A few minutes ago, Cliff Turcotte's widow Norma phoned to tell me her good news: The VA approved her survivor benefits based on his service aboard our former Agent Orange spray C-123 aircraft.
Earlier this year, on hearing of her loss I suggested she apply for the benefits. His death is now considered by both the Air Force and the VA to be related to his toxic exposures while on duty with the 74th AES.
The VA calls it Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC,) awarded survivors of active duty or retired personnel in the amount of $1240. DIC is in lieu of survivors benefit compensation unless DIC is the lesser amount. For all, DIC is tax-free.
Cliff died before applying for any Agent Orange exposure benefits but on my urging his wife contacted the Agawam Town veteran service office and completed the necessary paperwork. VA awarded her the benefit retroactive to the date of her application, and this was just the greatest news I could hope for this morning!
Norma gave me her permission to tell everyone about this, and together we urge all C-123 veterans or their survivors to apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs if they have any of the presumptive illnesses associated with Agent Orange.
This can be done online, or through state or county veterans service officers or through any of the veterans organizations such as Disabled American Veterans and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The veterans organizations provide this as a free service as part of their congressional charters. Their VA-accredited representatives can usually be contacted through VA medical centers.
I don't know the list of our comrades' survivors but I know that Paul Bailey, Cliff Turcotte, Ed Kosakoski, Dick Matte and our other friends now lost to us would all want this benefit to protect their loved ones. Yet, every widow I've spoken with has been reluctant to apply, concerned that it could be unseemly to seek this important financial protection, or the benefits provided by state or local governments such as property tax relief.
Let's put that fear to rest! Serving in the military it's done out of patriotic motivation and also for the opportunity to earn the benefits important to our lives. Our military retirement pensions, TriCare medical coverage and base shopping privileges are some examples we appreciate and have earned.
DIC and other survivor benefits are just as important and every servicemember wants these earned protections for our families. I assured Norma that Cliff probably headed over to get another beer from the refrigerator up in Heaven when he heard the good news!
We must give credit where credit is due and acknowledge the Agawam veterans service officer and also the VA itself for the prompt attention given the claim.
A personal note: Cliff and I joined the 74th AES the same day, and were welcomes aboard by Marv Proctor and Vinny Macrave. Cliff was a prior service Navy corpsman, and I was a prior service medic with the Army and as California Air National Guard, and both of us were staff sergeants. Cliff completed his education and was commissioned as a flight nurse, retiring as a major.
Once again today, Cliff's family told me how much he loved flying and loved the squadron.