HAYWARD -- It's not exactly a Christmas miracle, but a decision by government officials to waive a nearly $500 bill they'd tried to charge war veteran Thomas Testerman because of their erroneous payments brought some holiday cheer to his family.

Forgiveness from Testerman, however, might take considerably longer.

"That's one burden that's gone," the former Navy petty officer said. "But it bothers me and I'm still wondering, why did I have to go through this? Why did all this have to happen?"

What happened started in 1972, when Testerman was ailing from major combat wounds suffered during the Vietnam War. While he was recovering, the government began mailing monthly disability checks that he still receives today. Social Security also sent him a couple of checks, which he cashed. But when his lawyer said he was not eligible for the Social Security payments, Testerman stopped cashing the checks, mailing them back for several months until the agency stopped sending them.

Testerman, now 61, moved on. He eventually got married, settled in Hayward and enjoyed a career in computers, making those years a distant memory.


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That is, until last month, when a letter landed in his mailbox two days before Veterans Day. The first part of the government's note informed him that he owed $493.80 -- the sum contained in those few checks Social Security mistakenly sent 41 years ago.

The second part threatened to take the overpayment out of his military disability checks, which total $600 a month, if he did not pay the bill. That angered Testerman, reminding him of the mistreatment his generation of veterans faced.

He called a Social Security hotline but found little sympathy from a representative who told him, "If the law says we can take it (the money), we'll take it."

His predicament was reported in this newspaper on Nov. 24, and about two weeks later, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, telephoned Testerman and offered assistance.

But the congressman didn't get a chance to help. A letter arrived the next morning, informing Testerman that the government is "waiving the collection of your Social Security overpayment of $493.80. This means you will not have to pay this money back."

Officials with the Social Security Administration and the Treasury Department declined interviews for this story, saying that privacy laws prohibit them from commenting on any individual's case or why Testerman's debt was waived.

Now that the issue is resolved, Testerman said his family is relieved, but he is concerned that government agencies are making similar demands from veterans who lack the means to pay.

"If it's happening to one, it's happening to a lot," he said. "That's just the government way."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.