By C.J. Ward
VENTURA, Calif. – In May, NewsChannel 3’s investigative unit exposed a potential problem at the Veterans Administration that even the V.A. apparently didn’t know about until the top brass in Washington, D.C. saw our story.
Harold Boons greeted us near the boat he’s been living on in Ventura Harbor since his problems with the V.A. started in 2016.
“They recognized that it was their error and wiped out that debt immediately,” said Boons.
Our first story in May showed just how bad things got for Harold.
“There’s nothing I could do so I found myself living in pretty much a homeless situation and I ended up in a VA transitional housing situation,” said Boons.
Homeless, after serving his country for 34 years. He was part of the last Vietnam War draft in 1971 and was called back into full active duty after 9-11. Due to age, he was forced to retire in 2012 and decided to go back to school on a G.I. Bill.
“I finally was able to get into Cal-State University Channel Islands, yeah, it felt good just to be able to do that,” said Boons with a big smile on his face.
He took acting classes with kids 50 years his junior and got small parts in ABC’s hit show “Scandal”, another television show called “State of Affairs” and he played a zombie in Scream Queens.
“They enjoyed me I think and I enjoyed being around them and I was accomplishing this goal that I had at the same time,” said Boons.
But, while Harold is fulfilling his dreams in college, the V.A. is refusing to pay his tuition, books and other expenses it’s supposed to pay under his G.I. Bill.
“Any day now, from the very beginning of this I’m gonna receive my benefits from the VA,” said Boons.
The debt piled up. The V.A. eventually decided that not only was it not going to pay Harold, but it had mistakenly overpaid him $15,000 and wanted that money back. Harold couldn’t pay, so the V.A. turned him over to the Department of the Treasury, which now wanted $20,000. Harold dropped out of school, lost everything and had to sneak onto his old boat to sleep because he couldn’t afford the slip fees.
“When I heard the story, I immediately thought something was wrong. Right away, I said this is not right,” said Congresswoman Julia Brownley during a Skype interview.
Congresswoman Brownley saw our story shortly after it aired. Eventually, Harold’s story made it all the way to the top brass at the V.A. in Washington, D.C.
“There was a miscommunication certainly with the V.A. and there was a miscommunication between the regional office and the debt collection office and once we sort of got involved in that and of course, because of you spotlighting it, made a big difference,” said Brownley.
The V.A. wiped out all of Harold’s debt and cut him a check to pay for some of the bills he owed.
“So we’re looking at about $30,000 that until I got with you guys, it wasn’t going to happen,” said Boons.
There are more details about that miscommunication Congresswoman Brownley talked about. Harold received several G.I. Bills, one dating back to the 1970’s post-Vietnam. The V.A. miscalculated his benefits under those G.I. Bills which allowed him to attend Cal-State Channel Islands.
There is a possibility the V.A. made that same miscalculation for other veterans across the country who have more than one G.I. Bill. Brownley’s office told us an internal audit is underway right now.
As for Harold, he’s still living on the boat, the folks at Ventura Harbor saw our story and they’re letting him stay there. He’s looking for a job and has no plans to go back to school.