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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers certain benefits to immediate family members of deceased veterans. In addition to ongoing monthly benefits for widows or other surviving family members, VA also gives certain relatives the ability to continue a claim or appeal that was pending at the time of the veteran’s death.

A former servicemember’s surviving spouse, child, or dependent parent may pursue this type of claim or appeal, known as accrued benefits claims, with the assistance of a VetLaw attorney. In certain limited circumstances, the veteran’s estate may also be able to pursue accrued benefits. In either case, VetLaw’s team of dedicated lawyers can review the case and help you file one or more appeals to continue pursuing your veteran’s claim for benefits.

Defining Accrued Benefits

In simple terms, accrued benefits means the money that a veteran would have been due to be paid by VA while still alive, should VA have done their job properly and approved his or her claim. A surviving spouse or certain other family members can claim the accrued benefits on behalf of a deceased former servicemember or continue an appeal of a denied claim and fight for what was legally due to the veteran.

The surviving relative must file a claim for accrued benefits within one year of the veteran’s death. Otherwise, the claim can be denied by VA under 38 CFR §3.1000(c)(1)iii.

The Burden of Proof for Accrued Benefits

For accrued benefits, a decedent’s surviving relatives must prove that the veteran in question was entitled to VA benefits and did not receive them. Proving entitlement to service connection often involves establishing a former servicemember’s time on active duty as well as the existence and extent of their illnesses or injuries which should have been deemed service-connected by VA.

A veteran’s family members may sometimes submit additional evidence in support of the claim or appeal. For example, medical care received near the time of death may shine more light on why a condition should have been service-connected. In other cases, papers related to active duty service may be discovered that could help prove an incident happened while the veteran was in the military.

Unfortunately, the VA frequently denies applications for disability compensation, so it is likely to receive one or more denials for an accrued benefits claim. For this reason, it is advisable to seek guidance and advice from a seasoned lawyer from our diligent legal team to increase your chances of success.

Steps to Take after a Denial of Benefits

Generally, if a claim or appeal is active at the time of a veteran’s death, the surviving family member only needs to file an application to substitute into the veteran’s case. Since every situation is different, it’s imperative to seek the advice of an attorney to review the entire case file. Sometimes additional forms may need to be filed, depending on the status of one or more issues. It’s also important to consider whether a surviving spouse or family member may qualify for ongoing, monthly survivors’ benefits.

If an additional denial of the accrued benefits is issued on or after February 19, 2019, an appeal should be taken by filing a direct notice of disagreement to request review from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. This may sometimes involve attending an administrative hearing before a veterans law judge at a local VA facility and can also include introducing new evidence to support a deceased applicant’s claim.

If the Board issues a subsequent denial, a veteran’s widow or other qualified surviving relatives may appeal the case to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims (CAVC). The CAVC is responsible for reviewing the Board’s decision and making a determination as to whether legal or factual errors were made in the processing of the appeal. A deceased veteran’s relative may not submit new evidence to the CAVC.

The CAVC is generally the last step in the process for most appeals, including those of accrued benefits. In certain limited cases, the Court’s decision may be appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. These types of appeals are extremely rare and typically involve whether VA is correctly interpreting a law or regulation. A compassionate VA-accredited attorney can help explain the different options available and provide advice on which path to follow.

Meet with an Attorney to Learn More about Accrued Benefits Claims

An attorney from our team can assist you with filing accrued benefits claims, whether through the initial substitution process or in an appeal of denied benefits. For example, we can advise you on what additional evidence may be needed and prepare you for an upcoming hearing.

If you think you may want to substitute into a veteran’s claim or appeal, or if you have already received one or more denials, one of our steadfast lawyers can help you bring your case through the appeals process and reach a favorable outcome. Contact our firm as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.