Reporting Kurtis Ming
SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is still killing off veterans by mistake, according to a congressman from California, a CBS13 Call Kurtis investigation has learned.
Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson of California said he’s learned of at least 14 military veterans who have been declared dead by the the Veteran Benefits Administration since a July Call Kurtis investigation, a division of the federal department.
“People’s lives are dependent upon this,” he told CBS13.
A Call Kurtis investigation uncovered hundreds of veterans have been killed off each year by mistake in July. In response, the VA announced it had updated its database system to cross-check and prevent the ongoing clerical mistakes.
But the mistakes keep coming, according to Thompson.
“There are some very serious problems with — for lack of a better term — the record keeping in the VA,” he said. “For God’s sake, they need to clean it up.”
Kate Owens of Elk Grove, who spent a quarter century with the Army, knows the frustration all too well.
She received a letter in May, addressed to her husband, consoling him over her apparent death. The letter went on to note her family’s health and benefits would be cut off at the end of the month.
“I had to refocus,” she said. “I was like, ‘What? Is this saying I’m dead?’”
Facing losing her monthly check and running out of her covered prescriptions, Owens drove to two VA offices and was told to call the national office to prove she was alive, she said.
Then, she was told, it would take a few days to reinstate her benefits, she said.
“If we don’t get this resolved by the end of this month, we’ll be in a world of hurt,” she said in May. “We won’t be able to make our mortgage.”
After months of CBS13 requesting interviews, VA spokesman Douglas Bragg said in July his agency had mistakenly declared “hundreds” of others dead too.
The department fixed her case in a few days and assured us of their plan to stop this sort of thing from happening again.
But Thompson said the complaints have continued. His office is now tracking the mistakes.
Rep. Thompson co-chairs a veterans committee that may look into this if the VA continues to have problems, he told CBS13.
CBS13 struggled to get the VA to confirm an exact number of veterans wrongfully declared dead.
In June, CBS13 filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Veteran Affairs, asking for the total number of veterans who have been killed off by clerical mistake.
CBS13 was told it would get the information in October. More than three months later, and after dozens of calls and emails, the VA won’t return our calls.
Veteran advocate Pete Conaty said the VA owes veterans transparency.
“You don’t cut off someone’s benefits because you think they’re dead without checking to make sure in fact they’re dead,” he said.
After CBS13 got involved, the federal department blamed Owens’ issue on a clerical error saying the number entered into their database “didn’t match the name of the person who actually died.”
Owens, worried other veterans might not be so lucky, said she’s happy her benefits were restored before her prescriptions ran out.
“[I'm] grateful that they stepped up and they helped me,” she said.