The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has accidentally deemed thousands of veterans dead and canceled their benefits over the last five years, according to recent department data that revealed the problem was much bigger than previously thought.
The VA made the mistake more than 4,000 times within the last half-decade due to employee errors and inaccurate cross-checking of information by the department’s computers, among other issues. The VA modified its procedures to tackle the problem, but it is not yet known if the new system works.
“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 VA spokesman said in a statement.
The dead misread
After originally estimating the total veterans impacted as about a dozen each month, the VA provided new data on the issue last week, noting that the errors are affecting more than 70 veterans a month. It is not yet sure whether the recent information was a reflection of an increase in the error rate or what triggered the VA to address the problem.
“These numbers confirm our suspicion, that mistaken deaths by the VA have been a widespread problem impacting thousands of veterans across the country,” Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
Each year, approximately 400,000 veterans or others receiving benefits pass away and their benefits are canceled, according to Department statistics. Among the estimated two million veterans deemed dead in the last five years, approximately 4,201 cases were inaccurate proclamations that the VA had to correct before continuing payments to the living-beneficiary.
The VA added that these errors constitute less than 1 percent of all benefit cancellations each year and that the accurate rate of terminations because of deaths is 99.83 percent, according to Fox News. The department claims they do not keep tabs on the cause of the errors.
Veterans vet their frustration
The problem is fueled by persistent errors in Social Security Administration’s record sharing with the VA. When the department mistakenly lists a veteran as deceased, the VA’s policy is to stop benefits immediately, adding to the frustration of victims trying to correct the error.
Under the new system put into effect last year, the VA sends letters to the beneficiary thought to be deceased and waits 30 days for a reply before the person is declared dead. The department said it does not have figures on whether the new system has mitigated these mistakes.
Issues with keeping tabs on veteran deaths spurs other difficulties as well. In September 2015, the VA Office of Inspector General issued a report that found approximately 35 percent of the department’s 870,000 pending applications for enrollment into the VA health-care system as of September 2014 were for individuals who were deemed deceased by the Social Security Administration.
The report added that the bulk of pending records are probably outdated, although the record system makes it uncertain. The complicated system, “create unnecessary difficulty and confusion in identifying and assisting veterans with the most urgent need for health-care enrollment,” the report stated.
“If the VA’s new policy is indeed working, this problem should be eliminated. If the problem persists, then Congress will demand further action,” Jolly said.
“We simply cannot have men and women who have sacrificed for this country see their rightful benefits wrongfully terminated because the VA mistakenly declares them dead,” he added.