Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Retirement Process - Social Insecurity

When last I left you, I was worried that a government shutdown might delay the approval of my application for Social Security. I was skeptical that it would have been finalized in just one week; the process seemed suspiciously easy. Unfortunately my suspicions were well-founded.

Over the weekend, I went on line to check the progress of my application. The status information indicated they’d sent me a request for proof of name change. I never received the request, but my guess is that they were referring to when I went back to my maiden name about 25 years ago.

Because I had a career as Dohn, I kept that name after my divorce. I changed it back to Decker by court order in the mid eighties. My annual reports of Social Security earnings have been coming to Decker for as long as I can remember. My Medicare was approved for Decker. They can’t seriously think I might still be Elaine Dohn. (Oh, but they do.) My disbelief turns to indignation that women have these problems, but men never do.

I spent several hours Sunday sifting through drawers of paperwork looking for the court order to no avail. So, Monday morning I began what became many hours of phone calls, surfing, and digging through filing cabinets. First I called the toll-free number from my on-line status information. Kenny answered. He was polite, but couldn’t help me, since he was at the national level. Kenny redirected me to my local office in Providence.

Mrs. Dunlop also listened politely but told me there was nothing she could do. My application is being handled by Miss Katshow; she’s the person who decided I need to prove I’m Elaine Decker. Because the procedures provide for this, I’ll need to convince her to remove the requirement. Mrs. Dunlop helpfully transferred me to Miss Katshow’s extension, which was (not surprisingly) answered by her voice mail. I left a brief message, but as of this writing have not heard back.

My next series of calls were to the court in Elizabeth, New Jersey, (where the name change was done) to find out how to get a copy of the court order. Jim answered with good energy and encouraging enthusiasm. For a fleeting moment, I thought I might actually make some progress. Then Jim transferred me to Alan in the County Clerk’s office.

Alan, who was not brimming with enthusiasm, impatiently explained that since this wasn’t about deeds and mortgages, I needed to speak with another office. He sent me on to Arlene in Civil Assignment. She transferred me to Isabelle, who, Arlene assured me, was just the person who would be able to help. I practiced my best positive thinking mantra while I was on hold. Om-m-m. Om-m-m.

Isabelle provided an address in Trenton where I could send a $25 check for a certified copy of the judgment to change my name. However, since I didn’t know the exact year this happened and since it was at least 25 years ago, she also gave me a phone number for follow up. It was clear that Isabelle knew she was sending me on a fool’s errand.

My next step was to Google the attorney who handled the name change. The bad news was he’s now retired. The good news was that his phone number was listed through some network he’s joined. The bad news was that led to yet another answering machine, so I left yet another message.

By now it was Monday afternoon and I decided to make one more pass through some of the 20 plus file drawers in our house. Perhaps I could find the tax returns from the years before and after I went back to Decker. That would narrow down the time of the court order, making my mail request more likely to be successful.

You’ll be pleased to learn that there is a God, because in the back of some of my old tax returns, I found the court order allowing me to become Elaine Decker again. (Now if I could just become a Virgo again, too, life would be perfect.) I made a copy of the order and sent it certified to Miss Katshow, who still has not returned my phone call.

As of this afternoon, the status of my application still shows that they are waiting for my proof of name change. I’m betting I’ll have to make a trip to the Social Security office to resolve this. I’m retired now, so I have the time for such projects. (The Social Security administration probably counts on this.) I wonder if Miss Katshow likes chocolate…

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