Family Matters

DAV Helps Widow Stay in Home by Securing Overlooked DIC Benefits

Thereasa Tyus normally looked forward to celebrating the holiday season with her large family in Detroit. But not last Christmas. In November 2013, instead of purchasing gifts for her loved ones, Tyus was fighting to stay in her home.

Tyus’ financial situation had been difficult since her husband Lamont, an Army veteran, passed away in April 2009. Lamont, who served in Vietnam, was rated 100-percent disabled by the VA.

“When my husband passed, it was half of the household income,” said Tyus. The grieving widow was blindsided with financial hardship after the VA informed her she did not qualify for Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC), a tax-free monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of veterans whose deaths resulted from service-related injuries or diseases.

Tyus sought help through a private attorney, who said there was nothing more she could do because the VA had already denied the claim. Three years went by as she struggled to support her family on one income. She and her late husband had helped raise 27 kids in total throughout the years— children, grandchildren and neighbors. Even as money became tight after Lamont’s passing, she was committed to providing whatever she could for her loved ones.

Faced with losing her home, she heard about DAV’s free services for veterans at just the right time. She inquired if DAV’s assistance was also available to family and survivors. Tyus was introduced to Associate National Service Officer Jason Zielke, who asked her to come in with her claims paperwork.

“I told her that we don’t just help veterans; we assist their spouses and children as well,” said Zielke. “It’s important to help families because they are supporting the veterans throughout their lives.”

Zielke reviewed Tyus’ denied claim and discovered a clear and unmistakable error. As he suspected, Tyus was entitled to DIC. He hand-delivered the claims folder to the VA, stressing the urgency of the situation. Zielke frequently followed up with the VA on the status of Tyus’ claim. Within a few weeks, Zielke was notified Tyus was, in fact, eligible for DIC and would be receiving retroactive benefits to 2010.

“Sadly, sometimes people fall through the cracks in the claims process, but DAV is here to prevent that,” said Zielke. “It’s unfortunate that Thereasa had to struggle for so long without the compensation her husband had earned for her through his sacrifices. But I am glad she found her way to DAV so we could correct the error.”

Zielke takes pride in helping veterans and their families who are experiencing difficulties with their claims, as he understands firsthand how overwhelming the process can be.

“I did it by myself for many years before I realized getting an advocate can be a big help,” said Zielke. “Without assistance, it can be very discouraging.”

Thankfully, Tyus isn’t the kind of person who gives up easily. She never stopped supporting her husband, even after his mental health began to diminish. And she refused to stop fighting for the assistance he earned for his family. She believes where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“Don’t give up. Keep trying,” said Tyus. Her determination paid off when she was finally granted DIC.

“The benefits made a big difference. I was feeling relieved. I could pay off some bills, just breathe a little easier,” said Tyus. Instead of worrying about losing her home and putting food on the table for her family, Tyus could actually enjoy Christmas with her loved ones and reminisce about the love of her life, Lamont.

“Lamont Tyus sacrificed for our nation, and as any military spouse knows, that means his family did, too,” said National Adjutant Marc Burgess. “DAV is here to serve not only veterans, but their families who supported and sacrificed right alongside their loved one.”

Zielke wants to ensure that survivors know the benefits they are eligible for, and that they can access free assistance in securing them. He doesn’t want anyone else to needlessly struggle, like Tyus did.

National Service Director Jim Marszalek applauded Zielke’s commitment to fast tracking Tyus’ claim. “When Jason met Thereasa, she was faced with losing her home. He recognized the urgency of the difficult financial situation she was put in due to an oversight, and he jumped into action,” said Marszalek. “Thereasa’s story is a shining example of DAV’s dedication to serving not only veterans, but also their devoted families who supported them.”

“I am going to do whatever I can to help others. It makes me feel really good about my job and what I do here,” said Zielke. “Come on in and let us assist you with the process. That’s why we’re here—to help.”