9 Investigates VA erroneously declaring veteran dead



CLERMONT, Fla. - In December 2012, Army veteran James Hanna died, only he's not dead.

The Gulf War veteran had just left his Clermont home to pick up a few things at the 7-Eleven when his debit card was declined.

A few days later, his wife received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs expressing condolences for the passing of her husband. On paper, James Hanna was now dead.

"I called the VA to see where my benefits were, and they said, 'Our records show you're deceased,'" said Hanna. "They stopped my Social Security benefits and paid out a death benefit to my wife and kids."

After several calls to the VA and a pair of trips to the VA office in Tampa, James was able to get the error corrected, at least on the VA's end.

According to the department, someone had made a computer error and accidentally killed him off, and while the VA was able to reinstate his benefits and classify him as alive, the computer error had spread beyond just the VA.

Hanna owes Social Security $2,500 for a death benefit paid out after he was erroneously declared dead.

He said he'll repay the money, but it will take time.

He also was given a letter from the Social Security office that he can send to any other agency to inform him that he is, in fact, alive.

"I'm looking at the letters to the estate, but I'm right here," says Hanna. "I have to make sure I have all of my documents with me."

9 Investigates asked the VA how often these types of mistakes happen but was told the agency does not track that number. The VA did say it has systems in place to prevent mistakes, however, given the enormous number of veterans in the system, mistakes can happen.