How to Contact Elected Officials for Senior AssistanceHow to Contact Elected Officials for Senior Assistance

For seniors who rely on benefits, Social Security snafus, Medicaid mix-ups, and frustrations with the VA can be time-consuming and confusing to sort out. You may be able to resolve some problems on your own with good recordkeeping, persistence, and maybe the patience of Job, but if those don’t do the trick, remember that you also have well-connected, free resources for help. Your US Senator and Congressional Representative have staff members dedicated to solving problems for constituents—in particular, issues with federal agencies.

Here’s what you need to know about enlisting help from your elected officials.

Your issue must be something your Senator or Representative has the authority to work on

This includes federal programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, veterans benefits, and Social Security. State and local-level programs are outside their scope, and you’ll need to contact the appropriate state or city government officials. And your Representative or Senator can’t overturn a federal agency’s decision on a constituent’s request, although their staffers can inquire with the agency about why a particular decision was made. For more examples, California Senator Diane Feinstein’s website has a list of frequently asked questions that show what her staff can (and can’t) help with.

You’ll need to follow their procedure to submit a request for help

Each elected official has a slightly different way of handling help requests. Some elected officials prefer to hear from their constituents by phone. For example, Maine Senator Susan Collins maintains half a dozen constituent service centers across the state that residents can call to talk with a staff member or leave a voice message for a return call. Representatives Mark Takai of Hawaii’s 1st District, Xavier Becerra of California’s 34th District, and many other Representatives have forms on their websites that constituents can fill out to submit a help request and authorize staffers to work on the problem. These forms are designed to be printed out, signed, and then mailed, faxed, or hand-delivered to the office.

To find out who your elected officials are, check here. Each member of Congress has a website where you’ll find information in a section that’s usually labelled “services,” “help with a federal agency,” “casework,” or “constituent services.”

Be clear when you describe your problem and have realistic expectations

Spell out the problem as clearly and accurately as possible, with all the relevant information included. The caseworkers who take up your problem will only address what you’ve described to them, so stay focused on the central problem. And understand that while your elected representative may be able to get an answer for you or solve a problem—and more quickly than you could on your own—they can’t guarantee you a particular result.

Your party affiliation doesn’t matter

Some people mistakenly think they can’t appeal to their elected officials for assistance if they didn’t vote for them or if they belong to a different political party. You won’t be asked about your voting history or party affiliation when you make a request. Public officials serve all their constituents while they’re in office, so if you’ve run into a federal benefits program issue you can’t solve on your own, give your elected officials a call or drop them a line.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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