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Sunday 24 December 2006

Veteran's widow not giving up fight for benefits

By: Jimmie Ferguson

Even after proving her husband's death was accidental, a veteran's widow was rejected benefits again by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

But Renee P. Young, the 55-year-old widow of the late retired Sgt. 1st Class Richard A. Young, says another document has surfaced that shows the VA did prescribe her husband propoxyphene, the medication that allegedly caused his death.

The decades-long battle has left her frustrated.

"It's always been something that makes me believe it's a cover up," Renee Young said. "They (VA representatives) tell me, you need this,' and I go back and get that information. And then they say, No, now you need this.' It's always something different.

"I don't understand why other (widows) have gotten their benefits from the same situation, and I haven't," she said, referring to the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program.

Richard Young was 39 years old when he died on Jan. 16, 1990, at Darnall Army Community Hospital at Fort Hood. The cause of death was ruled "apparent suicide." Veterans Affairs has since denied his wife DIC benefits based on the cause of death.

However, on Aug. 18, a formal inquest was held by Justice of the Peace Bill Cooke in Killeen. After reviewing the evidence and the people involved in the initial decision, Cooke ruled that Richard Young's cause of death was an overdose of propoxyphene and the manner of death was accidental, retroactive to Jan. 16, 1990.

Subsequently, Renee Young resubmitted her request for DIC benefits, but was again denied on Nov. 22, 2006.

The letter stated, "We have reviewed the cited medical evidence submitted to support your claim that the veteran's cause of death was the result of the VA Medical Center failing to exercise the degree of care that would be expected of a reasonable health care provider.

"The cause of death is recorded as: overdose of propoxyphene. When the proximate cause of the injury suffered was the veteran's (1) willful misconduct or (2) failure to follow instructions, it will bar him from receipt of compensation hereunder except in the case of incompetent veterans. The veteran's accidental overdose was due to failure to take (the medication) as instructed, and the VA is not culpable for the veteran taking accidental overdose."

Previously, the VA Regional Office had denied Young's claim for benefits because it was alleged that the evidence failed to show any connection between the accidental overdose of propoxyphene and any of Mrs. Young's husband's service-connected disabilities. Another reason for denying her subsequent claims, was that the VA Regional Office disavowed any knowledge of the Temple VA medical center prescribing the propoxyphene to treat Mr. Young's service-connected disabilities.

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