Can a Child of a Veteran With No Parental Rights Get VA Benefits?

How difficult is it to get benefits if my biological parent is a veteran?

Updated by , Attorney (Seattle University School of Law)

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can provide disability benefits to family members of qualifying veterans, including biological children of veterans who were adopted or never listed as a dependent of their veteran parent.

Biological children of veterans may be eligible for monthly payments, monetary compensation, health care, and vocational training. The exact type and amount of the benefits varies depending on the child's age and whether the child is disabled. (38 U.S.C. § 1815.)

Disability Benefits for Agent Orange-Related Birth Defects

The VA presumes that specific birth defects in biological children of veterans who served in Vietnam, Korea, or Thailand were caused by exposure to the herbicide known as Agent Orange. Biological children with presumed Agent Orange-related birth defects are eligible for disability benefits regardless of whether they are dependents of their veteran parents.

To be eligible for these benefits, a child must have been conceived after their biological parent started their deployment in one of the following locations:

  • Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975
  • Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971, or
  • Thailand between January 9, 1962 and June 30, 1976.

Note that most benefits for Agent Orange-related birth defects in children are currently based on their mother's service, not their father's. If your mother is a veteran of the above conflicts who served during the qualifying periods, you may be eligible for disability benefits if you have one of the following birth defects:

  • achondroplasia
  • cleft lip and cleft palate
  • congenital heart disease
  • congenital talipes equinovarus (clubfoot)
  • esophageal and intestinal atresia
  • Hallerman-Streiff syndrome
  • hip dysplasia
  • Hirschprung's disease (congenital megacolon)
  • hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis
  • hypospadias
  • imperforate anus
  • neural tube defects
  • Poland syndrome
  • pyloric stenosis
  • syndactyly (fused digits)
  • tracheoesophageal fistula
  • undescended testicle, and
  • Williams syndrome.

To learn more, read our article on disability benefits for Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange. You can also call the VA's Agent Orange helpline at 800-749-8387, email GW/[email protected], or learn more with the VA's guide to Agent Orange exposure and disability compensation.

Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC) Benefits

A benefit called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is paid to surviving family members when a veteran has either died in the line of duty or died from a disability or illness incurred during service.

Depending on your age, this benefit could be available to you if your biological father or mother died from a service-connected illness or disability, such as an Agent Orange-related illness (like diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease, certain types of cancer, or ALS).

But DIC is available only to surviving children who meet all of the following requirements:

  • they're not included in the surviving parent's DIC
  • they're under age 18 (or between the ages of 18 and 23 but in school), and
  • they're unmarried.

If you were adopted from the veteran's family but meet all the other above-listed criteria, you're still eligible for this disability compensation. For more information about DIC and how to apply, you can read an article from our sister site about survivor benefits for veterans' families.

Survivors Pension for Veterans' Children

Survivors pension is a benefit available to surviving children of wartime veterans who received honorable discharges. It's sometimes called the "death pension."

Unlike DIC, survivors pension is "means-tested," meaning only people with low incomes are eligible. (It's likely that veterans' children who are currently receiving SSI, for example, will also qualify for survivors pension.) Additionally, you'll need to meet one of the following requirements in order to be eligible:

  • you're under age 18
  • you're under age 23 and attending a VA-approved school, or
  • you have a permanent disability due to an injury, illness, or medical condition that occurred before you turned 18 years old, and you're unable to care for yourself.

You can visit the VA's Survivors Pension page for additional information and links to apply.

Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) Program

Children of veterans may be eligible for education benefits if they're between the ages of 18 and 26, and have a biological parent who is one of the following:

  • permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability (such as an Agent Orange-related illness)
  • deceased (and they died while on active duty)
  • missing in action or captured in the line of duty
  • forcibly detained or interned in the line of duty by a foreign entity, or
  • currently in the hospital or receiving outpatient treatment for a service-connected permanent and total disability and will be likely discharged for that disability.

Benefits can cover degree or certificate programs, apprenticeship, or on-the-job training. Career and education counseling can also be covered. (See the VA's DEA program page for more information.)

You may also be eligible for free tuition at a state college or university through your state's VA benefits program. Keep in mind that if you're over 18 years of age and you're on educational assistance, you won't be eligible to receive DIC from the VA simultaneously.

Updated September 22, 2023

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