Seminole, FL – In response to letters and pressure by Congressman David Jolly (FL-13), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is instituting a new process to avoid wrongly declaring veterans deceased.
“This is a problem that has gone on far too long and I applaud the VA for taking steps to prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future. As we have seen, wrongly declaring a veteran dead can create financial hardships and it is extremely disconcerting,” Jolly said.
In a recent letter sent to Jolly, the VA says it erroneously stopped benefits to 115 people between July 7, 2014 and April 1, 2015.
The Tampa Bay region has seen at least 6 cases in the past 18 months where the VA declared a veteran dead when they were still alive.
Following two high profile Pinellas County cases and Jolly’s pointed inquiries the VA says it is instituting a new process to help verify a veteran is truly dead before halting benefits. The VA says under the new guidelines, beneficiaries like Clearwater’s Mary Ann Clough, who was incorrectly declared dead last fall, will have an opportunity to correct an error before the VA terminates their monthly benefits.
Jolly had Clough’s benefits restored and the VA records corrected shortly after being notified of the error.
In November, Jolly helped Michael Rieker of Dunedin after the VA mistakenly said he was dead and terminated his benefits.
After receiving national attention for his work on this issue, Jolly was recently contacted by a Vietnam veteran from California with a similar problem. Carl Colamonico says the VA told him their records showed he was already dead and buried at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, CA. The VA also informed Colamonico that their records actually showed he served during World War II and was at one point a Prisoner of War.
At Jolly’s urging, the VA has conducted a review and now says Colamonico’s records are accurate.
“It is extremely difficult to hear from veteran constituents not only living in Pinellas County but from across the country whose records have been erroneously altered by the VA. These are very human stories with serious consequences and I am hopeful the new protocols implemented by the VA will ensure these errors never happen again,” Jolly added.
On November 4, 2015 Jolly wrote VA Secretary Robert McDonald highlighting Rieker’s situation and asking what steps the VA was taking in conjunction with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to prevent future cases of veterans wrongfully being declared dead.
# # #