ORLANDO, Fla. – The Social Security Administration claimed a survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 was never eligible to receive disability benefits, despite being shot several times and unable to work.
Tony Marrero said the agency sent him letters claiming he had to refund the money, which amounted to $20,792.
“I’m really overwhelmed,” he said.
Marrero said he endured several surgeries and a lot of pain after a gunman stormed the Orlando nightclub on June 12, 2016.
“I got shot four times in my lower back. The muscle was completely shattered and I had a hole in my back,” he said. “My left arm was completely shattered. I was supposed to lose this arm, but I didn’t give up, and I told the doctors to give it some time because I have movement in these two fingers.”
Marrero said his injuries prevented him from going back to work at one of the area’s theme parks.
“I could not work. I was out of work for a year-and-a-half,” he said. “I wasn’t able to walk. I wasn’t able to use this arm properly. Not only that, I worked at a theme park, so psychologically and mentally, I wasn’t prepared to be around big crowds.”
Marrero said his family helped him sign up for Social Security disability benefits – money that helped him keep his home and his car.
Soon after he was cleared to return to work, Marrero said he started receiving letters from the Social Security Administration, which read: “Our records show you were not entitled to disability benefits.”
The letter showed the money he did receive, which amounted to approximately $1,000 per month, and it also showed what he should have been paid, which amounted to $0.
The agency claimed Marrero owed all of the money back and they also dinged his credit report, which has now prevented him from getting a mortgage.
“I have ‘til June 30 to find a new home, and I can’t even buy a new home after selling mine,” he said. “I’m angry. It’s a sense of how dare you? I have all the proof in the world. People know who I am. People know what I’ve been through. You can see my scars. How dare you tell me that I wasn’t qualified?
News 6 contacted the Social Security Administration to ask why Marrero was retroactively denied benefits.
A spokesperson said they could not go into detail about a person’s case file, however, she did confirm they would begin an investigation.
One day later, the agency contacted Marrero and said they were reopening his case.
“I didn’t ask for this,” he said. “I didn’t ask for none of this to happen to me, but it did. So, who’s going to help me now? What do I do?”
One week later, Social Security contacted him again and told him they were clearing the $20,000 debt.
Marrero said he’s concerned that he may not be the only survivor of the Pulse massacre to experience this.