Friday, August 27, 2010

I'm Telling You, I'm Not Dead...!

Sometimes the simplest of things seem to take forever to get straightened out.

Paperwork errors are the biggest threat to many agencies and individuals, especially those that deal with thousands of cases. However, when a mistake is found and pointed out, you would think it would be a simple matter to get it resolved. Not so, as this story in the Chronicle points out!

Disabled vet wins war over VA blunder

Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
Aug. 25, 2010, 11:14PM

John Paul Scott wasn't sure he'd heard correctly.

"It's in the computer system that you're deceased," repeated an official from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"What are you talking about?" Scott asked.

The 39-year-old Army veteran from Houston had been calling the VA's hotline twice a day for weeks to check the status of his disability claim. This time, on July 12, the VA official who answered the phone informed Scott he would no longer be receiving benefits because, according to VA records, he had passed away in April.

Scott suffers from vision problems traced to his service in the first Gulf War. In 2008, the VA had cut his monthly disability check by $2,000. Scott appealed. On June 25, he had finally won.

Now a bureaucratic blunder meant that Scott faced a Kafkaesque dilemma: As far as the VA was concerned, he was dead. His disability payments instantly halted. His medical prescriptions stopped. Scott, already in dire financial straits after the reduction in his benefits two years ago, feared he would end up on the street.

First thing the next morning, Scott went to the Houston VA Regional Office on Almeda Road and spoke to a woman at the front desk. Scott gave the woman three forms of ID and filled out a form: "I was told by the Department of Veterans Affairs that someone entered in their computer I was deceased," he wrote. "I am not. Please reinstate my benefits immediately. Thanks, John Paul Scott."

The woman took the IDs and paperwork and returned 10 minutes later to inform Scott that his status on the computer had been corrected from dead to alive. But his disability benefits remained at zero.

Scott said VA officials told him they would pass on the corrected information to the finance section so his benefits could be restored.

A few days later, however, a disconcerting letter from the VA arrived at Scott's home. The letter, dated July 14, was addressed to the representative of the estate of John Paul Scott.

"We are sorry to learn of the death of the beneficiary and wish to express our sympathy," the letter stated.

Delay after delay
In the next paragraph, the letter explained that any money received from the VA after the date of death must be returned. Since Scott supposedly had "died" in April, his estate would have to repay two months worth of disability payments sent to him since then, for a total of $2,002.

Scott continued to call the VA hotline twice a day, only to be told the VA was still working on his case.

"They'd say, 'It only needs maybe two more signatures and it'll be finalized,' " he said. "And they were telling me that for like a month and a half."

In desperation, Scott sent the VA a copy of a default statement from his mortgage company.

"Please forward this to the holder of my file and I can only pray that the error is corrected in time before I become a homeless veteran," he wrote.

VA officials contacted by the Houston Chronicle could not explain the mistake .

"A thorough review of Mr. Scott's records indicate that his benefits were erroneously terminated during a batch processing of death claims on July 9, 2010, at our Hines, Illinois, facility," VA spokeswoman Jennifer Heim said in a written statement. "A veteran is added to the batch-processing list when Department of Veterans Affairs receives the First Notice of Death from a family member or their designee. We are unable to determine what initiated Mr. Scott to be on this list."

'Damage control'
The Houston VA Regional Office and the VA "take incidents like this very seriously and took immediate action to rectify the situation," Heim said.

Scott said his benefits were restored only after a Texas Veterans Commission advocate told VA officials in Houston that Scott had scheduled an interview with the Chronicle. Within days, the VA deposited more than $40,000 in retroactive payments in Scott's account, including his regularly scheduled payment for the month of August, newly increased from $981.50 to $3,039.

"They were afraid of what was going to be reported in the article and at least by correcting it, they could minimize the damage," Scott said. "That's all it was. They jumped into damage control."

He's relieved that his ordeal is over, but Scott worries about the untold number of veterans in financial distress because of incorrect records and red tape.

"It's disgusting, and I hate it because when I think about how much I have to do to get this corrected, there's a lot of older veterans out there who may not have the patience or the time or may not be in physical health to do what I did," he

You know, we all make mistakes and I can certainly understand how such a large organization such as the VA can make a few now and again. However, fixing them should NOT take an act of Congress or an exceedingly long time, when a person's very existence is dependent on the outcome!

I'm a very strong supporter of the VA, as you all know...but in a case like this, I wish they could be a little more proactive in their efforts to solve such problems!

Now, my friends, let's get some coffee and sit outside. We can wait for the promised cooler weather to show up!


Lamb said...

Wow! Poor guy...such a hassle to prove he was alive! Glad he was able to get it straightened out! I hope cooler weather wanders down here to the sweaty, smelly, hairy armpit of Texas (Beaumont). Last few weeks have been miserable! Of course, I am moving Sept. it will probably rain that day! (It ALWAYS rains when I move!)

HermitJim said...

Hey Lamb...
I know exactly what you mean about it being HOT, believe me!

Here in Houston, it's been so hot I can't describe it! I'm so ready for some cooler weather, I get all giddy just thinking about it!

Of course, when Winter gets here...I'll be wishing for some warmer weather! Always seems to work out that way, doesn't it?

Thanks for coming by today!

WomanWhoRunsWithHorses said...

Well, I sure hope that lump sum payment included some interest for the poor guy!

Now that the ordeal is over, I hope he can relax a little and find some solace in knowing he's in good company. The same thing happened to Samuel L Clements (Mark Twain) when he was away from the States to attend Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The New York Herald reported that he had died after a serious illness. In his famous reply to them, Samuel Clements wrote “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Ha ...that's a statement nobody ought to have to make!

Momlady said...

I have a friend who is constantly battling with the VA. But he doesn't give up. Sorry, but I have little respect for people who work for any form of government employ.

Ben in Texas said...

You know what? Crap like that really does burn my butt!! ( yes Jim, I am biting my tongue as I type this)

TWO of my best friends are vets and both of them complain about the VA lack of service, One, who has an injury from the Vietnam era has gotten screwed so many times,absolutes refuses to even go to them and uses his own money for treatments.

The other, retired Navy Commander finally got his stuff straighten out and will go, but still complains about the long wait times and constant paper work shuffle.

Someone needs to step up and take some names and kick butt and get the VA working right. WE owe all those vets big time.

Bellen said...

My husband, a Vet, and I are staunch supporters of the VA. We do know, however, that when a mistake is made it takes forever to get it straightened out. Best results we have heard are vets contacting their US Senator or Representative to act on their behalf. This after the vet has exhausted all his/her possibilities and still can't get the problem fixed.

JoJo said...

Good Morning My Special One
Glad he got back his money.
It isn't only the VA it is also SSI I had to wait 2 yrs to get medical after becoming disabled. But once I got it and had to get another ins. it cut my mthy income to $600. I made some calls and talked to some reps and they couldn't believe it. After almost 6 mth. I recieved a letter stating they owed me money and I would recieve it in Sept. and I would also get my SSI increased still not what it was but better than it is now.
It is cold and rainy here today. But it beats being in Tucson at the 100 what ever they are having.

Mechanic in Illinois said...

Old vets never die,they just smell like it. Thanks for the great info.

The cottage by the Cranelake said...

One of those things that mustn´t happen, but unfortunally does sometimes. But what makes me angry is that they doesn´t fix it directly. I can understand the poor guy when he has no money just because no one really seems to care. It´s amazing what a story in the paper can help :-)

Have a great day now!

Anonymous said...

Bureaucracy in this day and age of computers is ridiculous. Sometimes I just fail to comprehend ineptitude.


Ashley said...

I haven't really been terribly impressed by the VA's ability to get things moving and correct mistakes and stuff. At least he got his benefits and got back-paid. I wonder how many vets slip through the cracks. I remember being unemployed and homeless with medical needs and being told by the VA that my income was too high to get benefits. And my discharge was medical.

But at least I wasn't as bad off as this guy, I'm not disabled and I was able to find work. But I still sleep on a friend's couch and I don't have medical coverage. Some day...