Your tax dollars at work

Just another day at the SSA office in Charlotte, NC.

Just another day at the SSA office in Charlotte, NC.

Just another day at the SSA office in Charlotte, NC.

I’m not one of those people who are proud to be collecting government benefits. It is not something I talk about much, but I do it because it is a necessary evil in my life. Realistically, my employment options are limited due to my osteogenesis imperfecta and using a wheelchair, as well as other reasons.

That’s not an excuse. I have applied for jobs in the years since I started receiving benefits. I have not received any offers, although I’ve had promising interviews. I am currently trying to build my career as an independent contractor in the design field. (I’ve half-assed it for awhile, but now I’m using my whole ass.) You can check that out on

But this post isn’t about the fact that I receive social security benefits, or about the fact that it’s “okay” to receive these benefits. It’s not even about the fact that these benefits are seriously dwindling, and will likely be non-existent in the future. This post is about my most recent experience with the Social Security Administration, and the incompetence I was privy to.

Up until August 13, 2015, I had avoided the SSA office in Charlotte, NC, dealing with SSA mostly over the phone and through the mail. My streak, as it were, has ended.

Prior to the Visit

If you don’t know how social security disability benefits work, essentially, if you apply for and receive benefits, you have to complete a Disability Review every 3, 5, or 7 years. Typically, they will send these in the mail. A few weeks ago, I received this packet of forms in the mail, printed or copied so badly that they were illegible. So, I attached a note stating that I would be happy to fill out their forms if they could send me some that I could read.

On August 12, I spoke to a representative that had left me a message the day before and was told that the office sent me two sets of forms, the second via certified mail, and they were notified that I never claimed it. How could I claim it if I didn’t know it existed?

Two government agencies failing spectacularly!

This woman – let’s call her Valerie Langley, because that’s her real name, and I’m not feeling anonymity in this situation – told me I had one week (!) to get to the office and fill out a “medical review” or my benefits would be suspended. She also informed me that they had no new information on me since 2006. (FYI, she was totally wrong. When I finally got sorted out, they had plenty of information about me that I gave them in 2012. This is a pattern for Valerie.)

Here’s a couple of ideas: One, let’s not wait until the last possible second to notify someone of something like this. Two, maybe give a cursory call and say, “Hey, we mailed you some important stuff. Did you get it?”

The Arrival

Going to the SSA office is like going to a DMV combined with an airport. You don’t get a pat-down as you enter, but you do have to turn over anything – and I mean anything – that might set off the metal detector. Officers go through any bags you have with you, any items on your person (I saw one woman try to smuggle a pharmacy’s worth of pills in her bra; I don’t know why.), and then you go through a metal detector. Well, you do. I don’t. A chair doesn’t really go through one of those things. I only saw guy get wanded, however.

I understand why they put you through this process. After my time there, I wanted to shoot the place up, too.

Then you get a number. What a great system that is. It’s not just that everyone gets a number. Everyone gets a different kind of number, depending on the reason for their visit. That’s great since there’s only 2 actual options, and the third option is “Other.” Guess which one I fell under.

So, I got 49; they were on 17 when I arrived. (Is your blood pressure going up? My BP is going up.) Let’s suffice it to say that it was a very long wait in a very crowded room that is not designed for an organization that interacts with people with disabilities. At one point there were three wheelchairs (including mine) and a stroller in the same vicinity. Can you imagine that circus? Let’s just try something: If you’re going to interact with people who might have mobility devices, maybe take that into consideration when setting up your cell-block-like metal benches. Just a thought.

Now serving number 49

I finally get called over to a window, to be helped by a man I came to think of as Social Security Ken. Not bad to look at, but basically plastic. I told him exactly what Valerie told me on the phone, down to the medical review, and after a useless 10 minutes or so, come to find out “medical review”? NOT A THING.

It’s not a thing, Valerie!

So Ken sends me back to wait until one of their “claim specialists” could help me.

More. Waiting. I hate waiting.

Home stretch

A woman with a business-like demeanor finally called my name. I told her, as well, what I needed, and apparently Ken hadn’t passed along whatever it was, because she had to go check with Valerie, as well.

Valerie Langley needs a new job. Just sayin’.

It was finally sorted that what I needed to fill out was a Disability Review, basically a standard form with a bunch of personal and/or embarrassing questions that some review committee or what-have-you scrutinizes to determine if you are “disabled enough” to receive benefits.

The questions are bad enough when you have to fill them out on your own. But having to relay to another person your answers to questions like, “Describe your typical day” is beyond mildly uncomfortable.

And I hate that question, by the way. There is no way to give an impromptu answer to such a question without it sounding like, “Duh, I get up and twiddle my thumbs in my pajamas all day. Sometimes I pick my nose or scratch my butt.”

Here’s how I would like to have answered it:

After I get up, one or both of my dogs usually needs to go out, so I let them out or go outside with them. After we come back inside, I fix myself something to eat and read the newspaper. If there are clothes to fold, I fold them. I’m trying to build up a client list for my freelance graphic design work, so I spend a lot of time on my computer, posting to various networking groups, answering web-related questions, or just generally offering my help. I also work on projects for my existing clients, whether that is working on a website, or working on an identity design. I read and respond to any emails that need attention. As I am also an artist, I might work on that aspect of my business, either by creating new artwork, or implementing my existing artwork into other elements, such as making pendants. I have quite a few craft shows coming up, so I’m trying to build my product inventory. I am also maintaining an Etsy store. I usually eat dinner with my family, and we hang out at the house. Some days I have a book club I go to, or a card-making group. I might go to the library to pick up any books I have on hold,or go to the doctor, or just go for a drive if I need to get out of the house. I text with my sister or my friends throughout the day.

See, isn’t that eloquent? You can’t think of that shit on the fly! But I will damn sure be saving it for next time.

The silver lining

There are a lot of preconceived ideas about people who receive benefits for themselves or their children. I am guilty of them, as well. But, while I was waiting…and waiting…, I saw one sight that made my blood pressure drop. A couple interacting with their young daughter – in a hot pink wheelchair – who obviously had a condition that made her, if not uncommunicative, at least hard to communicate with. As soon as they entered, she began to holler – not just cry, but truly holler. After a while, I wanted to cry with her, because it was obvious something was upsetting her, but she couldn’t communicate what.

Her parents handled her so well. They were sweet and attentive; they didn’t seem to get frustrated (although I’m sure they have their moments). Her father, I’m sure, would be labeled a thug by many for being black, having tattoos, and wearing a white tank top. But, he wasn’t. He was a daddy. And that was so heart-warming. This grinch’s heart grew a little, too, at the sight of that.

Which is good. At that point, it was shriveled to nothing. Nothing, Valerie.


About Laura

Artist, writer, designer and nerdy creative based in Charlotte, NC. Loves Harry Potter, Firefly, Doctor Who, country music, and Nathan Fillion. Wheelchair-user, due to osteogenesis imperfecta aka brittle bone disease.