My name is Jennifer Caldwell Byrd. I’m an attorney here at Gardberg and Kemmerly where I handle veteran’s disability cases. I wanted to talk to you briefly today about the importance of making sure that the VA has been notified of your dependence if you’re receiving disability benefits. If you meet requirements and notify the VA of your dependence, you can also claim benefits for those same dependents. There’re questions that I hear fairly often and I’ll answer some of those today and hopefully it’ll help you regarding this issue.
You may see me looking back and forth because I have a list of a few things to talk to you about. We’ll make sure that I don’t miss anything. The first question that I hear is the basic one. What are the requirements that I have to be met in order for dependence to be a part of the claim? In order for eligibility for dependent additional compensation, the statute requires the veteran has to establish two facts, that he or she is entitled to section 1114 compensation. Basically this is your disability benefits. And two, that his or her disability is right at at least 30%. If you meet those two requirements then you can move to the next step.
Now the second question that I get asked is what happens if I don’t meet the percentage that’s required for those benefits? It does not matter. You should always go ahead and file a declaration of status of dependence from very early on. Even if you’ve not met that 30% rating that you’re trying to get your claim up to. That way when the VA hopefully grants a higher rating on a pending claim or an appeal, the information regarding your dependence is already in the VA claims file and it will be included in your award more quickly.
The third question I get asked is who are dependents? There’s three different categories of dependence. The first category is a spouse as a dependent. In order to have your spouse as a dependent there must be a legal valid marriage. There’s actually three different ways that you can be legally valid marriage. The first is that traditional ceremonial wedding that we all think about. The second one is the common law marriage, but you have to live in a state of residency that acknowledges that common laws actually exist. The third one is same sex marriage also counts as a marriage for VA benefits.
Now generally the VA is going to rely on the information that you give them regarding your marriage as long as you provide certain things like the date, the month, the year that you got married, or maybe when your common law marriage began, the full name of the other person and social security number of other person.
The second category dependents is your child. This may seem like an easy one, but it’s actually fairly inclusive. The child of a veteran can be a biological child, an adoptive child, but it also can be your step-child if that child lives with you full-time. Your child has to be unmarried and has to be under the age 18 or under the age of 23 and they have to be in school.
There are some special circumstances for children that are over the age of 23. It would have to be with disabilities that that child has, but those are special circumstances and would have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Keep in mind that the VA is going to keep up with the age of your child. When your child is about to turn 18 or turns 18 the VA’s going to send you a letter that says your child is 18, they’re coming off of your benefits.
What you would have to do is make sure that you submit the required information to the VA to show that your child is either in high school or in college or a trade school so that they won’t be removed from the award.
The third category of dependents is parents, and this is someone that most people don’t think of, but your parents actually can be considered as dependents for VA purposes. In order to qualify as a dependent parent the veteran has to show that their parent’s income and net worth is not sufficient to meet their basic needs. The income and net worth can usually be offset by showing really high expenses and a lot of times that ends up being medical care that’s not covered or reimbursed by insurance. There’s a different form that you have to fill out for your parents called a statement dependency of parents. If you file that you provide that information to the VA, then your parents can be considered dependents as well.
The fourth question that I usually get asked is how far back will the award for your dependents go? Well, 38 USC 51 10 section F, does an award of additional compensation on account the dependents based on the establishment of a disability rating and the percentage of valuation specified by law for the purpose shall be payable from the effective date of such a rating, but only if proof of dependents is received within one year from the date of notification of such rating action.
Basically that was a lot of legal mumbo jumbo that I just read you because that’s what the law looks like in veterans disability law. What it means is that whatever your effective date is for your rating, if that rating is at least 30% that’s going to be the date that the dependent benefits would start, but you must file a declaration of status of dependents form or for the parents, the statement of dependency of parents, within one year of receiving that award.
That’s why it’s really important to get that information in as soon as possible even before your claim is decided because you want it there within the VA so that they can have the same effective date as you. Keep in mind, should you get married after the awards given or if you have a child or adopt a child or a step-child comes to live with you, but it’s been over a year since the date of that award, you’ll need to immediately file all the forms with the VA for your new dependents to be covered as well. In those cases, it’s not going to go all the way back to your effective date, but it will go from the date of the marriage or the birth that the child started to live with you.
The fifth question that I usually get asked is, is it really that important to let the VA know about the change in the status of my dependence? I will tell you it is extremely, extremely important to let the VA know what’s going on and keep them up to date on accurate information for your dependents. You need to notify the VA of any marital status changes or the death of a family involving one of your dependents. Because keep in mind, that if the VA finds out that you continue to receive compensation for a former spouse or a dependent that you should not have been receiving money for, it could significantly impact your future money. The VA would work with something called the Debt Management Center to collect the money back that was paid out incorrectly. Usually they do that by withholding a certain amount from your monthly checks until the full amount’s paid in full. You definitely do not want to owe the VA when the VA owes you for your disability claim already.
Those are the top five questions that I get asked regarding dependence of VA’s claims. Now, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today and this is a very important subject because it seems like such a simple thing, but a lot of people overlook it. It could have a really large impact on your disability claim.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about your veterans disability claim. My name once again is Jennifer Caldwell Byrd. Our number here at Gardberg and Kemmerly is 251-343-1111. You can also contact us on our 800 number, which is 1-800-332-1529 or look us up on the web at www.gardberglaw.com and talk to any one of our experienced veterans disability attorneys. We’d like to be able to help you with your claim if we can. Now, as always, I appreciate your service and I want to thank you for this opportunity.