Military Surviving Spouse Benefits

By Jude Messineo
A military cemetary
cemetery image by Janet Wall from

When a serviceman or -woman dies, whether during the course of active duty or as a retired veteran in civilian life, the death can present a hardship for the surviving spouse and dependents. The military provides a variety of programs and benefits designed to aid and assist the surviving family members.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

The Department of Veteran Affairs offers Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), a tax-free benefit for spouses and children of deceased members of the armed forces. The monthly benefit is available to eligible survivors of personnel killed in the line of duty, members who die as a result of an injury or disease directly connected to service or a veteran who was receiving disability for a service-related injury. If there are surviving children under the age of 18, an additional benefit in the amount of $250 is awarded per family for as long as there are minor dependents in the household.

Death Pension

The survivor's death pension, provided by the Veterans Association, is a monthly benefit for the purpose of guaranteeing a minimum income to surviving spouses and dependent children of deceased servicemen and -women. This benefit is available to survivors of soldiers who were honorably discharged and had met the applicable service requirements. For those who enlisted before September 7, 1980, those requirements include having served at least 90 days of active duty, with at least one day of that service being during a time of war. For those who enlisted after that date, a period of 24 months of active duty service is required. Additionally, the survivors' income must not exceed a yearly limit set by Congress.

Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance

The Dependents' Educational Assistance program (DEA) is designed to aid eligible spouses and dependents of disabled or deceased service members in obtaining advanced education or training. Certificate programs, remedial training, on-the-job apprenticeships and refresher courses may be covered. Survivors of veterans who died or became permanently disabled while in service or who were captured or went missing in action are among the eligible recipients of this benefit. This benefit is available to surviving spouses for up to ten years after the service members' death.

Survivor Benefit Plan

This is an optional program designed to ease the financial loss of income experienced by a spouse following the death of a retired service member. Retirees who choose to participate in this program pay a monthly premium based on the level of coverage desired. Following their death, their surviving spouse receives an annuity each month in accordance with the amount of coverage purchased. A full coverage plan will allot 55 percent of retirement pay to the surviving spouse. A new rule instituted in 2008 assures that the amount of the award will not be reduced when Social Security benefits kick in at age 62. The SBP annuity is adjusted every year for inflation.

About the Author

Jude Messineo is a technical and freelance writer in the Chicago area. A 1998 graduate of Columbia College, Messineo published her first book, "Walk on Water, The Journal of an Unexpected Journey" in 2007.