DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Mary Hutson of Santo, about an hour west of Fort Worth, began teaching elementary school students in 1963.

Now, the great-grandmother sits and reads with her great-grandchildren and teaching them.

Mary Hutson and her great-grandkids (CBS 11)

Hutson is very involved with her family.

She is very active.

And, she is very much alive as she explained staring into a zoom call, hair fixed perfectly, smiling from ear to ear with pink lipstick glowing.

“I’m alive!” she says.

But a couple of months ago, she was dead according to the government.

While laughing, she now says, “Well, it’s kinda strange.”

In June, Hutson’s brother passed away.

When she reported his death to the Social Security Administration, she says she somehow also ended up “deceased” according to records.

“I couldn’t believe someone would think I could report my brother’s death if I were also dead. Nobody every explained that to me,” says Hudson.

NOT THE ONLY ONE

In Coppell, Paul Tuckett says he, too was declared dead for more than a month.

He contacted the I-Team the week after Mary Hutson reached out.

Paul Tuckett (CBS 11)

“On July 21 in Salt Lake City, somebody passed away. When they did up his death certificate, they put my Social Security number on it and it instantly went to Social Security and I was declared dead,” explained Tuckett.

Tuckett is a liver transplant patient, so when he went to the doctor, they refused to see him.

“They come back and say we tried to run it to the insurance and Medicare says you’re deceased,” he said.

“DEATH MASTER FILE”

The Social Security Administration tells the I-Team death reports come from funeral directors, families, Social Security offices and states.

And, the federal “Death Master File” goes to insurance companies, financial institutions and government offices.

These are places which shut down your life immediately.

“I had no insurance coverage for almost two months,” Tuckett said everything was taken away so quickly. He lost his insurance. He couldn’t go to the doctor. He did not have access to his bank account. “Nothing was in my name.”

He and his wife wanted to buy a new home, but they couldn’t do that because he no longer had a credit score.

“I’m perfectly healthy thank the good Lord for that,” says Hutson. “But you don’t know when you’e 86 if something could happen tomorrow.”

The I-team found mistakes to the Death Master File happening all over the country.

Headlines across the nation highlight people of all ages, who are very much alive, declared dead.

OFFICE OF INSPECTOR GENERAL INVESTIGATES

“We found the problem was persisting,” says Tracy Lynge, the Communications Director for the Office of the Inspector General at the Social Security Administration.

The Office of the Inspector General has been following the problem since 2008.

A three-year audit at that time found 44,000 mistaken entries in the Death Master File.

Again in 2011, another three-year audit found more than 36,000 mistaken entries in the Death Master File.

IN 2015, the OIG even brought victims before Congress to testify about its concerns.

Lynge says the issue is very important to her office and that’s why the OIG is revisiting the mistakes today. “We are currently conducting a follow up audit on the same issue.”

Following the first two audits, the OIG made recommendations to fix the problem. The OIG states the social security administration “partially implemented” some.

CONSUMER ADVOCATES REACT

“It’s interesting the they have the recommendations… and yet they refuse to do,” says Ira Rheingold with the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Rheingold was not surprised that viewers had reached out to the I-Team especially at this time.

“The fact that you’ve had two people come to you within two weeks as an indication that the problem is not going away. What’s going on right now in the country, the stress workers are under, the fact that we are understaffed, we would expect those areas would increase.”

COMING BACK TO LIFE

Particularly during a pandemic, both Hutson and Tuckett say “coming back to life” is not easy. They both had to visit the social security office in person. They then had to wait

for every entity tied to that that magical nine-digit number to bring them back to life.

“During that time, you’re sitting here trying to make your house payment and cook your meals. They declare you dead faster than they can take you off the dead list,” says Tuckett.

“I was glad they recognized that I am still on earth,” laughed Mrs. Hutson looking down at a letter from the Social Security Administration which she finally received stating that she is alive. “I’m old, but I’m still here.”

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION STATEMENT TO THE I-TEAM

Approximately 2.9 million deaths are reported to the Social Security Administration each year and our records are highly accurate. Of these millions of death reports we receive each year, less than one-third of 1 percent are subsequently corrected. Deaths are reported to Social Security primarily from the States, but also from family members, funeral homes, and financial institutions. If a person suspects that they have been incorrectly listed as deceased on their Social Security record, they should contact their local Social Security office as soon as possible. They can locate their nearest Social Security office at https://www.ssa.gov/agency/contact/. They should be prepared to send at least one piece of current (not expired) original form of identification with them. Part of the process of correcting records includes ensuring all current and past due benefits are paid. Social Security can provide a letter that the error has been corrected that can be shared with other organizations.

Our Death Master File is highly accurate, but errors can occur if we receive incorrect death data from a source. The more accurate and timely the information we receive from these sources, fewer errors will occur. We continually work with States to increase the use of Electronic Death Registration (EDR), which automates our receipt of death information ensuring we are receiving the most accurate and most current information. Therefore, universal implementation of EDR has the potential to virtually eliminate death reporting errors.

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION FAQ PAGE

The Social Security Administration finds the issue common enough that the agency has a page dedicated to this very issue under frequently asked questions on its website.

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