The VA thought one local veteran was dead; he's still alive
In July, Richard Johnson passed away at the age of 57... or at least that's what the Department of Veterans Affairs believed.
"I was declared deceased without a death certificate. I don't know how that happens but that's what happened," said Army Veteran Richard Johnson.
The truth is, Johnson is very much alive, but for about a month, he was dead in the eyes of the VA.
"My wife was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She battled that fight for just over three years and she finally succumbed to the cancer on July 7th of 2019," said Johnson.
That's when condolence letters arrived from the VA, but they were addressed to the wrong person.
Johnson said, "One was addressed to my wife, Martha, who's already deceased and one was addressed to the estate of Richard Johnson--myself."
His children also received letters about their father's death.
"I got this letter in the mail this weekend that says 'Dear Miss Thomas, we at the Defense, Finance and Accounting Service Cleveland Center are sincerely sorry to learn of the death of your father,'" said his daughter Jamie Thomas as she read from a letter she received.
Johnson called the VA about once a week to check his status in their system with no luck. To them he was considered dead; erased from existence.
"I did not receive my disability entitlement for September so I called once again, explained to them that I have no other income, this is my income. I get paid disability, and I get paid my retirement," he said.
Unsure if he'd receive back-pay for September, Johnson tried to refinance a loan at his local bank only to learn it too had marked him in the system as being dead.
"The social security office was also showing me as deceased, so not only was I deceased in the VA, now I'm deceased in Bank of America, I'm deceased in Social Security," said Johnson.
It took about a month before the mistake was corrected, but Johnson is still waiting for his checks. Meanwhile, bills are piling up, and this mistake it taking its toll.
Johnson said, "I believe I ought to be compensated for the many hours that I've spent trying to fix my situation and driving to these different locations and having to prove that I'm not dead."
The VA sent us a statement saying, “Any time a Veteran or family member has concerns, we reach out to them directly, just as we have done with the Veteran in this case. The error made in this instance is in the process of being resolved and the Veteran will be receiving his payment soon. VA has apologized to the Veteran for this mistake and any inconvenience it may have caused.”
But for Johnson, the damage is already done.
"I'm not the deceased person here. Sorry...," he said tearfully. "I'm just trying to finalize my wife's affairs the best I can and now I have to finalize my affairs and it's not fair."