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National Commander Commentary

Lynn Helms Prosser, Auxiliary National Commander

Making room for grief

Education and preparation can ease emotional burdens after a loss

One of the most difficult experiences you can face in your life is the death of a spouse. No one can completely prepare you for the emotions or the grieving process. Its timing can be unpredictable. It’s a thought none of us like to dwell on.

But as difficult a topic as death can be, it’s an extremely important conversation to have now while you’re both still alive. Educating and preparing yourself before your spouse passes will ease the burden on what will be a tough time.

As a widow of two husbands and someone who has talked to many, many others over the years about this subject, I want to offer some advice.

First, get educated.

There’s a lot of misinformation out there that creates confusion on benefits. One example is thinking that Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is an automatic benefit, which is not the case. You have to apply for it. When applying for any benefits, eligibility comes down to understanding individual circumstances; every claim is decided on its own merit.

Talk with a DAV service officer to walk through survivor benefits and to learn how federal legislation has affected benefits. Use DAV’s NSO locator online or call a local DAV chapter to connect with these benefits advocates. Both DAV’s website and the Veterans Affairs’ website are great resources, too.

You also need to learn about death certificates. Understand that the cause of death and any contributing factors listed on a death certificate can affect continued benefits for a veteran’s family. In most circumstances, any service-connected illnesses or injuries that caused or contributed to your spouse’s passing should be listed somewhere on the death certificate for benefits to continue on to survivors. Trying to retroactively amend or correct a death certificate can be a long, difficult process.

My second piece of advice is to be proactive and prepare.

Has your veteran spouse filed for all service-related injuries and illnesses? As I mentioned above, legislation changes and so may eligibility for benefits. The 2019 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act is one example of benefits expanding to veterans who’ve suffered from service-related illnesses and diseases but had been ignored. Staying current on these expansions and changes will help guide your next steps.

I recommend preparing the DIC request paperwork (known as VA Form 21P-534EZ) before a spouse’s death to help ensure the information you provide is accurate and complete.

Similarly, if your spouse wishes to be buried in a VA national cemetery, the VA can determine eligibility in advance of death, making the burial process easier for families. The VA offers information about pre-need burial eligibility on its website.

I understand how sensitive and difficult this topic is. But grieving the loss of a loved one can make even the simplest tasks daunting. Through learning, being proactive and talking with your spouse now, you can alleviate some of the unnecessary stress and burden and allow yourself the emotional freedom to mourn your loss.

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