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WWII veteran whose monthly benefits were cut to $6 now getting a refund

Updated: 06/24/2014 12:34 AM
Created: 06/23/2014 11:59 PM WNYT.com
By: Steve Flamisch

WATERVLIET – Joseph Teson, the D-Day survivor whose veteran’s benefits were slashed to $6.00 per month to recoup an overpayment, is getting a full refund from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"I'm very glad of that," Teson, 89, said Monday. "It made my heart tick a little faster, you know? I says, 'Thank God.' I says, 'Wow.' I never expected it, you know?"

The VA informed Teson in 2013 that his entitlement to benefits had changed, and that he was overpaid more than $3,000. To recoup the money, the VA cut his benefits from more than $300 per month to $6.

NewsChannel 13 broke the story at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday May 24. Rep. Paul Tonko (D – Amsterdam) saw the report, and directed his staff to contact the VA about Teson’s change in benefits.

On Thursday May 29, the VA granted Teson a waiver for his entire pension debt, according to a letter Tonko received from Vikki Soukup, acting director of the VA Debt Management Center.

"Our office is in the process of refunding Mr. Teson a total of $744.00," Soukup wrote. "This amount represents benefits that were withheld and applied to the debt before the waiver was granted."

The VA did not explain why his benefits changed, how the overpayment happened, or what his new monthly benefit will be, Teson said. A spokesperson did not return a NewsChannel 13 call.

Teson expressed gratitude to Tonko, and to the many people who donated money to him in recent weeks. The Watervliet Fire Department raised $4,000 and matched it, for a total of $8,000.

A group of corrections officers with ties to St. Brigid’s Church, where Teson used to work, raised close to $800.00 for him. And other people, moved by his story, contributed smaller amounts.

While he plans to use some of the money for living expenses, Teson said he will donate much of it to veteran’s groups and children’s charities, who have recognized him as a top donor year after year.

Teson, who lives with his wife of 67 years, Rose, chuckled when describing the only purchases he is planning for himself: "I will go up to Stewart's and do a couple of scratch-offs. I love that."

Congressman Tonko encouraged veterans and other constituents who are running into problems with federal programs to contact his district offices in Amsterdam, Albany, or Schenectady.

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