Q: I’ve got a beef with Social Security. I barged into my local Social Security office, waited for a couple hours, and finally left. Then I tried calling their 800 number and after being on hold for a half hour, I just hung up. So I’ve decided to go right to the top. Can you please give me the address for the Social Security Administration headquarters and the name of their top person? I am going to pay him a visit! 

A: Well, I will start out answering your questions. But then I am going to tell you why your plan is a bad idea.

The “top person,” or the commissioner of Social Security, is a “her,” not a “him.” Her name is Carolyn Colvin. Actually, she is the “acting” commissioner — and has been for several years now. As with so many of President Obama’s appointees to high-level government posts, her nomination to be the official head of SSA has been held up by the Republicans in Congress for a very long time. In fact, I recently read a news story that said they will not name her as the official commissioner of Social Security until she straightens out the mess involving backlogged hearings for Social Security disability benefits. So I’ve got a hunch she has bigger things to worry about than listening to your “beef.” 

Anyway, if you insist on paying her a visit, the address is 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21235. But I’ll let you in on two little secrets. First, you’ll have to get in line. And second, you won’t get anywhere near the commissioner’s office! 

I used to work at SSA’s headquarters at the very address I gave you. In fact, I worked directly for the then commissioner of Social Security. (This was about 20 years ago.) As someone who had grown up within the agency working in local Social Security field offices around the country before transferring to the head office, I was surprised to learn of the number of people who showed up at the those Baltimore offices each day demanding to “see the big boss.” In fact, there were so many they had set up a procedure for handling them. Visitors were ushered into a nice looking office where they met with a representative of the commissioner. But the person they were actually talking to was just an agent from one of the local Baltimore area Social Security field offices. The visitor’s problem was usually taken care of, and he or she left satisfied that they had “gone to the top.” Of course, the problem would have been just as easily resolved had the person dealt with his or her local Social Security office.

So that’s my message to you. Think of it this way. If you have a problem with a washing machine you bought from Sears, would you go to Sears’ headquarters and demand to speak to the chairman of the board to get it fixed? Of course not. You would contact someone at your nearest Sears store or service center. 

Similarly, if you have a “beef” with Social Security, try to get it taken care of locally. And I’ll spend the rest of this column giving you some tips for doing that. 

First of all, don’t barge into your local Social Security office. Call first. You can reach SSA at 800-772-1213. A few weeks ago, I gave some tips for doing that. 

Essentially, my message was this: Call late — as in late in the day; late in the week; and late in the month (assuming your situation can wait that long). Those are the times when you will have a better chance of quickly getting through to a real person.

Once you reach someone, you may be able to resolve your problem over the phone. If not, you can make an appointment to talk to someone at your local Social Security office. Once you are in an office, there are two main classifications of employees. There are claims representatives who are there to help you file a claim for Social Security benefits. And then there are service representatives whose job it is to handle any post-entitlement issues — like changes to your account or problems with your Social Security checks.

I’ve also mentioned in this column before that if you have concerns about whichever representative you are dealing with, or if you are uncomfortable with the answers he or she is giving you, ask to speak to a supervisor.

If you are having ongoing problems with SSA that you simply have not been able to resolve by dealing with local Social Security officials, then I suggest getting your local congressional representative involved. Each member of Congress has someone on his or her staff who deals with Social Security matters. That person will usually contact the manager of your local Social Security office. I can tell you from experience that when a Social Security office manager gets a congressional inquiry, the case in question usually gets moved to the top of someone’s pile.

I also must point out that if your “beef” involves a letter that SSA sent you — maybe informing you of a change in your benefits or telling you that you have been overpaid and must refund some money to SSA — then you should file a formal appeal. 

Every one of those letters includes a paragraph telling you what to do if you disagree with whatever action is being proposed. You usually have 60 days to request a review of your case. Filing such an appeal, and thus keeping your legal options open, is a whole lot better than barging into a local office or trying to take your beef to the top!

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at thomas.margenau@comcast.net.

Field Offices to Open an Additional Hour

Effective March 16, Social Security field offices across the nation will expand their hours. Offices will be open to you and your clients for an additional hour on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, providing face-to-face service to customers until 4:00 p.m. Offices will continue to close at noon every Wednesday so employees have time to complete current work, reduce backlogs, and continue training new employees.

 

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