1. Prove Service-connection for the cause of death through medical evidence.
In a recent case our office handled, a widow was able to win service-connection for cause of death by showing that some doctors in the medical community believed that it was likely that PTSD caused heart disease, which led to the veterans death. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) reversed the Board of Veterans’ Appeals denial of benefits which found that it was not a generally accepted medical principle in the medical community that PTSD caused heart disease.
On remand, VA doctors still continued to insist that most doctors did not think there was a link between PTSD and heart disease. Our firm used this admission against the VA, because under the benefit of the doubt standard, because some doctors had conduced studies showing a link between PTSD and heart disease, it was plausible that this veterans PTSD caused heart disease. The benefit of the doubt standard of proof only requires that a veteran show that it is medially plausible that a service-connected disease caused death. The Board granted benefits.
2. Veteran’s disability was service-connected and rated 100 percent for ten years.If a Veteran is at 100 percent for ten years, the widow is awarded DIC benefits. Short of ten years, even by a few months, means that the claim is denied.However, if there is a VA decision during the Veterans Lifetime denying a 100 percent rating, that can be overturned on the basis of Clear and Unmistakable Error (CUE), then a widow can get the 100 percent benefits back far enough to earn the ten years. In a case before the Board, the unappealed 1993 rating decision was found to be CUE and the Veterans rating would have been 100 percent for a period of ten years if the Regional Office had not made a mistake. DIC benefits were granted to the widow.
3. Prove post-mortem Service-Connection of a disease that causes death.
Even if a veteran is not service-connected during his or her lifetime, it is possible to receive service-connection after death for a disability. For example, in one case, it was proven that smoking, which cause the cancer that the Veteran died of, was secondary to the Veterans Service-connected PTSD. Thus, although the Veteran was not service-connected for cancer during his lifetime, the cancer was service-connected post-mortem.