Does anyone remember the song, Sometimes You’re the Windshield, Sometimes You’re the Bug? Those words perfectly describe what should have been a joyful event in my advancing years.
I will reach the magical age of 62 in September, thus eligible to receive Social Security benefits. I followed the recommended process and submitted my application three months prior to my birthday to make sure I would start receiving benefits on time.
A few weeks after applying, a letter arrived informing me the original benefit amount will be reduced because I was already receiving a pension. What? Pension? Am I missing something? Is there a secret pension I was supposed to be getting and the checks are still in the mail? Hmmm. At the end of the letter it said something like this: “If our information is not correct, you have five (5) days to provide documentation to refute our records." FIVE DAYS? Needless to say I was perplexed (and a tad bit angry).
Aware the lines at Social Security are just about as long as the DMV, I decided to call them. Of course, I got a recording. You know the message …. “calls will be answered in the order received.” I must have been #1,000,000 because I was on hold for an hour and fifteen minutes. They did offer a callback service, but I tried that with the IRS one time (four days later…), so I suffered through the elevator music. I rejoiced when I heard a real voice until I got the explanation of my situation. The overworked civil servant informed me I received a pension from the government after I left in 1988. Yes, 1988. I told her I was a mere 35 years old for goodness sake, not old enough to get a pension. I also informed her what little had accumulated during my tenure in federal service was pulled out that same year. She told me I had to contact the Office of Personnel Management for a letter confirming what I just told her. Again I reminded her I was only 35 years old in 1988, isn’t it obvious I wasn’t eligible? I also asked her how in the world can I provide verification in five days. Then I heard it….the dreaded, “I understand your concern, but that’s our policy.”
After biting my tongue and politely thanking her (for what?), I called the Office of Personnel Management. Once again … “Calls will be answered in the order received.” More elevator music for an hour (I must have been #950,000 this time … whee!). I explained my dilemma and at least this woman was sympathetic. Evidently she’d heard the story before and we had a chuckle about Social Security’s assumption a 35-year-old would qualify for a pension. The chuckles abruptly stopped when she informed me the verification would take some time. Upon hearing about the five-day deadline, the woman gasped and as calmly as possible, told me it would take four weeks to get the information necessary. FOUR WEEKS???? She explained my records were stored away (probably somewhere in a dark basement on microfiche), not on a current database.
I called Social Security back. Thankfully the gal I spoke to earlier gave me her direct number saving me from hearing the soundtrack to Dr. Zhivago seventeen times. Of course, she didn’t answer but I left her a message informing her I would be getting the info to her within four weeks and please not penalize me for not meeting the deadline.
Today I received another letter. “We reduced your Social Security benefits starting October 2015 … this is the first month you received a pension …” Unfortunately, I didn’t keep the number of the woman I spoke to the last time. One of my favorite movies, Armageddon, was on TV and the twin shuttles had just taken off to destroy the asteroid when I first heard that familiar recording and elevator music. I was on hold until A.J. saved the day by drilling down to 800 feet. Yes, they had received my message but, “It is our policy. Once we get verification, we can make the necessary adjustments. You need to call the Office of Personnel Management. If it’s been four weeks there must be a problem.” I took a deep breath and dialed the number to OPM. “Your call will be answered in the order received.” An hour later I was informed the four-week wait had been increased to six.
I hung up the phone…stared into space, fighting the urge to scream out a multitude of expletives that would send me to the confessional, resulting in enough penance to last the additional two weeks. I decided instead to focus on the rest of the mail that had come in. It was then I lost it……
"Patricia Smith …. Your driver’s license expires on 9/5/2015 … you cannot renew on-line. You need to go to the nearest DMV office………."