Disabled Oak Ridge man’s Social Security garnished, can’t find out why

OAK RIDGE (WATE) – A disabled coal miner in Oak Ridge, down on his luck, was having a hard time with the federal government. His Social Security check was being garnished, but he couldn’t get an answer when he tried to find out why.

Clyde Halburnt’s coal mining injury happened 35 years ago. With that accident happening in the early 1980s, he didn’t believe that was the reason his check was being garnished. Nearly $143 a month was cut, a lot of money to Halburnt and his wife.

The days have been pretty long for Clyde Halburnt recently as he tends to his sick wife and deals with a big debt. Ola and Clyde Halburnt have been married 56 years. While she’s recovering from surgery, Clyde Halburnt looks after her daily needs. Together they worry about how they’re going to deal with his shrinking Social Security check.

A letter from the Department of Treasury, the Bureau of Fiscal Service, says Clyde Halburnt’s monthly Social Security check is being garnished by nearly $143 a month, but it doesn’t say why. Clyde Halburnt said he couldn’t get answers when he called the government.

“I don’t understand it. Why couldn’t they have given him an answer when he called them? The three times he called them,” said Ola Halburnt.

The Halburnts say during one of those calls there had been a vague reference to an accident involving Clyde Halburnt. Back in the 70s and early 80s, he had been a coal miner in Oliver Springs and was badly injured in March 1981.

“I broke 11 bones and had a collapsed lung, broke my back in two places,” he said.

Clyde Halburnt was laid up for nearly a year and couldn’t work. During his recovery he received workman’s compensation. In 1982, he was declared disabled and started receiving Social Security disability. He said $11,000 was set aside for future medical care.

Because his $952 monthly check has been cut by $143 during the last eight months, it’s tough to make ends meet.

“We don’t have any money left after we pay our bills. We have nothing left,” said Ola Halburnt.

“I had to give up going to my lung doctor because I couldn’t afford it,” said Clyde Halburnt.

With the bills adding up, the couple moved into their daughter’s home recently.

“This house is not mine. It’s my daughter’s. We live upstairs, she lives downstairs,” Clyde Halburnt said.

While visiting a week ago, the Halburnts showed WATE 6 On Your Side another bill from another federal agency – the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Some were 10-year-old doctor bills, many from the Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge. One was even from 1995. The total amount almost equaled the statement sent by the Treasury Department. The Halburnts didn’t think they had anything to do with the debt.

WATE 6 On Your Side contacted several federal agencies last week – the Treasury Department, the Bureau of Fiscal Service, the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services, explained Clyde Halburnt’s situation and gave them his phone number.

CMS wrote “Mr. Halburnt can request either a waiver of the Medicare debt” or he can “request that Medicare compromise its claim amount by contacting the Medicare Benefits Recovery Center.” Then a few days ago, someone from the Department of Treasury called Clyde Halburnt about the debt saying it was a mistake.

The Treasury said it made a mistake and there is no debt owed. They were unaware of the $11,000 set aside in 1982 by workman’s compensation for future medical bills. That garnishment will now be erased and he’ll get his money back.

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