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Court Wins

CCK Secures DIC Benefits for Surviving Spouse of Vietnam Veteran

Jenna Zellmer

January 1, 2022

Updated: June 20, 2024


Summary of the Case

The Veteran served in the United States Navy from October 1954 to 1974.  He spent the latter years—August 1968 to August 1974—on active duty in the Republic of Vietnam.

He initially applied for service connection for ischemic heart disease in 1984.  The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) granted partial disability benefits in 1986 for his heart condition and atherosclerotic disease.

The Veteran started receiving Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU) in 2005 for multiple heart conditions, as well as his atherosclerosis, type II diabetes, and more.  In January 2014, the Veteran passed away from respiratory arrest and presumed metastatic pancreatic cancer, according to his death certificate.

The Veteran’s surviving spouse filed for service connection for his cause of death and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) on February 4, 2014.  VA issued a rating decision on March 27, 2014, denying service connection and DIC benefits.  The spouse submitted a Notice of Disagreement to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in early 2015.

The case finally reached the Board on April 30, 2019.  The Board determined that the criteria for entitlement to DIC based on service connection for cause of death had not been met.

CCK Argues Herbicide Exposure and Diabetes Contributed to Veteran’s Death

With the help of Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD, the Veteran’s surviving spouse appealed the Board’s decision at the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Court).  The Court partially vacated the Board’s April 2019 denial of service connection and benefits and remanded the case for further consideration by the Board.

CCK offered additional evidence on behalf of the spouse.  A June 2020 medical opinion stated there is a clear link between type II diabetes and several types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.  It also stated that exposure to carcinogens during military service, including dioxin in Agent Orange and arsenic in Agent Blue, may have also led to his cancer.  The medical professional concluded that both the herbicide exposure and service-connected diabetes contributed to the Veteran’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

The case returned to the Board in August 2020, with CCK now representing the surviving spouse and the Veteran.  Based on the June 2020 medical opinion, CCK argued that the Veteran’s service-connected type II diabetes and his in-service exposure to herbicides contributed to his death in 2014.

Board and VA Grant Service Connection and DIC Benefits

On August 20, 2020, the Board determined that the evidence presented by CCK was enough to grant the Veteran service connection for his cause of death.  In February 2021, VA granted the surviving spouse Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, with retroactive benefits beginning on February 1, 2014.

About the Author

Bio photo of Jenna Zellmer

Jenna joined CCK in January of 2014 as an appellate attorney, was named Managing Attorney in September of 2019, and now serves as a Partner at the firm. Her law practice focuses on representing disabled veterans at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

See more about Jenna