Americans dealing with injuries, mental illnesses and other impairments are being notified out of the blue that they’ve been overpaid by the Social Security Administration and now owe thousands of dollars.
One 33-year-old veteran began receiving Social Security disability payments after his left foot was amputated following an explosion in Iraq in 2007. After going through rehab for his prosthetic leg, he began working full-time for a defense contractor in 2009. As soon as he started collecting a paycheck, the veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, reported his roughly $100,000 annual salary to the Social Security Administration.
When recipients of disability benefits reenter the workforce, they have a nine-month trial period in which they continue to receive benefits. Once the trial period ends and their earnings exceed a certain level — currently $1,040 a month — the payments are supposed to stop. And that’s exactly what happened in his case.
But then, last July, he noticed a $75,000 deposit in his checking account. Three days later, a letter arrived from the Social Security Administration saying it had reinstated his benefits because he had not been “gainfully employed” during the past three years. ...
It turns out Social Security overpayments like these are surprisingly common.
A recent audit conducted by the Government Accountability Office found that Social Security made $1.3 billion in potential overpayments to disability recipients in just two years. While some of that amount can be attributed to fraudsters who game the system, many innocent people are also receiving overpayments and then being asked to pay the agency back. Some continue being paid even after they notify the administration that they are no longer eligible for benefits, while others have no idea they are being overpaid.I can't say what happened in the vet's case. I can say that the work incentives that Congress has provided for recipients of Social Security disability benefits are so complicated that mistakes are inevitable but not a $75,000 mistake of this sort. That's unusual.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report referenced by this article is seriously misleading. It assumed that any work performed by a person who had applied for Social Security disability benefits made that person permanently ineligible for Social Security disability benefits. That's just wrong. That's not the way the law is written. For instance, many people who have applied for Social Security disability benefits attempt to return to work but are only able to last a short time on a job. This is what Social Security calls an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA) and has no effect upon the person's entitlement to benefits. If anything, a UWA makes a Social Security disability claimant look more credible. GAO would have a person who has engaged in a UWA ineligible for Social Security disability benefits for the rest of their life! You probably didn't notice it but there was no Congressional hearing on the GAO report. Even Republicans figured out that the GAO report was a crock.
If you're of a mind to believe that all government benefits programs do nothing but waste money you may want to believe that Social Security wastes billions of dollars just sending large checks to people at random but that's not the way the program works. Mistakes happen. Usually the mistakes take away money rather than bestowing it. Usually, the mistakes don't involve much money. Most of the mistakes are just the inevitable result of overworked human beings making mistakes running a complicated program. There's only so much you can expect Social Security to do about that especially when you the size of the agency's workforce is declining while its workforce is increasing.