Veterans Affairs wrongly declares Dunedin man dead

Mike Rieker is a disabled veteran who served the nation in Vietnam and lives in Dunedin. He depends on benefits for his service-connected disability.

But his check was suspended, because the Department of Veterans Affairs mistakenly declared Rieker was dead.

When Rieker's monthly compensation was not recently deposited in his account, he called the VA to find out why it was late.

"That's when the lady informed me my benefits had been suspended because I was deceased," he said. "I was pretty sure I was alive. I actually woke up feeling pretty chipper that morning."

After the VA office told him the records show he's dead, the VA clinic called to ask him when he's coming back.

"In fact, ironically after I was dead, they called me up and reminded me I have an appointment next Wednesday. It was like a Monty Python moment," Rieker said.

Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly said Rieker is not alone. He believes this is at least the sixth case of a veteran in the Tampa Bay area being wrongly declared dead.

"One case is outrageous, but six is unacceptable. This type of error can create financial hardships and it is extremely disconcerting," said Jolly. "If these problems are being caused by human error, there is clearly no system of checks and balances. And if that's not the case, the current system is flawed and must be fixed."

Jolly has asked the VA to disclose the total number of Americans who have faced a disruption of benefits due to being reported deceased in error. He said VA Secretary Robert MacDonald has taken responsibility for the problems and has pledged to fix them.

Meanwhile, Rieker said the VA called him on Wednesday to tell him they now know he's alive, and that his benefits will be restored.