John Gilbert, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran who served in Vietnam, met Judith (Jude) Gilbert on Friday, April 13, 1984 during a full moon. A mutual friend set them up on a blind date, because each of them had expressed a desire to meet someone respectable. Both had been married before but immediately fell for each other. When asked if it was love at first sight, Jude replied, “It was more like I was a piece of a puzzle and I fit there; it’s where I belonged. It was a comfortable feeling I can’t explain.”
John and a buddy had joined the Marines just out of high school. His buddy was killed; John served his tour and came home with PTSD. Jude says he was a daredevil who loved to take risks; but he was also a romantic, frequently hand-making gifts for Jude like a door stop, or a pendant.
They moved in together two months after meeting, and had a ring ceremony a month after that. Although John wanted to commit to Jude as his wife, he did not want to have a traditional, legal marriage ceremony.
For almost 27 years they lived as husband and wife in Maine. Everyone in their community believed they were married and they referred to each other as such.
In late 2010, John became gravely ill with heart disease and pancreatic cancer and entered the hospital. During his time there, Jude attempted to discuss his care with his healthcare providers and make decisions on his behalf, but administrators at the hospital told her she wouldn’t be able to do that because she and John were not legally married. When Jude protested, she was told that the State of Maine does not recognize common law marriage – something she and John were unaware of.
She and John immediately held a legal marriage ceremony at the hospital, but sadly, John died ten days later of a heart attack determined to be service-connected Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). Jude was retroactively granted some benefits as John's wife at the time of death, but she appealed what she felt was an error in the date eligibility, as well as filing for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
Jude began fighting for the remaining benefits after John’s death. She approached other Veterans service organizations who turned her away and refused to help.
Then a friend of hers mentioned working with John Stansbury, a (now-retired) PVA National Service Officer. John took a look at her case and suggested a few things she could do in order to bolster her case. He said if she did those things to come back to him and he would help her. And he did. A month or so later, Jude received a hearing date and John represented her.
For years, led by PVA’s legal team, Jude fought for the benefits John earned in service to his country. Jude says, “I was giving up hope but I wasn’t going to give up the fight. This is something my husband fought for and earned.”
Finally, in late July 2020, the VA agreed to a settlement which specifically states that Jude was John’s surviving spouse, that she is entitled to DIC, and that she is entitled to the remaining period of Total Disability rating based upon Individual Unemployability that she had claimed.
“It took 9 years, 5 months, and 25 days to win. I’m just so grateful for everything the PVA did for me because if they hadn’t taken me on and believed in me, I would have never won this case,” Jude says. “I tell everybody I know who says they are having issues with VA benefits to go to PVA.”
“I still miss him,” she adds. “He was one of a kind.