Every month since June 2009, Tad Steckler has received a disability benefits check from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Steckler retired from the Army at age 40 as a master sergeant with a Soldier's Medal for heroism, and he'd built a new life on the foundation of his checks. The money covered rent on a three-bedroom home in Nebraska that he shared with his wife and her two daughters and the lease on the family's Nissan Leaf electric car. It was all part of the agreement he'd made with the government when he enlisted out of high school: In exchange for his service, he'd be taken care of.
Last June, Steckler's wife, Robyn Loveland, opened what she thought was just another envelope from the VA. Except this one wasn't a check—it was a bill for more than $10,000. A letter stated that Steckler had received thousands of dollars in disability compensation in error, and the VA was going to withhold future payment until the debt was paid.
A VICE News investigation has revealed that the VA sent nearly 187,000 of these overpayment notices last year. That represents just under 2 percent of those receiving benefits. Other cases we've identified show overpayment claims similar in size to Steckler's, with the potential to send veterans into crippling debt. A former Army combat medic from Idaho who served two tours in Iraq was told he owed the VA $9,831.93. A former Army sniper from Colorado who was shot in the head in the line of duty in Iraq got an overpayment notice for $11,119.41. These veterans were told their benefits would be withheld until they repaid the unexpected bills.
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