At least 115 living veterans were declared dead in error over a nine-month period ending April 2015, each losing health benefits until the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs could be convinced that he or she was in fact, not dead.
“I spent five minutes arguing on the phone with a lady about me being dead,” Vietnam War Navy veteran Mike Rieker said according to Military Times.
The admission was first brought to light in the Washington Examiner after Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) pressed the VA for information regarding several veterans in his district who had been incorrectly declared dead and stripped of their benefits.
The VA responded with a letter informing Jolly that it stopped benefits for 115 veterans from July 7, 2014 to April 1, 2015.
“As we have seen, wrongly declaring a veteran dead can create financial hardships and it is extremely disconcerting,” Jolly said in a statement released by his office on Tuesday. “It is extremely difficult to hear from veteran constituents not only living in Pinellas County but from across the country whose records have been erroneously altered by the VA. These are very human stories with serious consequences and I am hopeful the new protocols implemented by the VA will ensure these errors never happen again.”
In August 2015, Breitbart News reported on a damning report published by the Inspector General for Veterans Affairs that revealed that a number of veterans’ claims at the Los Angeles VA Regional Office (VARO) were placed in employee shred boxes without being processed. The discovery was made through an “anonymous” tip.
In future, the VA plans to send letters verifying death before changing a veteran’s death status, according to local ABC News affiliate 10 News. A VA benefits center in San Diego released a statement that downplayed the number of cases of mistaken death. The Department stated, “We expect that improved systems and continued training will substantially reduce the likelihood of erroneous death input.”
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Adelle Nazarian contributed to this report.