(CNSNews.com) – Between 2011 and 2015, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cut off benefits to 4,201 veterans the department mistakenly presumed were dead.
However, “in each case, the veteran or person receiving VA benefits was very much alive,” according to a statement by Rep. David Jolly (R-FL).
Last December, Jolly asked the VA to report back to him the total number of veterans whose benefits were terminated over the last five years due to presumptive reports of their demise after several of his constituents in the Tampa Bay area complained.
The highest number of erroneous terminations occurred last year, when benefits to 1,025 veterans had to be resumed after they were erroneously listed by the department as deceased, the VA reported.
“During calendar years 2011 through 2015, VA terminated 2,057,790 awards due to the death of the beneficiary. During the same time period, VA resumed awards for 4,201 of these beneficiaries after receiving information indicating the beneficiary was not deceased,” Danny Pummill, acting undersecretary for veterans affairs for benefits, wrote in a May 6 letter to the congressman.
Pummill noted that the “accuracy of award terminations due to death was 99.8 percent.”
But Jolly pointed out that many elderly veterans rely on their VA benefits to make ends meet.
“These numbers confirm our suspicion, that mistaken deaths by the VA have been a widespread problem impacting thousands of veterans across the country,” Jolly responded.
“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.
“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,” the congressman added.
In a previous letter dated Dec. 10, 2015, Pummill told Jolly that “the VA is updating systems to automatically suspend an award based upon notification received through its matching program with the SSA’s [Social Security Administration] Death Master File.
“The new process will send a letter to the beneficiary’s address of record and request confirmation of the beneficiary’s death from a survivor or request that beneficiary contact VA to resume payments if the suspension was erroneous.”
Veterans will have 30 days to respond before their benefits are automatically terminated, Pummill said.
However, Jolly says that he will 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.”