After Navy veteran Michael Rieker was declared dead last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs immediately cancelled his monthly benefit payments.
The only problem -- Rieker was alive and well.
Over the past five years, the VA has accidentally declared thousands of veterans dead and revoked their benefits.
“It was weird because I actually felt pretty good when I got up that morning,” Rieker jokingly told ABC affiliate WFTS. “To have someone tell you you were dead? I sort of took it with a grain of salt.”
But the financial implications are no joke.
Rieker, a Vietnam veteran receives $3,000 a month from the VA, turned to his Congressman, David Jolly, R-Fla., who discovered the VA made the same clerical mistake more than 4,000 times between 2011 and 2015, according to correspondence between Jolly and the VA.
“They will tell you statistically it is a very small number that this is happening to. And I appreciate that argument, I understand that,” Jolly told ABC. “But if you are in that small statistical number it is very real for you… That is a crisis for an individual.”
In the correspondence, the VA says it is working to address the errors, updating its systems and instituting a new policy that sends a letter to the beneficiary’s address to confirm deaths.
The department did not return multiple requests for comment.
Jolly lauded the VA for “stepping up to get this done,” but said he is still learning of more cases.
“This is not a problem that is isolated but it is actually a problem that has been growing. We have not seen the impact of the VA’s new policy,” he said.