Navigating the Mad Waters of America 2.0
My brother Ricky’s unexpected and inexcusable death on January 20 has impacted me like no other loss ever has. However, dealing with his relatively simple affairs post mortem is proving to be almost as stressful. Getting anything done or resolved in this crumbling country is very difficult. Nothing is working correctly. And all those who are being paid to help you, seem incompetent and/or uncaring.
My brother’s meager January Social Security payment was sent as usual to the bank account we held jointly (as his Representative Payee, my name had to be on the account). However, after he died, when I notified them, they said that payments are not prorated daily, so since he didn’t live the entire month of January, he wasn’t entitled to anything. I received a letter from them in short order, asking me to immediately send the money back. So I did. Two days later, they sent me another letter, indicating that he actually owed nothing. So if I just hadn’t been so prompt, the money would still be in the bank. It doesn’t pay to be timely and competent in America 2.0.
By the way, my brother also didn’t qualify for the ridiculously underwhelming death benefit of…$255. That embarrassing pittance, which wouldn’t even pay for a top tier flower arrangement, only goes to surviving spouses or children. My brother had neither. Think about that; this vaunted system, which the Left holds as the most cherished entitlement imaginable, provides $255 on the event of a recipient’s death. That would have been a laughable amount even when Social Security was established in 1935. But at any rate, people like my brother don’t even get that.
Calling the Social Security phone line is an eye-opening experience. If you want to know exactly what a Banana Republic this nation has become, just try it. After a wait of always at least an hour, a representative comes on, and will attempt to address your issue in typical bumbling, bureaucratic style. In this case, when I expressed confusion about the two letters contradicting each other, arriving two days apart, they explained it was just a glitch, and that the money would be returned to the account. Then, a few weeks later, I received another letter from Social Security which was a real curve ball.
This letter indicated that “the next of kin,” and they mentioned spouse and children (which as noted, he didn’t have), should fill out a form and send it back, along with a copy of the death certificate (which they had said, on the four previous occasions I’d called Social Security, was not necessary), and my original birth certificate. I called them back again, and eventually talked to the most ignorant of all the incredibly ignorant and unqualified government employees I have spoken to over the course of decades. Just dealing with my brother’s issues, this added up to many, many of them.
This woman was barely coherent, and seemed not to comprehend how the latest letter contradicted the first two (which actually contradicted each other), as well as what previous Social Security representatives had told me. I asked for her supervisor, and her response was, “This is a call center, sir.” At length, I gave up and tried again the next day, hoping for a marginally bright public representative. I did get someone slightly more intelligent and coherent, but she contradicted what the other one had said. At this point, I was thinking this just wasn’t worth the aggravation for possibly getting back the regular payment they’d originally sent him.
My wife then went to the Social Security office nearest to us. If you think the customer phone line is bad, visit one of their offices in person. It makes the DMV look like a free buffet. Hordes of fantastically diverse and often coughing people. Incredibly long waits, and incredibly inadequate assistance when you are finally waited on. A security guard told her it was impossible to make an appointment, which is what the phone representatives had suggested we do. So I decided to basically forego the last payment, because it just isn’t worth it, and not a sure thing anyhow. I also feared losing my birth certificate, as Social Security used to lose every other one of the yearly Representative Payee reports I mailed in. As was explained to me at the time by a helpful phone representative, “Yeah, about half of them get lost.” And we’re paying for this level of “service.” I was finally able to get their woeful web site to accept the report online.
But it’s not only Social Security. My brother was getting an even more modest monthly pension from a bank he’d worked for long enough to qualify for it. That small token represented one of the last gasps of America 1.0- low paid employees like him being paid any kind of pension in America 2.0. It basically would have covered his cable bill. I went to the bank, explained that he was deceased, and they contacted the pension people, removed his name from the account, and told me it would be taken care of. That was in early February. In early March, the modest pension payment was deposited automatically again in the account. I have called them multiple times as well. They are almost as useless as the Social Security employees. So I’m not trying anymore. If they keep sending his monthly payment, I’ll take it. I notified them. I can’t do anything else.
Cancelling both his cell phone and land line have been exasperating as well. I had just set him up with a cell phone last year, something he had resisted. He was scared of falling, so after we got him one of those alarm alerts to wear around his neck, and he never took it out of the base where it was constantly charging, I insisted he have a cell phone to carry with him. Of course, he just left this in the base as well. So the monthly payment was wasted money. I went to the closest AT&T store, where we purchased the phone, and naturally they couldn’t take care of it there. They told me to do it online. It was predictably complicated, but after several attempts I think I fixed it. I think. I’m definitely not sure.
His land line provider was Verizon. Their customer service told me something different each time, in the spirt of Social Security. Eventually, they said they’d reimburse the account for the money they took out after I notified them that he had passed away. When that didn’t arrive in weeks, they sent me an email saying that a Visa gift card had been sent in that amount to his old address. So I have to go check his mail and hope it’s still there. They never did send me the phone records, so I could check and see if Ricky had actually called 9/11. I had my doubts when a neighbor who heard the EMTs arrive volunteered the information that it had sounded to him like my brother didn’t want to go with them.
I found out, however, that in my state you can file a Freedom of Information Act request for the actual 9/11 call. So I did that, and shockingly received a link to the audio the next day. So Ricky did call them. It was hard listening to that call, but he replied “no” to several questions about COVID symptoms. Remember, he was calling them because he’d fallen. My guess is Ricky had second thoughts, and realized that it was ridiculous to call an ambulance when he was in no pain and seemed to have no injuries. He probably balked at going, but he was not a fighter and was easy to bully or push into doing something. I have heard that EMTs get some kind of bonus for actually taking people to hospitals nowadays. Like so much else I hear, I don’t know if this is true. But if so, it adds to the financially incentivized corruption.
All this brings back past battles I’ve engaged in, with both government and corporate entities. My brother was once fired by an employer for nodding out during his data entry duties. They had pressured him to go on a medication that caused drowsiness, and then fired him when it had that predictable effect. He was guaranteed “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but when I tried to get them involved, I discovered there is no agency associated with it. Trying to figure out who administers the ADA Act, and where you go to report violations, was like chasing your tail in circles. Essentially, I discovered that the ADA Act is absolutely worthless.
So I couldn’t save my brother from being fired, even though he was “covered” by the ADA Act. He’d also been bullied and sexually harassed on that job- a young girl kept teasing him with inferences while her co- workers laughed. Nothing was done when I complained. That kind of thing happened to Ricky a lot at his various jobs over the years. He was a perfect target for the kind of insensitive, ignorant employees that populate every workplace. I had very good reasons to dedicate my book Bullyocracy to him. Just like “Zero Tolerance” policies at schools and job sites don’t address real bullying, the benefit Ricky and others supposedly get from the ADA Act is meaningless as well.
I also advocated for my niece, whose problems are similar to Ricky’s, but certainly not identical. She was going to be thrown out of a nursing home a few years back, where she’d been nonsensically sent, even though she had no where to go, and virtually no financial resources. I intervened, but it took countless phone calls to people and agencies that continually routed me to someone or something else, and a few in person meetings, but finally she was placed in an ideal group home. Fortunately, her personality doesn’t lend itself to bullying as easily as Ricky’s did, but she’s still one of too many powerless individuals trapped in an impersonal and maddeningly inconsistent system.
I know that there will be more headaches to come, in closing out the final chapter of my brother’s life. I may be hounded for medical bills he allegedly owed, although there should theoretically be none, since he had qualified for Medicaid several months back. I will pay this rotten system nothing- they can hound me all they want. Somehow, I don’t think I’m going to be able to enjoy that lucrative monthly pension windfall. The system, while missing out on huge financial corruption, is very adept at catching small change like this, unintentionally being received by average people.
None of this really surprises me, but it still frustrates me. I keep expecting to encounter a polite and knowledgeable individual on one of these endless phone calls. But that isn’t much more likely than an honest public official actually representing the people’s interests. And ironically, while the vast majority of average workers retiring today will receive no private pension, every one of those often ludicrously incompetent public employees will get a very nice pension, courtesy of those pension-less taxpayers. I have to stop thinking about how the most imbecilic of government employees, like that woman I mentioned earlier at Social Security, will be handsomely compensated for their “service.”
I guess I feel a little better knowing that the incompetent representatives at Verizon and other private corporations, many of them foreign visa workers with thick accents, will not be getting any pension courtesy of the taxpayers. But it doesn’t change the fact they aren’t able to resolve most problems, which is the purpose behind their employment. I’m convinced companies outsource these calls to India and elsewhere, not only because it’s far cheaper for them, but also because the communication problems ensure that your issue won’t be resolved. In the same manner, the disproportionate percentage of surly Black women answering the phone at every government agency ensures that you won’t get anywhere there, either. This is apparently what those in charge want. Create problems, and force you to deal with it.
Another exasperation has been attempting to find grief counseling. I am entitled to that free benefit through my wife’s employer. I have called and emailed several therapists in my area, from a list they provided me. None have gotten back to me. Apparently, they are set for business. By the time I can find someone, I might not need them. Having dealt with countless therapists and psychiatrists for both my brother and my niece, I have concluded that virtually all of them have obvious mental and emotional issues themselves. I don’t pretend that they can help me, other than being a sounding board. It does make you feel better just to talk and vent.
Once everything is settled with Ricky’s estate, I will undoubtedly have to cope with a huge gap in my life. Calling it an estate, of course, is a misnomer. To qualify for Medicaid, he had to always have less than $2000 in the bank. After rent, food, phone, and cable, that didn’t leave much wiggle room. But these will be the final issues I have to contend with regarding Ricky. Decades of effort in trying to get justice for him, with various employers or uncaring government agencies, didn’t amount to much in terms of tangible returns. But after the dust clears with Social Security and Verizon, Ricky will officially be just a memory. I won’t be have any more forms to fill out, or interventions to attend.
I complained a lot about having to handle Ricky’s perpetual problems. And my impatience with him stings me now to the core. I am dealing with extreme issues of guilt. I never got to apologize to him, or tell him all that he meant to me. I really didn’t know how important he was to me myself, until I lost him. Not getting his daily phone calls, which I almost always found irritating. Not having him ask me at the last minute, with his usual incongruent sense of urgency, to take him to the podiatrist to cut his toe nails, or a quick trip to the store for more Lysol or hand soap. I sincerely miss all that now. And I wish I’d listened to my wife’s advice to treat him kinder. She was always more understanding with him than anyone else.
For those of you who don’t want to hear details from my personal life, I apologize for not writing something about conspiracies and corruption, my usual fare. Although what is detailed here, and throughout the case of my brother’s unforgivable death by medicide, is most certainly corruption of the highest sort. One must interact with the system when one loses a loved one. And it is on tragic occasions like that when those at their most vulnerable are slapped in the face with a reality hard for even people like me to accept. This world is run by truly monstrous forces.