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Laid-off Army veteran must pay back four months of unemployment benefits after VEC mistake

Posted at 8:01 PM, May 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 11:23:09-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Call it a lesson learned, and very much the hard way.

58-year-old Army veteran David Milladge was laid off in November by Local #26, the electrical union where he had worked on and off for 14 years.

He says he had notified them that he needed hip replacement surgery and that's when his employment came to an end. "I had a letter from my doctor, stating that I was going to have surgery and I was going to be out a certain period of time," said Milladge. "And once I gave that letter to the company, I was laid off."

He filed for unemployment with the Virginia Employment Commission and within a few weeks, began receiving benefits.

But after he had his surgery in early December, something unusual happened: his unemployment benefits continued, even though every week he would answer, ‘No,’ that he was not available for work. That’s a question to which any claimant getting benefits must answer ‘Yes.’

The weeks would turn into months, and through early April, Milladge was still getting his weekly check, even though for many of those weeks he had said, ‘No,’ he was not able to work, as he recovered from one hip surgery and then surgery on the other one.

But on April 8, 2021, his benefits stopped.

Confused, he tried to contact the VEC the next week, but got nowhere.

"I tried to use those VEC numbers that they give you. There's like three different ones, but you never get to talk to anybody," he said. "At least that's in my case, and I never got to talk to anybody."

Milladge says after several weeks of calling, he eventually got through. "I actually got to talk with a guy from VEC through another organization," Milladge said. "That's how bad it is, you can't call him. I had to go through another organization in order to talk to a guy from the VEC."

But Milladge then learned he had done something wrong, something that's going to cost him money, money the still-unemployed electrician does not have.

Somehow, the VEC ignored its own regulations on who is eligible for benefits. But since he told the VEC each week when he was not available, even an agency that pays money out in error should be able to tabulate the extent of the overpayment, and Milladge will have to pay that money back to the VEC.

"They said they would then take that [list] and look to see how much money I owe them, and I'm going to end up having to pay them back," Milladge said. "That's what I was told."

He says he was completely unaware that having a medical procedure that would keep him from working or looking for work, while he was unemployed, would disqualify him from VEC benefits.

But the reality is, that If he was going to get benefits, they would have to come from somewhere else. "It's almost like being punished for having surgery, that you need in order to keep working and live," said Milladge.

That revelation has led to a series of calls to various agencies, and especially, to the disAbility Law Center of Virginia.

"I had to call around, and figure out who to talk to," he said. "And once I did that, talking to various people, I found out who I needed to talk to, and that was actually through you," Milladge said about CBS-6's work on his case. "So thank god for you."

The dLCV says anyone having a medical procedure like the ones Milladge has had, should look into whether they are eligible for short-term disability through their employer. In a statement, Executive Director Colleen Miller told CBS-6:

“In order to qualify for and maintain unemployment benefits, you must be able and willing to work. In order to qualify for social security benefits, you must be unable to work at all. But there are many other considerations that factor into those benefits programs.

“The rules relating to unemployment benefits and disability benefits can be very complicated, and are often very much dependent on specific facts. Hopefully, both the Virginia Employment Commission and the Social Security Administration can help you to navigate all the requirements. If you still have questions after contacting them, you can reach out to the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, and we will answer your questions if we can. We can be reached at 1-800-552-3962 or on line at www.dlcv.org

Milladge says he would do things entirely differently, if he could go back to the day of his November layoff. "There was nobody that said, 'Hey you need to file for short-term disability or long-term or go on unemployment." said Milladge. "There's nobody around to tell you that. And so now I got myself in a bad financial situation, because I got to pay money back that I don't have, and I'm still unemployed, and I'm still going to have two [more] surgeries."

We sent Milladge’s information to VEC spokeswoman Joyce Fogg. She did not respond.

We also have not heard back from VEC Commissioner Ellen Marie Hess about our multiple requests to speak to her made over the past several weeks.