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Oklahoma veterans’ survivors seek federal benefit

BY RANDY ELLIS Published: April 11, 2010

After surviving one of the coldest, bloodiest battles in military history, Chosin Reservoir survivor Joe Cox didn’t want to ask his country’s government for a disability check when he got home.

"He just wouldn’t do it,” said his widow, Mattie Cox,76, of Newcastle.

The Korean War veteran waited more than 40 years before applying for being permanently disabled. He died in 2002.

Now his widow is paying the price.

Mattie Cox said she was told she didn’t qualify for survivor’s dependency and indemnity compensation because her husband lived less than 10 years after being declared 100 percent permanently and totally disabled from service-related injuries. Had he died from those war injuries, she would have qualified, but since he died from cancer and failed to meet the 10-year rule, she was told she would get no government check.

"It’s not fair,” she said.

Many veterans agree, including Marine veteran John Pettyjohn, 60, who has helped hundreds of veterans file their disability claims.

"There are a lot of World War II and Korean War veterans who waited years to file disability claims because they didn’t want to be a burden on their country,” he said. "It’s not right to punish their widows.”

Pettyjohn said there’s another reason the 10-year rule doesn’t make sense. He said the most severely disabled veterans are often the quickest to die and it’s not reasonable to punish their widows.

For 13 years, Pettyjohn said he’s been talking to members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation and hasn’t been able to get any of them to author legislation to change it.

There are about 6,300 veterans in Oklahoma who are 100 percent disabled from service-related causes, according to Scott Clymer, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. Clymer said he’s aware many veterans object to the 10-year rule, but it’s a federal law, so not much can be done on the state level.

Terry Jemison, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said the 10-year rule was established in 1978 to expand the number of family members who would qualify for dependency and indemnity compensation.

Traditionally, the benefits had been restricted to the families of veterans whose deaths were caused by service-connected disease or injury, he said.

The 1978 change was made to provide "a source of continued income to families that had necessarily come to rely upon VA benefits over a prolonged period of a veteran’s total disability,” he said, quoting a VA statement of eight years ago.

Mattie Cox said her household income dropped from about $4,000 a month to $1,265 a month when her husband died.


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