FAYETTEVILLE, N.C (March 15, 2018) — A veteran mistakenly declared dead by the Department of Veterans Affairs is really alive. Charlie Covell is a Vietnam veteran and bronze star recipient. He received his award nearly 40 years after aiding his comrades during an ambush attack in Vietnam.
Covell also struggles with COPD, wearing oxygen to cope. At the age of 81, Covell has survived infantry battle in Vietnam, three hospital visits and most recently, a phony flat line. Late last month, Covell's wife noticed his benefit check wasn't deposited. From there, she called the VA.
"That's when they told me that he was deceased and that he had died on the 23rd of January," said Covell.
Charles R. Covell died in January in Utica, New York. The Social Security office sent the VA the death certificate for a man who shared the same first and last name. "Social security number was different of course," said Charlie Covell.
For weeks, the Covells searched for answers only to run into dead ends. Congressman Richard Hudson's office found out about the mixup on Monday and within 24 hours had Covell reinstated.
"Congressman Hudson is able to assist constituents with problems they may be having with a federal agency like the VA. While he and his caseworkers can't force an agency to act in a constituent's favor, they can help facilitate the process, get a fair hearing, and advocate for a positive outcome," said Tatum Gibson, Communications Director for Congressman Richard Hudson.
Turns out these errors are pretty rare.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, between October 2016 and September 2017, the VA suspended benefits for 105,529 total beneficiaries identified by the Social Security Administration as having passed away. Of those, 245 beneficiaries had their benefit awards reactivated due to erroneous suspensions.
While that's about a 99 percent accuracy rate, the VA says they're taking the following steps to improve the process:
If a notification of death is received by SSA, VA automatically sends a notification letter to the beneficiary's last known address informing his or her estate or survivors that VA has suspended payment of benefits. This letter provides notice that VA will take action to terminate benefits if the beneficiary does not contact VA regarding an error.
VA's adjudication procedures manual provides guidance for claims processors on the actions associated with a third-party notice of death. When an error is identified, VA works diligently to restore VA benefits as quickly as possible and can resume benefits within 24 hours.
The Covells have received their missing payment from last month. ABC11 asked Mr. Covell if he holds any hard feelings. "It's amusing. How can you get frustrated with something you don't have any control over? I knew it was a mistake so it had to be amusing," said Covell.