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

Question:

I'm currently on permanent disability (SSI). I am a child of a Vietnam veteran but was adopted by my aunt as baby and until recently never knew anything about my biological father. My birthright name was changed to my adoption name so I had no knowledge of father until just about two years ago, which was one year too late. I now have his birth certificate, death certificate, and military discharge and status paper of exiting rankings, plus my current disability information/status. Can I still get benefits for Vietnam vets' children, like Agent Orange-affected benefits? How difficult would it be to do this?

Answer:

Yes, even though your biological father terminated his parental rights and you were adopted and took a new name, you can still be eligible for certain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. When you apply for benefits, you will be asked to provide the VA with a copy of the final adoption decree or other paperwork that can establish that you were his biological child.

A variety of benefits may be available to you depending upon your age and other factors.

Agent Orange Birth Defect Benefits

Agent Orange benefits are available for children of veterans who meet certain service requirements in either Vietnam or Korea and who have certain birth defects. However, unless you have spina bifida, you will not be eligible for Agent Orange-related benefits based on your father’s service. Other birth defects can create eligibility for children of Vietnam or Korean veterans, but only if the mother was the one who served in Vietnam or Korea.

Children with spina bifida as a result of a parent being exposed to Agent Orange can obtain cash benefits, health care, and vocational assistance. If you were born with spina bifida, call the Department of Veterans Affairs, Birth Defects Benefits line at (888) 820-1756 for further information.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

A benefit called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a benefit 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 died from an Agent Orange related-illness (such as diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease, or certain types of cancer) or ALS. However, DIC is available only to a surviving child who is all of the following:

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

For more information about DIC and how to apply, see Nolo’s article on Survivor Benefits for Veterans' Families.

Survivors Pension

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

Unlike DIC, survivors pension is means-tested, meaning only low-income folks are eligible. Because you are on SSI, it is likely that you would meet the low income requirements. You must be one of the following to be eligible for the survivors pension:

  • under age 18
  • under age 23 attending school, or
  • you have a permanent disability due to an injury, illness, or medical condition that occurred before you turned 18 years old.

Dependents Education Assistance Program

You may be eligible for education benefits if you are between the ages of 18 and 23 and your biological father died as a result of a service-connected disability (such as an Agent Orange-related illness) or if he had a service-connected disability at the time that he died.

Benefits can cover degree or certificate programs, apprenticeship, or on-the-job training. Remedial programs can also be covered. See the DEA pamphlet for more information.

You may also be eligible for free tuition at a state college or university through your state's VA benefits program.

Other Benefits

For an overview of benefits available to surviving children of veterans, see the VA webpage for Dependents and Survivors.

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