If you are a veteran's widowed spouse who remarried after age 57 and lost your survivor benefits, you can have them reinstated, but you'll have to act fast.
A law passed last year allows widows who remarry at age 57 or older to retain their "Dependency and Indemnity Compensation" (DIC).
Anyone who remarried after 57 before the new law passed -- even if they are no longer married due to death or divorce -- can be reinstated, but they must apply in writing to the Department of Veterans Affairs by Dec. 15.
The Greater Pittsburgh Chapter of the Gold Star Wives of America Inc., which was active in getting the law passed, has been contacting nursing homes, retirement homes and the like, trying to spread the word.
Chapter President Lela Matthews says the group doesn't know how many spouses might be affected by the change, "but we know there are people out there who aren't aware."
Matthews said the law, which was effective Jan. 1, came out of the outreach committee of the Gold Star Wives, a congressionally chartered service organization for spouses of military service members who died in the armed forces or as a result of service-connected disabilities.
The DIC benefits are not retroactive (beyond Jan. 1, 2004), but eligible widows or widowers receive them regardless of income level. The monthly pension averages about $900.
Surviving spouses may also be eligible for additional benefits, including free hospitalization and prescriptions by mail.
"We want them to know these benefits are there, especially with the medical," Matthews said. "Medical is so expensive."
Susan Coleman-Fowler found out the hard way. The Ross woman, whose husband was killed in Vietnam in 1966, remarried and then divorced, and by not asking about benefits, she lost out on about a decade's worth that all unmarried surviving spouses may receive.
She said she doesn't want that to happen to others: "There could be so many women out there who are having a hard time who are eligible for these benefits."
The Dec. 15 DIC reapplication deadline only applies to those who remarried at 57 or older before Jan. 1, 2004. The spouse who remarries after age 57 now keeps those benefits under the law. Hence, Coleman-Fowler, who's 56, could remarry next year or thereafter without losing her DIC.
The "Veterans Benefits Act of 2003" increased other benefits as well. To find out more about benefits for which you may be eligible, call the national VA at 1-800-827-1000 or visit its Web site, www.va.gov.
For more information about the Gold Star Wives call 1-888-751-6350 or visit the Web site www.goldstarwives.org.
Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1930.