Woman’s federal pension disappears after being erroneously declared dead

Dec 16, 2022, 10:09 AM

ST. GEORGE, Utah Barbara Rowley worked for the U.S. Forest Service for eight years before retiring in the late 90s.

That public service meant Rowley had earned a monthly pension in her retirement.

“I got a small retirement of $410 a month,” Rowley said.

She never had issues with receiving the pension, until June 2021.

“Everything went along fine until my husband died,” Rowley said, “and when my husband died, the government made a mistake and said I died.”

It was a costly mistake.

“The government stopped all my checks. They stopped all my Social Security, my USDA Forest Service, they even took back the $255 they gave you when your spouse passes away,” Rowley said.

After visiting a Social Security office, she was able to get those payments reinstated. Her Forest Service pension was another story.

“They said, ‘that’s a different place, you have to get it straightened out through them,’” she said.

“Them” is the Office of Personnel Management (OPM.) It’s the federal government’s human resources department that administers retirement benefits.

Rowley said she reached out to them multiple times, sending in documents when requested, but still hasn’t seen her pension restored.

It had been 18 months since Rowley’s pension payments stopped, totaling $7,380 she is owed.

“They owe me, and they should pay me,” said Rowley.

KSL Investigators reached out to the U.S. Forest Service on Rowley’s behalf. In an email statement, its spokesperson said:

USDA Forest Service does not provide comments on personnel matters so that we don’t violate federal privacy laws and the Forest Service does not have access to the retirees information once it is transferred to the Office of Personnel Management.

We reached out to the OPM multiple times over a month, sending emails, calling their media relations line and even tagging their Twitter account.

While we never received a reply, we found some clues as to why Rowley may not be getting a resolution from the OPM.

In a 2019 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, it was found the OPM still relied on “paper applications and manual processing” of new retirement claims, and that the office was “insufficiently staffed.”

OPM’s most recent data shows it is taking staff 91 days to process new claims, an entire month longer than its goal of 60 days. Steps are being taken to modernize the office, with a robust strategic plan in place. 

As for Rowley, it may mean she is in for a wait to get her money.

“It’s my retirement,” she said, “and I feel like they should pay me.”

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Woman’s federal pension disappears after being erroneously declared dead