The government thought he was in jail; News 4 found him on his c - KMOV.com

The government thought he was in jail; News 4 found him on his couch in St. Louis

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Richard Ellsworth. Credit: KMOV Richard Ellsworth. Credit: KMOV

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) - A U.S. Army veteran is exasperated after doing battle with the US government over his disability benefits.

It's not over a question of eligibility, It's all because the government said he was in prison when he was actually sitting at home, on his couch.

Richard Ellsworth is not as active as he used to be.

“I have lower back issues, knees, ankles, heart condition, a number of orthopedic issues,” said Ellsworth.

He and his wife Linda rely on his monthly disability benefits. Honorably discharged from the military, he's never been in trouble.

“Have you ever been to jail?” Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager asked.

“No, never,” Ellsworth said.

That’s why he couldn't believe the letter he got in the mail recently from the Social Security Administration.

“We are writing to tell you we plan to stop your Social Security benefits,” the letter read. “That is because we have learned you are imprisoned for the conviction of a crime."

The letter was sent to his home. News 4 spoke with him while he sat on his couch, clearly, not in prison.

“This is something you don't expect to get in the mail, ever, especially not twice,” Ellsworth said.

That’s right. This isn't the first time. Back in 2015, Ellsworth got a similar letter when he lived in Texas and he didn't get his checks because of it.

“We got evicted because I couldn't make my rent payment,” he said.

It turned out that, at the time, California had a "Richard Lee Ellsworth" behind bars but the two look nothing alike, and though they're the same age, they don't share a birthdate.

Only after his congressman got involved, Ellsworth said, did the Social Security Administration correct the error.

“It's mind-boggling, to say the least,” Ellsworth said, of the fact that it’s happening again.

Ellsworth's current letter doesn't say where he's allegedly incarcerated, so News 4 did some digging. This time, no one by his name is incarcerated in California. Florida has someone imprisoned there, that "Richard Lee Ellsworth," is in for burglary and grand theft.

Ellsworth tried calling, he even went to the office, but was told he would have to prove he wasn't in jail.

"This is clearly, clearly the fault of the Social Security Administration," Ellsworth said. 

After News 4’s inquiries, though, a spokesperson for Social Security Administration said the issue was suddenly resolved. She wouldn't answer News 4’s specific questions about how this happened but the spokesperson issued the following statement:

"Although extremely rare, errors can occur when we receive incorrect information from third parties.....However, when an error is identified, we take immediate action to correct the information and apologize for any inconvenience that may have occurred.” .

Though relieved he'll get his checks, Ellsworth said he still has more questions than answers. He wants another letter to arrive in the mail, an apology.

“I might frame it and put it on the wall,” he said.

He wants others to watch their mailboxes too.

“That's the reason I gave you guys a call because if this can happen to me, it can happen to anybody,” said Ellsworth.

The federal agency told News 4 they run inmates' Social Security numbers through their system. They encourage people who get letters like this to contact them immediately. You can find the information here.

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