Matthew: Hello, and welcome to the Hill and Ponton Veteran Disability video blog. I’m here with Carol Ponton. I’m Matthew Hill. Today we’d like to talk to you about DIC benefits, essentially survivor’s benefits for when the veteran dies. But we want to talk to you about it in a specific context, and that is Thailand. That is our Air Force veterans who were in Thailand during Vietnam, and also some army veterans who were there.
We right now represent quite a few veterans who were over in Thailand who were trying to get service connected now for their exposure to Agent Orange. The VA for decades had denied that Agent Orange was ever used there. And within the last seven years, they finally admitted that yes, that they did use it, that they sprayed it not only on the perimeter but that that spray actually penetrated the actual base itself.
Carol: They’re admitting that’s true, but we’re finding many of the veterans are still being denied. We have started proving that these people were exposed to Agent Orange. So it’s not on automatic like it should be.
Matthew: Right. The way the VA says it is that the veteran had to have some kind of military occupational specialty that kept them on the perimeter. The one they refer to as MP dog handler.
Carol: The bathroom was by the perimeter. Where they ate was by the perimeter. You can prove this. We’ve gotten all the maps. We have layouts of them. We’ve collected quite a bit of data from our veterans that we are able to use in proving service connection for other veterans.
Where that comes into play now is for survivors of people who have a veteran who was there in Thailand who died. They could’ve died because of diabetes, heart problems, anything that was caused by Agent Orange. These are claims that should be filed now because now you can win them.
Matthew: Even if the veteran was never service connected for anything in his life, if he died of a heart attack but wasn’t service connected for the heart, if he died of diabetes complication and it wasn’t service connected for that. What Carol is saying is that doesn’t matter. You as a survivor have a brand new case. You can go in and you can request DIC benefits. Those are an ongoing monthly benefit where you’re paid essentially a stipend which it’s anywhere from $1200 to $1400 a month.
Carol: To $1400 and something a month.
Matthew: That is important that you go do that because these are benefits that your spouse should’ve been entitled to. But it is a little trickier for a survivor to prove these claims, because for Thailand vets themselves, we could just write out a statement. Where were you on the perimeter? Where did you stay on the base? It is a little bit more difficult. That’s why Carol was referring to all the legwork we’ve had to do with getting the maps.
Carol: Showing exactly where the spraying was done. The spraying was actually done inside the fence, not outside the fence.
Matthew: The joke we’ve heard with Thailand vets is that in Vietnam, they sprayed out into the jungle; whereas in Thailand, they sprayed into the base and on them. It’s a very different situation that they were actually hit with it themselves.
Carol: I know that everybody has friends. What I want to get the news out to is to the people who lost someone 10, 12, 20 years ago because back then they were told, “You don’t have a claim.” And they probably don’t know any different now. It was probably even four or five years ago that’s what they’re being told. These are people who really don’t even know that they would qualify and many of them are very in need of these benefits. So it may not be you, but it may be someone you know.
Matthew: With this, the VA also admitted that they should’ve been giving the veterans these benefits. If the survivor applies, say, in 2014 and the veteran himself had applied and been denied back in 2000, they owe her these benefits all the way back then. There’s a lot of compensation on the line here, so it is worth applying.
You can find online many veterans who were stationed in Thailand who can speak to the different areas that they worked in the base. If the veteran was a jet mechanic you can ask, “Where were the hangars on this field and how close were they to the perimeter?” You can get good information like that.
Carol: We have statements from a number of our veterans who were there over a long period of time and established where different things were on the base. Knowing what the deceased veteran’s job was, we’ve already got a lot of that information.
Matthew: It’s something we say often – and Carol is a huge champion of this – is don’t give up on your appeal. If you apply and you’re denied and they say, “Your husband (or your veteran) was not on the perimeter,” don’t give up there. That’s unfortunately kind of a blanket response we see.
Carol: We do. I think sometimes the people who evaluate the claims initially may be the people who are not as well trained, and so you definitely need to appeal it. Even if the second person doesn’t know it, like I’ve said many times, go to the BVA (Board of Veterans Appeal). Make sure you have all the evidence. Make sure you’re giving them what they need. But don’t stop.
Matthew: Thank you for tuning in. We hope that this helps you today. We look forward to seeing you next time on the Veterans video blog.