How to Add or Remove a Dependent from VA Compensation Benefits

Military veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 10% or more are often eligible to receive VA disability compensation benefits. Veterans may be eligible to receive a higher compensation rate if they are rated at 30% or higher and have one or more dependents, including a spouse, child, or a parent in their care. Veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 20% or lower are not generally eligible for additional payments, except in limited circumstances.

Add a Dependent to VA Disability Compensation Claim

How to Add or Remove a Dependent from your VA Disability Compensation Claim

The status of your dependents is recorded by the VA when they process your initial disability compensation claim, but they are not able to automatically make changes to your dependent’s status. It is up to you to notify the VA when something changes which affects the eligibility of your dependents – this can include both adding or removing one or more dependents from your VA disability compensation benefits. Some reasons for these changes in dependents status include a birth, adoption, or death, marriage or divorce, a child no longer being eligible due to age restrictions, marriage, or other restrictions, adding a parent to your claim, etc.

When these changes occur, you need to contact the VA with this information so they can update your file. Keep in mind this may either increase or decrease your compensation rate, and in some cases, the benefits will be back dated to the effective date. This can result in an overpayment in which the recipient has received more money than they were eligible for, or they could receive a higher one time payment to make up the shortfall. The sooner you notify the VA, the better. It’s also important to note that when adding a child due to a birth or adoption, you need to wait until you have their Social Security Number before filing your claim. So you may need to wait a couple months from the time of birth before you can add your new dependent.

Change Declaration of Status of Dependents for VA Compensation Benefits

There are two ways to change the status of your dependents:

  1. Paper via VA Form: VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents, or VA Form 21-674, Request for Approval of School Attendance for dependents over age 18 and attending school, or VA Form 21-509 – Statement of Dependency of Parent(s), and
  2. Electronically via VONAPP

1. Paper Forms:

  • VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents. VA Form 21-686c is a two page paper form, which according to the VA, should take approximately 15 minutes to fill out. The form is fairly straight forward, and requests the standard information, such as the veteran’s personal information and VA File number, marriage status, information regarding your unmarried children, including their name, SSN, age, schooling status, etc. Then you simply need to sign the form and mail it in to the VA center which handles your claim. You can download this form here: VA Form 21-686c (pdf).
  • VA Form 21-674, Request for Approval of School Attendance. This form is used when your dependent child(ren) are over age 18, and are attending school. Child dependents are ineligible to be claimed past age 18 unless they are attending a qualified school, or they have special needs. You can download this form here: VA Form 21-674 (pdf).
  • VA Form 21-509, Statement of Dependency of Parent(s). Use this form if you are a veteran with a service connected disability rating of 30% or higher and you support your parents. Eligible relations include a natural father or mother, a father or mother through adoption, and a foster father or mother (including stepparents who stood in the relationship of parent to the veteran). There are financial restrictions for parents to be eligible. You can download this form here: VA Form 21-509 (pdf).

2. VONAPP. The VA is making an effort to move more features and services online, which is faster and less costly in the long run. That is where Veterans On Line Applications (VONAPP) comes in. Veterans are now able to use VONAPP to apply for VA compensation, pension, education, vocational rehabilitation and employment, burial benefits, and more. Veterans can also use this online tool to update the status of their dependents, file claims for increases in service-connected disabilities, add disabilities, and more.

Questions about submitting online forms:

  • Should I file a paper form and via VONAPP? No – choose one or the other. The electronic form may be processed more quickly, provided all the information is complete. Otherwise, there is no difference between the forms, and submitting multiple claims can delay the process.
  • How do I sign it? Some forms require veterans to certify the information they entered is accurate – this serves as your signature. VA Form 21-686c is included in this list of forms which can be “electronically” signed.
  • How do I follow up with my claim? The VA automatically sends an e-mail when they receive your claim, and another when your claim is downloaded and the claim is being processed. The information includes your name, date of submission, and which regional VA office received your form (including their contact information). You should contact the regional VA center which is processing your claim for more information or updates on the status of your claim.
  • More VONAPP Claims FAQs.

Find more information at the VONAPP Home Page.

Want to learn more about filing your claim online? Check out our tutorials on how to create a VONAPP account and how to file a claim with VONAPP.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to file these changes as soon as they occur. The last thing you want to happen is to receive an overpayment to your VA compensation benefits for several months, only to have the money deducted from future payments.

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Date published: March 6, 2012. Last updated: November 21, 2015.

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Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of this site. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is currently serving in the IL Air National Guard. He also writes about money management, small business, and career topics at Cash Money Life. You can also see his profile on Google.


  1. Stefanie says

    What if you are separated from your spouse, living in different states for 3 years and he is still collecting your dependent pay? Is that legal?

    • says

      Stefanie, Thank you for contacting me. I don’t have a good answer here. I’m sure it depends on whether or not it is a legal separation and other factors. I have not found an official VA reference for this, so I can’t give a direct quote or firm answer. You will need to contact the VA for further info.


    Is the VA checking marriage status on folks? Received letter from Louisville, KY Regional VA and I have 60 days to fill out 21-0538 or they will pay me without dependents. Have been married over 40 yrs, and drawing VA for 17 yrs! And I am retired so it isn’t coming out of their pocket since I am 40%. Too bad they cant take that “attention to detail” and focus on long overdue appeal cases as mine has been.

  3. Larry Sibley says

    I am retired from the military and rated 30% disabled. I receive a pension and a monthly disability check from the VA. I have been notified that I have been receiving disability at a married rate for the last 13 years and apparently I have to pay them back that money. I thought that money was taken out of my retirement to make it tax free and wouldn’t I have to pay them back tax money on that amount?

    • says

      Larry, Thank you for contacting me. If the VA overpaid you, they are obligated to withhold future payments or request the amount be repaid. I’m not sure exactly how they will do this for your situation. It’s possible they will reduce future disability payments to make up for the over-payment, but I can’t say for certain. The best thing to do is contact the VA to determine exactly what they will do, when to expect the change, how long it will last, etc. After this 13-year error, you want to make sure you understand exactly what is happening so there are no more problems with your pay. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  4. Vera H says

    My husband and I are both veterans with service connected disability ratings 30% or greater. Do we both list each other and all of our children as dependents with the VA? Or should only one of us claim only our children, and not claim each other as dependents? I cannot find any information on how being married and both being disabled vets will affect how much we get paid each month.

    • Luis B says

      Hi Vera,

      From experience, I can tell you that both of you can claim your children and each other. I was in the same situation and recently found out it can be done. I was upset that I was not initially told this by my VA representative doing my claim since I had told them my wife was already claiming our children. You can add your children and your spouse through

      For the children it will be a quick process, you should have notification and pay withing a week. At least that is how long it took for me. You will also get some back pay. As for your spouse, you can add online but when its veteran adding veteran, they do it manually once they receive your claim. I am still waiting on this part myself and do not know how long it takes. I submitted mine about a month ago.

      I hope this information is helpful.

  5. amy says

    I am divorcing my husband can I contact the va and let them know that we are no longer together. since he was in the military and I was not? Also, how is it that he gets 100% for PTSD and work as well I am lost for words???

    • says

      Amy, Thank you for contacting me, and I’m sorry to hear about your divorce. I wish you both the best going forward. Regarding contacting the VA about the divorce – I’m honestly not sure how that works. I believe it is up to the veteran to provide up to date information. I’m not sure if the VA will process information from someone who is not the actual veteran, or recognized caregiver.

      In terms of being able to work with a 100% disability rating, it can be legal to do so and still receive full benefits. If a veteran is rated 100% by the VA, they are still able to receive full VA benefits and can also work if able. If someone has a VA rating of less than 100%, but the VA determines they are unable to work, they may give them a Individual Unemployability rating, and a provisional 100% rating. In this instance, they can not hold substantial gainful employment. I hope this answers your questions, and I wish you the best going forward.

  6. Wilson says

    My husband and I have been married for 4 years and I have two children from a previous marraige that my husband is raising. Their dad is absent and has not seen them or paid child support in 2 years. Can my husband add my 2 children as a dependent on his VA beneifts?

    • says

      Wilson, Thank you for contacting me. I believe the veteran must be a legal guardian in order to claim the children as dependents with the VA. Your husband will need to contact the VA to verify which steps need to be taken in order to legally claim your children as dependents. I hope this helps.

  7. Kristen c says

    I am a 30% veteran. I never really thought of adding dependents. I got out in December 2007, I was married in 2010, first child 2011,second child 2014, I was just informed that i could add dependents to my claim… I didn’t know this. So I added them, do I get back paid from 2010? Then when first second child was born?

    • says

      Kristin, Thank you for your question. The VA typically only gives back pay to the date you originally filed your claim. If you didn’t originally include dependents in your claim, it would be the date you file a claim to add the dependents. In some cases the VA will give back pay up to a year previous to the time you filed. I don’t believe they will give back pay to 2010 unless you filed a claim at that point and they just didn’t process it until now. In the case of the child born in 2014, you may get back pay to that child’s birth.

      The best thing to do is file the claim immediately and see what happens. Keep in mind it may take several weeks, or even months for the VA to process your claim. In some cases it can take over a year. It depends which VA center processes your claim and how backed up they are. Best of luck, and thanks for your service!

  8. Janet Jackson says

    My late husband was released from the Army in 1981 on a medical discharge and a few years later began receiving disability at 40%. Although we did see yearly COLAs, he never realized he should be adding dependents. We had 8 children between 1985 and 1997. He passed away in 1998. Is there a way to file and get back pay or is this too late and too old?

    • says

      Janet, Thank you for contacting me, and I’m sorry for your loss. My understanding is that claims need to be made while they are still current. If your husband was still living and receiving benefits and the children were living at home, then he would be able to make a claim. The only exception I am aware of is if there was an error on the part of the VA. So if you can show there was an error on their end, it may be possible to file a claim. However, much time has passed and it may be difficult to prove there was an error on their part. I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you.

  9. Ro says

    My wife and I are getting a divorce. I have 2 school aged children. Right now I get paid for me, my spouse and 2 children. after the divorce is final will I get paid for myself and 2 children if she has 60% custody, or will I just be paid the single rate?

  10. Bryan says

    I am rated at 90% and have been since August of 2014. I was 30% up until then from 2008. I divorced in 2011. I knew my two children were listed as my dependents for my disability however I just noticed my ex wife is on there as well. I was poking around on the website trying to see if I needed to add my new wife (10/10/2015) and noticed my ex wife is listed. I am wondering if that is going to change anything with my pay. I thought I was only getting extra for my children because I received a letter when it was changed to 90% stating how much it will be reduced when they turn 18. Any info on that? Thanks.

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