VA tries to get its money back after woman's death

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by JESSE JONES / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on December 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 3 at 8:54 AM

MILL CREEK, Wash. – Claude McDonald was a decorated veteran who served in World War II and Korea.

Flossie Crowther is Claude's proud daughter.

"My dad was the recipient of two purple hearts and a bronze star for bravery. He saved a man's life," said Flossie.

The savior for any husband is his wife, and Claude's wife's name was Ruth. She raised their five children while he was off at war. When Claude died, Ruth was eligible to receive benefits from Veterans Affairs.

"And she received $1,633 from the VA and $600 a month from Social Security," said Flossie.

Flossie had taken over her mother's finances, which included paying the bill for the assisted living facility where Ruth called home. But on June 26, Ruth passed away at age 89.

While the family was dealing with their loss, the VA decided it wanted its money back.

"I'm thinking to myself, 'Is this for real? I can't even believe this!'" said Flossie.

In a letter written by the VA, the agency demanded that Flossie return the $1,600 in benefits provided to her mother for the month of June, even though Ruth lived for 26 of the 30 days in the month.

"It just seems so disrespectful and petty to me at a time when a family has suffered a loss, to feel like you're being nickeled and dimed by the VA," said Flossie.

I checked out the law. Believe it or not, the VA is fully within its rights to ask for that money back. In an e-mail, a spokesman says, "Upon the death of a surviving spouse, the VA will pay benefits through the last day of the month before the death."

Remember, Ruth's only benefits were the same as millions of others in this country from the VA and social security

"Think of how many people live on those two pensions. The thought that they could ever repay it in the first place is outrageous," said Flossie.

I asked Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., about Ruth's story.

"We've been looking into this. This is a serious issue for veterans' families at the end of someone's life, to get hit with something like this because they passed away at the end of the month," said Murray.

Murray is a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Murray promised to meet with the VA to see what she can do to change the law.

"Veterans have paid the price. Their families have paid the price and we should be doing everything we can to make sure that they have the support they need and this is certainly a part of it," said Murray.

Flossie hopes change in the nation's capitol will provide the necessary relief for those who gave everything they had for this country.

"My hope is that people out there will be as outraged as I am that this is happening to other veterans' families," said Flossie.

If this has happened to one of your loved ones, I want you to contact me. I want the stories of as many people as possible to put in front of lawmakers in D.C., so they can begin the process of writing legislation to change this law.

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