In October, I received a letter from Social Security Administration saying that Ben no longer qualified for SSI AND we owed a very large over payment for two years of SSI that Ben did receive. The letter showed that we owned two of the same car. I knew this was wrong and immediately wrote a letter. I thought it was a computer glitch.
Over the past five months, I have met with Social Security, spoke with several people over the phone and wrote countless letters providing documentation to show the cars we actually owned and filed appeals for the decision to revoke Ben's SSI during the two year period they think we owned these two cars.
Tomorrow I have another meeting. I am hoping we can get this straightened out. This situation has caused a lot of stress for us and has taken a tremendous amount of our time trying to unravel the problem. I have not written a post in almost a month, partially because my brain power has been consumed with this issue and the bathroom saga (qualifies for its own post) which has created its own set of applications and paperwork. This morning I lay in bed, waking too early because of this darn time change, and thought about what I have learned from this experience and what I could pass on to others. So here is what I have learned so far:
1. Keep records. My mom helped me organize mountains of letters from Social Security and to Social Security. I will be armed with a file box ready to bring with me tomorrow. I kept fairly good records of who I spoke with on the phone, but not great. I recommend a phone log with date, name, identifying number for person, and exactly what was said. If possible, record those phone conversations with their permission. If you do not have that capability, then write a summary of the conversation and send them a copy for their records and keep one for yourself.
2. Bring client with you to meetings. Tomorrow Ben is coming with us to the meeting. I have gone by myself in the past, and I think having Ben there will help see that it is not me they are helping, but Ben. *Please see the comment section. Depending on the type of meeting you are having, you may decide against bringing your child with you.
3. Not so easy to lawyer up. I have called and spoken to more attorneys in the past few weeks than I have in my life. Not one helps with over payments with SSI. They all help with getting SSI because there is money to be made from it. With over payments, clients potentially owe the government and they do not have money to pay a lawyer.
Also, SSI is a very specialized field and only lawyers with this knowledge will be helpful to you. It is an intricate and specific law so any type of lawyer will not do. Nor will you find one that wants to try it out. Believe me, I tried.
Legal Aid or some form of this free or sliding scale legal service in your area may be of assistance. I have waited for over a week to hear from them and the moment I wrote "lawyer up" in this post, they called me back. Karma or coincidence...I don't care as long as I have some help!
4. Be organized. This goes along with the keeping records - but good records are nothing if you cannot find anything. All documentation needs to be stapled, organized by date and kept in one folder, box or cabinet. It will help your case to show that you have kept up with everything and have it ready at your fingertips.
5. Take the emotion out. Coming from me this says a lot because I can yell with the best of them, but this will not help my son get what he needs. I am angry because at some point, either someone did not catch the mistake or let it slide, but now we are paying the price. However, making enemies with the staff at Social Security is only going to get me on a list somewhere, and not a good one. Stay calm, be direct and be prepared. Show respect for the people you are meeting with so they will give you the same amount of respect.
6. Be persistent. File all the appeals and waivers you are given. Attend the hearings and meetings. Get the names and phone numbers of people you meet with and contact them to ask questions. I do not recommend harassing them with phone calls. The staff are people just like us, trying to do their jobs. However, I have heard from more than one person that you may get different answers depending on whom you speak with.
7. Determine your worst case scenario. Worrying about the unknown is by far the worst kind of worrying. Making things up in your head often leads to inflated disaster. Once we got past the unknown, we realized that the worst for us would be to pay back the money. Since I heard from an attorney that you can setup a payment plan of just $25 per month until the amount is paid, we relaxed a bit. It may take us to our deathbed, but we can manage those type of payments.
8. Pray. A few words to your higher power can help at least relieve your stress and put it in the hands of something bigger than you.
Please say a prayer for us tomorrow - that we find a resolution and can move on.
** At 4pm today, I received a call from the person handling our claim at te Social Security Adminsitration. In order to give us more time, she asked to move the meeting to next week. She also gave me a list of items she needed for a complete review (many I have given before, but I will comply again).