CUMBERLAND — Beth Vahle, a Cumberland resident, is facing $35,793 worth of overpayments from Social Security Administration (SSA) with her son also facing payments, and despite her efforts for action and answers, she’s still waiting.

Regardless of her efforts to stay up to date, provide the required paperwork for any and all changes and keep her own records, SSA sent a letter stating that Vahle was overpaid. Vahle has utilized the appeal option given by SSA, but still hasn’t received a response. One more option given is to file a waiver, but Vahle is opposed to that idea before receiving an approved or denied appeal because what if she admits fault to something that actually wasn’t hers in the first place?

Vahle shared with the Daily Reporter that her SSA journey started back in 2018 where she was struggling with some health issues and had to file for short-term disability. During that time, Vahle was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system.

Knowing that her short-term disability would soon run out and that MS would qualify her for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), she decided to apply at 64 years old — just two years and two months short of receiving full retirement.

However, Vahle knew that with SS alone, she wouldn’t be able to survive with the amount given while also supporting her son, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Vahle said that she had worked out a deal with her supervisor at the company she had worked longer than 40 years for and came up with a plan that would allow her to still work without exceeding Substantial Gainful Activity (SGI).

“I was always really careful I thought to make sure that I didn’t go over the amount I wasn’t supposed to,” Vahle said.

Since being approved for disability until 2019, Vahle had received SSDI and during that time SSA had requested Vahle provide additional information about her work from the time she was approved for disability until the date of the letter, Oct. 21, 2019.

Vahle provided the information and, less than a month later, she received another letter saying her disability was approved.

After a company switch in in 2020, Vahle said she notified SSA but didn’t receive a response.

Flashing forward to May 3, 2023, Vahle received another letter from SSA stating that she had exceeded the SGI. Despite her efforts of calling back to explain that she had submitted paperwork to show she was working part-time under their “Special Conditions” under the Subsidy and Job Coaching Rules, SSA sent her a letter later that month she was not entitled to the payments she had received from July 2020 through September 2021 — primetime for COVID-19.

“I about flipped. Because I’m thinking, first of all, I didn’t think I went over that amount,” Vahle said. “Second of all, why in the world would they not notify me in the first or second month that it happened?”

The notice of the overpayment also informed Vahle that she could file an appeal. According to SSA’s Overpayments Fact Sheet, “If you don’t agree that you’ve been overpaid, or believe the amount is incorrect, you can appeal by filing form SSA-561” and ”have 60 days from the date you received the original overpayment notice to file an appeal.”

Vahle filed her appeal in 42 days. Right after she filed, her son received a letter stating he owed $18,400.

“When you have a child when you’re disabled, they get what they call child benefits; they’re based on mine,” Vahle said. “Through no fault of his own, then he’s supposed to pay back this (approximately) $17,000.”

That poses a challenge for Vahle’s son because he too is only allowed to work so many hours due to the risk of losing his Medicaid that helps cover costs of cancer treatments. So he also filed an appeal.

According to the Overpayments Fact Sheet, someone facing overpayments can file for a waiver, or a SSA-632, and that “There’s no time limit for filing a waiver as long as you prove that both: The overpayment wasn’t your fault.” and “Paying it back would cause you financial hardship or would be unfair for some other reason.”

Despite having these two options for someone who cannot afford the overpayments, there is no mention of when someone will be notified if they get approved.

The Daily Reporter reached out to multiple emails and numbers associated with SSA, and even visited two Indianapolis locations. Doug Nguyen, Regional Communications Director for SSA Chicago region responded to a multiple question email in regard to how overpayments happen, how long is the appeal process, and would payment be paused in the meantime.

While there is no exact timeline given, Nguyen said in an email that “Each person’s situation is unique, and we handle overpayments on a case-by-case basis. Overpayments can occur for many reasons, most often when a beneficiary does not timely report work or other changes that can affect their benefits.”

While he did refer to links to blog posts and new releases with information on the topic, neither had an answer as to timelines for approvals or if the payments could be put on pause until a decision is made.

Vahle said that after a couple conversations with SSA, they could take part of the monthly checks without them admitting fault, which would prevent the whole check from being taken.

As far as facing thousands of dollars in overpayments and chunks of checks being taken, Vahle isn’t alone. In a 60 Minutes report done by journalist Anderson Cooper, he covered the topic on a national level, stating that approximately one million people also received an overpayment notice.

After approximately three months of waiting to hear back Vahle said that she had again contacted SSA to see if there had been any progress with her and her son’s appeal.

However, the opposite happened.

“I was shocked after waiting for 90 minutes on the phone that a representative said my file and my son’s file showed no correspondence from us at all in response to the letters from SSA in May and July about the overpayment,” said Vahle in an email.

Despite having UPS Delivery proof of appeals being received by SSA on July 6 and having a conversation with SSA confirming both appeals on Aug. 21, the representative said nothing was shown in their files. It was then mentioned that Vahle had sent the appeals to the wrong location — sent to the address on the letter instead of the Post Road office — but Vahle said, regardless of where it was sent, it should’ve been tied back to their social security numbers.

Vahle also mentioned that if SSA maintains that the appeals were sent to the wrong address, the representative said it wouldn’t be considered as “received” within the 60-day timeframe. Vahle said “supposedly she (the representative) requested an internal search be commenced on the missing paperwork.”

Other options Vahle has looked at for being able to afford the loss in her SS checks is refinancing. However, with interest rates being high, it would have raised her house payments by roughly $400 for 30 years, so that was out of the question.

“I’m trying to think of options to try to pay this back without maybe falling behind on your house payment and all that,” Vahle said. “I can’t figure out a way to do it… You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is no real thing for you to be able to do.”

Vahle has also reached out to U.S. Representative Greg Pence and his team and provided a signed release for her appeals to see if they can be of any assistance.

As of publication, Vahle has yet to hear back a response for her specfic case. However, Pence provided comment via email through his staff stating that “The Biden Administration made billions of dollars in Social Security overpayments during the last fiscal year, and I think it is reprehensible that they are seeking to fix their own mistakes on the backs of America’s seniors. Sadly, that is the price we pay for this administration’s incompetence.”

As of today, Vahle is still waiting. She shared that her son went ahead and had filed a waiver, too, along with the re-sent appeals “since punishing him for any mistake on my record is ‘against good conscience’ and he did nothing wrong.”

After everything that has happened, Vahle said she finds herself thinking about a quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”