SGT. SHAFT: Veteran’s widow learns about presumptive diseases too late

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Dear Sgt Shaft:

I am a 68-year-old widow, and I am looking back over the past years with a lot of great memories: a fantastic husband, who served for 22-plus years in the Army, having had two sons that I could be proud of and a lot of sad memories and regrets, also.

On Dec. 8, 1988, I lost my husband to a major heart attack. Needless to say, I was devastated. This was not supposed to happen. We had such plans, only one more year and both of our sons would be finished with college, and we had plans to finally do a few things for ourselves. In January 1989, I got in touch with the VA and personnel at Fort Leonard Wood, to see if I was entitled to any benefits.

Was told “No” by all that I spoke to, other than the exception of qualifying for the Widows Pension based on limited income. They asked if my husband’s death was related to Agent Orange, which at that time it was not. I was not even told that he qualified for a Burial Allowance. So needless to say, I was presented with the flag at his funeral and since one of my sons qualified as a dependent, I received I believe around $600 per month. I kept the memories but put that part of my life behind me.

I spent the next 13 years caring for an elderly mother and raising a grandson. I had no major complaints. There were still good times/bad times, and we managed to get by. Thankful that I still had CHAMPUS (Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Uniformed Services) and access to the commissary. I finally went back to work, thankful for the things that I had during my life, knowing that no matter how hard things seemed at times, I was luckier than a lot of people.

Three years ago come January, I lost my first-born to blood clots. Nothing can ever prepare a parent for this type of loss. But a person goes on, being thankful I had him as long as I did and that he did not suffer.

January of this year, my younger son had to take early retirement and is in the process of filing for disability. He has had health problems all his life and they are just getting worse. He is now living with me.

Then, around Thanksgiving of this year, I read something that has turned my world upside down once again. I learned about the presumptive diseases. I found out that the widows pension I drew for 12 years would have been counted as DIC (Dependency and Indemnity Compensation) had I known about the Nehmer Lawsuit. (I could have possibly been retro-ed back to my husband’s death. Or I could have at least gone back a year had I known about the Aug. 31, 2011, deadline for filing.

My question to you is: Why did they not go back on records and then notify people about the new presumptive diseases? If you could come up with an answer, I would greatly appreciate it.

I will bet there are a lot of widows like me that have come up a day late and a dollar short.

Pat B.
Via the Internet

Dear Pat:

Since there are many changes to VA Compensation regulations associated with illnesses caused by Agent Orange, such as heart disease, I have asked those in the know at VA to contact you regarding the reopening of your DIC claim. I hope this helps.

Shaft notes

• U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, recently applauded the Veterans Affairs (VA) for issuing regulations to cover the provision of care to newborn children of women veterans as required in the Caregivers and Veteran Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. This provision, authored by Ms. Murray in her Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009, would provide health services for newborns for up to seven days after the birth of the child if the mother delivered the child in a VA facility or in another facility pursuant to a VA contract for maternity services.

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