Social Security's birthday blunder


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on June 3, 2013 at 10:27 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 4 at 9:46 AM

AUSTIN -- The KVUE Defenders help a 93-year-old World War II veteran caught in government red tape. A few months ago, the Social Security Administration admitted to Charles Covill it mistakenly changed the date of his birthday, but refused to correct it.

According to his birth certificate, his birthday is March 2. The agency incorrectly changed it to March 20.

"I've had it through grade school, high school, college, and the Army," Covill explained in his North Austin home.

Covill says he noticed the change in his birthday while paying for his prescriptions. He says Medicare stopped making payments because his date of birth didn’t match its records.

“Well, they charged me $300 maximum when they were suppose to charge $150," Covill said.

So, with a copy of his birth certificate in tow, he visited an Austin Social Security office to correct it.

“And [the agency representative] went around to talk to people in the office and came back and asked if I'd be willing to live with it for a while. I said, 'No way, Jose!'" said Corvill.

In April, Social Security sent him an unsigned form letter stating, “We have reviewed [your birth certificate] that indicates your date of birth is March 2, 1920. But, in the next sentence, it stated "We cannot overturn our original determination that the correct date of birth is March 20th. Please use the date of birth we have already established."

“Yea, they're just assuming he's not going to live long enough to make any difference," said Marry
Ellen Felps, an Austin attorney.

In her 33 years of practicing Social Security law, she's seen thousands of mistakes made by the federal agency, but nothing quite like Covill's. 

"When you see those cases, you wonder how many people out there are being told just to live with the wrong birthday," Felps said.

Social Security also claimed correcting his date of birth could reduce his monthly benefits. 

Federal auditors say Covill isn't the only one having problems with the agency. According to this 2012 Inspector General's report, Social Security underpaid recipients by $1 billion during fiscal year 2011.

While Covill 's complaint went nowhere, the KVUE Defenders got results after calling Social Security and Congressman's Lloyd Doggett’s office.
Two weeks later, the agency sent him another unsigned form letter showing it corrected his birthday and wrote, "We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused you."

"I got a big laugh when I got that last letter," said Covill.

The Social Security Administration would not talk to the Defenders about Covill's case, citing privacy laws.

Congressman Doggett's office says it's glad the agency fixed the problem, but it's waiting for an answer to explain exactly what went wrong in the first place.

What if this happens to you? Felps suggests hiring an attorney. While she routinely helps clients deal with similar issues, she admits most attorneys will not pick up these cases because there is no money to make off on them.

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