Social Security says they have been overpaying Helen Ballou for 19 years. The government made the mistake and she has 30 days to pay the money back.
It took 19 years for the Social Security Administration to discover it had overpaid Helen Ballou some $21,794, but Uncle Sam wants all of its money back quickly or they will cut off the grandmother's monthly payments.
"Can you imagine if I sent you a bill saying, 'Whoops, we made a little mistake 20 years ago and now you owe me all this and get it over to me in 30 days,'" said Helen.
Now we'd all love to repair the mistakes we've made, but only the government could get someone else to pay for them in this case. They are asking the 84-year-old Bainbridge Island resident to do the impossible.
"It's an absurd way of handling it, it's totally absurd," she said.
Helen, a former college dean, has tried for months to educate the government about her case.
"I phone and the lines are all busy and then they say you can leave a message, so I leave a message asking them to call me, they never call me," said Helen.
Linda Slater, Helen's daughter, says they're taking on the wrong woman.
"My mom, she doesn't pick a fight, but by gosh, she won't back down from one," said Linda.
But the government wasn't listening or budging from its position. So the family called me and we spoke to the Social Security Administration, armed with a few questions from Helen:
"Who's running the show? Who's making these decisions?"
It took a month of calls, e-mails and prodding to get the Social Security Administration to own up they had made the mistake. The best news was this: Ms. Ballou doesn't owe Social Security any money. We rushed right over to let Helen know.
"Whew! That's a big thank you for your help! I wouldn't have gotten anything without you, I know it," said Helen.
Social Security says Helen had no way of knowing her payments were incorrect to start with and, like we said, it went on for 19 years.
We thank Social Security for stepping up. If this happens to you, appeal the decision, write the agency via certified mail and call as many times as it takes to get your case heard.