Ensuring our veterans’ surviving families get the health benefits they deserve

What physicians and medical staff need to know about dependency and indemnity compensation

MEMORIAL DAY is a time to remember and honor those in our military service who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms we all enjoy today. These brave men and women have served our great nation with honor and distinction. After serving their country, veterans often develop disabilities connected to their time in the service. Unfortunately, there are situations where these service-connected disabilities are a contributing factor in a veteran’s death. What many should be aware of is that, if a veteran received service-connected benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA), these benefits can be passed on to a veteran’s surviving spouse and dependent children after the veteran passes away.

Here are some important terms to be aware of:

• VA service-connected disability: A disability, resulting from an injury or disease that was incurred in or aggravated (beyond normal progression) during active military service.

• VA rating letter: A document VA system used to identify service-connected disabilities or possible contributing factors to a veteran’s death.

If a service-connected disability was a cause or contributing factor in the veteran’s death, the surviving spouse and dependent children may be eligible for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). A death certificate indicating the cause of death was service-connected is evidence needed by survivors when applying for DIC benefits. But, unfortunately, this does not always happen.


A veteran was disabled due to heart disease, most likely caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. He passed away 10 years ago in another state. The surviving spouse asked at that time if she was eligible for any VA benefits and was told that she was not because the veteran died of a heart attack. As a result, she did not file a claim with the VA.

Ten years later, a VA Service Officer (VSO) contacted the doctor, on her behalf, to ask if he would correct the death certificate to show that the heart disease was a contributing factor in the veteran’s death. Unfortunately, the physician refused because the death occurred ten years ago.

The VSO took the file to a doctor in Florida who had served at James Haley VA Hospital in Tampa and was knowledgeable about service-connected disabilities. The doctor wrote a letter that stated, “The service-connected disability (ischemic heart disease) was absolutely a contributing factor in the veteran’s death.”

A couple of months later, the surviving spouse received more than $25,000 retroactively from the VA, and a monthly DIC benefit in excess of $1,000.

Here are some simple steps veterans and their family can take to prevent this from occurring:

• Provide the physician with a copy of the VA Disability Rating Letter so it is in the medical file; this should be done for ALL physicians they see.

• Review the disability with the physician so they are personally familiar with it.

• If the veteran dies, the family should remind the physician and the funeral director that the veteran had service-connected disabilities.

• Maintain the VA Disability Rating Letter in a safe place so it is available whenever it might be needed.

•Florida veterans needing a copy of their VA Disability Rating Letter or other related documents can contact John.Hinton@va.gov.

For the physicians, it is important to know:

• Service-connected disabilities that were a direct or underlying cause of death should be listed in Part I of the Cause of Death section on the death record.

• A service-connected disability that may be a significant condition contributing to the death but not resulting in the underlying cause given in Part I, should be listed in Part II of the death record.

Together, we can prevent this unnecessary burden placed on the veterans and their family. Our veterans are willing to pay the ultimate price for the freedom we enjoy. By taking these simple steps, we show our appreciation by helping them get the benefits they deserve.

For more information, contact the vital statistics office at the Florida Department of Health in Polk County at (863) 519-7900, or the Polk County Veteran Services Office at (863) 534-5220.


article by DR. ULYEE CHOE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Ulyee Choe, an infectious disease physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (FDOH-Polk) and as a Polk County Medical Association member. For more information about FDOH-Polk, visit www.mypolkhealth.net.

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