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. She described how she had to move because she couldn’t afford to make her house payments. She now lives in a small apartment and relies on financial help from her daughter and a doctor who has given her free samples of medicine she couldn’t otherwise afford.
"Other than that, I wouldn’t make it,” she said. A survivor’s check of $1,154 a month would have made a big difference.
The 1950 battle of Chosin Reservoir was a brutal one, with greatly outnumbered American troops fighting against Chinese soldiers in temperatures that reached 30to 40 degrees below zero.
Mattie Cox said the frigid temperature and savage fighting took a toll on her husband.
"He had the shakes afterwards,” she said. "I fought the Korean War the first 10 years of our marriage ... with him waking up at night screaming and hollering.”
"His feet were like ice,” she said. "At the VA hospital, that guy had to get an electric heater to warm his feet up before he could even check them.”
Hershall Burns, 77, of Oklahoma City, also survived the battle of Chosin Reservoir and can relate to Joe Cox’s experience.
Burns said he suffered frostbite and underwent two back surgeries as a result of the Korean War. Problems like arthritis and numbness in his hands and feet have grown worse.
Like many Korean and World War II veterans, Burns said he waited years before collecting disability benefits. In the beginning, he was only granted partial disability benefits, but the percentage was increased until it reached 100 percent 10 years ago.
Burns said he considers himself lucky because his wife qualifies for dependency and indemnity aid.
"It’s a relief and a comfort to know my wife will get some compensation if I do kick the bucket first,” Burns said.
Still, he thinks the system is unfair to widows like Mattie Cox.
"They need to change it,” he said.