A San Diego veteran who has been declared dead twice by the federal government said Sunday the stress of potentially losing his benefits is unbearable.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, James Richardson has died twice.
"I was going to frame it... How many people can say they're dead? But it's not any more funny when it’s the second time around," a very alive Richardson explained to NBC7 Sunday.
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The VA notified Richardson’s wife of his death Nov. 2 – and it wasn't the first time.
In April, the Navy veteran, who served eight years of active duty, was surprised to find a letter from the VA addressed to his wife.
"Why is she getting a letter from the VA? I'm the veteran, not her," he wondered.
The letter read, in part: "We're sorry to learn about the death of James Richardson and extend to you our deepest sympathy. We understand the transition period following the death of a loved one is difficult and we wish to offer our assistance."
A short time later, a letter arrived from the office of the president of the United States, thanking Richardson's family for his service.
"It's just the initial shock of seeing 'Sorry about your loss... Thank you for your service... Oh, by the way, we're cutting off your benefits,'" Richardson’s wife explained.
Over the next several weeks, the couple had trouble paying rent and were nearly forced from their home. Richardson worked with the VA, and by June, everything seemed sorted out.
Then the bank got news that Richardson was dead.
"The credit bureaus won't let me check my credit because I'm dead," Richardson explained.
The stress was too much for Richardson’s wife, who got sick and needed to be hospitalized.
"I tried to have the best possible face I could at work but inside I was angry, I was frustrated, I was worried for her... just angry," he said.
Recently, things were starting to look better – until Nov. 2.
"And I looked at the date and it said Nov. 2, and I said, 'Oh man, come on!'" Richardson recalled.
Richardson and his wife are now worried the problem of his "death" could follow him around for the rest of his life.
Ed Note: Alejandro Mendiolaflores, Public Affairs Officer with the Department Of Veterans Affairs - San Diego Regional Office sent NBC 7 the following statement after the original article was published:
Although we believe these types of cases represent a small number of beneficiaries in comparison to the millions of transactions completed each year in our administration of benefits, we sincerely regret the inconvenience caused by such errors and work to restore benefits as quickly as possible after any such error is brought to our attention. To reduce the chance of inaccurate input, procedures have been amended to strengthen verification of the identity of the Veteran or family member when processing ‘notice of death’ transactions. We expect that improved systems and continued training will substantially reduce the likelihood of erroneous death input."