Veteran’s widow tries to pay the bills

PHOTO BY GRETEL DAUGHERTY—Sandi Niblack holds up her late husband’s VA medical card next to a rack of men’s clothes that belonged to him and a fellow military widow’s late husband during a garage sale at a friend’s house. Niblack was trying to sell clothing and her craft supplies at the garage sale to pay for his cremation costs and bills that he let slide before he died; she has already lost her car and sold her furniture, and is facing foreclosure on her home.

Sandi Niblack is selling “whatever isn’t nailed down” to make ends meet.

Her husband, a Vietnam war veteran, died March 27. Niblack said she is still struggling to pay off the last $1,000 on his funeral. She doesn’t qualify to receive his disability benefits, she said, because he received them for less than 10 years, despite 30 years of medical issues stemming from an injury in the war.

Last month, Niblack sold her bedroom furniture. Saturday and Sunday, she tried to raise more money for bills by having a garage sale. Niblack displayed her crafts, household decor and appliances as well as some of her late husband’s clothes in the driveway of a Clifton friend, another military widow. Most of the people who stopped by were friends of the couple or military veterans.

Niblack said her husband was a cryptographer who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. During the third tour, Niblack and four other men were unknowingly standing too close to a piece of artillery. When it went off, the sound imploded the ear drums of three of the men, including Niblack’s.

His brain swelled so badly that his eyes came out of their sockets and he developed a brain tumor, his widow said. His sight was sketchy from then on. A steroid treatment helped his head but weakened his hip bones. During hip treatment at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Reno, Nev., Sandi Niblack said, he received hepatitis C.

He struggled for years to receive disability payments. Not long after getting them, he died at age 61 of hepatitis at the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Veterans Affairs officials in Grand Junction were great to her husband, Niblack said, but she has found it hard to get help now that she’s “just a wife.”

“He was a war hero and this is what we get,” she said Sunday, wiping tears from her eyes near the home she shared with Dennis for four years — the home she can now barely pay to stay in. One of her cars has already been repossessed, she said, and the other is for sale.

Niblack said she sold crafts for income at the Peach Tree Swap Meet until it closed Oct. 1. She plans to participate in the Arts & Crafts Benefit sponsored by the Center for Independence from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 740 Gunnison Ave. in Grand Junction.

She met her husband in Reno after Niblack left his job as a clinical psychologist for troubled teens in Denver and became a black jack dealer in Nevada. They lived in Rifle for eight years, where he worked as a sheriff’s deputy, before moving to Clifton. They just barely got the chance to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary before he died.

“He had a sense of humor that would not quit, even when he was dying,” Sandi said. “The day before he died he reached out and patted me on the butt and said, ‘Ha ha.’ “

Anyone who would like to donate to the Dennis Niblack Memorial Fund can do so at the Bank of Colorado, 200 Grand Ave., Grand Junction, CO 81501.


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