Politics & Policy

Living Veteran Can’t Receive His Benefits Because the Government Thinks He’s Dead

Mark Ellis Jr. (Image via MyFoxDetroit.com)
I repeat: He is not actually dead.

A former Marine can’t receive his disability benefits because government records indicate that he’s dead — even though he’s actually alive.

In an exclusive interview with National Review, Megan Ellis of Dearborn, Mich., said that she received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs in November stating that her living husband Mark Ellis Jr.’s disability and GI benefits had been stopped because he was deceased.

Mark had been honorably discharged in 2011 and had been receiving disability payments because back problems caused by his “wear-and-tear” mechanics job left him 60 percent disabled.

At first, the letter didn’t seem to be too big of a deal. Mark called the VA, it reinstated the benefits, and the pair thought it was all taken care of. As is often the case when dealing with government agencies, however, it turned out that the situation wasn’t quite so simple.

They soon found out that the Social Security Administration — not the VA — had released the death notice, and that it had since sent out another. This blocked their payments yet again, and they still haven’t been reinstated.  

Not only have things not gotten better, but they’ve actually gotten worse. In January, the “widow” got a letter from the U.S. Department of Treasury informing her that her “dead” husband’s bank account had been closed. Although they were able to reopen the account with the bank itself, the fact that the Treasury thinks Mark is dead has created other problems:

“Last week he checked his credit score and it’s 0,” she said. “We can’t file our taxes because he’s ‘dead.’”

“We were trying really hard to get our credit score to be really good because we wanted to get a house in the spring, and then we turn around and our credit score is zero,” she added.

Megan said she’s under the impression that once the SSA confirms that Mark is in fact not dead, it will inform the other agencies, but that communication has been so terrible she’s not really sure about anything.

“Today Social Security said it will be reinstated 7 to 20 days from now, but I’m not going to hold my breath,” she said.

Meanwhile, the couple has blown through most of their savings paying bills they were used to having covered.

“He even went to the Social Security office in person and said, ‘Here I am, I’m alive!’” she said.

“How do you just decide someone’s dead without any proof?” she added.

That is, of course, a great question. But believe it or not, she said that she’s actually been hearing from others who say that they’ve gone through the same thing. 

In fact, the VA’s letter explicitly stated that any dead veterans who were actually not dead should call the office and let them know — suggesting that this seemingly impossible situation is actually far from unheard of.

Mark was unable to comment on the article in time for publication (because he was at his truck-driving job, not because he’s dead). Unsurprisingly, neither the VA, the SSA, nor the Treasury responded to requests for comment in time for publication.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online. 

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