The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) advised the White House today that because of disclosures from an agency whistleblower, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will be reviewing, and in some cases reimbursing, over 21,000 widow(er) beneficiaries after SSA failed to adequately inform them of their survivor benefit options.
According to OSC’s letter, “SSA employees failed to adequately inform widow(er) beneficiaries of their option to delay, or withdraw and resubmit their application for widow(er) benefits until full retirement age (FRA), at a significant cost to these beneficiaries over their lifetimes.”
The situation arose because of the Government Pension Offset (GPO), something which some federal employees will be familiar with. Federal employees under CSRS are especially susceptible to the GPO.
As OSC’s letter explains, the GPO reduction is calculated as two-thirds of the government pension. If the GPO exceeds the amount of the widow(er)’s benefits, the individual receives nothing additional and his/her case would be placed in “suspended pay status.”
The letter then adds, “…as survivor benefits increase over time, many beneficiaries subject to the GPO may have received increased survivor benefits if they had delayed filing until they reached FRA. Notwithstanding numerous agency requirements, SSA employees did not routinely provide this information to claimants when they applied for widow(er) benefits resulting in a substantial financial loss for many claimants over time.”
An agency audit revealed 21,532 beneficiaries in this situation who could have collectively received millions more in benefits payments.
SSA has agreed to send notices to each of the beneficiaries as a result of the whistleblower’s disclosure advising them of their option to continue with their existing beneffiits or withdraw and resubmiit for widow(er) benefits.
“Thanks to the whistleblower’s vigilance in identifying and disclosing these matters to OSC, thousands of widowed spouses will be able to enjoy increased economic well-being, support, and peace of mind,” said Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner. “I applaud the willingness of SSA to strengthen its controls and employee training, so that future claimants receive a fair opportunity to maximize their benefits.”