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110-year-old widow of WWI veteran gets big VA pension boost

Alda Collins couldn't believe it when her son, James, recently delivered the news: After 30-plus years of receiving a $36 monthly pension for her late husband's service in World War I, that amount would soon increase to $1,000.

The 110-year-old widow, who is believed to be the second-oldest person in Pennsylvania, needed the benefit to pay for the cost of staying in a personal care home, James Collins told NBC News. She was entitled to a higher veteran survivor benefit amount but did not realize it.


Collins said that he applied for an increase in 2008, and was told that it might take six months to a year to process the claim. Instead, four years passed without a decision from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"They were good to me and everything, but it just wasn’t happening," Collins said. "They couldn’t tell me anything."

Earlier this year, Collins, of Carrolltown, Pa., called Rep. Mark Critz, D-Pa., who was able to expedite the process. In addition to the new monthly amount, Alda Collins will get $25,000 as back pay to cover the time period during which she waited for a decision on the claim.

James, who had paid for her care using money from his retirement pension and "dwindling" IRA, said the benefit increase was a relief.

Collins had lived alone until she was 105, and then moved into the personal care home. She remains active, using a walker, feeding herself and reading the National Enquirer each week.

Alda's husband, William, was a sharpshooter stationed in Texas between 1917 and 1920, and died in 1976. After leaving the Army, he became a barber and ran a shop until his death.

A veteran survivor's pension can be available to an un-remarried surviving spouse who meets certain requirements, according to the VA website.

James Collins said he did not realize he could apply for an increase until just a few years ago. "If I’d applied 20 years ago, things would have been great."

Rebecca Ruiz is a reporter at NBC News. Follow her on Twitter here.

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