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Exclusive: Declared Dead, But Very Much Alive

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Carol Combes

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EAST QUOGUE, N.Y. (CBS 2) — She was declared dead – but she’s as alive as you and me.

An East Quogue woman is fighting a battle with the government to prove she is among the living. CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan heard her side of the story exclusively.

Carol Combes is the official historian for the village of East Quogue, Long Island. She cares for headstones and writes local obituaries.

In June, she was aghast to learn that she was dead. In fact, she had been declared dead for more than a month.

“I’m on the computer and am in the social security death index, and I’m scanning down and all of the sudden, whoa!” she said. “There’s my name, Carol Combes, where I was born, when I died.”

Combes was quickly cut off from bank accounts, medicare and more.

Ancestry Web sites even publicly listed her presumably ‘dearly departed’ social security number – that was still active. 

“Every account I had was frozen, no matter where it was at,” she said. “I was left with just pocket change.”

 Since then she and her husband Rich have collected hundreds of documents, made endless trips to social security officers, and spent hours on the phone with government workers who finally solved the riddle.

 They traced the error to a clerk in Alabama typing  in the wrong nine digit number.

 They’ve since apologized, but Combes thinks it’s something that could’ve easily been avoided.

 “To the Social Security Administration, you’re nothing but a number,” Combes said. “And when that number goes in, they should research it a little better.”

Even so, and despite being stuck swimming upstream against the government, Combes, along with family and friends, are finding humor in it all.

“I’m glad you’re alive,” said Richard Combes to his wife. “I’m glad I didn’t miss your funeral.”

 Carol also gets a good laugh out of it. 

“They say to me, ‘you look pretty good for dead’,” she said.

 The Social Security Administration tells CBS 2 that they will continue to monitor Carol’s situation because the IRS, VA Hospital and banks may be slow in getting the correction.

 Some of Carol’s assets remain frozen.

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