WATERVLIET – On this Memorial Day weekend, World War II veteran Joseph Teson is thinking about his fallen comrades – and his personal finances.
Teson, a D-Day survivor, told NewsChannel 13 the federal government has reduced his veterans benefits to just $6 per month in order to recoup an overpayment.
“I don’t know how they did it, but they did it,” Teson, 89, said Saturday. “I didn’t say nothing. I just let it go. Everybody else complained but me.”
Teson said he used to receive about $300.00 per month in veterans benefits, about a third of which he donated to a number of veterans groups.
Then, in 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notified Teson by mail that his “entitlement to compensation and pension benefits had changed,” resulting in an overpayment to him of $3,090.
“Since you are currently receiving VA benefits, we plan to withhold those benefits until the amount you were overpaid is recouped,” the VA said in a letter dated June 9, 2013.
Teson’s daughter, Tami, called the toll-free number listed on the letter. She said no one was able to explain how — or for how long — the overpayment occurred. And she said her father never noticed it.
Teson said the VA eventually reduced his monthly benefits to $6. He showed NewsChannel 13 several 2014 bank statements showing the single-digit deposits.
“They’re taking money from my father, and he deserves (the money),” said Teson’s son, Michael. “He fought in the war for it. They’re giving him $6 per month. He can’t live on that.”
Reached on Saturday evening, VA spokeswoman Meagan Lutz said the department wants to ensure that all veterans are receiving the benefits to which they are legally entitled.
“We are presently looking into the specifics of Mr. Teson’s case and will be reaching out to him to clarify the details of his changes in benefits,” Lutz said. “Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.”
Lutz added that she is not aware of any widespread system error that would have caused a change in Teson’s benefits, or the overpayment on his account.
For now, Teson and his wife of 67 years, Rose, are getting by on pension and social security benefits, and help from their children. Teson is also selling his coin collection to make up the shortfall.
“What can I do?” he asked, referencing the VA. “They’re bigger than me, so I’ve got to go along with them.”
VETERAN PROFILE: JOSEPH TESON
Joseph Teson was born on February 11, 1925. Better known as Bob (his middle name) or “Teso,” he enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 and served in World War II.
During the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, Teson served aboard a landing craft transporting ammunition, tanks, and troops to Omaha Beach and Utah Beach under heavy fire.
“It was no picnic,” Teson said, recalling the barrage of German gunfire. He spent the next four years in Europe, supporting Allied operations.
After returning home from the war, Teson worked at a block factory, a bakery, a radiator plant, and a car dealership before starting a 22-year career at the Watervliet Arsenal.
Teson worked from midnight to 8:00 a.m. at the Arsenal, then “daylighted” as a maintenance custodian at St. Brigid’s Church in Watervliet.
Teson also owned and operated two auto body shops. One of them, Schuyler Auto Body, is still in the family today. His son owns the business now.
He and Rose have seven children, 19 grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren. One grandson, Jay, served in the Navy. A great-grandson, Nicholas, is currently serving in the Navy.
Teson’s uncle, Pat Simmons, was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox during the 1928 and 1929 baseball seasons. During that time, Simmons introduced young Teson to Yankee great Babe Ruth.
Teson, no more than 5 years old, didn’t believe he was meeting the real Sultan of Swat. “I looked at him and said, ‘You’re not Babe Ruth, you son of a bitch,’” he recalled. Ruth doubled over with laughter.