BEACON TRANSCRIPT – In the past five years, employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs declared dead about 4,200 veterans who were very much alive. One veteran had to prove to the department that he was not dead with help from a congressman.
The errors were mainly due to faulty computer cross-checking or human mistakes, the VA wrote in a letter addressed to the U.S. lawmaker. In the meantime the department reportedly revamped its procedures to prevent future similar mishaps.
A VA spokesperson expressed sincere regrets on behalf of the department for the errors. She did note that the number of VA health system beneficiaries erroneously declared dead is small as compared with the millions of transactions that were done right.
The VA pledged to restore benefits to all affected veterans.
Well, all’s well that ends well, but not for all veterans. Some of them expressed concerns that they may see their benefits cut off for no apparent reason in the future too. Navy veteran Michael Rieker experienced the situation twice.
Rieker, 69, regained access to its benefits after he was mistakenly declared dead. But after a few months his benefits vanished once more. This time he had to get in touch with U.S. Rep. David Jolly to help him prove to the department that he was not dead yet.
In the end, he got his benefit payments back, but he still fears that he may one day lose them again.
What’s even more disturbing is that in the fall of 2015, more than one-third of about the 870,000 applicants waiting to enroll into the VA health-care system were declared dead. This means that the process took so long that 304,500 vets never got to live to enjoy their benefits.
In the last half-decade, two million veterans were reported dead. Of these, 4,201 were still alive when that happened. The agency said that similar errors account only for 1 percent of all benefit terminations every year, and its employees have so far declared veterans dead with 99.83 percent accuracy.
The department declined to disclose the causes of mistakes at it reportedly doesn’t keep track of them. In Rieker’s case, it took just one letter for him to lose his benefits. A VA computer matched his name with the deceased Michael G. Rieker in the Social Security Administration database, despite his full name being Michael C. Rieker.
The automated system was set in place to prevent another issue: granting benefit payments to dead beneficiaries.
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