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Armenian woman had to prove to U.S. government that she was alive

Armenian woman had to prove to U.S. government that she was alive

PanARMENIAN.Net - An Armenian-American woman from San Francisco, Lucy Mirigian, 111, had to prove to the United States government that she was still alive after the government stopped sending her monthly pension, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

In November, the government agency that administers her federal pension decided that Mirigian was dead because she had not returned a form letter saying she wasn't. Mirigian said the letter never arrived. The result: the government stopped sending Mirigian her monthly pension of $377.26. Her health insurance was about to be cut off, too.

It was a nightmare, according to Mirigian and her daughter, Sonia, and son-in-law, Jack Koujakian, who share the house near Balboa Park that Mirigian bought in 1950. Being alive is one thing. Persuading the U.S. government that you are alive when it disagrees is something else.

The Koujakians wrote letters. They made calls. They left messages. Nothing worked. Once the U.S. government thinks you're dead, it's not easy to change its mind.

In desperation, the family walked into the San Mateo office of Rep. Jackie Speier. The office staff took one look at Mirigian and concluded that she was still very much in a condition to keep collecting the pension she was entitled to as a retired clerk at the U.S. Mint on Market Street.

Speier's office staff made some calls. Calls from a congresswoman's aide, unlike calls from a congresswoman's constituent, tend to get things straightened out lickity split. The pension was restored this week and the past-due benefits were paid. That's a good thing, Mirigian said, because her family has booked a vacation in Calistoga next month and the hotel isn't free.

She says proving you're alive is inconvenient. Ten years ago, she recalled, the Social Security folks sent someone to her home to make sure she was still entitled to her monthly check. She was a nice lady and stayed for coffee.

It's one thing when the feds assume you're alive, and they come by for coffee just to make sure. It's another thing when the feds assume you're dead, and then leave it up to you to disabuse them of the notion.

But, she said, the trip to Speier's office did get her out of the house.

"My whole life, I've never sat still," she said. "You see old ladies sitting on a bench, waiting to die. Not me."

As a 4-year-old girl, Mirigian left her home in Armenia on the back of a donkey in 1910, a few years ahead of the Armenian Genocide that wiped out many family members. She crossed the Atlantic on a boat, made her way to Fresno and attended Fresno State University. In San Francisco, she raised a family, taught Sunday school, served as a PTA president and had a second career making elegant, elaborate sculptures from beads and wire. Her husband of 40 years, Ashod, died in 1998.

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