SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Imagine collecting critically needed unemployment payments, and then finding out you have to pay it back. And by the time you make that discovery, it’s too late to appeal.

“Here’s a rock and here’s a hard place, and I’m right in between the two of them,” said Annie Radigan-Overton in a Friday morning interview.

She was working at REI, Recreational Equipment Incorporated, at their location at Pembroke Mall in Virginia Beach for about six months when she was furloughed in April of last year. She transferred there from the company’s location in Glen Allen. Overall, she had been with REI for about six months.

“I was only out of work for about two months with REI,” she said, and considered herself “definitely fortunate” compared with other people’s unemployment situations.

Well — stay tuned on that “fortunate” part.

She collected benefits for eight weeks that included regular unemployment plus the federal weekly supplement of $600 that was in effect at the time, totaling just over $4,600. Based on her determination letter from the Virginia Employment Commission, she was getting exactly what she was entitled to.

“Every time I received unemployment, it matched that letter. It all lined up to me, it all made sense.”

But her Richmond attorney Scott Crowley, who specializes in employment law, says despite what Radigan-Overton’s determination letter indicated, her case lacked a key component: a qualification letter.

Crowley says her qualification status was unknown, because she never received anything stating whether she was qualified or not. The payments began on time, lasted for the eight weeks she filed her claims, and stopped after she notified VEC that she got her job back in June 2020, so to Radigan-Overton, everything seemed proper.

Later that summer, she changed careers and then moved with her husband to Suffolk. She told the U.S. Post Office but didn’t think she needed to tell VEC, because at that point she hadn’t collected unemployment for months.

And then she got some unexpected mail from the VEC in April.

“It says you owe us money. It is in fact a bill, and I was completely caught off guard by it,” Radigan-Overton said.

She says the $4,600 was crucial at the time for her to make ends meet.

“And now I have to pay it back? That money is spent,” she said.

According to Crowley, VEC claims she hadn’t worked at REI long enough, but she had been with them six months before she was furloughed.

“According to the VEC, they sent two letters both of which were addressed to my old address,” she said.

The letters explained her right to appeal, but she never filed a timely appeal “because I never received those letters,” she said.

The Post Office never forwarded them.

She’s already paid the attorney to fight it, so it’s a costly mess regardless of the outcome. Her attorney says the next step would be an appeal directly to the Commissioner’s office. That’s not expected to happen for several months because of the backlog at the VEC.