Dozens of living veterans received surprise payments for their burials from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), according to a new VA Inspector General (IG) report.
One unnamed veteran, after opening a letter at his estate informing him of his death in May, 2014, visited a nearby VA facility to prove he was alive, according to the IG. Five months later, he received another death notice and a $300 burial payment addressed to his spouse, and visited the VA facility again to return the money.
The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) within the VA sent over one-in-four automated erroneous burial payments — or 4,525 of 16,406 — between August, 2014, and January, 2015, wasting $2.8 million, according to the report. VBA sent the erroneous funds to spouses not on veterans’ records, mailed multiple payments to spouses, gave burial funds to deceased spouses, and sent money to spouses of living veterans.
“If VBA does not implement adequate controls, we estimated VBA will continue authorizing improper automated burial payments of about $5.6 million annually and approximately $28 million over the next five years,” the IG said.
Over that six-month period, VBA sent 3,591 payments worth more than $2 million to spouses not on veterans’ records, 786 payments worth $621,700 to deceased spouses, 78 duplicate payments worth $98,200 and 70 payments worth $48,200 to spouses of living veterans.
VBA also stopped sending benefits to 68 living veterans, believing they were dead.
“By improperly discontinuing disability benefits, VBA might cause financial hardship to veterans and their families,” the IG said.
Policy requires the VBA to send $2,000 to families for service-connected deaths and $300 for deaths unconnected to service. (RELATED: VA Workers Spend Hours Protecting Jobs)
The agency authorized the incorrect burial payments because it had poor controls and system checks, the IG said. VBA officials, for example, automatically sent burial payments once they received notification of a veteran’s death, without verifying the death.
The IG recommended that VBA review and collect the improper payments detailed in the report, make sure recipients meet the requirements before authorizing burial payments, and verify proof of death before sending money.
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