MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Coon Rapids woman, who lost her husband to the Ebola virus, is being denied Social Security survivor benefits.

Decontee Sawyer says that’s because the country where he died won’t release his death certificate.

Patrick Sawyer got sick in July after traveling from Liberia to Nigeria.

Ebola robbed Decontee Sawyer of her husband, and took the father away from their three daughters: 18-month-old Bella, 5-year-old Mia and 6-year-old Ava.

Social Security has told her she can’t get Patrick’s $1,700-a-month survivor benefit without producing a death certificate. And so, far Nigeria won’t release it.

“It’s very frustrating for me,” Decontee said. “At this point, it’s a matter of feeding my children.”

She worries she will also have to give up the extras, like Ava’s ballet class and special music therapy for Mia, who has autism. Right now, the Frayser Center is giving Mia a scholarship.

“They have lost so much, I don’t want them to lose those things, too,” she said.

Decontee says when she first went to the Social Security office, an employee searched Patrick’s name online, finding numerous media stories about his death. But the agency says they need documentation.

“It’s just procedure … they still need the death certificate,” she said.

After Patrick died, Decontee started the Kofa Foundation, which has raised money and collected cleaning supplies for Liberia. She says it’s been a lot easier to ask for assistance for others.

“I got so caught up in helping others that I kind of fought my own fight silently, and I’ve been fighting this fight since Patrick died,” she said.

Decontee has reached out to both Sen. Al Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Franken’s office said Thursday the U.S. Consulate sent a special diplomatic note to Nigeria’s health ministry, asking that they make the release of Patrick Sawyer’s death certificate a top priority.

She is also hoping the senators can pressure the Liberian government to help her get two pension benefits from her husband’s jobs in that nation.

Esme Murphy

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