VA accidentally labels 115 vets dead

Posted at 6:26 PM, Dec 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-23 09:19:09-05

The VA is looking to make changes after wrongly labeling 115 veterans dead over a nine-month period.

The mistake cut off benefits to those vets.

Stu Hedley learned the agony of loss early on as a Pearl Harbor survivor.

"The Arizona blew up right in front of my eyes," he explained. "I watched the Oklahoma capsize."

He had to identify and tag some of the 127 people who were killed on his ship.

"You notice there's a notch there," Hedley explained as his showed his dog tag. "You put that between the teeth and then clamp the jaw shut."

When he saw his best friend torn in two, it shredded his heart.

"His legs and torso were dangling where he'd been sitting, and his head and shoulders were over underneath the vent," Hedley said.

He said he started laughing, and his boss hit him square in the jaw to keep him from going crazy.

"So that snapped me out of it and I continued identifying bodies," Hedley added.

When he heard the VA accidentally declared more than 100 vets dead from July through April, he did not take it lightly. Hedley was not one of them, but he was disappointed to learn of the mix up.

"It's deploring to me," he said.

He blames being too reliant on technology.

"There are so many errors that people are making with that computer," Hedley said.

Here is a statement from the local VA benefits center:

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.  To reduce the chance of inaccurate input, procedures have been amended to strengthen verification of the identity of the Veteran or family member when processing ‘notice of death’ transactions. We expect that improved systems and continued training will substantially reduce the likelihood of erroneous death input.
The VA has several matching programs that are designed to prevent overpayment and debts incurred by Veterans and beneficiaries.  One of these such programs, matches death record data from the Social Security Administration (SSA) with our database.  When a match is made between SSA death records & VA records, the individual (payee or spouse) is identified as possibly deceased, and a letter gets sent out to the payee or spouse in order to confirm or match.  In April 2015, VA confirmed the accuracy of the automated SSA death match file process and found a 99.83 percent accuracy rate for the period of July 2014 and April 2015.  During this period, the process automatically suspended VA benefit payments for 66,564 beneficiaries.  Of those, 115 beneficiaries had their benefit awards reactivated due to erroneous suspensions.
VA is always looking at ways to improve its service to Veterans, Servicemembers, their families and survivors and appreciates the support of its stakeholders to help on this sacred mission.  

"I'm just happy to be here," Hedley said with a chuckle.

He told me he's too young to end up on a list like that.

"I'm 49 going on 59," he said with a laugh.