From The Mailbag: Financial Benefits for Widows of Veterans

Many readers write to me, looking for financial assistance for their elderly parents.  In particular, there are many questions about whether there are any financial benefits for widows of veterans.  Here is one such letter, liberally edited to remove personal information:

My Mom is 90 years old. She lives on Social Security and a small pension she receives from being a teacher.

The reason for writing this to you is that I recently saw a re-print of an article by Anne Thompson dated 2/26/07 where she talks about a little known benefit called the “Aid & Attendance Benefit”.  I believe it could help her stay in her home that my Dad built in the 60’s, help pay taxes, maintenance of the aging home, as well as allowing her to age in place.

It would be wonderful, if in any way possible, Mom could receive some compensation for my Dad’s contribution. To date, my Mom (90 years old) has NEVER received any compensation for the service Dad gave for his country.

Your help in this matter would be so appreciated.

This is a pretty typical question regarding the situation of a widow of a veteran who did not retire from the military.  As you know, retirement brings a different set of benefits and rules.  Here’s my reply; please comment if you have additional advice.

Wow!  You’ve asked a slightly complicated question, and many of the answers are based upon your parents’ individual situations.In short, Aid and Attendance is a supplementary benefit for housebound recipients of a Veterans Administration Survivor Pension.  Survivor Pensions are income-based pensions provided by the VA to survivors of veterans.  You can read about the eligibility guidelines in the links I’ve provided.  It is pretty straightforward, being based solely on income, with a small adjustment for medical expenses.

There is another VA survivors benefit called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).  It is designed for the survivors of veterans whose deaths were the direct result of their military service.  Without knowing your father’s medical history, I can not guess whether or not your mother might be eligible.  Most veterans whose survivors are eligible for DIC are receiving disability benefits at the time of their death.

The Veterans Administration website is very good.  It is well-organized and contains pretty much ever piece of information you could find necessary to see if your mother is eligible for any benefits.  In addition, you could contact the VA directly.  Other readers have had good success in obtaining assistance in determining benefits eligibility.

Hope that helps!


Another resource that I failed to mention is the services of a Veterans Service Officer.  These are professionals or volunteers who help veterans navigate the maze of benefits that may be available.  Veterans Service Officers can be found through veterans organizations such as the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars, or through your county or state.  An internet search for VSO or Veterans Service Officer and the name of your state and county should give you a place to start looking.

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • Lee

    What was the status of the husband when he died? Was he receiving disability benefits from the VA? If he was, then see a service representative with a copy of his DD214, and see what they can find out for you.

  • Anna M. Bucciarelli

    Where is your reply? Somehow I simply cannot get it and would like to know your answer to the writer’s question. It’s an important inquiry and I’ve never heard of the program the letter writer refers to, “Aid and Attendance Benefit” and really want to know more.

    • KateKashman

      Mrs. Bucciarelli, Thank you so much for letting me know that you couldn’t see the entire post. I have done some editing on the back end, and I think it should good now. Please let me know if you continue to have problems.



  • Allen

    My Mom could use some help. She is 86 and never remarried. My Dad died when he was 64 years old. My Dad was in WW11..Army, served in Europe during War. My question is..Do we have to count Social Security Income ? She gets $ 1147.00 per month.

  • Helen

    Is the DIC benefit the only thing that a widow will receive with death related to the military service (Vietanam)? What about the survivor pension benefit.?
    Please send me info. on this for I am receiving DIC but what do I have to do
    about the pension? I can receive info by Email.

  • nathan connor

    My mother is in her 70s may dad retired from the Air Force after 22 years in 1977 and was in Vietnam, he was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1982. My mother has tried to find out if she is entitled to any of the pension my dad was receiving or any other benefits since they were still married at the time of his death. She lives in a small town in WV and has basically had no help to see if she would qualify for anything, I think she has talked to a VA rep in town but they basically told her she was entitled to nothing and left it at that! Any helpful advice you could give would be greatly appreciated! Thank you

    • Kate

      Nathan, there are two separate issues here. The first is that your mother is the widow of a retired servicemember. The second is that she is the widow of a veteran.

      As the widow of a retired servicemember, your mother would receive Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments if your father selected the Survivor Benefit Plan at the time of his retirement. If your mother does not know, she can contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Service ( and inquire. Military retirement does not continue after the service member dies, but the survivor may receive payments if the Survivor Benefit Plan was selected at retirement. There are restrictions if your mother has remarried.

      If she has not remarried, she is eligible to receive Tricare health insurance, Even though she is now receiving Medicare, Tricare for Life is an outstanding supplement to Medicare and could reduce her health care costs. She also eligibility for commissary and exchange privileges.

      With regard to her status as the widow of a veteran, she would only be eligible for a pension if she had a very low income. This is called a Survivor’s Pension and you can read more about it here:

      If your mother requires assistance sorting out the benefits for which she might be eligible, she should look for a Veterans Service Officer (VSO). Many counties have VSOs, and they can also be located by calling the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or other similar veterans organization.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions.

  • Judy

    I am 71, was married 6/1965-5/1985 to a WO4 who retired from active duty after 20 years of service. He retired in 1980 and we divorced in 1985. He died 6/1987 due to colon cancer. He remarried 3/1987…3 mo before he died. I have never remarried.
    I worked to provide for myself and our 2 children as I rec no benefits at divorce. I have worked and saved but never anticipated the high cost of healthcare.
    Am I entitled to any benefits whatsoever? I once phoned JAG to be told I was entired to THEATER!

    • Kate

      Judy, the military, like any other employer, is not in the business of providing benefits to military spouses. Due to extreme political pressure, there has been made an exception for spouses who were married to active duty folks for 20 years of their military service (20 years of military service, 20 years of marriage, and 20 years overlapping). This is called the 20-20-20 rule.

      The division of assets and income in a divorce is strictly a civil issue, and is handled by the civilian courts when your divorce is awarded. I am sorry that you are not happy with the support awarded in your divorce.

      Please remember that you are eligible for Social Security benefits based upon the earnings of your former spouse. This may be more than you earn based upon your own earnings.

      Good luck to you.

  • Judy

    Correction to above…married 12/1965…not 6/1965

  • james leno

    I am 100% service connected vietnam vet.. upon my death what benefits can my spouse receive?

  • Norma

    My mother is more then likely going to need to be put into a assisted care facility. She is now on medicare making $1100.00 a month. She was married to a veteran of 22 years for about four years and has not remarried. Is she able to get any type of medical or monetary assistance from the VA ?

  • Patty

    I have been married to a Vietnam veteran since 1970 he passed away in 2009 from aortic abdominal anerusym (rupturedI I fought to get his claim through a good 6 years he got it December and passed away in January 09 I have been fighting since that day for widows pension. They took everything away when he passed that we had just got through, So I had to start all over, I s there a good thing to come of this??

  • Barbara

    My Mother is in her mid 70’s and is obviously very confused about benefits that would make her life so much . My Father, who was a Korean War Veteran passed away about 2 1/2 years ago. Mom has received only her Social Security since 3/11 and a pension that my Father had through the Plumbers Union (which apparently only covers $3000 in prescription medication). My Mother does not have Medicare Part D and has reached the point where she needs to pay everything out of pocket (which she is not able to do). She has told me that gasoline is so expensive that she is no longer able to leave her house. Additionally, I fear that she is not eating very much because “food is costly”. Her current weight is about 20-30 pounds less than it was a few months ago. If her private insurance will not pay for her medication, I am afraid that she will not order the meds that she needs. I am hoping that she will be able to get some kind of a deductible through the VA. My Dad NEVER used any of his GI Bill.

    • guest

      It’s going to depend on how long your dad served. If it was only one tour then there aren’t many benefits out there for her. If he retired from the military after 20 then she may be entitled to a number of things. Either way Look into Aid and Attendance if she is over 65 and your dad officially served during a “time of war” (you can request his DD 214 through the freedom of information act)…and remember when reading about it that a veteran is considered disabled once they come of age (62 or 65 I think). If her income is very low she may qualify for a very small pension as well.

      In civilian terms you may want to sign her up for Meals on Wheels and look into getting her on part D.

    • Kate

      If her income is low, and particularly if her medical expenses are high, she may be eligible for a survivors pension (

      I encourage everyone who might be eligible to investigate this thoroughly. Several people I have encouraged to apply have been eligible.

      Good luck to you.

  • Sharon

    Was married to a USMC officer who retired after 22 yrs., and passed away in 2007 from Agent Orange related cancers. He was also stationed at Camp Lejeune from 1975-1979 AND I worked on the base hospital as a Civil Service employee— we were both exposed to the toxic water there and I immediately began to have some of the symptoms now identified.
    I receive his VA disability pension, my Social Security, and Disability, it’s jut not enough. In the 7 years since he’s passed, Ive sold almost everything including our wedding rings to keep the house. Are there any other benefits that I might be eligible for especially since two recent diagnosis make daily life often impossible OR anything for my exposure to the toxic water at Camp Lejeune when my health began to decline. THANK YOU for all your HELP !!!!

    • Kate

      Sharon, you might see if you are eligible for the extra Dependency and Indemnity Compensation allowances if your husband was permanently disabled prior to his death, or if you are eligible for Aid and Attendance or Housebound. Other than that, I can not think of anything else to which you would be eligible.

      Without knowing your whole situation, I can’t say for sure, but it sounds like keeping your house is an unrealistic goal. A session with a financially savvy friend or relative, or a fee-only financial planner, can help you create a plan to live on the income you are receiving.

      Good luck to you.

  • Donna

    I am a widow of the Vietnam war, I remarried and he passed away 17 years ago. I was told I could re-enstate my monthly income from my husband who passed in Vietnam, is that true? Also are there any benefits I’m entitled too? My second husband was also a veteran . Thankyou

    • Kate

      Donna, without knowing all the personal details of your situation, I can not tell you for sure. However, you should absolutely apply for benefits. You may be eligible for Survivor Benefit Plan benefits from the Department of Defense (, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, or both.

      If you have trouble figuring out the information or how to apply, reach out to a smart friend or find a Veterans Service Officer (VSO). VSOs can be found in many county governments and also in veterans organizations such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

      • Donna

        Thank you I will definitely check all this out!

  • Mary Haywood

    I was married to a Veteran for 8 months, we liived together for 5 years. I am trying to prove that his cancer was caused by asbestos while in the Air Force. Because we were married less than year, I may not be able to collect any financial rewards. As NC is not a common law state.

  • Mary Haywood

    I was married to a Veteran for 8 months but lived together for 5 years before he died. WouId I be able to claim award if ganted by the VA proving Asbestos caused his cancer. As NC is not a common law state.

    • MaryAnne Dowdall

      Have you got a response to this question as I am in a similar situation. Thank you.