DIC Benefits for widow of deceased veteran.
Result: Recognition as surviving spouse and retroactive pay of almost $100,000.
The veteran died of lung cancer for which he was service-connected as a result of Agent Orange exposure. His widow made a claim for DIC benefits. The VA denied her claim on the grounds that she was not his surviving spouse. The VA relied on documents showing that she and the veteran divorced decades before his death.
The VA denied her claim repeatedly. She appealed to the Board, which also denied her claim. She then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. She hired our law firm to assist her in her appeal.
The Board’s decision relied on the evidence of the divorce between the parties. Indeed, the file contained a judgment of divorce and the two parties were not living together at the time of his death.
However, the widow submitted numerous statements indicating that she and the veteran continued to reside together after the divorce and held themselves out to the public as still being married. The Board ignored her statements regarding the continued cohabitation.
We were able to get the Board’s decision overturned on appeal because of the Board’s failure to consider crucial pieces of evidence indicating the existence of a common law marriage. The widow and the veteran resided in a statement that allowed common law marriage. The evidence in the file included the widow’s statements and bank statements and credit card statements showing joint accounts. We successfully got the case overturned and sent back to the Board.
On remand, we submitted additional statements from family and friends testifying as to the common law relationship between the parties. We also highlighted the joint financial accounts and other evidence. The Board issued another decision, which granted the benefits and awarded the widow almost $100,000 in back pay.