INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - An Indianapolis veteran is speaking out after she was falsely declared dead -- not once -- but twice.
Petty Officer Cynthia Keough-Scruggs called WANE's sister station WISH to share her story after we recently ran the story of another vet who had been falsely declared dead in Fort Wayne.
“I felt like it was a joke, like are you serious,” said Scruggs.
To the military, in 2009, Petty Officer Cynthia Keough-Scruggs was dead. She finished boot camp in 1986. She went on to serve eight years active duty in the Navy, and four years Reserve duty.
In February of 2009, Cynthia's 16-year-old daughter got a letter from the VA stating her mother was dead and they needed her to provide a death certificate. It took her months of phone calls and trips to the local VA to get reinstated in April.
Then, a few months later, in July of that same year, she got another letter claiming she was dead, and this time, the government said her estate owed them money. The VA claimed they sent Keough-Scruggs estate an extra benefits check, after the veteran had died.
So, this mistake by the VA happened twice.
“That just tells me that there's massive gaps in the system, no one's tracking this, there's no triggers in place to identify this,” said Keough-Scruggs.
How could this happen not once, but twice to one vet?
The VA declined to go on camera but did answer some questions via e-mail.
They said they had no idea how often these mistakes happen because they don't keep those records, but that human error during data entry does sometimes happen.
“So they went through without documentation stopped benefits, they stopped my insurance premiums, stopped my claims process, everything with no documentation, said the Veteran.”
The VA told WISH there are several ways that a vet can be declared dead, including via a simple phone call. It’s a system Keough-Scruggs says needs to be reconsidered, especially with the technology that’s now available.
“I was really, really shocked that anyone can call in, I just find that so odd, that's just opening it up for people to be malicious,” said Keough-Scruggs.
Some light needs to be put on this for someone really to say look, what is going on? what is going on here,” she said.
After the second time it happened to Cynthia, she was placed on what's called a sensitive seven list, described by the VA as a locked account, meaning only people with a certain security level could make changes.
Cynthia, who has service related injuries to both knees, and is going through the claims process, is on the phone with the VA often.
The last time she called, she was told her account was removed from the sensitive seven list, and that has her concerned her account could be vulnerable again.
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