WASHINGTON, May 26 (UPI) -- Some 4,000 U.S. military veterans and their families stopped receiving benefits over the past five years after they were wrongly declared dead, the newest in a string of problems to emerge from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA said benefits were mistakenly terminated for 4,201 veterans from 2011 to 2015 but subsequently reinstated. Just in 2015, benefits were incorrectly terminated for 1,025 veterans. The mistakes were largely due to employee error or wrongly interpreted data by the department's computers, the VA told U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., after several veterans were wrongly declared dead in the Tampa area.
The VA said it has changed its procedures, but it is unclear when the changes will take place. Under the new guidelines, beneficiaries who are incorrectly declared dead can correct the error before the VA takes any action regarding termination of monthly benefits.
"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.
Every year, about 400,000 veterans and others receiving VA benefits die and their financial compensation is canceled. Jolly said in light of the information about the false deaths, he will ask the department to annually review its roster of veterans receiving benefits.
"I'll 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," he 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. This creates tremendous financial hardships and undue personal turmoil for veterans, many who are seniors relying primarily if not solely on their VA benefits."
The newest problems with the undead comes as Veteran Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald walked back comments he made comparing wait times for veteran's medical care to lines to those at Disneyland. McDonald has not apologized for the comments, but others in the department have. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., called for McDonald's resignation.