Imagine being a military veteran justly collecting disability benefits from Veterans Affairs (VA). Then one day, your veterans benefits stopped unexpectedly and without any explanation from the VA. The VA didn’t revoke them because you miraculously recovered and no longer needed assistance, but because they mistakenly thought you were dead. Upon learning that veterans benefits stopped unexpectedly, many questions would likely race through your mind ranging from mistaken identity to speculations of fraudulent activity. Now, as if things couldn’t get any worse, imagine that this scenario didn’t just happen to you, but thousands of others whose veterans benefits stopped over the past five years. This is the surreal circumstance that over 4,000 of our military personnel experienced firsthand.
Why Were Veterans Benefits Stopped For 4,000 Beneficiaries Without Anyone Noticing?
According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the VA implemented a system to cross-reference names with the Social Security Administration. This is to help quickly determine which veterans are no longer living. If a veteran’s name is spelled wrong or a similar name exists, it may reference the wrong person. The system then deems any deceased persons ineligible for benefits. The WSJ refers to the case of Michael Rieker, a Navy veteran who had his benefits cut off by the VA. The VA allegedly mistook Mr. Rieker for another Michael Rieker in the system who passed away. With help from his congressman Rep. David Jolly, Mr. Rieker eventually regained his benefits after proving to the VA that he was still alive.
Veterans Benefits Stopped Erroneously For More Than Four Years
The VA admits that they have made this error 4,201 times from 2011-2015. The errors usually occurred due to either a mistake made by an employee or inaccurate cross-checking of data by the department’s computer system. Regardless, many veterans depend on these benefits as a primary source of income. Having the VA revoke them unexpectedly upsets their current livelihood and their future as well. Even after they have their benefits restored, they may still have to deal with the repercussions.
Veterans Benefits Stopped Due to Mistaken Identity, But What Action Is Being Taken?
In the scheme of things, an error of only 4,201 claims isn’t a lot when you consider that over 2 million veterans have passed away in the last five years. As the VA states, erroneous terminations account for just 0.2% of claims. Since then, they’ve redistributed the missing benefits. But the VA acknowledges that there is a problem with the system. In December 2015, the department announced a new protocol to determine which veterans actually passed away. The new process requires the VA to try and contact that veteran or a family member to confirm their status. These steps must happen before ordering all veterans benefits stopped. This new program allows veterans or their family up to 30 days to respond to the VA request, before cutting off benefits.
We don’t yet have any data on the efficiency of the VA’s new method. Still, affected veterans should know the VA is looking into the matter and trying to come up with a solution. This in itself may provide a bit of comfort.
Applying For VA Disability Benefits
While the system may seem like more headache than it’s worth, if you are a veteran who fits the criteria applying for VA benefits can do a lot of good financial. When applying for benefits through the VA you can either apply on your own or with the help of a VA-accredited attorney. Most people will have no problem applying on their own initially. But if you have a complicated case or need to appeal, your best winning strategy involves a lawyer.
Ready to see if you may qualify? Click the button below to start your free online benefits evaluation now!
Megan Kelly is a former blogger and copywriter for LeadingResponse.