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Inaccurate SSA records: A threat to New Jersey disability benefits?

New Jersey readers of this blog will recall a recent post regarding the looming insolvency of programs run by the Social Security Administration. Another possible reason may just have surfaced. A recent inspector general's audit of the SSA's Death Master File List estimates that inaccurate records at the SSA cost the government a good deal of money annually in wrongfully paid benefits, possibly including Social Security disability benefits. One Republican senator puts the estimated cost to taxpayers at at least $120 million every year.

According to the audit, more than 1 million dead people are inaccurately listed as alive on Death Master File List. This is a list that is used by several agencies, including the SSA, the Defense Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the E-Verify program and the Office of Personnel Management, to determine the legitimacy of applicants for government services.

In 2010, President Obama ordered agencies to check the Death Master File before issuing monetary payouts. Unfortunately, agencies might properly record deaths in their own lists but if they do not update the Death Master File, benefits may still be erroneously paid.

The audit found that in addition to the huge number people still listed as being alive on the SSA's lists, hundreds were shown to be earning wages, even though they'd been dead for more than a year.

The SSA agrees that it can do better, but says it will only happen if it can find the money. The agency maintains that it can be difficult to determine accurately whether someone is dead or alive. SSA usually depends on reports from funeral homes and relatives regarding deceased beneficiaries and claims that investigations regarding unreported deaths can be very expensive.

Perhaps it is because of the obvious holes in this essential safety-net agency's systems that it makes getting approved for legitimate disability benefits so difficult. It certainly is confusing, which is why it is advisable to enlist the help of an attorney before starting the application process.

Source: The Washington Times, "Social Security's master list littered with dead people," Stephan Dinan, July 10, 2012

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