Fall 2013 Edition NJDMAVA Veterans

About NJ Veteran Journal:
The New Jersey Veteran Journal is an official publication of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and is intended to serve New Jersey's veterans, their families, friends and concerned individuals and groups. All correspondence should be sent to:

Veteran Journal Editor
PO Box 340
Trenton, NJ 08625-0340

Widow's claim approved years after husband's passing
By William J. McDonnell, Veterans Service Officer

It was a casual conversation during an intermission of a show at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia that five years later ended with compensation a veteran's widow never expected.

In April of 2008, my wife and I were at a show speaking with a woman sitting next to us. She said that she traveled from Vineland for the show. I mentioned to her my former position at the state veterans office in her city.

The woman proceeded to tell me that her husband was a veteran and that she had applied for widow benefits when her husband passed away in 2005. In fact, after the veteran died, she filed a claim with the Veterans Administration (VA) seeking service connected death benefits. Her claim that the skin cancer was service connected was quickly denied because the VA was under the impression that the skin cancer was caused by Agent Orange.

The widow then told me that her husband was a career Air Force man. He served on active duty from 1954 to 1974. The widow was hesitant to revisit the claim, even though she knew her husband was treated for skin cancer during his 20 year military career. Her impression was the VA decision of 2005 was final.

Two months later, I saw the woman again at the theater and again mentioned we should reopen the claim for service connected death benefits. She reluctantly agreed. On June 25, 2008, I sent a VA Form 4138 to the Philadelphia Regional office requesting the claim be reopened based on "new evidence".

I contacted the widow and told her to gather the names of all doctors that treated her husband for skin cancer. We sent a VA Form 4142 to request to release medical information to VA to each of those medical facilities.

In total, we sent 33 records requests to VA asking them to contact each physician involved in the treatment of the veteran's skin cancer.

Almost a year later, in May 2009, the widow called me and said that VA had again denied the claim.

This time we wrote a "Notice of Disagreement" to VA and clearly explained to VA that "we were not claiming that the skin cancer was caused by Agent Orange." We were claiming that the skin cancer was "caused by excessive sun exposure on the flight line over a twenty year military career."

On Remembrance Day

Brig. Gen. James Grant, Director of the Joint Staff, New Jersey Army and Air National Guard, left, presents the New Jersey Meritorious Service Medal along with service medals for Korea and Vietnam to Marianne Clark on Remembrance Day May 7, 2013. One year ago Clark's husband Sgt. 1st Class Dwight Clark passed away, making the presentation of the medals even more important to the widow. Photo by Kryn P. Westhoven, New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

As evidence we sent a medical study from Scientific American Journal entitled, "Sunlight & Skin Cancer." The study discussed how prolonged sun exposure early in life can cause skin cancer at a later age, much like a "delayed reaction." We told the widow that she should request a professional medical opinion from various dermatologists and surgeons.

I wondered if any of the doctors would opine that the "skin cancer was, more likely than not, caused by excessive sun exposure" during military service? In March of 2009, one of the surgeons did write a medical opinion stating that he believed the skin cancer originated during military service. That opinion quickly went out to the VA.

In October 2010, almost 18 months after we submitted the Notice of Disagreement, the VA, on appeal, had ruled in favor of the widow. The widow was stunned and grateful. The widow was granted death benefits of approximately $1,200 per month, CHAMPVA (Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs) health care, education benefits and back dated compensation check of more than $30,000.