During the past 1.5 years, the Department of Veterans Affairs has declared 115 veterans or their spouses dead – and terminated their benefits – even though they are still alive. In many cases, these veterans are dependent on that VA money. “I started looking around the house for things to sell,” Navy veteran Mike Rieker said.
In Mary Ann Clough’s case, the VA not only terminated her benefits but also reached into her bank accounts to withdraw money she’d already rightfully received as the widow of a veteran. “I lost $4000,” Clough said.
U.S. Congressman David Jolly (R-Pinellas) announced Tuesday that after months of pressure, the VA is changing its policies to give “deceased” veterans a 30-day warning. That way they can prove they’re alive, if that’s the case, before losing benefits. “This should prevent that from ever happening again,” Jolly said.
The VA told Jolly that it has a 99.83 percent record of accuracy when it comes to terminating benefits for veterans and spouses the agency thinks have died. But Jolly points out that still leaves about a dozen people a month on the losing end of the VA’s mistakes.
“In some cases the VA has suggested that a veteran who is alive and well has been buried in a cemetery,” Jolly said.B
The change in VA policy – as simple as it sounds – now promises to prevent the kind of hardship encountered by half a dozen people in the Tampa Bay area during the last year and a half.
Rieker, who survived two years of gunboat duty during the Vietnam War, won’t have to have any more conversations like the one he recently had with a VA bureaucrat when his checks stopped coming.
“The lady said, ‘Our records show you’re deceased,’ and I said, ‘Well now, I’m not. I’m here,’” Rieker said. “It was actually about five minutes on the phone arguing with this lady about being dead.”
And how does he feel now? “I’m chipper as ever,” Rieker declared.