After completing a two year journey through SSA’s disability determination process you have been awarded Social Security Disability benefits. You made contact with the SSA payment center which set you up to receive your back benefits in installments and your monthly benefits going forward. At some point in time you were told by SSA to continue to provide updates about work, medical updates, and any time at all you have any other income. You were also told that at some time SSA may want to review your case to ensure that you are still disabled. At the time, you were excited about finally generating a source of income which you did not have in the prior two plus years.
Three years go by. You received a number of letters from the Administration which describe staying on disability, reminders of what the requirements are, and what you need to report. These letters are only occasional. One letter you received mentioned something about overpayment, but you remembered having an interview with an SSA worker who determined the dollar amount of your benefits. You have received payments in that amount every month for years now and you never did go back to work or won the lottery, so clearly, you were not overpaid.
Your benefits are monthly and you have adjusted to live within your means. You also try to save the benefit checks where you can so once in a while you can go out to eat, see a movie, or buy gifts at the holidays. It is not easy, especially since you need to keep up with your treatment, but since you are single and without child-related costs you have managed to save and maintain about $1,800 in your bank account for emergencies.
Two Christmases ago, right after you were awarded benefits, your grandmother Millie sent you a $250 check to help get you back on your feet. That was especially nice of her since she usually only sends a sappy card with a $20 bill in it. You deposited that $250 check at the time and forgot about it.
On the three year and one month anniversary of the award of your benefits, you receive a thick packet from SSA. Inside is a letter asking you to report any income you may have received, a function report for you to complete, a release so that SSA can collect medical records, and a statement showing the payment schedule for your benefits with the cost of living adjustments for the next two years, among other documents. You complete these documents and return them to SSA.
Thirty days go by. Your benefits are not deposited into your account as usual. You try calling SSA and the first time you wait on hold until the Administration’s phone system hangs up on you. You call again and get a front desk person who tells you that they are not sure why your benefits have stopped, but that you can talk to a case worker. You call the case worker several times and leave several messages. At the sixty day mark, you receive a letter stating that you have been overpaid, that you owe SSA $26,000, and that you have no defenses because you knew or should have known that you needed to report earnings and did not do so.
You frantically call and call SSA, the case worker, and anyone that would answer the phone. Eventually, the case worker calls you back. They inform you that SSA performed a continuing disability review on your file, and determined that three years ago in December, your bank account showed an amount of $2,050 for two weeks because of unearned income of $250. The case worker further tells you that to remain eligible for your benefits, you can never have a back account balance above $2,000, that you did, and because of that SSA retroactively determined that you were ineligible for benefits. You were also determined to be ineligible because you had unearned income you failed to report. Because of that retroactive determination, you owe SSA all of the money they paid you from that December to present. The case worker further tells you not to waste everyone’s time trying to appeal SSA’s decision because you will lose any appeal you file automatically.
Is there anything to be done? Can SSA really tell someone they owe $26,000 because of some Christmas money that you received three years ago? Don’t SSA’s case workers have the final word on how your disability benefits get paid? Aren’t they right when they tell you that you will lose any appeal?
Look for the answers in our next post!
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