Social Security and You: Swindler Must Pay Up Before Benefits Start
Q: I have a brother-in-law who is a scoundrel in my books. I just don't know what my sister sees in this guy. Back when he was in his 40s, he was convicted of defrauding the Social Security disability program. I know he paid a fine and even served some jail time. That was about 20 years ago. Now he is about to turn 62 and according to my sister, he is signing up for his Social Security old age pension. Surely the government isn't going to start paying this crook retirement benefits, will they?
A: Obviously, I don't know any of the particulars about this case other than what you told me. But if he served his prison sentence, then he has repaid his debt to society and he would be eligible for retirement benefits, assuming he meets all the eligibility factors. But even though he's repaid his debt to society, he has not repaid his debt to the Social Security system. And what I mean by that is the Social Security Administration will withhold all of his monthly retirement benefits until they have recovered every nickel in disability benefits that he swindled out of the system.
Q: There is a guy on our block whom I am convinced is a deadbeat cheat. He is living off of Social Security disability benefits, yet I see him outside all the time working on his house and yard. How can the government be sending this guy a check every month when there is obviously nothing wrong with him?
A: Just because you see someone "outside all the time working" doesn't necessarily imply that he is totally healthy and fit. I have a friend who is in the early stages of cancer treatment, yet he is always doing things around his house and yard. I'm sure he likes staying as busy as he can to help keep his mind off of all his problems.
Of course, I don't know what is going on with your neighbor. But if you really suspect he is cheating the Social Security system out of disability benefits, do something about it. Don't just gripe to me. Report him to the Social Security Administration. You can do so anonymously. Just go to the Social Security website and under the "Contact Us" link, click on the tab that says "Report Fraud, Waste, or Abuse."
Q: I know someone who is cheating the Social Security system. She is nothing but a drug addict. She lives on the streets, and I'm sure she is a prostitute. She has never worked a day in her life. Yet she gets a Social Security check every month. No wonder our Social Security system is in such trouble if they are sending checks to people like her!
A: Once again, I obviously know nothing about this woman. And I wonder how you know so much about her and her alleged Social Security checks. Over my 45 year career dealing with these issues, I've run into thousands of people who claim to know all about someone's life, only to learn later that most of what they thought they knew was gossip and hearsay. Still, if you truly believe this woman is abusing the system, you can follow the advice I gave in my prior answer by reporting her to SSA's fraud department.
By the way, if she really is getting a monthly disability check, my educated guess is that she is getting Supplemental Security Income payments, not Social Security. SSI is a federal welfare program run by the SSA that pays monthly benefits to low-income people who are over 65 or disabled. SSI payments are funded by general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes. The law says that people can NOT get SSI (or Social Security) disability benefits simply because they are addicted to drugs. But many people with drug addictions also have other severe physical or mental impairments that qualify them for disability benefits.
Q: There is a guy in our small town who is a drunk. And he brags that he is getting a disability check from Social Security. Why does he deserve a disability check for a condition he brought on himself with all his drinking?
A: Well, I guess I'm going to have to start every answer in this column by pointing out that I really don't know anything about the situation being presented. But I do know Social Security law, and I can make some educated guesses about what is going on.
Just as with drug addiction, a person cannot get disability benefits just because he or she is an alcoholic. But frequently someone with severe alcohol dependency also has many other problems, like possible cirrhosis of the liver or cardio-vascular issues. So if this guy is getting disability benefits, he is getting them because he has other chronic disabling conditions, not because he is an alcoholic.
As to your point that he shouldn't get disability benefits "for a condition he brought on himself," well, there you are traveling down a rather slippery road. I have a cousin who gets disability benefits from Social Security because he has terminal lung cancer. He smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for all of his adult life. My wife is friends with a severely obese woman with chronic heart problems who is getting disability benefits. She spent much of her life eating a high fat diet. Should benefits be denied to these people because they brought on their own medical problems? If we start denying government benefits to people whose lifestyle choices led to their disabling conditions, we'd have very few people getting disability benefits.
Q: I have a lady friend at church. She is probably in her late 60s, like me. She has a grown son who is mentally disabled. He is probably about 35 years old. My friend said her son is getting Social Security disability benefits. How can that be? I know he hasn't worked a day in his life. She is a nice Christian woman so I don't think she is lying to me. But how can he be getting disability benefits without ever working? Should I report her for fraud? I am very torn about this.
A: You can stop worrying. Your friend's son is very likely getting benefits on his mother's (or his father's) Social Security record. The law says benefits can be paid to dependent children up to age 18. But the law further says that if the child is disabled, those benefits can continue -- usually for the rest of his or her life.
If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Tom Margenau and to read past columns and see features from other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.