The Department of Veterans Affairs knew they were dead, but the Social Security Administration kept paying benefits to hundreds of people anyway, according to a new agency audit released Friday that says at least $37 million in bogus payments were made.
Investigators compared the VA’s record to Social Security rolls and found nearly 4,000 people who were listed as dead by the VA, but were still getting checks. Some of those people listed as dead were in fact still alive, but others were deceased — and their checks never should have been paid, the Social Security inspector general said.
Among the dead veterans was one who died in August 2008 but continued to get checks until March of this year, when the inspector general got a report from the State Department showing he had died abroad, in Thailand. Social Security paid out $160,000 in bogus payments in that case.
“Based on our sample results, we estimate SSA issued approximately $37.7 million to 746 individuals after they died, and will issue approximately $7.3 million more over the next 12 months if these discrepancies are not corrected,” investigators said.
The 746 figure actually may be a dramatic understatement of the problem.
It was based on a sample of 100 veterans the VA said were dead but whose names never were shared with Social Security. Of those, the audit was able to determine the status of only 30 people: 19 of them were deemed dead while 11 others were still alive, despite the VA’s records.
The other 70 cases couldn’t be determined, meaning there could be many more who actually are dead but still getting payments.
Social Security blamed the VA, saying the department wasn’t sending accurate information over.
“We have notified the VA of our concerns with their data and they are reviewing the issue internally. We will continue to process death reports we receive from the VA per our policy, but we are unable to control the accuracy of the information VA provides,” Stephanie Hall, acting deputy chief of staff at the Social Security Administration, said in the agency’s official response.
In a statement provided to The Washington Times, the VA said it gets almost all of its records correct, but will try to figure out improvements.
“It’s important to note that the vast majority of the records VA provided SSA in 2016 were accurate. Nevertheless, VA is reviewing the information we share with the Social Security Administration to ensure we are providing the most complete and up-to-date information possible,” the agency said.
The problem seems to have grown over the years.
A decade ago, a similar audit found fewer than 1,700 names listed as dead by the VA but still getting checks from Social Security.
In addition to the basic problems of dead veterans’ data not being shared, the audit uncovered a number of instances of identity fraud using veterans’ Social Security numbers.
In one instance an Army veteran died in 1980, but someone else used the veteran’s number to work from 1978 through 1991. The person then applied for retirement benefits — collecting some $200,000 over the years.
Another Army veteran who died in 2011 had been getting disability checks from Social Security up through this year — totaling $155,000.