A World War II veteran who was recently honored by the DC Council died last week after contracting the coronavirus, and his family says they’re now facing a bureaucratic nightmare.
Leroy Tonic was 96 when he died Saturday morning at a Maryland nursing home where he lived for the past five years.
His family is mourning his loss as well as what they say is a battle with the nursing home to release his belongings and more than $5,000 he had in his account with the facility. Also, they’re upset that officials at Hyattsville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center never informed them that Tonic had died.
“I’m just devastated right now,” said Taenia Tonic, the late veteran’s daughter.
Tonic was the last-known surviving World War II veteran whose name appears on an honor roll placard inside the Wilson Building. The placard lists 1,869 D.C. government employees who served during World War II. The Council honored Tonic in a ceremony last year and had kept in touch with him ever since.
When the Council learned of Tonic’s death and the problems his family was having, they wanted to help. But because the nursing home where he lived is outside D.C., there wasn’t much they could do. They alerted News4.
Taenia Tonic spoke with her father by phone the night before he died. He was trying to speak though he was on a ventilator, she said.
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The family and Tonic’s court-appointed guardian said they didn’t know why the family wasn’t notified of Tonic’s death or why the facility won’t release his belongings and the funds in his account.
The family needs the money as soon as possible to be able to bury Tonic.
“We urgently need that money to bury my father, to give him a proper funeral,” his daughter said.
The nursing home issued a statement expressing their condolences but said federal law restricted them from informing anyone but Tonic’s court-appointed lawyer about his death. In order for the family to get access to their loved one’s belongings and money, they must get a letter of administration from Maryland’s Office of the Register of Wills.
But the office is closed because of COVID-19 restrictions and only offering limited services by phone.
It’s common for nursing homes to require a letter of administration to release funds, particularly when patients are Medicaid recipients. With the increased number of people dying in nursing homes, and courthouses around the country closed or offering reduce services, there’s no telling how many people are caught in the same circumstances the Tonic family finds themselves in.
“I just feel so let down,” Taenia Tonic said.