A man who survived the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting, after being shot four times in the lower back and once in the arm, was told he had to pay back a $21,000 disability pension.
The Social Security Administration claimed that Tony Marrero was never eligible for disability benefits, despite being in pain and having to undergo several surgeries to repair the damage done by gunman Omar Mateen in the June 2016 Orlando shooting.
The agency sent him letters telling him he had to pay back $20,792 as of August 2018, but only recently dropped their case against him after an investigation by a local Florida TV station.
Tony Marrero was shot four times in the back in the deadly Orlando terror attack at Pulse nightclub in June 2016
Marrero was also shot in the arm and unable to work at work at a local theme park
‘I am really overwhelmed. I was shot four times in the lower back. The muscle was completely shattered and I had a hole in my back,” he said Click Orlando. “My left arm was completely shattered. I was meant to lose this arm, but I didn’t give up, and I told the doctors to give it some time because I have movement in these two fingers.”
Marrero said his injuries prevented him from returning to work at one of the area’s theme parks.
‘I couldn’t work. I was unemployed for a year and a half,” he said. ‘I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t use this arm properly. Not only that, I worked in a theme park, so psychologically and mentally I was not prepared for large crowds.’
Marrero signed up for benefits that were crucial to him in preserving his way of life, including his home and car.
Marrero claimed disability and received just under $21,000 in benefits which the Social Security Administration subsequently demanded to pay back
Once he was cleared to return to work, Marrero began receiving letters from the Social Security Administration stating, “Our records show that you were not entitled to disability benefits.”
The letter stated that he received about $1,000 a month, but that he was not entitled to anything.
The agency demanded that Marrero pay back all the money received. The demands also affected his credit report to the extent that he was prevented from getting a mortgage.
“I didn’t ask for this,” he said. “I didn’t ask for this to happen to me, but it did. So, who’s going to help me now? What shall I do?’
Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub after the deadly shooting in June 2016 that killed 38 people
Marrero worked at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida
“I have until June 30 to find a new home, and I can’t even buy a new home after I sell mine. I am angry. It’s a feeling of how dare you? I have all the proof in the world. People know who I am. People know what I’ve been through. You can see my scars. How dare you tell me I wasn’t qualified?
It’s not clear why the Social Security Administration had retroactively denied Marrero’s benefits, but a re-examination of his case has cleared him of the $21,000 debt.
Shortly after the shooting, doctors hailed Tony’s survival as a “miracle” because despite being shot four times in the back, none of the bullets reached his spinal cord or major organs.
Marrero with his friend Luis Velma at Pulse on the night of the tragedy. Vielma was killed. He said it was a brilliant night until the shooter attacked…
Shortly after the shooting, doctors hailed Tony’s survival as a ‘miracle’ as despite being shot four times in the back, none of the bullets reached his spinal cord or major organs.
Tony Marrero is pictured in hospital in critical condition in the days following the attack.
He described the night of the shooting on the Ellen show in 2016 and said he had lost his best friend Luis Vielma, 22.
Tony said, “That night my best friend Luis texted me and invited me to go to Pulse.
“We became best friends while working in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and we were about to leave and as soon as we walked to the door we heard the shots.
“Me and Luis, we looked at each other and we just hit the ground, that’s the last time I saw him.”
He added: “It was terrible, people were screaming, crying, people saying goodbye. He shot me four times in the back.’
He said that after falling to the ground, he was separated from Luis and ended up next to a sofa.
He added: “I don’t know what happened to me but something told me ‘protect yourself’ and I picked up the couch and all I did was protect my head.”