May 19, 2015

Kauai woman says Social Security thought she was dead

It happens more than you think. The inspector general for the Social Security Office has estimated up to 1,000 people are month mistakenly turn up on Social Security's Death Master File. And that changes your life in ways you could never imagine. One woman on Kauai lived it and now she's sharing her ordeal.

Debra Altman enjoys simple things like watering her garden. There was a time when she didn't think she'd be able to keep it or her apartment.

Early last February, the retired registered nurse suddenly couldn't access the checking account where her social security disability payments are direct deposited.

"They just told me, well, I'm sorry we're showing that you are dead," said Altman.

Then, she received the following from her health insurer:

"To the Estate of Debra Altman," it read. "Medicare told us about the death of Debra Altman."

The letter instructed if the information is wrong, contact your local Social Security office. So Altman did just that thinking it was a simple mistake.

"They basically didn't help me," said Altman. "

"I was devastated. Like I said, I don't carry a lot of money in my purse. That's why I have a bank account," said Altman.

She says she visited the Lihue Social Security office more than two dozen times.

"Because I'm on disability, I have to see my doctor every month. I had a copy of the physical and I took it down to the Social security people and I said, "Right here, I'm alive!" exclaimed Altman.

"At least three times she broke down in the Social Security office. Two to three times had to walk out and I'd say at least half the times walking home she was crying," said boyfriend Rick Polk.

"They kept bouncing me back and I talked to a supervisor. She'd say I'll call you back. She never called me back. It was a nightmare," said Altman. "They basically told me in so many words it's your problem, it's not my problem and you figure it out."

She tried to figure it out, but couldn't! She ran out of money and couldn't pay her bills. Her association filed to foreclose on her property.

"Quite frankly, I wanted to die," said Altman.

Altman finally managed to get a reverse mortgage to pay off some bills and save her home. But, she still couldn't convince Social Security she was alive. So, in June, after nearly five months of frustration, Altman turned to U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono for help.

"And quite frankly, Mazie Hirono was all over it. I just picked up the phone book and looked in there. I knew who she was. I called over there. They were more than happy to help me," said Altman.

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By:  Paula Akana
Source: KITV