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

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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.

"This is great news for our women veterans who have earned the right to expect high-quality health care services that are tailored to meet their unique needs," she said. "As our remaining troops departed Iraq and thousands more prepare to leave Afghanistan in the coming months, the VA system must be equipped to help our women veterans step back into their lives as mothers, wives and citizens. I applaud today's announcement and will continue my push for benefits and services that will help our nation's women veterans receive high quality care."

• Kudos to the Department of Veterans Affairs for granting veterans of the Persian Gulf War with undiagnosed illnesses an additional five years to qualify for benefits from V A.

"Not all the wounds of war are fully understood," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "When there is uncertainty about the connection between a medical problem and military service, veterans are entitled to the benefit of the doubt."

A recent change in VA regulations affects veterans of the conflict in Southwest Asia. Many have attributed a range of undiagnosed or poorly understood medical problems to their military services.

Chemical weapons, environmental hazards and vaccinations are among the possible causes.

At issue is the eligibility of veterans to claim VA disability compensation based upon those undiagnosed illnesses, and the ability of survivors to qualify for VA's Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

Under long-standing VA rules, any undiagnosed illnesses used to establish eligibility for VA benefits must become apparent by Dec. 31, 2011. The new change pushes the date back to Dec. 31, 2016.

Veterans or survivors who believe they qualify for these benefits should contact VA at 1-800-827-1000.

Further information about undiagnosed illnesses is available online at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar and www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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