NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Declared dead by Social Security? Believe it or not, that's what happens to thousands of living people each year.
"We are sorry for your loss. Please accept our sincere apology," a letter from the Social Security Administration to Vaso Pavlovic reads, regarding the death of his mother-in-law, Kosara Mladenovic.
But there's one problem, Pavlovic's mother-in-law is not dead. She is very much alive.
She is also in need of her monthly benefits, which the Social Security Administration cut off after declaring her dead.
"We use that money for her nursing home expenses," Pavlovic said.
It was his father-in-law who actually passed away, but the SSA got the information wrong and instead, recorded his mother-in-law as deceased.
"What you are talking about is a keystroke mistake," elder care advocate Gideon Schein said.
It amounts to human error at a computer keyboard, CBS 2 found it happens to approximately 14,000 people each year.
"They just killed a woman by putting a check sign next to her," Pavlovic said.
What's worse, Pavlovic says, is that he now has to prove that his mother-in-law is alive.
"I have to bring a picture of her holding newspapers with today's date to prove that she is alive. I have to bring the statement by the nursing home that she is a tenant there. I have to bring a death certificate of my father-in-law's, plus obituary in the local paper," Pavlovic said.
Schein helps seniors manage their affairs and says while mistakes like this one don't happen every day, they can be a nightmare and extremely difficult for seniors to rectify on their own.
"It is much harder to undo a keystroke mistake than it is to do it," he said. "It's pretty complicated."
But the SSA tells CBS 2 it's complicated for a reason. In a statement, the agency said, "Social security requires proof of identification to protect people against potential fraud and ID theft."
"Social Security is our everything. If that gets somehow misused, we're in terrible trouble, so they're very careful and I do understand that," Schein said.
The Social Security Administration also told CBS 2 that once it learned of Pavlovic's problem, the agency took immediate steps to correct their records.
If you have questions or concerns regarding social security, you can call 1-800-772-1213 or visit their website.
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