The Federal Page will publish occasional accounts about readers' experiences with the bureaucracy. Here, Margaret Hatcher of Martinsburg, W.Va., details her effort to complete the paperwork after the death of her husband, Gary Hatcher, 56, who was an employee of the Architect of the Capitol for more than 28 years.
My husband recently passed away. He was employed by the federal government. Four days later I returned his ID and parking stickers.
I know that since 9/11 security issues are important. I went to my husband's office and was told that I needed to go to human resources in another building. I did, and talked to a man that said he was sorry for what had happened, but he was a contract worker and this was his last week. He handed me a folder of papers and advised me to go home and come back in a couple of weeks. I knew that this was not proper procedure but I was in a state of shock. So I went home.
I looked at the contents of the folder and found the worker's instruction sheet. It said within 24 hours send a card to the spouse or family. Within three days a continuance of pay was to be faxed to the Office of Personnel Management. I called the human resources office and was transferred to a woman. She was very curt and informed me that my husband had not left me much life insurance. I was not concerned with that but, rather, the fact that if they did not file the proper papers I could lose my health insurance. She informed me that she had a meeting and would call back after 11:00 a.m. Her call never came.
The next day I called a friend that worked in the office and he gave me a number. I called the person, who had another person call, and then another person call.
I was finally given to a supervisor who said she would take care of it. She mailed me the papers. I filled them out and mailed them right back. I waited five days and called. She said that she had not received the papers and would go to the mail room.
The next day she called and told me that because of security the mail has to go to several places for irradiation and X-rays. It could take weeks for the papers to reach her.
It has now been a month since my husband of 33 years passed away. I still do not have any idea of when I will get any benefits or his life insurance. I may lose the house. The medical bills are coming in. Once the papers are filed it will still take four to six weeks to get anything.
If our government can't handle the death of one employee, how we expect them to handle anything as catastrophic as Hurricane Katrina?
The Architect of the Capitol responds:
"We acknowledge that Mrs. Hatcher's situation should have been handled better and with more sensitivity, but hers is the exception not the rule with regard to experiences with our Human Resources staff," spokeswoman Eva Malecki wrote in an e-mail. Malecki said the office's human resources director has called Hatcher to apologize, and is planning training to help the staff better handle interactions with grieving relatives. She said the office also is taking steps to see that the paperwork is processed.
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