Tuesday, August 1, 2017

You're Kidding Me...Right?!

Here's the latest example of how a poorly-worded policy can create real-life headaches and an obscene level of inequity. This letter was sent out earlier this week. I'll be sure to share any response I get.

Dear Senator Murray,

I am writing to ask you to please look into changing a policy in the Veteran's Administration. I realize you are a very busy woman and I recognize the fact that the current climate in the senate has likely greatly increased your workload. I am hopeful, however, the language I am asking you to review/revise would be a quick and easy fix.

My daughter, Hannah, will turn 22 in a few days. She was born with a rare genetic disorder, Wolf-Hirschorn Syndrome. She is, therefore, non-verbal, non-ambulatory, incontinent, and exclusively G-tube fed. She weighs 50 pounds, has a seizure disorder, and has the cognitive ability of a 6 to 9-month-old. When she turned 18 she was quickly approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and I was quickly awarded full guardianship.

A month or two after Hannah's first SSI payment, I received a letter from Social Security stating $94 would be taken both retroactively from her first checks and from forthcoming checks because of the money Hannah was getting from the Veteran's Administration.

After having a good, hearty laugh, as we pictured Hannah having a secret life in the military and earning veteran status, I called the local Social Security office to alert them to their [obvious] mistake.



They said, "Hmmm...prove to us she's not getting money from the VA."

I called the VA and suffered through a conversation with a gentleman who clearly didn't want to speak to me (a lowly civilian). He did eventually agree, however, to send me a letter stating that Hannah does not receive any funds from the VA.



I sent that letter on to Social Security, and they paid back, retroactively, what they had taken out of Hannah's SSI checks. But the next month I received another letter telling me $94 would be deducted from Hannah's checks due to what she was getting from the VA.

About every two months I would have to call Social Security, referring them to the letter from the VA that was in Hannah's file. But after a year they said, "Hmmm...this letter is a year old. She could have potentially become a veteran within the past year and started getting money from them. You'll have to prove to us [again] that Hannah is getting no money from the VA."

Another borderline hostile conversation with another gentleman at the VA later, I had another letter of proof. I was sure - this time around - to provide my ex-husband's Social Security number. He's Hannah's biological father, he is a veteran, and he was my number one suspect for what I was convinced was some sort of fraud. Another two years of hassles with Social Security told me that the fraud was never investigated.



Last month I made my annual call to the VA for a letter of proof. A woman answered the phone...and listened to me. What she told me, though, had my chin hitting the floor. She said that a veteran with a "helpless child" (apparently that's a technical term in the military) gets an extra monthly stipend (my guess is that it's in the amount of $94), and that the stipend continues for as long as the helpless child is alive.

I said, "But he lives 3000 miles away in New Hampshire. He has never had custody of Hannah. He hasn't even laid eyes on her since she was four months old! He paid child support until she was 18, but it was $155/month [total] for both Hannah and her sister. I can't imagine that included $94 from the VA. Now that Hannah is an adult, I'm her legal guardian and she has absolutely zero ties to him. How is it that he gets money in her name?"

She said, "He simply gets the stipend for having a helpless child. There is no requirement for custody, cohabitation, or guardianship, and there is no requirement for the veteran to relinquish that stipend to the helpless child."



So...my ex gets an extra $94/month for being little more than a sperm donor more than 20 years ago, and I get a monthly headache with Social Security as a bonus to the responsibility of being a full-time caregiver for the rest of Hannah's life or mine - whichever ends first.

Life isn't fair. That is a lesson I've learned very well over the years. That being said, this policy feels like the government kicking me when I'm down. I ask that language be added to the rules about this "extra stipend for helpless children" that would require the funds to actually go to the helpless child in question. Either that or the stipend should be discontinued altogether, since the needs of "helpless children" are already covered by SSI and Medicaid.

Thank you so much for your time and consideration. Take care and continue fighting the good fight for us in "the other Washington"!


Your Supportive Constituent,                      
Stephanie Collins                               

13 comments:

  1. Oh. My. Goodness. Unbelievable and yet, it is real. *lost for words . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post, Joy! I know, right? Everything would feel so much more "satisfying" if my ex got the book thrown at him for fraud and the Veterans Administration had a big shake-up for allowing such fraud to go on for so long. I think I'll be lucky, though, if I get a letter back at all, and if I do, the most I expect is a quiet change of the language in the rules that may help folks in the future, but likely won't go into affect during Sarah's lifetime (due to the mountains of red tape such a change would have to work it's way through). It felt good to vent to someone at the top, though! I sent a copy of my book with the letter, inviting her to read it if she is so inclined. I pointed out that of all the characters in our tale, "Kevin" is the LEAST deserving of any extra monthly stipend! :) Take care and enjoy the rest of your week! :) ~Stephanie

      Delete
  2. Are you kidding me?!? That. Should. Be. Investigated. on "Kevin's" end. No way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my post, Joy! Kind of ridiculous, isn't it? I look forward to seeing what I might hear back from the senator. :) ~Stephanie

      Delete
  3. The stories of VA ineptitude and lack of attention or care for our veterans are innumerable. The injustices work both ways. There are vets receiving benefits / disabilities they shouldn't have and those (by far the majority) who are not getting the benefits they should.

    I've never heard of this particular stipend, but based on your commentary here, I'd agree it's something that needs attention. Sorry for your troubles and I hope your congress woman hears and acts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much, Lex, for taking the time to read my post. Yes, I'm aware of the troubles and tragedies many veterans face in attempting to access the healthcare they need and deserve, and it breaks my heart. Maybe in reviewing this particular policy they'll find and fix other problems that will help veterans, too. Thanks again, take care, and enjoy the rest of your week! :) ~Stephanie

      Delete
  4. Stephanie... This is unbelievable. What about a change.org petition?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Corinne, for taking the time to read my post and for your good idea. I'll definitely keep that in mind, but first I'll see what Senator Murray has to say. Like I said to her, I'm hoping the necessary changes would be quick and easy. Thanks again for your feedback, and have yourself a groovy Thursday! :) ~Stephanie

      Delete
  5. Stephanie,

    I loved this story. Your sense of humor over the ordeal is what had me hook, line, and sinker the entire way through.

    I feel for your situation and would love to read the reply you receive. Unfortunately, there are many laws, not just for the disabled in which a "sperm donor" or even the "egg supplier" catch a break in the system of finances. There are even people paying child support, in which they received full custody, the other parent is not there, and still receiving a check for a child not with them.

    It's crazy and hopefully enough people will say something in order to rectify the situation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post; I'm glad you enjoyed it! You're right; there are a lot of ridiculous laws and policies out there that benefit the wrong people. Hopefully, over time, at least some of them will get sorted out...starting with this one! :) I'll definitely post any response I get from Senator Murray. Thanks again, take care, and have yourself a wonderful weekend! :) ~Stephanie

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Absolutely UNREAL! So sorry you're going through this.
    Idea: What about giving a news station a call?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Which only speaks to the needs of streamlining our disability benefits programs into one agency. The incredible intersection between these two agencies at a totally inappropriate place springs from not doing this. And it speaks volumes that a mere $94 dollars a month for any family in America makes that much of a difference. This sort of thing angers me, like so many of the events and the things said since November, speaking of a moral idiocy gripping the country. Citizens should be taken care of adequately--period-- and not have to worry about bureaucratic nonsense like this. God bless you on your continuing fight to care for your daughter.

    ReplyDelete