- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 6, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I read with great interest your Nov. 22 column in which you discussed the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003, which restores Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits to, among others, widows who remarry on or after their 57th birthdays.

If I understand your column correctly, then this law has significant consequences for me. I am a widow, married once, who currently receives DIC. The DIC I receive is based on my deceased husband’s disability. He retired in the 1960s, but died in 1983. This late in life, I have met a wonderful man and we would like to get married.

Can you confirm that I can marry again and continue to receive DIC benefits uninterrupted and do so without having to reapply for those benefits?

This is a big concern of mine because, having been a housewife most of my married life, I have not worked enough to qualify for Social Security benefits. DIC is what sustains me.

One other question I have is whether I will be able to keep my Navy dependent ID card and exercise all my current privileges (access to military bases, medical care, commissary, exchange, etc.).

The Navy always has been an important part of my life — both my husband and my only child have served — and my continued connection to the Navy is a great comfort to me, psychologically and emotionally.

Thank you.

Mrs. A.,

California

Dear Mrs. A:

Simply, you and other surviving spouses receiving DIC who have reached the age of 57 are free to remarry without jeopardizing current benefits. This should also include your Navy privileges.

President Bush last year signed into law the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003, which restored the entitlement to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits and related home loan and education benefits for certain surviving spouses of deceased veterans, the widows or widowers who remarry on or after their 57th birthdays.

In the past, surviving spouses who remarried were not eligible to continue on the DIC rolls unless their subsequent marriages ended, at which time they could apply for reinstatement.

The change means that widows and widowers no longer need to choose between giving up their VA benefits and forgoing a new marriage in their later years. But VA’s immediate challenge concerns those who had passed the 57th-birthday mark and had remarried before the new law.

Although they were taken care of through a provision that gave them the opportunity to apply for reinstatement, they faced a deadline of Dec. 15, 2004, to do so. Because this deadline for reapplication has passed, I urge Congress to extend the time limit for those who might have been eligible but were not aware of this provision of the law.

Shaft notes

• In a recent floor statement, Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican and chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, commended incoming Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson and praised outgoing Secretary Anthony J. Principi.

Mr. Nicholson had served as ambassador to the Vatican since 2001 and was nominated recently by President Bush to become the secretary of veterans affairs. He was confirmed unanimously to his new post by the Senate. The VA is the nation’s second largest federal agency, behind the Department of Defense, and has more than 230,000 employees.

“The president has asked Jim Nicholson to accept one of the more difficult jobs in Washington — running the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In the best of times, this is a tough assignment. In times like the ones we are entering now — times within which the rate of growth in VA’s budget will likely slow but also within which the needs of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan must, and will, be met — it is a tougher assignment still. I am highly confident, however, that the president has found the right person for the job,” Mr. Craig said.

“Veterans are fortunate, I think, that a man so well known to, and respected by, the president of the United States will serve as secretary. I am pleased that the Committee on Veterans Affairs — in its first official business meeting of the 109th Congress — unanimously approved this nomination. I ask that my colleagues ratify that expression of judgment by the committee by approving the nomination as quickly as possible. VA needs the steady hand that Jim Nicholson will provide.

“This is not to suggest, Mr. President, that VA has lacked a steady hand at the tiller. To the contrary, the stewardship as VA secretary of former naval officer Anthony J. ‘Tony’ Principi has been, by any standard, one of exceptional merit and distinction,” Mr. Craig added. “It is a rare secretary indeed who departs from that sensitive post with plaudits from the veterans service organizations, leaders from the Hill from both bodies and both parties, and the president he served — but Tony Principi has managed just that feat.”

• A shaft shot to Pentagon official David Chu for his insensitive remarks in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Mr. Chu should be ashamed of mocking the contribution of veterans and defending a new round of cuts by describing funding for programs such as veterans’ education and job training, health care, pensions, VA housing and the like as “hurtful” to national security.

Although spending under the Bush administration has increased, these dollars have neither matched inflation over the same period, nor do they keep pace with growing need. Our veterans deserve quality care, not snide remarks from Mr. Chu.

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


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