VA Declares Veterans Dead When They Aren’t

Image courtesy of Eric Arnold

When the U.S. Veterans Administration declares that someone is dead and stops their benefits, 99.83% of the time, that person really is dead. For the thousands of people that’s happened to in the last few years who weren’t dead, though, it’s awfully inconvenient to have the sprawling bureaucracy that they depend on for income and medical care declare that they were.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a total of 4,201 veterans have been erroneously declared dead in the last five years. The agency cross-checks with the Social Security Administration, which maintains the Death Master File. The list is cross-checked with Social Security, but sometimes this causes even more problems instead of solving them.

For example, one 69-year-old veteran had his benefits end twice. The VA had him noted as dead, resurrected him, and then someone killed him again. He discovered that the problem was an error by the VA: his middle initial was noted as G instead of C on a document, and a man with the same name and middle initial G was the one who died.

He took the incident in stride, but pointed out that this could be devastating to people in a precarious financial position. “It could be one day you’ve got a house, and the next you don’t,” he observed.

In a statement to the WSJ, a VA spokesperson said:

“Although these types of cases represent a small number of beneficiaries in comparison to the millions of transactions completed each year in our administration of benefits, we sincerely regret the inconvenience caused by such errors and work to restore benefits as quickly as possible after any such error is brought to our attention.”

A safeguard that the VA has put in place since last year is a system that should be called “Not Quite Dead Yet Letters.” When someone has been reported dead, the agency sends a letter to verify. If they receive a response from the veteran, well, he or she isn’t dead.

Thousands of Living Vets Declared Dead and Lost Benefits in Past Five Years [Wall Street Journal]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.