VA disability benefits, there are challenges that come with the process of establishing a connection between the death and their military career. 

At Elite Medical Review Associates, we are proud to provide medical consulting services on behalf of the survivors. Often, proving a service connection for the cause of death is the last piece needed to recover dependency and indemnity compensation from the VA.

When are Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Benefits Available?

Dependency and indemnity compensation—commonly referred to as DIC—is paid out as a monthly lump sum to qualifying survivors. That said, only certain family members are entitled to pursue a claim and recover benefits from the government. These benefits are an option for the survivors of: 

  • Service members who died during active duty, inactive duty training, or active duty for training, or
  • Veterans who died from a service-connected injury or disease, or
  • Veterans with long-term service-connected disabilities or former prisoners of war.

If one of these qualifications is met, certain surviving relatives have the opportunity to file a claim with the VA for DIC benefits. Benefits may be available to surviving spouses, children, or parents.

Spouses

Many surviving spouses have the right to seek compensation through the VA, particularly if their spouse died on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. Benefits may also be available for widows or widowers if the veteran passed away due to a service-related injury or illness. In some cases, the couple must have been married for at least one year prior to their passing. 

Benefits might even remain an option for a surviving spouse who has remarried. Eligibility depends on your age and the date you were remarried. For example, you could be entitled to benefits if you were at least 55 and were remarried on or after January 5, 2021. The minimum age for benefits is 57 if you remarried on or after January 1, 2004.

Children

While the children of a deceased veteran may be entitled to DIC benefits, there are strict limitations to be aware of. The parent must have died either in the line of duty or as the result of a service-related injury or illness. What’s more, a child must be either:

  • Under the age of 18, or
  • Between 18 and 23 years of age while currently attending school.

Parents

Surviving parents may also be entitled to DIC benefits in limited situations. These include when their child died in the line of duty or as the result of a service-connected injury or disease.

What if a Service Connection Was Made Prior to A Veteran’s Passing

Every year, many veterans pass away from conditions that have previously been linked to their service. In some instances, veterans may receive VA benefits for years before succumbing to their injury or illness. The path to compensation is much simpler for survivors in this scenario, as the work required to prove a service connection has already been completed. 

It is also worth noting that a successful claim may be possible even if the disabling condition was not what led to the passing of a veteran. Benefits could also be awarded to survivors in cases where a veteran was fully 100 percent disabled for at least 10 years prior to their passing or at least one year if they were a former prisoner of war. In these circumstances, any proof of a service-connected disability rated at the 100 percent rate can lead to a successful DIC claim.

Are Nexus Letters Necessary for DIC Claims?

It is possible that you will need to establish a service connection between your loved one’s death and their service. This is necessary when a veteran passes away due to an injury or illness resulting from their service, but a nexus has not yet been formally recognized by the VA–or they were not rated at 100 percent for 10 years or more prior to their death.

In some cases, veterans pass away while their VA disability case is ongoing. Until a final decision is made, the service connection needed for a successful DIC claim is not present. It may be possible for a survivor to take over the handling of the claim, but this should be done with the support of a VA disability lawyer. 

What matters when it comes to these nexus letters is that they provide a link between a veteran’s service and the disability that ultimately proved to be fatal. These letters are written by medical professionals, who make an opinion based on a combination of patient records and peer-reviewed academic journals.

Who Can Write a VA Nexus Letter?

Nexus letters are typically written by doctors. Any physician or surgeon has the ability to provide a nexus letter to the VA as long as they are medically trained. While this is an option for anyone practicing medicine, countless doctors choose not to. Some have little experience with the VA process, while others prefer to spend their time treating patients directly instead of preparing research for an administrative appeal. 

Thankfully, we can connect you with the perfect expert to help you with your DIC claim. A medical professional can review the records of a veteran in order to determine if their condition is service-related. We frequently work with internal medicine doctors, but in some cases, the support of a specialist might also be appropriate.

It is worth noting that other parties outside of physicians are able to write the claims. For example, a physician assistant goes through much of the same training as a doctor, and they can see their own patients with supervision. They can write your letter, and the same is true for nurse practitioners. Nurse practitioners have advanced nursing degrees and also frequently see patients on their own.  Chiropractors may be used for VA nexus letters if the condition concerns the spine, and in some cases Ph.D.-level professionals can also write VA nexus letters, such as in the fields psychology, toxicology, pharmacology, etc.

The positive of using someone other than a physician or a specialist is that the costs are likely to be lower. The downside is that their opinion may not carry the same weight as a specialist. This is a decision you can weigh with the help of our experienced team.

What is included in a VA Nexus Letter?

A nexus letter is a useful tool for proving that your loved one’s death was related to a condition caused by their military service. These letters, which are written by medical professionals, provide an educated opinion that there was a service connection. The letters start with a statement about the veteran’s health, and they generally review their medical records. 

A letter will also point to peer-reviewed medical journals about the conditions your family member was living with. The medical professional can make their own observations about how that research supports their ultimate conclusion that a veteran’s disability was caused by an event during their time in the military. 

Will a Letter Guarantee DIC Benefits?

Nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to the VA. First and foremost, paying for a VA nexus letter does not guarantee that the conclusion reached by the doctor will be favorable to your case. They have an obligation to give their honest opinion, and in some cases, this might mean being uncertain about the link between a disability and a veteran’s service. 

In general, these claims are only successful when the author of the letter comes to a conclusion that it is as likely as not that the veteran’s condition was the result of a service-related incident. In other words, there must be a 50 percent probability of service connection.

Success is also not certain, even when the language of the letter is strong, convincing, and favorable. There is a subjective aspect to making these determinations, and it is possible that the decision-makers within the VA disagree with the conclusion raised in the nexus letter. 

There are times when a misreading or misunderstanding of the documentation can lead to a denial. In these cases, it is a good idea to seek the guidance of experienced legal counsel. In addition to authoring a nexus letter on your behalf, Elite Medical Review Associates can also recommend trusted lawyers to work on your disability case.

Let Elite Medical Review Associates Help You Obtain a VA Nexus Letter on Your DIC Claim

The passing of a spouse or close family member can be one of the most difficult things you ever experience. Due to their service to our country, you may be entitled to financial support through the form of DIC benefits. 

A nexus letter could be crucial to recovering the benefits you deserve. Let Elite Medical Review Associates help you make your case with a strong medical opinion. Contact us as soon as possible to discuss your options. 

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