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Mistake delays pension benefits for Colorado man

12:18 PM, Mar 14, 2013   |    comments
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LITTLETON - Jim Clarkson has spent the last six weeks trying to prove to Washington D.C. based bureaucrats he's not dead.

The 75-year-old's deceased status caused him to lose his pension and some of his medical benefits.

"I haven't received the January, February or the March [pensions]," Clarkson said. "That's three months pension that I haven't received."

The 30-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service has been retired for a while and has been drawing a pension paid by the Office of Personnel Management. He also has health benefits provided by the National Association of Letter Carriers.

In December, his wife of nearly 50 years died of cancer and Clarkson informed the NALC he no longer needed to pay for couple's hospitalization. The NALC would in turn notify the OPM of the change. OPM would then cut the amount deducted from Clarkson's pension for health benefits.

"A very simple thing, just change it from the insurance from a family group to an individual," Clarkson said. "That's all I'm asking, and they wind up saying I'm dead."

Clarkson said his dead wife has been receiving mail about his benefits, even getting some checks that Clarkson sent back with letters explaining he's very much alive.

"I put in the letter, in every correspondence I had, 'I'm alive. I'm alive. Please make me a person. Backtrack and correct this.' And nothing's happened," he said.

Between Clarkson and his son, the two said they contacted NALC and OPM numerous times over a six week period, with no tangible result.

"I don't remember how many times I actually got through," Clarkson said. "I wasn't getting through and I figured I must be doing something wrong with the telephone, which I wasn't."

"I've heard of these things happening, somebody is alive and they're trying to prove they're alive but everybody says they're dead. So, in the back of my mind that's swirling through there. How do I prove I'm alive?" Clarkson said.

NALC's Ernestine Douglas informed 9NEWS via email that Clarkson contacted the Union twice, once on Jan. 7 to report the death of his spouse, which was shared with OPM on Jan. 8.

"Mr. Clarkson again contacted our office on March 7, 2013 to state that OPM had dropped him, for death, and not his spouse. I immediately contacted the OPM to have the member's annuity restored. As of March 12, 2013, the case was reinstated and payments re-authorized," according to Douglas.

OPM emailed 9NEWS the following statement:

"Due to Privacy Act restrictions, we cannot comment on an individual's retirement information without a signed waiver. What we can tell you is that erroneously processed death benefit claims are rare, and when they do occur, we take immediate action to correct the situation. We receive over 1,500 death notices a week and have improved the survivor application processing time to less than 45 days, on average, from receipt of the annuitant's information. "

9NEWS followed up, asking Clarkson to send OPM a note authorizing them to talk on his behalf, but 9NEWS has not heard back as of Wednesday.

9NEWS started making calls on this story Tuesday, contacting OPM and NALC.

Wednesday morning, Clarkson said he got a call from OPM's Deputy Assistant Director for Retirement Operations apologizing for the error and promising to fix the error early next week.

"Between everything that was going on all of a sudden I'm getting a call this morning from one of the assistant directors. He's saying he'll take care of it in three to five days," Clarkson said.

Clarkson is skeptical.

"I have no hospitalization now because it's in my wife's name and she's dead. Where do I go from there?" he asked.

He also contacted Congresswoman Diana DeGette's office for help. That office sent 9NEWS a statement after learning OPM said the issue has been resolved.

"No family should have to confront this kind of frustration while they are coping with the loss of a loved one, so we're pleased OPM has taken decisive action and that it appears this situation will be resolved soon."

Anastasiya Bolton, KUSA

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