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Government handling of SSA payment mistakes irks disabled vet

It is no secret that the Social Security system is complicated. That portion of the agency that deals with retirement benefits seems to run on a separate set of rails from the section that covers Social Security disability benefits. Each line has its own set of difficulties, which is one reason why those seeking disability benefits are always wise to work with an attorney.

Sometimes there doesn't seem to be any coordination going on between the various SSA offices. Mistakes do occur, very often on the government side of the equation. And even after a frustrating process of getting things straightened out, the mistakes can wind up coming back to haunt, sometimes decades later, in irritating ways.

What spurs this observation is a recent story about a Vietnam War veteran in Hayward, California. Not long ago, the 61-year-old man discovered that the government seems to have a very long, if somewhat petty, memory about past errors made, and that it suffers from a lack of tact in how it resolves such matters.

What reportedly happened is that two days before Veterans Day, this veteran received a letter from the Defense Department saying that he owes the government nearly $500 for SSA checks he mistakenly received back in 1972. The letter said if he didn't pay up or dispute the issue, he would start seeing deductions from his military retirement checks around about Christmas.

The vet, who was injured in the service in 1972 and who receives monthly disability as a result to this day, acknowledges that incorrect retirement payments were received. They started while he was recovering from his wounds. He admits he cashed a couple. But then, on advice from his lawyer, he sent subsequent checks back. After a few months, they stopped coming. The issue has been moot ever since.

The veteran says he's angry. He says disabled veterans from his era have been dealing with what he calls, "this crap," for decades now. He says he can afford to pay the $494 tab, and probably will. But he worries that younger veterans who may be facing tough times are getting letters similar to his. That, he says, would be immoral.

Source: Contra Costa Times, "Social Security bills disabled Hayward war vet over 41-year-old checks," Chris De Benedetti, The Daily Review, Nov. 23, 2013

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