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Veterans Affairs declares Jacksonville veteran dead, but he's not

Wife receives letter of sympathy, notice of monthly benefit cancellation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville resident Georgie Smith received a letter from the Veterans Affairs office last week offering her condolences on the death of her husband, Vietnam veteran Steve Smith.

The problem was her husband is very much alive.

"How in the heck could they pronounce you dead when you are still alive?" Steve Smith wants to know.

The VA office has been under fire lately for problems with its hospital and the way it handles benefits.

The Smiths got a firsthand glimpse of those issues when Georgie received a letter extending her sympathy on the death of her husband. The letter contained a check and an explanation that the monthly benefit checks the Smiths rely on would stop.

So Steve Smith called the VA. He said the conversation went like this:

VA: "How can I help you?"
Smith: "Evidently you all declared me dead, because I got this letter."
VA: "OK, I see that letter."
Smith: "Well, I'm not dead."
VA: "Well, we apologize."

Smith collects a benefits check each month for problems he encountered from serving in Vietnam. Channel 4 has been checking with the VA and officials said they are researching the death mix-up and trying to make sure the Smiths' checks will keep coming.

Smith said after he called, the VA office staff did some more checking. They looked at his records and asked him more questions.

"Well, like I said, I am not dead," he told the VA. "I am sitting right here talking to you on the phone."

Smith said the VA official responded: "Well, we will try to correct it. We checked the records and you keep your appointments at the VA, so evidently you are not dead."

VA officials told Channel 4 they are also trying to find out why the agency thought Smith was dead in the first place.

Smith said they gave him an answer, but it's not one he's really happy with.

"Evidently, they said it was a clerical error," Smith said. "Well, that is a hell of an error."

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.