May 22, 2010

"Gotta Be Crazy, On Dog Food"

From WAVE in Louisville:
A local retiree is outraged at the federal government. First, he finds out the government mistakenly overpaid his Social Security benefits for years. Then he had to give back more than $10,000 to settle up. Now, a second government accounting error could cost him thousands more. ...

Last summer, the Social Security Administration told Thurman because of an accounting error, the agency had accidentally paid him too much. For almost five years, Thurman got a disability payment and a full Social Security payment. ...

When it finally caught the mistake, the agency told Thurman he had to give back the overpayment, or his benefits would get cut. So Thurman went down to the social security office in Louisville and agreed to settle up.

"What's it take to pay you people off so I'll be totally clear?" Thurman said he asked the SSA worker. "They said $10,155. I said all right I'll give you your money right now. She said you're going to give it to me? I said yeah."

Thurman received two letters from Social Security showing he paid what he was asked, and that he and the government were square. ...

But just weeks later, Social Security told Thurman they goofed up again, making yet another accounting error. This time, Social Security told Thurman the amount repaid was thousands short of what he really owed. Social Security wanted another $6,758. And once again, the agency threatened to cut Thurman's benefits if he didn't pay.

"I thought these people gotta be crazy, on dog food," Thurman said with a laugh. "Something's wrong with em you know?"

Thurman went back and forth with Social Security for months. He even asked Congressman John Yarmouth's office for help, without any luck. But after we started asking questions, the Social Security Administration looked into Thurman's case and said mistakes were made.

"We have apologized to him," said Patti Patterson, a Social Security Administration spokesperson.

Patterson said SSA is now going back to the beginning to find out exactly how much Thurman was paid, and how much he should have been paid because they still aren't sure.

"It's unfortunate that not only have we not paid him correctly, we have not given him clear information," Patterson said. "And we're going to correct that." ...

Patterson told us mistakes like this do not happen often and said Thurman's case is more complicated than most because of the nature of his disability payment. Patterson said SSA hopes to be finished with its review and have a decision on the case within a week.

Field office employees: Do you think this one qualifies for an "against equity and good conscience" waiver? I suppose it happens but I don't think I've ever seen a field office do a waiver of that sort. And to non-field office employees: This exact problem is uncommon but overpayments due to Social Security errors are not rare and difficulties in computing the amount of an overpayment are routine.


Anonymous said...

He should have gone for partial recovery and said he could afford $50 or $75 a month. I would never had paid the whole O/P in full.

Anonymous said...

"Accounting error" is a pretty meaningless term. I am guessing that he was receiving workers comp and his DIB was not being offset. Either he did not report the correct amount of his comp, or he did and the change was not processed timely. This would be due to ....wait for it...staffing shortages. Quite common, actually, but then disguised by the euphemism "accounting error". No, there was just no one to work his d@mn case. Everyone should be challenging overpayments these days, because the likelihood of it being SSA's fault is steadily increasing. That's the perspective from the FO.

Anonymous said...

I agree with post #1. He likely could have just kept his money in the bank, repaid the overpayment monthly and likely die before it was re-paid,

Anonymous said...

I agree with the idea of not paying off the entire overpayment right away... but SSA does have the right to recover overpayments from one's estate. I don't know how that works, or how often it happens (would be interested to know, though), but it's in the regs!

Anonymous said...

The problem with offering to pay $50 to $75 a month is that overpayments have to be recovered in 36 months unless the claimant can demonstrate financial hardship. Since he could write a check for the whole $10,000, I'm guessing this guy had no financial hardship.

As Anonymous #2 points out, these news pieces are extremely misleading because we have no way of knowing what actually happened in this case. Anytime both retirement and disability benefits are involved, things get really complicated and hairy.

Anonymous said...

I see these cases all the time at the HO. They are poorly documented and have even weaker written rationales.

Yes, SSA has the right to collect the overpayment but we should be held accountable to do our jobs CORRECTLY.

Yes, more staff would definitely help but so would flexible management and less union interference when managment tries to be flexible. So would a committment to public service and remembering that if it wasn't for the claimants we wouldn't have these (somewhat)secure jobs.

So would realizing that the operators at the 1-800 call centers can't find and gush out the CORRECT information when they are being time and are penalized for doing their job CORRECTLY.

Does anyone see a theme here?