Issues 2 & 3
Dead -- And Back AgainBy Rus Cooper-Dowda
At the time, I lived across the street from a huge Veteran's Administration hospital complex a half block from a large teaching hospital and medical school and less than a mile from the region's largest Catholic hospital and clinic. My son's pediatrician's office was on the block where we lived as well. So I told them on the phone that I'd just have medical personnel nearby take my blood pressure and temperature and call in the results to prove I was still very much kicking. Silly me, to think such an obvious, huge error could be resolved that easily.
It turned out that the only doctor in the area who had the Social Security contract to collect direct medical information in death determination appeals practiced in a little town 20 miles south of the urban area where I lived. His tiny town had no public bus or paratransit service. It was not even on a railroad or major highway artery. Their Greyhound service had passed away many, many years before.
Worse yet, the required exam to prove my still-living status had to happen over two consecutive open office days -- to discourage fraud. That meant an overnight stay at a hotel or motel. The nearest lodging of any kind was an inaccessible, seedy tiny mom-and-pop place miles from the doctor's office.
When I complained of the overall inaccessibility of the examination, the Social Security doctor responded that it must not really bother me much then to be considered dead if whether there were steps to climb was an actual concern of mine.
But the biggest problem with the "two consecutive office days" rule turned out to be this: The contracted doctor was only open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while he studied for the licensing test to permanently practice medicine in this country.
He finally agreed to stay open two days in a row to see me if I paid the additional costs of extra office time that week.
That additional cost was $600.00 -- more than one month's Social Security check for me.
Oh, and did I mention his training was solely in psychiatry? And have I mentioned yet that his sole practice was seeing people appealing Social Security Administration decisions involving all disabilities?
I had to pay someone to drive me to the doctor.
The doctor's first and only question was, "How can I prove to Social Security that you are still alive?"
That was the entire first day's exam. My driver and I then spent the night at the distant hotel and came back. The entire second examination was the doctor asking, "Are you sure there is nothing else I can use to prove you are alive?"
I had to lean on him to take my temperature and blood pressure readings.
I pretty much thought my vital signs would clinch it. It took an amazing eight months after those shrink visits for Social Security disability to begin my regular monthly payments again. It took another 14 months after that to get my back payments from when I was "dead."
If it weren't for my husband's income at the time, I would have ended up homeless, hungry and more disabled while I waited for reinstatement. Since the issue was whether I was really dead, there was no arrangement to be had for provisional payments during the appeals process.
Here's the real kicker to the story, though: My Medicare coverage never stopped -- and I never stopped using it. Pretty good for a dead woman, don't you think? While Social Security Disability had me down as dead, Medicare kept paying for a portion of each of my many ongoing doctor visits.
I did finally find out how Social Security decided I was dead.
One day there was an article in the local paper about a big civic award I had been given. The obituary column was in the same section of the newspaper. It turned out that SSDI offices then had clerks matching the local disability rolls with local death announcements -- to catch all that fraud, of course.
That day, the "obit clerk" took my name from the award article and added it to their dead SSDI recipient list. I guess I was considered more likely to be dead than honored by my community.
I have yet to receive a written statement that the SSDI folks made a mistake. Indeed, they have never put down in any writing to me that I am now officially alive again.
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