I had hoped with all my heart and soul that my daughter Alexis would have been one of the lucky one percent of children diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) who survived beyond five years from diagnosis. Given this terminal diagnosis on April 10, 2008, she outlived a six to nine month prognosis and fought with dignity for thirty-three months. Impressive, but not satisfying when you lose a child. She succumbed to this horrible disease on January 14, 2011, just two weeks shy of her fifth birthday. Wiser and braver beyond her years, she became a hero to me, and I fight to bring honor to her with all I do.
So, when we recently learned that a criminal took Alexis' social security number and filed a tax return with it, understandably I was angered. As a result, the IRS now requires my wife and I to prove that Alexis is our daughter. It is a crime that is striking the childhood cancer community like a wildfire in the middle of a dry summer. This type of identity theft, which is not limited to the childhood cancer community, is estimated to cost the federal government upwards of $1.2 billion annually. So, does this "crime" matter and require prosecution?
"Without question," is my response. Yet, I recently saw someone argue that it did not matter if some kids' social security numbers were stolen and used to file tax returns. The individual continued to argue that it was forgivable, especially if it was done by some hard-working illegal immigrant just trying to stay in this country. I can tell you, though, for the parents who have lost their child, it matters. Imagine the pain of losing your child, and then imagine someone stealing her identity.
Recently, I went up on the Hill to discuss the issues impacting the childhood cancer community in relation to the rash of identity thefts. Two meetings, two contrasting experiences. The first, my wife and I met with our congressman who was more than helpful in discussing our own personal tax filing; however he seemed reluctant to change the obvious break in the system allowing this crime to continue. The second meeting with the congressman who introduced HR 3475 demonstrated that there are those on the Hill who will try and at least take the difficult steps of changing the law. In the climate of conflict that has developed in our politics, this measure has both a practical element, i.e. saving the government over a billion dollars, but in addition it saves grief stricken families added pain when someone takes what is left of their child.
This type of identity theft is not "victimless." It has a face. There is a child and a family who have already suffered and will continue to suffer for the remainder of their lives. The ultimate price has been extorted in the loss of the most precious asset imaginable. It does matter, and that's why you should call your congressperson and ask them to co-sponsor HR 3475 to stop the sale of the death master index, and ultimately the fraudulent use of social security numbers to steal from the government. Yes, it does matter.
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