A Bloomington veteran passed away in August 2016. He was rated by the VA as 60% service connected disabled for ischemic heart disease but the only cause of death listed on his death certificate was aspiration pneumonia. A local VA claims helper assisted the widow in filing for VA Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC) as a service connected death. The VA Pension Center denied the DIC claim on 14 November “because the evidence does not show that the cause of death was related to military service.”
I had known the veteran and his wife for several years. She called regarding the VA denial. During our conversation she mentioned the attending nurse said, “His heart stopped. We probably could have brought him back, but he had a ‘do not resuscitate’.” I visited the widow, got the names and contact information for the medical people who were familiar with his heart condition and the circumstances surrounding his passing, and she and I visited their office manager. (Having the widow with me avoided HIPAA privacy protection problems.) Within fifteen minutes we agreed that they would provide a medical statement directly to the VA that the veteran’s ischemic heart disease contributed to his passing.
I wrote a letter to the VA Pension Center requesting reconsideration of their denial on the basis of the medical statement. I attached a copy of the statement, a copy of the veteran’s 60% VA rating for ischemic heart disease, included a list of the names and contact information for several of the cardiology staff who were also willing to support the ‘contributed to’ conclusion, and a VA Form 21-22a designating me as her representative.
The first indication the widow and I had that the request had been successful was a Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) letter to her in February 2017. She had been drawing $567 a month Survivors Benefit Plan (SBP) because her military retiree husband had paid SBP premiums for years via deduction from his retired pay. The DFAS letter said her SBP was terminated retroactively to September and she owed all the money back! I told her to not worry about the letter because the only reason for stoppage was that DIC and SBP still have a full offset, the inane “widow’s tax” which punishes surviving spouses whose retiree passed away due to service connected causes. They can’t draw both, usually just the bigger of the two. The VA must have decided in her favor but could not pay her the full, non-taxable DIC until the SBP was stopped.
On 20 March 2017 I received my ‘representative’s copy’ of her official award of DIC notice from the VA. She will draw $1,257.95 a month DIC from 1 December 2016 onward and $1,254.19 a month, the previous rate, from 1 September 2016 through 30 November 2016 – a bit over $7,540 retroactive pay.
I called the VA first in pursuit of how the widow needed to apply for Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA). The VA did not know. I then called DFAS. SSIA is a $310.00 monthly special allowance by which Congress apologized for the full offset between SBP and DIC. They were too cheap to repeal the offset, even though DIC is earned for the surviving spouse by the sacrifice of the veteran who by his or her service connected death gave his life for his country, and SBP is fully paid for (the fund has excess money, as a matter of fact) by the retiree through deduction of the premiums. DFAS told me there is no SSIA application form or procedure, the SSIA is automatic following a full audit of the widow’s DFAS account which takes three to four months. In our widow’s case, the audit will determine how much of the SBP premium money will be refunded to her, probably a reduced amount in lieu of her repaying the SBP paid.
She loses the SBP $567 per month. She gains the DIC $1,257.95 per month with about $7,540 back pay. (Not that she’s thinking of it now, but since she’s over fifty-seven years old she keeps the DIC even if she remarries.) She’ll pick up the SSIA $310 per month with $1,860 back pay and the SBP premium money refund around June or July. The SBP premium refund is a one-time settlement, I’m guessing of several thousand dollars. Because the veteran’s passing is now considered by the VA as service connected she will receive an additional amount for his burial/funeral expenses beyond the $1,047.00 ‘regular’ amount already paid, a one-time supplemental payment of $953.00.
I called the widow. She had not read the VA letter. I told her about it. She started to cry. She had sold some items from her home to buy food. I hung up because I did not want her to hear me crying.
“Thank you” Easter Bunny Bouquet from the widow. She’d received her DIC retroactive benefits. I’ll bet this cost more than the letter and postage to the VA.
The law supporting the SSIA $310 per month expires on 30 September 2017. When SSIA was created Congress intended the SSIA dollar amount to increase each time a new SSIA law was passed until the DIC-SBP offset was finally overcome. Without Congressional action, our widow and all other surviving spouses eligible for SBP and DIC will lose their SSIA this October.