Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VA Takes Back Slain Military Vet's Benefits

VA Takes Back Slain Military Vet's Benefits

BALTIMORE -- Next month, Americans will pause to honor our nation's veterans, but the day will be tough for a Dundalk family who is mourning a slain Vietnam veteran while fighting the system that was designed to take care of him.

At 17, Daniel Hoeck needed his parent's permission to drop out of high school and fight a war in Vietnam. Two tours of duty later, he made it home safely with a Purple Heart and a deep conviction, according to his sister, Marie Davidson.

"My brother always loved his country. It didn't stop," she told 11 News I-Team reporter Deborah Weiner.

His love for country didn't stop as his body wore down from Agent Orange exposure and disease.

Daniel Hoeck was slain in his Westfield home during a burglary in February.

On Feb. 12 at age 62, Hoeck was slain in his Westfield home during a burglary.

"(The culprit) not only stabbed him once, he stabbed him twice so he wouldn't live -- right through the heart," Davidson remembered.

Before he was killed and at the urging of family, Hoeck sought medical help from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Baltimore.

About 18 months after he first applied for benefits, a lump sum retroactive payment finally came in the mail for him and monthly checks were soon to follow, but the problem was, Hoeck was dead, Weiner reported.

At the advice of an attorney, Hoeck's sister deposited the check of $13,694 in an estate account for him at First Mariner Bank. Hoeck never married or had children, so Davidson was considered his legal and personal representative.

While she didn't say she thought that monthly benefits should be sent to a deceased person, her issue was the retroactive lump sum payment, which would help cover her brother's debts.

"They just never managed the affairs to get him the money," she said.

"It was something that was owed to him prior to his death, and whether it was payable to him individually or his estate, it was owed," said estate attorney Gina Shaffer.

But Veterans Affairs officials saw the case very differently. Soon after learning from the family that Hoeck had been killed, they took the benefits check back, demanding First Mariner return the money to the U.S. Treasury Department.

"They just reclaimed the money from the bank, and we just got a letter from the bank. The VA never, ever told us," Davidson said. "It was something that was owed to him prior to his death, and whether it was payable to him individually or his estate, it was owed."
- Estate Attorney Gina Shaffer

"It would be the same thing if we died and there was no one to receive anything that we were supposed to get. That meant, essentially, we were not owed it anymore," Shaffer said.

Officials with the VA are standing by protocol in the case. They insisted they only acted according to federal law, which mandates the money be reclaimed if the recipient has died but, if Hoeck had a wife or children, they could petition the VA to get that money returned to his estate.

That's not the case for single veterans.

"Absolutely everything that comes from them restates that, sadly, a service person who did two tours in Vietnam and offers his life for his country, that in his time of need, if he didn't marry or have any children, he actually just vaporizes in the system," Davidson said.

"It's a shame. A shame," said Bernard Edelman of the group Vietnam Veterans of America.

The group said that part of the blame goes to the 18 months Hoeck had to wait before the VA determined his benefit eligibility. They said long waits can be common, but not if veterans get help from service representatives that organizations like the VA offer.

"Have someone be your advocate," Edelman said.

After the I-Team's inquiry, the Department of Veterans Affairs agreed to pay Davidson more than $2,700 to cover expenses related to Hoeck's death, but they made it clear that it was a one-time payout.

Shaffer said it was never about collecting the money.

"It's about honoring a veteran -- a contract you made for him," she said.

The VA called the case quite unusual but pointed out that the military rules are different if a veteran dies alone without a spouse or children.

Hoeck is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

The I-Team would like to know how you feel about this story. To respond, leave a comment below or take part in the survey posted above.


The VA has never paid benefits to other than spouses or children other family members are not able to claim benefits owed to a deceased veteran, even I can't claim the 75,000 owed to my step father for the radiation exposure he was owed by the RECA act, that claim died with him in Sep 2000 as my mother had passed in March 1996. This is not an outrageous story, this is normal practice wether the sister or her lawyer likes it or not. This is just the VA being the VA.

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