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Social Security waives debt it said Hayward war veteran owed

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.

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.

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Chris DeBenedetti