Bill aids surviving spouses of veterans
Mary Stern Schubert of New London knows few details regarding her husband Tom’s experiences as a combat medic in the Vietnam War.
“From the time that Tom got home from Vietnam until his dying day he did not want to talk of Vietnam,” Schubert said at a recent legislative hearing in Madison. “He said it was over, he did his job and he did not flaunt it that he was there. He only said that he was in Cambodia long before the U.S. admitted it. Tom often would wake up at night shaking from nightmares of Vietnam and on his deathbed his nightmares reoccurred.”
What she does know is that Tom endured a long and painful ordeal after he returned home in February 1968.
Schubert spoke about her husband’s experience Thursday, Sept. 1, before the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs in Madison.
“When he got home he was very sick. He had jungle rot on his feet, malaria and he was bleeding from the rectum,” Schubert recalled in her testimony.
She said Tom initially needed to drive 120 miles to Wood Hospital in Milwaukee two to three times a week. He developed polyps on his colon and required a resection in 1972-73.
“We tried to lead a normal life, bringing up our children and trying to do the things most families do with their children, but there were times that Tom was too ill to do anything,” Schubert said.
While he was struggling with his failing health, Tom Schubert also struggled with the Department of Veterans Affairs to qualify for disability. He was eventually rated at a 10 percent disability.
“Apparently, the records that were submitted to the VA review board for DIC benefits were never reviewed because if they were you would have noted that on Tom’s discharge from the Army it said, ‘Medically unfit for retention.’ That was issued in May of 1969. The Army admitted that he was not a healthy man,” Schubert testified.
In January 2001, Tom learned that he had esophageal cancer. He subsequently died from the disease.
“Many of the men that were in Vietnam came back home and died. It was just a slower death, and my husband was one of these heroes,” Schubert said.
Sitting beside her when Schubert gave her testimony was State Rep. Kevin Petersen, R-Waupaca. After Schubert had contacted him about her own experience, Petersen introduced a bill that would help her and others like her.
Assembly Bill 121 seeks to extend a property tax credit to the surviving spouses of veterans, regardless of the veteran’s service-connected disability rating.
Under current state law, veterans and their surviving spouses are eligible for a property tax credit if they have a service-connected disability rating of 100 percent. The disability rating is determined by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
“If, after the veteran’s death, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs determines their passing was service connected, their unremarried surviving spouse becomes eligible for benefits from the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Petersen told the committee. “This eligibility includes spouses of veterans even if they were not rated 100 percent disabled during their life.”
Petersen noted that the VA does not change a veteran’s pre-death disability rating, even if it determines the veteran’s death was service-related.
“Unlike the federal government, Wisconsin has no statute to take into consideration whether or not the veteran’s death resulted from a service-connected cause,” Petersen said. “Because the federal disability rating remains the same as it was prior to the veteran’s death, their unremarried surviving spouses are not eligible for the surviving spouse property tax credit.”
AB 121 expands the state’s definition of eligible surviving spouse to include someone who receives compensation from the federal government because they were married to a veteran whose death was service connected.
The bill makes the state criteria for eligibility for the tax credit identical to the federal criteria for compensation.
“The men and women who have gallantly served our country have done so at the risk of their own well being as well as their lives. We not only owe these heroes our continued gratitude, but the peace of mind in being assured we will continue our oath to care for them in their times of need, as well as the needs of those they hold most precious, their survivors,” Petersen said.