The Department of Veterans Affairs cut benefits for more than 4,000 veterans, and their dependents, after declaring the former soldiers deceased.
In a letter to Representative David Jolly (R. Fla.), the VA admitted to wrongly declaring 4,201 veterans deceased between 2011 and 2015, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Jolly requested more information on veterans whose VA benefits had been wrongly terminated due to mistaken death declarations by a Tampa Bay area VA. In 2015 alone, the error affected over 1,000 veterans.
“During calendar years 2011 through 2015, VA terminated 2,057,790 awards due to the death of the beneficiary. During the same period, VA resumed awards for 4,201 of these beneficiaries after receiving information indicating the beneficiary was not deceased,” the VA undersecretary for benefits, Danny Pummill, stated in the letter dated May 6.
Citing lackluster computer security, Pummill admitted the VA could not explain why the veterans were declared dead.
Pummill wrote: “Although we are able to identify cases where benefits were terminated based on an erroneous notice of a beneficiary’s death and subsequently reinstated, our computer systems do not collect information on the cause of the errors (e.g., VA employee error, erroneous information received through a data-matching program, incorrect identifying data provided by a third party, etc.).”
Veterans falsely declared dead by the VA comprised just 0.2 percent of all VA beneficiaries who lose their benefits over the last five years.
“These numbers confirm our suspicion, that mistaken deaths by the VA have been a widespread problem impacting thousands of veterans across the country,” Jolly, whose first letter to the VA was sent in November after he received complaints, stated on Wednesday. “It’s a problem that should have been addressed years ago, as it has caused needless hardships for thousands of people who had their benefits terminated and their world turned upside down.”
By December 2015, the VA had already changed its policy of automatically terminating benefits when records demonstrated a recipient passed away. The VA would instead contact their families first. Jolly doesn’t believe this will fix what he views as a systemic problem.
He resolved: “I’ll be asking the VA for a new report at the end of this year so we can see the numbers from 2016. If the VA’s new policy is indeed working, this problem should be eliminated. If the problem persists, then Congress will demand further action.”
He believes false termination of “rightful benefits” is unacceptable.
“This creates tremendous financial hardships and undue personal turmoil for veterans, many who are seniors relying primarily if not solely on their VA benefits,” he said.
Slow care, long wait lists for appointments, and other shortcomings have long tarnished the VA’s image. The VA has also been slow on accepting the medical benefits of cannabis. Last month, however, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed an amendment enabling Veterans Affairs doctors to discuss and recommend medical marijuana to veterans.