The Latin phrase “nemo resideo” means “leave no one behind.” For service members, it is a foundational tenet. Every person has dignity and worth.
But Department of Veterans Affairs left Tom Hayden behind, recently marking him dead in their system even though he is alive.
Hero lost in the system
Tom Hayden is a hero. As 8 News Now in Las Vegas reported, Hayden enlisted in the Navy and served for nearly 30 years, retiring as a Force Master Chief Petty Officer, which is one of the highest ranks an enlisted soldier can attain. A machine gunner in Vietnam and a spy who won valuable information from the Russian KGB, Hayden received numerous military awards. President Ronald Reagan even wrote him a letter.
But when Hayden’s wife passed away this spring, the VA marked him dead in their files instead of her. When Hayden notified the VA of its mistake, staff did nothing to solve the problem.
Four months later, Hayden was still dealing with the fallout. The VA’s mistake kept him from receiving VA benefits, affected his ability to receive Social Security, and resulted in the cancellation of his life insurance.
At one point, Hayden could not withdraw money from personal accounts because the VA told Hayden’s bank he was dead. Even Hayden’s former wife thought he had passed away.
Not just a paperwork headache
Hayden was devastated. The mistake was more than a paperwork snafu; it’s compounded the pain from his wife’s recent death.
Wendy Hayden died from cancer in March 2023 after an eight-month battle. Just a few weeks after Wendy died, a letter came to the Hayden doorstep from the VA saying Tom’s benefits had been cancelled due to his death.
Hayden told 8 News Now he collected documents and kept notes from his conversations to get his benefits restored and prove the mistakes that had been made. He visited the North Las Vegas VA one time and the Henderson Social Security office four times. “[T]he agencies were dismissive of the veteran,” 8 News Now reported. The issue was resolved only after 8 News Now investigators reached out to the VA, Social Security Administration, and Defense Finance and Accounting Service.
While his VA benefits were restored as of July 1, 2023, Hayden is still reeling. “I’m disappointed, really disappointed,” he said.
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