Polk County is leading the charge in an effort to remove bureaucratic obstacles standing in the way of veterans’ spouses receiving the benefits they are entitled to. By simply revising the death certification issuing process, Polk County is creating an policy that could help thousands of spouses receive veterans' benefits in Florida and beyond.
Mike Mason, the manager of Veteran Services in Polk County, told The Ledger that he wanted to find a way to help veterans’ spouses after he met a Vietnam veteran’s widow who went 10 years without Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits - all because of an error with her late husband’s death certificate.
The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of military servicemembers who died in the line of duty or eligible survivors of veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease, according to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
The issue in this case was that the death certificate did not list a piece of vital information: the veteran’s ischemic heart disease was a direct result of his exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam. As a result, the spouse could not apply for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, even though she was fully entitled to the benefits.
She’s not alone in this struggle. “The VA often rejected benefits claims because death certificates didn’t mention service-related ailments,” explained Florida Veterans Foundation chairman John Haynes to The Ledger.
This is why it is essential for veterans to have all service-related ailments listed on their death certificate. Veterans’ disabilities that could qualify a surviving spouse for benefits and must be listed on a veteran's death certificate include, but are not limited to, the following: Gulf war syndrome, exposure to toxic chemicals, cancer caused by exposure to harmful substances, and tropical diseases.
The revision in Florida’s death certificate process will involve updating the electronic form used by funeral directors, looping in the veteran’s doctor if a service-connected disability contributed to their death. It is only after this verification process by the doctor that the death certificate is formally submitted.
This more scrupulous process will ensure all death certificates will contain information about service-connected conditions, subsequently helping surviving spouses to gather all of the information needed to put in a successful claim for benefits.
As Florida is among the five states with the largest veteran population, this change in policy can not only help the families of Florida’s many veterans in the future, but help to educate surviving spouses who are not aware of the benefits they are entitled to.
This Polk County policy is a great first step in helping to simplify the benefits claims process for veterans’ spouses, but navigating the Veterans’ Affairs and submitting a claim is still a very complex process, one that is best handled by an experienced lawyer.
Are you the spouse of a veteran who passed away due to a service-connected condition? If so, the veterans’ benefits attorneys of Morgan & Morgan are here to help you receive the benefits you are entitled to. Read more to learn about how surviving spouses can qualify for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. If you’re ready to pursue filing a claim, fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation today.