Retired Army Colonel Says Her Social Security Checks Were Garnished to 'Curtail Dissent'

Ann Wright says she was hit with retaliation after protesting at a U.S. drone base.

Photo Credit: Debra Sweet / Flickr

The prominent anti-war activist Ann Wright says that, after being arrested for protesting at a U.S. drone base, she stopped receiving her monthly social security checks, in what she believes was a deliberate attempt “to curtail dissent of seniors.”

According to an op-ed she wrote about the ordeal, Wright says she was arrested in March, along with members of Veterans for Peace and the Granny Peace Brigade, for participating in an annual protest against “assassin drones” at Creech drone base in Nevada. “We spent five hours in the Clark County Jail as our arrests were processed and then were released,” she wrote. “Our cases of being charged with ‘failure to disperse’ were eventually dropped by the Clark County court.”

However, that would not be the end of Wright’s punishment. According to her account, “someone submitted my name and social security number to SSA as a person who has been confined in a jail since September 2016”—a claim she says amounts to falsification. It was not immediately clear who she suspects is behind the alleged maneuver.

“Without any notification to me of this allegation that would disrupt for months my Social Security benefits, SSA ordered that for my ‘criminal conviction and confinement in a correctional institution for more than 30 days, we cannot pay your monthly Social Security payment,’” Wright continued.

Wright says she was told that she had to pay back the payments she received while she was supposedly in jail, a sum she says amounts to $4,273.60.

She wrote that, when she sought to rectify the situation at the Honolulu SSA office, the staff “said their supervisor must call Las Vegas and get documents that I have not been convicted of a crime, nor that I am in jail or have been in jail for 30 days or more. Until then, the monthly social security checks are stopped.”

Wright is worried that this process could take months or even years. “In the meantime, the checks are suspended,” she said.

A 29-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Wright stepped down from her state department position in March 2003 to register her opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. She has since become an active anti-war and human rights campaigner, recently traveling on the Women’s Boat to Gaza in an effort to break the U.S.-backed blockade and siege. The vessel was detained by the Israeli military and the group was forcibly deported.

The website for the Social Security Administration states, “We will suspend your Social Security benefits if you are confined to a jail, prison or other penal institution for more than 30 continuous days due to a criminal conviction.” The policy means that people incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons—who are disproportionately likely to be people of color—are already being financially penalized, in addition to the punishment handed to them by their jailers.

Meanwhile, data recently compiled from the Government Accountability Office shows that older Americans who are saddled with unpaid student debt are having their social security checks garnished. The GAO reports that, in the fiscal year 2015, the Department of Education “collected about $4.5 billion on defaulted student loan debt, of which about $171 million —less than 10 percent—was collected  through Social Security offsets.”

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Sarah Lazare was a former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams. She coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.