My Reflections on Public Service

December 28, 2015 • By

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Last Updated: December 28, 2015

Commissioner_Carolyn_Colvin_5x7As we culminate our 80th anniversary celebration and end 2015, I find myself reflecting on our accomplishments. As part of the recognition of our 80th anniversary celebration, we asked our employees to share their stories of why they serve. A recurring theme was: I serve because I enjoy working with the public providing services that matter. Touched by this sentiment, I also looked back over my career and the reasons why I serve.

I have said many times that Social Security touches the lives of nearly everyone in this great nation, often during times of personal hardship, transition, and uncertainty. I’m not only speaking as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security but as someone who has also been on the receiving end. In several instances, Social Security provided support for members of my family.

When my brother was diagnosed with a disability, Social Security provided him the financial and medical support to live independently. Today, I am grateful my brother has a decent quality of life because of the benefits he receives and his access to healthcare. When my mother was ill in her later years, her retirement benefits, and support from our family helped to cover her living expenses and healthcare. The help she received from our agency enabled her to have a good quality of life.

I also felt the support of the SSA family when my son died at 34, leaving behind four small children. The agency embraced me in ways I cannot describe and helped me through a very difficult time in my life. Survivor benefits provided strong financial support for his children after the devastating loss of their father.

I have worked in public service for many years. Throughout my entire career, I have never seen employees provide services in a more caring and compassionate way than our employees. During my tenure as Acting Commissioner of Social Security, I have given many 30-, 40-, and 50-years of service pins to employees who dedicated their entire careers to public service. I know that these employees stayed that long because of a strong commitment to our mission.

Throughout my career, I have been drawn to serve those who have the least among us. From seeing the support my family received, to feeling passionate about helping others going through similar experiences, I cannot be more proud to have served SSA twice in my career.

Social Security is here today and will be here in the future. From retirement to disability, Social Security is there, providing benefits to children and families, and protection for the American worker. Our services matter. The work we do makes a difference in the lives of Americans, when they need it the most.

And this, I am proud to say, is why I serve.

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About the Author

Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security

Acting Commissioner of Social Security (February 14, 2013 - January 20, 2017)


  1. Laura R.

    Many thanks to you, Ms. Colvin, and the employees at SSA. I receive Disability payments due to a mental illness that keeps me from being able to work, and it has saved my life – literally. Older folks aren’t the only ones who receive Social Security (I’m in my late 40’s), and though the disabled (especially those of us with a mental illness) are rarely mentioned as needing and benefiting from SS programs – and are largely forgotten – it is nice to know that The Big Boss “gets it”.

    Thank you for your many years of service. And I’m very sorry to hear about the loss of your son.

    • Carole

      God Bless you!!

  2. Lisa

    At advice of several recommendations my friend is in need of disability benefits. She has been declined twice. We’ve been told that legal representation is required for consideration, beyond the first round. Is this true? Thank you for your support of our community.

    • Collyn

      Unfortunately, yes, it is true. In this case, you have to spend money to get money. It doesn’t make sense, does it?

    • Tatiana F.

      Check into your local legal aid agency. They usually help with SSA denial issues. Or your local independent living services – agency that assists people with disabilities. Good luck!

    • Carole

      They have no money…..pray! This country has sold us down the river! Vote for Hillary, she knows all about it!

  3. Felix M.

    I just got my SSI statement and they got my medicare payment wrong. Can I call them or do I have to write them a letter?

  4. Thurmon J.

    I like to give SSA office and Miss Johnson out of Beltsville Md. for the help and service that she provided for me. BIG THANK YOU

    • Carole

      Very good point problem is, this country is giving our money to other countries like it’s candy! What did I ran just get…Billions? What about bring Experian, the crooks that were contracted by the Social Security, to run their cheat sheet. They aren’t even from this country. They are from the UK. 16 million I believe for their first contract! And they just settled with the Federal Trade Commission for cheating millions of people into buying the credit consumer info!!! And the idiots like Chase and Exxon Mobile are using THEM to determine whether people are credit worthy, which is another thing! Who gave the credit bureaus the power to invade and spy on everyone???And spread the info around like they had the right to!!!Have they ever heard of right to privacy???Wake up, everybody!!! All I can say is it’s a good thing I have my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to help me keep my sanity! God Bless you all!

  5. Dennis

    I thank you for your service to the citizens of this country. I LOVE my country and wrote a blank check to it back in 1968. I served in the U.S. Army and would do it again, if I had to, though I am 66 years old and I don’t think they would have me. haha My ONE gripe about Social Security is that COLA. It will NEVER catch up to the cost of living at 1.2% and then THIS YEAR, we get NOTHING! They say it’s because the cost of living hasn’t gone up in the past year. I’m not sure what they are looking at. They say it’s because gas prices went down. Well…that’s all and good; but the cost of living goes WAY BEYOND fuel prices. How about food, shelter, medical costs, etc etc etc? I know YOU, yourself aren’t responsible for the COLA; but those of us that have to live off of it are being cheated by our government. That is OUR money. WE put it in there over our working lives. I started working at 15 years old and had to retire at 62, due to a bout with cancer. I was lucky enough to beat it, so far; but I have several other ailments that prevent me from working. I have filed for disability and been denied…it’s still on appeal. When our so called elected officials need money for something; instead of THEM taking a cut in pay, they take it from Social Security. How can they do that legally? That is not THEIR money. I love my country; but I am so disgusted with our so called government. It is full of thieves. Sorry for taking this out on you; but I just had to say my piece. Again…thank you for YOUR service to the citizens of America.

  6. Maurice D.

    Social Security works!
    Outstanding works in dealing with the most vulnerable Americans! Your hard work is noted!
    MD Maitland, Esq., Disability Lawyer.

  7. Edwin M.

    Thank you so much for your service, it’s not said often enough but you and your hard work are greatly appreciated. I just wanted you to know how important what you do is to so many Americans.
    Thank You!

  8. Jtgibbon

    Thank you for your service to Americans. We are deeply indebted to you for helping support Social Security, an appreciation most do not understand until they become retired and receive their benefits.
    The new federal retiree.

    • Willie M.

      Social Security is not a benefit, it is something people work for and earn and put into it until retired. I do not mind helping our Veterans and Disable people who have put into it no matter how much they contribute. They EARN IT.. NOT PEOPLE WHO DO NOT WON’T TO WORK BUT HAND ME OUTS, THE LAZY PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BUM OFF THE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM, WHO ARE DESTORYING THE SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM FOR THE RETIREES AND VETERANS.. That also go for the welfare people and with wormen who have to many children and want us to take care of them…I hope the Government & Social Security opens their eyes up and see how they are destroying it, for everyone who EARN IT..

      • Julie

        So what I am gathering from your angry statement is that stay at home mothers are lazy and if they become disabled they should not be able to draw benefits? Is this what you are saying? I would love to see you scrubbing floors and changing diapers and mowing the yard and all the other fun stuff that comes with being a stay at home mother that is not paid. The society today instead pays others to raise their children and then wonder why they have issues. I would suggest you trying for a month only to be a stay at home parent and keep the house clean, kids fed and clean, have dinner on the table and keep on with your job 24/7 a.nd never be paid. Let me know how that goes for you.

        • Jay S.

          No, but women as well as men know what causes babies. And those who choose to have them without any regard to who or what is going to support them should know better. And then there are the ones that have children just so they can collect from the taxpayers to raise them. Sad indeed.

          • Julie

            you get a great big WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

          • Heidi

            Jay Star, sadly I have to agree with your e-mail. I personally have known people who had babies just to get more money from welfare, they can afford to go to college, their rent is paid, and the college is paid for. Someone should give them birth control pills.
            Someone should also mention the constant threat by the Republicans to reduce or cancel social security, trade SS for vouchers, and god knows what else.
            Social Security and Medicare have been doing an excellent job for 80 years, and I wish the politicians would quit messing with it, or pay back the money that they took from the Social Security fund some years ago.

          • Marc

            You are a great example of what’s wrong with our society. Selfish, greedy, judgmental, prejudiced, and oh, by the way, WRONG! Social Security does NOT go to “lazy bums who don’t want to work ” or the mythical “welfare” queens who people like you created in your closed, mean little minds so you’d have (another) group to spew your vile hatred on. What I’m saying is hate anyone you want as passionately as you please, but first be sure you know what you’re talking about. Ranting on about something that isn’t even true or people who don’t even exist is just plain ignorant and frsnkly, makes you look stupid. And military veterans don’t get Social Security for service related disabilities, they have VA benefits for that and it’s an entirely separate government agency that has no connection with SSA. As far as your nasty slur on women and having babies, you’re WRONG there, too – not to mention rude and again, embarrassingly stupid. Women don’t get pregnant by themselves, only another human, a MALE one, can pull that off, as you well know. Why is it that men always, always, always put women down who are mothers? Whether they work or not, older or young, white or non-white, single or widowed or married or divorced – and thousands of men walk out on their wives and kids every day. You have NO RIGHT to judge ANYONE about their decision as to becoming parrnts. NOBODY HAS BABIES DELIBERATELY JUST TO “GET MONEY” – no one, ever. If you put one brain cell into thinking about the REALITY of going through 9 grueling months of pregnancy, body changing every day, pain and nausea and all kinds of medical issues – pregnancy is actually pretty dangerous, as is childbirth for both mother and baby – but I won’t belabor the details, pun intended. The point is, women don’t go through that on a whim. Another relevant note here: the teen pregnancy rate in the US has gone DOWN dramatically in the past decade and continues to do so. You seem to have a problem with women having sex. But then that’s a typical outlook for the majority of “average” Americans who go to work, come home, watch TV, don’t read books, and get all their (incorrect, biased, and inflammatory) information about the world from hate groups or ignorant talk show hosts instead of actually bothering to seek out the facts, the truth, for themselves. Boy, I can’t even imagine a worse way to go through life than being you, wallowing in a sewer of negativity and blame and hate, ever alert for more negative news stories to add to your ever growing list of people to hate and blame for anything you don’t have or what you think (because it’s what you’ve been TOLD to think) they might have or get from government “largesse” as a “hsndout.” It’s difficult to believe that anyone in this century could believe things that are so illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical, and that realistically simply COULDN’T HAPPEN! I assume you’re an adult (at least chronologically), so why do you blindly believe whatever the news or politicians tell you to think without even asking yourself “is that even possible?” In fact, I think that’s exactly why you’re so angry about these things. Because you DON’T know the truth but since you’re too lazy to find out the facts for yourself you just jump on the bandwagon and join in blaming and hating whomever you’ve been told to this time even though you know it’s untrue and even impossible. I’d be unhappy too if I betrayed myself that way. Gee, now we’ve come full circle – it’s not the “lazy bums on welfare” who are the lazy ones – it’s YOU! You and all the rest of the people who accept whatever they’re told even when they know better because they CHOOSE ignorance because it’s easier than taking respon sibility for your own life. You’re angry that you’ve lost control but rather than admit that YOU GAVE IT AWAY, you just blame the women, blacks, gays, illegals, Muslims, Mexicans, “welfare” people, disabled prople and children. Wow. Sad. Thanking whatever “god” might care that I’m not you.

          • oneida

            Bingo. I stopped having children short of getting the girl I always wanted because i knew what I could support on my WAGE. i have paid into social security for 41.5 years. I went to work on my 15th birthday. I was injured in May of last year and now I get run around when I know people collecting which have less disability than me….bull.

          • Carole

            Those aren’t the real least in California…congratulations Shawn, you are truly a beautiful breath of fresh air! How would you like to be the mother of a lady whose daughter is dying of small cell cancer, can’t walk because of a botched knee replacement, given every excuse in the book why she doesn’t qualify for help and certainly doesn’t qualify for any help from her social security already paid. Well, I’m that mother, and I didn’t agree, and they called the guard the guard and had me thrown out of the office like a common criminal! It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t owned a business, a very busy one at that, that the biggest expense was payroll taxes. For twenty years I fed the SS dept and never even got a thank you! Corruption in this country everywhere! At least in Southern Calif! And the Child support dept? Who decided that vipers should have a free hand in running peoples lives. Not for me personally, one of my exes never paid a dime, but one of his best friends was the secretary of the Judge in Ventura County in Calif. Talk about corrupt…filthy corruption! Absolutely mind blowing what they get away with…but that’s sweet guy Jerry brown’s job, isn’t? I love Obama, but I think the poor guy was also looking the other way….

        • Dawn

          I don’t think she was talking about stay at home Moms, she is talking about the many women who think it’s easier to have child after child out of wedlock and then expect the state to support them. I too have a problem with those sort of women. Whether it’s SS or Welfare, it’s wrong to expect the State to support you or your children when you have not contributed to the system.

          • Marc

            Are you kidding? “Easier to have child after child out of wedlock,” riiiight. You’ve obviously never gone through pregnancy and childbirth. That is FAR from easy, and NO ONE does it just to get the little pittance of financial assistance provided by the government to extremely low income persons with children. By the way, you clearly also know nothing about how “welfare” works – you’ve got the Internet; why not go to the actual US GOVERNMENT’S website and look up what you’d have to do to receive snything, what you might be eligible for and the LIMITS on how long you can receive anything -yep, it does NOT go on indefinitely, it ends after a maximum. Oh, and even if uou qualified for every program it’s NOT enough to live on. Sheesh, the complainers in this country are beyond belief.

      • HILLARD M.

        you need to check your facts and find out what you are talking about. Social Security requires applicants to meet requirements and for the most part deserve what they get. No matter how good a system may be, there are always some who try to cheat. your nastiness assumes you know what you are talking about. You dpon’t!

        • Marc

          Hear, hear! That’s so true. How hard is it to find out the facts before making an a$! of oneself by spreading around stuff that’s so obviously false and made up.

          • Carole

            No matter what guys, this country was built with the ideals to care of our people when they need help….if there wasn’t so darn much corruption going on, stealing money from us every way that can be thought of we wouldn’t have to worry about things like that. It’s just listening the wrong negative. there are things going on in this country that would make your skin crawl! So put a little love in your heart for those who have need, because actually, not that many people get freebees….that’s just a crutch for the rich and famous thieves to use to make others look guilty for there ripping off! Just love each other!

      • Terri G.

        I’m sorry that you are so upset, however, you seem to misunderstand what SS and what TANF is.

        SS is for retired, disabled and the children/spouse or either. For the most part, they have paid money into the SSA system. This is not, in any way, a freebie or welfare (which was discontinued 20 decades ago)

        What you are calling welfare is actually TANF. Very, very few people qualify for this. There is a 5 year maximum for an adult to receive benefits.”

        “Cash assistance benefits for the nation’s poorest families with children fell again in purchasing power in 2015 and are now at least 20 percent below their 1996 levels in 35 states and the District of Columbia, after adjusting for inflation.”

        Once the adults TANF benefits are maxed out they are not eligible to receive ‘child only’ TANF benefits.

        Where ever you are getting your information about this is lying to you. Why haven’t you checked this out for yourself?

        • tony

          SSI is the new welfare. Once the TANF runs out, they go to the psychiatrist complaining about anxiety and depression and get disability.

  9. Brenda B.

    My daughter was born with a congenital anomoly. She has received help. However, ws just received a letter they are terminating her benefits and we have no idea why. My 10 year old grandson has received it until this year and is under review. He has severe asthma, allergies and a deficit in motor skills with developmental delay. This is devastating as there is no way I can support the both of them with medications they both receive and only one income.

  10. Thor C.

    Thank you for your service.

    • Cynthia C.

      My grandson has received SSI benefits and it has been a lifesaver for his success in school, with special educators who were outstanding. I cannot say enough for our system of caring for those who need help…financial, medical and scholastically. Thanks for your work.

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