For everyone, the death of a loved one is a life changing event. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is here to assist survivors in making the necessary transition with benefits assistance, counseling and support during the weeks, months and years ahead.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said “Taking care of survivors is as essential as taking care of our Veterans and military personnel.” He added, “By taking care of survivors, we are honoring a commitment made to our Veterans and military members.” To this end, VA has a long tradition of assisting the survivors and dependents of America’s Veterans. Through education programs, health care, financial support and more, VA is honored to continue our relationship with the surviving families of America’s heroes.

In 2008 under guidance from Congress and VA’s own Working Group on Survivors, VA stood up the Office of Survivors Assistance (OSA). OSA works within the Office of the Secretary providing policy guidance to VA leadership on Survivor issues as well as outreach to the Survivor community. Over the years, VA has learned that many potential beneficiaries are not aware of what services are available to Survivors or the eligibility criteria for the various programs. As such, one of the steps taken by OSA has been the development of our website to provide users with helpful information, application forms, and other useful links.

If you are a spouse, child, or parent of a Veteran, we strongly encourage you to visit our website to learn more about what services are offered by VA to the Survivor community. Likewise, if you are a Veteran and would like to help your loved ones plan for the future, we invite you to our website.

Advocating for Survivors of America’s Veterans is our honor and privilege.  It is our mission to make sure Veterans’ survivors do not fall through the cracks, as VA’s mission to serve those who have borne the battle is not over when Taps is played. The Office of Survivors Assistance is eager to help you during this time of profound transition and we offer our services with a spirit of excellence that we hope you will find to be beneficial.

Photo of Debra WalkerDebra Walker is the Director of the Office of Survivors Assistance. An Army veteran, she serves as the primary advisor to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on all policies, programs, legislative issues, and other initiatives affecting survivors and dependents of deceased veterans and service members.



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Published on May. 10, 2011

Estimated reading time is 2.1 min.

Views to date: 100


  1. Jesse December 16, 2011 at 12:08 am

    I too feel it is very important to take care of a veterans survivor.I am a combat veteran myself,and if I did,I would want my spouse to be taken care of.

  2. Michael Harrington September 8, 2011 at 5:03 am

    Hello Debra,
    Thankyou for this great Article. Outreach programs are a fantastic idea.

  3. Linda Bunch May 28, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    I am still waiting for a return phone call (left 3-4 messages) at VA Regional Office, Jackson, MS in Dec of ’09. VA employee could not be bothered with giving any assistance to disabled 20 year veteran or caregiver. After death of Veteran, have not been contacted by VA and when I reached out to the Regional Office in Jackson, MS got nothing but discouraging words. Drove 185 miles one way to Keesler AFB to get assistance. This is absolutely completely unacceptable to me.

  4. Steve Phillips May 19, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Continued from above: His DD214 shows active duty (not reserve duty) in 1974, 1975 and 1976. There are two problesm here. First, It took more than 8 months to process an application for benfits due to a destitute widow. If you are in na postion that qualifies for those benefits, you cannot wait 8 months. And during that time she could not find the status of the case. Secondly, the VA denied the claim without providing documents to support for denial and despite VA documents to the contrary of the stated reason.

    I cannot understand why Homeland security can provide an online system for non citizes to check the status of their cases but VA does not. Their system allows you to enter your case numner to get instant, current status with an estimated completion date. They also e-mail you when status changes. ANd they have had this system for over 5 years.

    My sister has borrowed beyond her ability to pay back, used up chcurh and family assistance but, over 50 years in age, she still has not found a job. I do not blame VA for her lack of Job. Still I wish the VA really would assist survivors obtain their entitlements and obtain them in a timely manner. My Sister’s experience suggest otherwise. I am a veteran and I am now in the customer service business. There is no customer service culture in the VA.

  5. steve phillips May 19, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Though congress gave benefits for survivors, when they are really needed the VA is not responsive enough. My sister should have been entitled to a widows pension which she desparately needed but after waiting 8 months it was denied by va. She had been layed off and had no income for o months when I came across this benefit, which is not publicized, probably to save va money. Her husband had died 5 years earlier by sudden heart attack. He had entered service in 1974 during the viet nam era. That is documented. We believe he know he had a break in service and went active again in late 1975, which was after veit nam. She had documents from the va that both periods were active duty. However in denying her claim, va siad the first period was active for training only. They provived no proof and when contacted it seems that this was an assumption based on the lenght of the fiirst active duty.

  6. Elizabeth German-Ravenell May 16, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Hi Debra,

    I took care of my dad who was a veteran. He passed away in 1995. I have since worked with the US Cenesu Bureau in attempt to obtain employment with the federal government. I have had the worst expereience.

    I would greatly appreciate some assistance in obtaining employment. He served his country noblely.

    Enclosed in a copy of my resume.
    Elizabeth L. German-Ravenell
    1139 Children Road
    Mt. Pleasant, SC 29466


    Diligent and resourceful organizational leader with masterful management, troubleshooting, interpersonal, communication, and customer service skills.

    3/2009-Present Dorchester District 2 Summerville, SC
    • Instructed Students in teacher’s absence
    • Encouraged and disciplined students as needed
    • Substitute Teaching
    • Assisted with other task as needed

    7/2005-7/2009 US Census Bureau Mt. Pleasant, SC
    Field Representative
    • Mapped out strategies for personal visits and phone interviews.
    • Conducted personal and telephone interviews with respondent.
    • Monitored and maintained production percentages.

    2/2004-2/2005 Crisis Ministries Charleston, SC
    Personal Responsibility Coach
    • Encouraged homeless families to rise above the present situation.
    • Provided methods to encourage helping themselves while helping others.
    • Planned activities as incentives to comply with policies and procedures.

    6/2001-6/2003 1St USA BANK/BANKONE Frederick, MD
    Customer Service/Collections
    • Assisted customers with bringing accounts current via programs, i.e., Rage, balance-in- full and settlements.
    • Educated customers with credit bureau reporting and fair credit practices.
    • Encouraged consumers to persevere during the challenges of life.

    2001-2001 Adecco

    Medical Office Assistant/Medical Records
    • Assisted patients with appointments and collected fees.
    • Ordered medical records for physician use.
    • Followed up referrals, prescriptions, billing, and claims.
    • Pulled and filed medical records.
    • Copied medical records according to patient/physician request

    Mortgage Loan Processor
    • Verified originals and signatures for various loans: ARMS, Balloon Payments, FHA, VA, Refinancing, Conventional.
    • Filed and organized according to bank approval and closing requirements.
    • Prepared reports for document status for finalizing process.

    Elizabeth L. German-Ravenell Page 2

    1990-1992 Met Life Insurance Charleston, SC
    Medical Claims Approver
    • Analyzed and approved medical claims
    • Assisted customers with claim status
    • Provided ICD-9 Coding for processing

    1989-1990 S C. Wildlife & Marine Resources Charleston, SC
    Administrative Specialist
    • Typed letters and seafood recipes and assisted customers with recipes.
    • Filed correspondence for Seafood Marketing Department.
    • Prepared seafood for cooking demonstrations on Channel 5.

    1974-1985 Viacom International /Sales Services New York, NY
    Automation Coordinator/ Systems Analyst
    • Coordinated the design and implementation for a television syndication system.
    • Designed online screen layouts, batch/online reports.
    • Prepared user manuals and provided user training.
    • Tested live and online data for accuracy and user friendliness.

    Supervisor: Sales/Service
    • Monitored the workflow of 19 clerks and program coordinators.
    • Encouraged team work ethics.
    • Encouraged achievers at all levels through motivation and incentives

    Program Coordinator
    • Prepared program schedules for TV Guide for major domestic markets.
    • Tracked shipment via ground and air carriers: FedEx, UPS, Airborne, DHL.

    Clerk /Typist
    • Prepared shipping documents for program schedule for TV stations.
    • Communicated with Bonded Services.

    1974 Charleston Teachers Federation Union Mt. Pleasant, SC
    Clerk/ Typist
    • Typed letters, filed documents, answered telephones.


    2009 Pursing BA South University Online Pittsburgh, PA/Phoenix, AZ
    1985 A.A.S.-Business Administration Elizabeth Seton College/Iona Rochelle, NY


    • Microsoft Office 3
    • Microsoft Office 7
    • Excel
    • Power Point

  7. Sandra Smith May 15, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Dear Debra,
    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be heard from an expert.I am the widow of a vietnam veteran. My husband Lannie H. Cockerham passed away 2004 with A.M.L.He filed a claim and then my service rep. filed D.I.C. for me. Both denied because it wasn’t on AO list. In Sept.2010 I received word that his illness may be a new “presumptive illness. B-cell leukemia. I was ecstatic..never did I think I would have a chance to get VA. benefits.After months of waiting for a decision I hear May10th.2010 it’s not on the list.Major trauma for me. I thought I would have help in paying a huge debt load and most important to honor my deceased husband for us serving our country so well…I saw on a web-site that in 2008 a veteran was awarded benefits for A.M.L. from court appeals in D.C. Unfortunately I was trying to print off the case file and accidently deleted it. I will keep trying but how can VA. say it could not without a reasonable doubt be service-connected..I know I am a number out here but I wish I could talk to a board that would consider my case just as the veteran in 2008..I beg you please reply to me…Thank you very much..Sincerely Sandra J. Smith

  8. TAMMRA THOMPSON May 11, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    my mom passed away aug 09 and my dad dec 09,and then a few months later wwas informed my son has a tumor in a bone in his back…this had all been very devastating to father was in korea and vietnam, i am an only child , so this has all made my depression really get bad..i was wondering if there is ANY help that i can receive , i was being supported by my parents while i have been fighting for SSI, and my parents always worried about me after the were gone so they planned most things except life fathers name is ELROY LAWRENCE THOMPSON..
    pleeze if there is any help i can get it would be greatly appriciated..
    i feel so lost and not sure which way to turn anymore…i was devestated with both passing in 4 months and 10 days apart..and i have one child so im just looking for help..
    thank you
    tammra thompson

  9. Dixie May 11, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    First, the link is bad in this article. Second, the VA has to do outreach programs often, monthly would be good by posting in local papers, or having reps go to homeless shelters, county health depts., schools. How is anyone supposed to know about these programs unless they have a computer available and are not ill? Good idea but needs a lot of work to be worth anything.

    • Dan May 12, 2011 at 9:17 am

      The correct link is:

      The VA could do more just by merging veterans social security numbers with IRS database and sending one notification of benefits. I would venture there are tens of thousands of veterans (mostly pre 9/11) and their families that have no idea of benefits that are available.

  10. Jon May 11, 2011 at 7:49 am

    Thanks for the article. This is a great service, as it seems a lot of survivors feel as though they fall off the radar after the death of a veteran. Outreach will be key.
    Please keep in mind that moving forward, a website will be great, but currently, you’re are probably looking at mainly WWII and Korea vets survivors. They are not always computer savy, so anything else you can provide would be awesome (mail, follow-up phone calls, etc). Again, great article, thanks for putting this valuable information out there.

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