"Dead" veterans protest termination of benefits

Finally we get some good news out of the Veterans Administration, where an interminable period of apparently staggering incompetence (if not flat out corruption) is finally turning around and the department is doing its job to take care of our nation’s warriors. Naw… I’m just kidding. They managed to declare some of the veterans dead and cut off their benefits.

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Michael Rieker typically received his disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs at the first of every month.

When the money didn’t show up in his bank account one morning earlier this year, the Vietnam veteran called the VA to ask why and got some unexpected news: he was dead.

“I know that the VA doesn’t exactly move at the speed of light, so I decided to give them a call and find out what might have happened,” Rieker told the Washington Examiner. “At that point, I was told that my benefits were suspended because I was deceased.”

But Rieker, like a number of other Florida veterans who have encountered the same problem over the past 18 months, was clearly not deceased, a fact he attempted to explain to the VA employee on the other end of the phone before bringing the issue to his congressman.

They’ve identified a half dozen cases just in the Tampa Bay area where the veterans sadly “passed away” without doing the VA the courtesy of actually expiring. That’s so rude! Don’t they realize that they’re just going to get the VA in trouble again and generate tons of tedious paperwork to have their benefits reinstated?

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This actually isn’t a joking matter, so we have to wonder a couple of things here. First off, they found six just in the district around one city. What are the odds that those are the only veterans who ran into this problem? If we’re looking at a case of careless bookkeeping under a single local manager then I suppose it’s possible. But this is a federal agency and, at least in theory, they’re all supposedly to be following the same playbook. If there is no system of checks in place to make sure that the dearly departed are actually departed before you click on the delete button, then there could be a trail of these warriors out there who have run into the same thing but just not raised a fuss which caught the media’s attention.

Add this to the growing list of items on the VA’s to do list as they attempt to get their shambles of a paperwork system in order. On the reverse side, they also don’t seem to know for sure when someone actually has died, so how many dead veterans are still getting checks sent to them? That’s not to disparage our vets, but it’s rather hard to rule out the possibility that some of them may have surviving family members who are less than scrupulous and have just been cashing the checks.

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We have similar issues on our voting rolls and all of our entitlement problems. We’re pretty good at keeping track of when people are born and assigned a social security number, but we really don’t have a good way of tracking when people die. Should we be looking at some sort of system where hospitals, funeral homes, etc. provide this information to a central database which can be checked against lists of people enrolled in various government programs? Such a move solves one problem but I’m immediately suspicious of how it might be used for mischief in the wrong government hands.

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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 25, 2024
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