Perseverance pays off for Vietnam veteran's widow.

Barry Walter, State Director, Veterans Service, VFW Dept. of Illinois 

Married nearly three decades, Hillary Smith* was looking forward to spending her golden years with her husband Doug*, a veteran who had served two tours in Vietnam.

But that was not what their future held. Tragically, Doug was diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer in 2006 and died suddenly in 2007. He was just 55 years old.

"The sicker Doug became, the more concerned he was about what would happen after he was gone," Mrs. Smith said.

“Mrs. Smith carried on for a couple years after Doug died, but the job market was making her nervous. She began to seriously worry about her future,” explained Barry Walter, State Director, Veterans Service, VFW Department of Illinois.

Smith turned to Walter and the VFW to see if she might be eligible for any survivor benefits through the VA. Indeed she was. 

Walter helped Smith file a claim based on her husband’s presumed service connection to herbicide exposure in Vietnam.

“Her claim was approved, effective to the date of the application,” said Walter.

Mrs. Smith was immensely grateful, but couldn’t help but wonder why the benefits weren’t granted to the date of Doug’s death in 2007. After all, that was when she became a widow.

Walter puzzled over the case. Then it came to him.  

“I remembered an obscure rule of law. If a widow filed for social security benefits after the death, then retroactive benefits should be granted,” Walter shared. “But there was no reason to believe that would have happened. Mrs. Smith was much too young to have ever done that, I assumed.”

A call to Mrs. Smith unlocked the case for good. In fact, she did file for those social security benefits in 2007, and Walter’s understanding of the law was correct.

With that information submitted to the VA, Mrs. Smith received nearly $50,000 in retroactive benefits.

“While I’m proud of the work I did here, it was Mrs. Smith’s own perseverance that was key,” said Walter. “She was told ‘no’ more than a few times, and she kept at it. She was right all along.”

"The help I received from the VFW was outstanding, and the award is a real blessing," said Mrs. Smith. "I have peace of mind, and I know my husband would have wanted that."

* Name changed to protect privacy.

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