Metro Detroit man mistakenly declared dead

Dead man walking, Help Me Hank to the rescue

DETROIT – He learned the hard way that one typo can really mess up your life. "Someone died with the Social Security number the same as mine expect for one digit and someone put my particular digit in." That's the explanation the Oakland County man received after the Social Security Administration mistakenly declared him dead.

Once he was declared dead, his Social Security checks stopped coming, Medicare canceled his coverage, and Blue Cross Blue Shield canceled his supplementary insurance. He went to the Social Security office in Pontiac on March 17th to sign papers to prove he was alive. Luckily, the government was able to give him emergency checks to cover his Social Security payments, but it was taking much longer to be declared "alive" again in the Social Security system.

After a few weeks, he called Help Me Hank. "It was so easy to disenroll me due to death, but yet so difficult to re-enroll me because I'm alive."

A painful wait for results

The mistake came at a critical time for Larry. He says he's suffering from a pinched nerve and herniated disc and he's in excruciating pain. Without insurance, he was afraid to get an MRI which costs thousands of dollars. Medicare told him he could schedule the appointment and would be reimbursed, but he didn't' trust the system.

"If it takes this long to get me alive again, how long is it going to take to reimburse me?" he asked.

Help Me Hank gets involved

The Help Me Hank consumer unit contacted Social Security, Medicare and Blue Cross Blue Shield on Larry's behalf. As of April 29th, Social Security had not fixed the mistake and his insurance coverage had not yet been reinstated. Days later, Larry said he received calls from all the interested parties saying the problem has now been fixed.

Larry appreciated the help from Help Me Hank. "I don't know how you did it, but you turned the heat up on all of those parties and they got moving."

A spokesperson for Social Security released this statement.  "Thank you for bringing this situation to our attention. Erroneous death cases are very sensitive because a death termination can result in severe financial hardship and distress to the beneficiary.  We are sorry for the delay... and we apologize for any inconvenience it has caused.

Usually, we learn of an incorrect death posting when a beneficiary contacts us to report a non-receipt of their Social Security check.  Individuals can find the nearest location to their local Social Security office on our website at ... This type of error is rare. Even one error is too many.  

Each case is different and the time to correct it varies.  However, we work to correct it immediately.

What you can do

While the Social Security Administration says these errors are rare, here are some steps you can take if you ever end up in a similar situation.

If you experience a government glitch, be relentless in trying to correct the error. Never stop working to make sure your problem is addressed. Remember to take notes on all the calls you make and all the people you speak with about your issue. Keep all documents connected to the case. It's also a good idea to review you beneficiary information with your insurance company, Medicare, and Social Security. That way if a problem does pop up, a family member would be notified right away.

Larry has now scheduled that MRI for his back and expects to have surgery soon. "You guys at WDIV, you made a difference, really made a difference and without you I'd probably still be paddling upstream," he said.

If you have a problem you'd like Help Me Hank to investigate, email or leave a message on the Help Me Hank hotline at 313-298-WDIV (9348).

About the Authors:

Hank Winchester is Local 4’s Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV’s “Help Me Hank” Consumer Unit. Hank works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off people in our community.