- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am a 72-year-old female whose husband, George Pfeiffer, was a veteran (he was one of Merrill’s Marauders) and died May 12, 1993. I will be retiring soon and wanted to know if I can receive any benefits. I was receiving a monthly check after he died, but it was discontinued when I became a full-time employee. Thank you for your consideration in this matter. - Dolores P.

Dear Dolores:

My VA sources tell me there are two separate benefit programs you may apply for: Improved Death Pension or Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

Death Pension is a needs-based, monthly benefit that may be payable to an unremarried surviving spouse of a deceased veteran who served during wartime. Eligibility for benefits is affected by three factors: the veteran’s service, the claimant’s relationship to the veteran, and the claimant’s income and net worth.

First, the deceased veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, one day of which must have occurred during wartime. The deceased veteran must have been discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions.

Second, the claimant must be the unremarried surviving spouse of the deceased veteran.

Third, the claimant’s annual income must not exceed the income limit set by law each year. The current annual income limit for a surviving spouse with no dependent children is $7,933. If the claimant has disabilities that render her housebound, the annual income limit is $9,696. If the claimant requires the aid and attendance of another person to perform routine activities of daily living, the annual income limit is $12,681. There is no specific limit on a surviving spouse’s net worth; however, it cannot be excessive. Income received from most sources is countable and includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest and dividends, and business income. Certain expenses, such as unreimbursed, paid medical expenses, may be considered to reduce the claimant’s countable income in determining eligibility for benefits.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a monthly benefit paid to eligible survivors of a military service member who died during active service, or a veteran whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease, or a veteran whose death was not due to a service-related injury or disease but who was permanently and totally disabled from a service-related injury or disease for at least 10 years immediately before death.

My VA sources attempted to research whether or not you previously received VA benefits; however, they were unable to locate a record based on the information provided. If you can provide additional information, such as the VA file number or your husband’s Social Security number, they can provide more specific information as to any previous benefits that you received. In order to apply for either benefit, you can complete VA Form 21-534, the Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension, and Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child.

VCE probed

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ subcommittee on oversight and investigations, chaired by Rep. Harry E. Mitchell, Arizona Democrat, conducted a hearing to evaluate the progress the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs have made on the Vision Center of Excellence (VCE) and how it has affected veterans in need of vision care. The subcommittee assessed the efforts of the agencies as they work to ensure a seamless continuum of care for service members and veterans who have suffered eye injuries.

The VCE was created through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 (NDAA). The NDAA mandated that “the Secretary of Defense shall establish within the [DOD] a center of excellence in the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of military eye injuries.”

The VCE is still in the planning phase and minimal execution has occurred. Today, 13 months after the enactment of the NDAA, there is no physical structure identified, no computer hardware, and no support staff. The two individuals identified to coordinate this center, Col. Donald Gagliano and Dr. Claude Cowan, are the only employees. DOD states that $3 million has been allocated to create this center, however minimal money has been spent to create the VCE.

Shaft notes

A Shaft shot at Kathie Whipple, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, for the recent decision to postpone issuing rules to abolish the one-year time-in-grade requirement for federal employee promotions.

The regulations, which let federal employees climb the career ladder faster, were scheduled to take effect March 9, but OPM’s decision will delay their implementation until May 18.

USERRA settlement

In a settlement filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Detroit, Ecolab Inc. has agreed to pay $118,000 to a returning Iraq war veteran to resolve a Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) complaint investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor´s Veterans´ Employment and Training Service (VETS).

Following the Labor Department´s investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice filed suit against Ecolab in the same court, claiming that Ecolab violated USERRA by failing or refusing to promptly re-employ Michigan veteran Stephen Alasin upon his return from military service. The Department of Justice also entered into a consent decree with Ecolab, which was subsequently accepted by the court, under which Mr. Alasin will receive $88,000 in back pay and $30,000 in damages.

Subject to certain limitations, USERRA requires that individuals who leave their jobs to serve in the U.S. military be re-employed by their civilian employers in the same positions or comparable positions when they return.

Information on veterans´ employment or re-employment rights is available at www.dol.gov/vets or by calling the Department of Labor’s toll-free helpline at 866-4USA-DOL (487-2365).

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