Dear A.M. Costa Rica:
I read with interest your coverage of some expats’ dissatisfaction with the requirement to submit the form which Social Security has sent out asking for verification of some information. Of course, I can’t say why Sr. Art Sulenski’s form was returned as undeliverable, but I do think that there is a reasonable justification for the requirement to return the form, and Sra. Carol Meeds hit on it directly when she said, “I am alive and well until you hear otherwise.”
The problem, of course, is that outside the United States the Social Security Administration has no reliable means of learning when a beneficiary has died unless someone informs them. The death records held by U.S. states vital records offices are public and accessible to Social Security in a way that Costa Rican vital records (and the records of 150 or so other countries) are not. Should any of us die outside the U.S., payments could continue to be made for months or years. Sra. Meeds’ “otherwise” could be a very long time if no verification is required.
The Social Security Administration has a reasonable obligation to maintain the integrity of its payment system and periodic (and infrequent) verification that its beneficiaries living outside the U.S. are, in fact, still alive is a reasonable and nonintrusive check. The beneficiary, of course, always has the option not to return the form.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A news story for part of the day Friday said that the U.S. Embassy did not reply to a reporter’s question. In fact, the embassy staffer did reply via email but the reponse ended up in the editor’s spam folder. The embassy staffer’s response was that they were seeking to assist with the delivery problem.