After caring for Vietnam veteran Roger Lennon for more than a dozen years, two months after his death Sarah Miller received a bill from the state of Iowa for almost $300,000 for medical care he received at a state-run veteran's home, according to a report in the Quad-City Times.
"I called them and said, 'Is this a joke?'" Miller told the Quad-City Times. "Who has that kind of money? And I was with Roger every time he was signed into the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown. They never said anything about billing him after he passed."
Lennon was wounded in Vietnam and received a Purple Heart. He was also injured in a 1990 welding accident that kept him confined to a wheelchair most of the time, the newspaper reported. He received care at the veterans' home for several years.
"He could walk some with a quad cane, but he needed care," Miller, Lennon's companion of 20 years, told the newspaper. "He went through hell."
According to the Iowa Department of Human Services, however, the state has the right to pursue assets after Lennon's death because he was a Medicaid recipient, the newspaper reported. Lennon and Miller owned two rental properties in Bettendorf, Iowa, that she maintained during the years of his illness.
The state is asking Miller for half of the value of the two properties, about $40,000.
"Everybody who gets Medicaid is told this is a government program for which we will be expecting repayment," DHS spokesman Roger Munns told the newspaper. "It's not fair for taxpayers — you and me — to pay if there are assets.
"It's not draconian. It's not meant to be cruel," he said.
The letter from DHS, which says Lennon owes $277,186.96, after expressing condolences, reads: "This debt must be, and can only be, paid from anything that the individual owned or had an interest in at the time of death."
Munns said Miller "misinterpreted" her communications with state officials, the newspaper reported.
Miller, meanwhile, told the newspaper that a state attorney told her that she didn't have to sell the properties, but that she did have to give the state half of their value.
"I was told to send them the money next week," Miller told the newspaper. "People should know what the state is doing. Poor Roger was so proud that he was a veteran, and the veterans were taking care of him. He was very proud of his military service. People should be outraged."