LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – The Department of Veterans Affairs declared a veteran dead, but 81-year-old Tom Hayden is very much alive.
Hayden said the mistake happened shortly after his wife’s death. He eventually reached out to Nexstar’s KLAS after attempting to get the issue fixed for nearly four months without success.
“They’ve got me so confused,” Hayden said from his home in Henderson, Nevada. “Now I’m dead. Now I’m alive. Now I’m dead.”
Hayden’s wife, Wendy, passed away in March from cancer. She was 79 years old.
“I loved her more than anybody and I took care of her right here at home for eight straight months,” Hayden said. “She was beautiful, physically beautiful, and a beautiful person.”
That same month, Hayden received a letter from the VA.
“The renewal office of the Veterans Administration had declared me dead,” Hayden said.
Hayden learned that his benefits had been discontinued.
Hayden served in the Navy for nearly 30 years. He was a machine gunner in Vietnam and then worked as a spy posing as a traitor to get information from the Russian KGB. Military medals and statues along with a letter from President Ronald Reagan decorate his home. Hayden retired as a Force Master Chief Petty Officer, one of the highest ranks for an enlisted officer.
Despite his service, the veteran was given the run around by multiple public agencies.
“I’m disappointed, really disappointed,” he said.
Hayden first reached out to the VA immediately to correct the mistake. He received a letter stating that the agency mistakenly declared him as being dead instead of his wife. He expected the problem to be fixed, but that’s not what happened.
“The Social Security Administration has informed me, informed us that you are dead again. They killed me a second time and we are now canceling all your benefits,” Hayden said. “And then I got a letter from Arizona, which I retired from, and I got a letter from them saying they’ve been informed by the Social Security Administration that you are dead.”
Hayden said that he also received a letter from his veterans’ group life insurance stating that his policy was canceled and that the agency was searching for his next of kin.
At one point, Hayden said he could not access his money because his bank received notice that he was dead. His son then informed him that his first wife also thought he was dead.
“My ex-wife called him and said, ‘When did your father die? Why didn’t you tell me your father had died?” Hayden said.
Hayden collected documents and kept notes. He made numerous calls and visited the VA office in North Las Vegas once and the Social Security office in Henderson four times, he said.
It appears that the agencies were dismissive of the veteran.
KLAS reached out to the VA, Social Security Administration, Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and Arizona State Retirement System.
The VA admitted to making the mistake, apologized, and said that the issue was fixed. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service and Arizona State Retirement System also responded and stated that they fixed the issue.
“This should never occur and we are further looking into the matter to ensure it does not occur again. We have restored Mr. Hayden’s disability compensation benefits, which he should receive July 1, along with any back pay. We sincerely apologize for this mistake and the hardship this has caused Mr. Hayden.”Terrence Hayes, press secretary of U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
“The Defense Finance and Accounting Service extends deepest sympathies to Mr. Haden on the death of his wife, and regrets the subsequent issues caused by the erroneous reporting of his death. DFAS considers it a privilege to serve Veterans and their families and strives to do that with the utmost care. Upon learning of the erroneous reporting of Mr. Haden’s death, DFAS has corrected his account, is processing payments for prior months, and will ensure future payments are processed as normal.”Defense Finance and Accounting Service
After KLAS sent several emails to the Social Security Administration, Hayden said that a representative reached out to him and asked him to visit the Henderson office again. He now says it appears an effort is being made to address the issue.