Message alarms veterans,upsets Department of Veteran Affairs

WASHINGTON (AP) — A message sent on the Internet telling hundreds of thousands of veterans they faced possible termination of benefits brought a strong denial from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The message’s sender, a Minnesota veteran, said Wednesday he regrets issuing the false warning.
Many veterans who read or heard about the e-mailed message thought they had to register at a local veteran’s medical center by Oct. 1 or lose benefits forever. The message also claimed the VA was instructed by Congress to keep silent about the October deadline.
The anxiety-provoking e-mail was “factually incorrect,” VA spokesman Gary Caruso said Wednesday.
A VA health-care system requiring veterans to file for benefits does go into effect Oct. 1 but does not prevent unregistered veterans from receiving federal compensation, Caruso said.
The sender, Thomas Todd of Minneapolis, is a “well-intentioned but misinformed veteran,” Director of Health Administration Kent Simonis said. “He thought he was doing the right thing by warning people, but he really disrupted millions of people with this information.”
Todd, a former Navy man, contended he received the information from the American Legion.
“I regret that I caused a scare for all my compadres, and I did not intend it as a prank,” Todd said in an interview Thursday.
“But at least I brought to the attention of the veterans that they may not always have what they think they have from the government. At least I got a message out that causes people to question the VA,” he said.
VA officials noted that the wide dissemination of Todd’s message demonstrates how misinformation spreads through the Internet.
The VA’s Web site now includes a page titled “Setting the Record Straight” in response to Todd’s March 2 e-mail. Veterans are assured that benefits will not be rescinded, but members must enroll as soon as possible to comply with guidelines set by Congress in 1996.
Under the guidelines, veterans will be divided into seven priority groups based on the severity of their disabilities. According to the VA, this classification assures that should shortages occur in federal funding, the neediest veterans will always receive medical benefits.