It’s interesting how one thing leads to another.
I wrote a column last week about Shirley Beaver, a 79-year-old Pittsfield woman who got a letter in the mail saying she was dead, and she has been struggling with the U.S. Social Security Administration office in Waterville to try to clear up the mess.
Well, Shirley’s situation apparently isn’t a fluke.
In the last week, I’ve heard from other people in similar situations.
The latest is Thelma Maxwell of Oakland.
Thelma’s grandson emailed me to say she got the same letter Beaver got and she wanted to talk to me about it.
When I called Thelma, who is 84, she was all shook up because she had been to the Social Security office in Waterville too, and her problem had not been fixed.
“Now, I don’t know if I’m going to get my Social Security check or not,” she said.
The next day, Thelma visited the office a second time, and then she called me.
“I’ve had a heck of a time,” she said. “I got another letter when I got back from the office, telling me that, based on information they got, they can not pay my benefits for January and February 2014.”
She sounded exhausted.
“This has put me right down. It took a heck of a lot out of me. I’ve lost a lot of sleep.”
Thelma explained she lives alone and takes care of her two grandchildren, ages 13 and 14.
As if that isn’t hard enough, now she has to worry about not getting the money she needs to live on.
If she is finding any comfort at all, it is from telephone conversations she’s been having with Beaver, with whom she got in touch after learning they share a common dilemma.
Shirley, who has a heart condition, appreciates those calls from Thelma.
“She’s struggling with the same darned thing,” Shirley said. “It’s bad enough when you’re up in age. You can’t sleep, you can’t go ahead and you can’t eat and your stomach is all tensed up.”
Shirley, a retired nurse’s aide, lives with her grown son, Russell, 52, who is disabled from having fallen off the roof of a three-story building years ago; her other son, David, has had four heart attacks and a major stroke. He was living in a nursing home in Massachusetts before he moved in with Shirley and Russell last week.
“I’m trying to get David situated now,” Shirley said. “He’s 56 and he is depressed. He’s so down. I keep telling him, ‘You gotta keep positive.’ I gotta keep him going and keep him up, in every way.”
The letter Shirley got from the insurance company that supplements her Medicare benefits said her prescription drug coverage ended Jan. 1. She and Thelma have different insurance companies, but both companies got notices from the U.S. Social Security Administration saying they were dead.
In an effort to try to find out how two women living 30 miles apart in central Maine got letters saying they are dead, I called and emailed Roberto Medina, the U.S. Social Security Administration’s regional public affairs officer for New England.
Medina, whose office is in Boston, asked me for Thelma and Shirley’s contact information, which I gave him, after they both gave me permission to do so. He said he was going to try to help them.
“As to your question about why or how this could happen, the Social Security Administration (SSA) processes death reports with an accuracy rate of approximately 99.9 percent,” Medina said in an email. “SSA receives death information from different sources: family members, funeral homes, federal agencies, etc. Upon notification from these sources, SSA takes immediate action to correct any inaccurate data.”
As of late last week, however, neither Shirley nor Thelma’s situations had been resolved.
“I still haven’t heard a darned thing about anything, dear,” Shirley said, when I called her for an update.
Meanwhile, I got another email from a woman named Beverly who said she took care of her mother before she passed away in 1999 from lung cancer. Before she died, Beverly got a call from the company that rented her mother a hospital bed, saying someone was coming to pick the bed up. Confused, Beverly asked why they were retrieving the bed and was told the Social Security Administration notified the company she had died and her benefits ended.
“The result was, I had to take her out of her bed and physically take her to the Social Security office with two forms of ID to prove she was alive,” Beverly said.
Another email I received was from a man named Robbie, who said his mother received a letter notifying her estate that she was dead.
“My mother’s situation had the Social Security office taking money from her bank account, which is something I totally do not understand,” Robbie wrote. “She had direct deposit on her Social Security checks but when they declared her dead they started taking money from her account. I do not know what gives them the right to do this and it is still not resolved. My mother is 88 years old and has a hard time with mobility. She makes the trip there to prove she was still alive and still no resolution. I just can’t wrap my head around this.
“I just thought you should know that it has happened to more than one person you reported about and it makes me wonder how many more people out there are going through this.”
Finally, Kerry, a Maine native living in Maryland, emailed to say her heart is breaking for Shirley Beaver and all she is going through — and asked how she can help:
“I am willing to do anything I can,” she wrote.
Well, all I can say is, it’s heartwarming to know there are people out there who care. And I hope that Shirley, Thelma and Robbie get a similar sympathetic response from Social Security.
Otherwise, my already growing nervousness about becoming a Social Security recipient myself in a few years could grow into a full-blown case of dread.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org