Dead veterans received $38mn due to inaccurate VA reports – watchdog

Dead veterans received $38mn due to inaccurate VA reports – watchdog
The Social Security Administration has continued to pay benefits to 746 US military veterans long after they were dead, due to inaccurate death records provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency’s inspector general revealed.

In most cases, the SSA inspector general found that the VA failed to properly disclose death information to the SSA.

“Based on our sample results, we estimate SSA issued about $37.7 million to 746 individuals after they died and will issue approximately $7.3 million more over the next 12 months if these discrepancies are not corrected,” the inspector general said.

In one instance the watchdog cited, someone continued to receive benefits for a veteran who died 37 years ago, in 1980.

“SSA’s records indicated that someone used the veteran’s SSN to work from 1978 through 1991,” the inspector general said. “In 1991, the suspected identity thief filed for, and began receiving, retirement benefits. SSA issued the suspected identity thief approximately $200,000 in retirement benefits before suspending the payments in May 2017.”

An Army veteran who died in 2005 continued to receive disability payments for 12 years, totaling $102,000. Another veteran had received benefits for nine years after his death.

The government watchdog found 3,925 discrepancies in 17 million death records which it received from the VA and checked against the Social Security Administration’s database.

There were also cases in which the VA had listed people as dead who were still alive, the inspector general said.

“We have notified the VA of our concerns with their data and they are reviewing the issue internally,” Stephanie Hall, acting deputy chief of staff at the SSA, said in response to the inspector general’s report. “We will continue to process death reports we receive from the VA per our policy, but we are unable to control the accuracy of the information VA provides.”

The “vast majority” of records provided to the SSA in 2016 were accurate, the VA said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Nevertheless, VA is reviewing the information we share with the Social Security Administration to ensure we are providing the most complete and up-to-date information possible,” the agency said.

This is the latest controversy involving the Department of Veterans Affairs. A report by the VA’s inspector general two years ago found that more than 307,000 veterans had died awaiting health care before their applications were processed by the agency.

“Twenty veterans a day commit suicide, on average, and 14 of those do not receive VA services,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said in May, while listing the problems that the department faced. 

In August, President Trump who had campaigned on a promise to fix the “broken” VA, signed “Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act,” intended to speed up resolution of veterans’ appeals. In June, he signed a bill protecting whistleblowers at the VA and making it easier to fire incompetent employees.

“For many years the government failed to keep its promises to our veterans,” Trump said, calling it “a national disgrace.”

In July, Congress approved a spending allocation of $659 billion to fund the Pentagon and emergency war accounts. A total of $78.3 billion of the amount was allocated for veterans’ care – almost $4 billion above last year’s spending.