In an embarrassing admission, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is acknowledging in a letter to Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly that it falsely declared 4,201 people dead between 2011 and 2015, disrupting the distribution of benefits to those veterans and their dependents. Last year alone, the VA says it erroneously terminated benefits to 1,025 individuals.
“These numbers confirm our suspicion, that mistaken deaths by the VA have been a widespread problem impacting thousands of veterans across the country,” Jolly 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.”
The issue of wrongful declaration of deceased veterans had emerged from the original scandal that rocked Veterans Affairs two years ago, when it was revealed that more than three dozen VA hospital patients in Phoenix died while awaiting medical care.
“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,” wrote Danny Pummell, the acting undersecretary of Veterans Affairs for benefits.
Jolly says he’ll ask for another annual survey for 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. 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. This creates tremendous financial hardships and undue personal turmoil for veterans, many who are seniors relying primarily, if not solely, on their VA benefits,” Jolly added.
This information comes as the VA is contending with their latest crisis, the firestorm of criticism that has rained down on Secretary Robert McDonald over the past 48 hours after he downplayed veteran wait times at VA hospitals by comparing them to wait times for rides at Disney theme parks.
That criticism has led to some Republicans to call on President Obama to fire McDonald, including from Florida U.S. Senate candidates (and Jolly’s opponents) Carlos Beruff and Carlos Lopez-Cantera.