Your Question: Is there some form of SSA "back office" where they put all the data into a computer program and determine the benefit per all applicable rules? Or is there no double-check of what the local office has done?
Their computer does the walking and calculating BUT a computer program is only as good as the relevant information feed into it. That includes the time of and amount of contributions (based on salary at the time) thru the years. So if the W-2 or form SE are wrong - the benefits are wrongly computed.
Same with the type of benefit to which one is applying - The questions asked and/or proof presented by and to the SS interviewer makes all the difference in correct computation.
However, I have found that if one is persistent and seeks out possibly someone with lots of (or more than others) knowledge then most situations that could come up are finally remedied within the local office -
Now I am talking about SS Old Age Retirement Benefits and related ones here - SSDI is a whole different ballgame unless one is terminal or has one of the Compassionate Allowances of diseases on their list. In fact in these types of situations an SSDI application can be filed online and the results are pretty immediate with supporting (medical) docs.
You can file a "Reconsideration" for several different SS things - and it will go up the hierarchy of decision making authority -
Kind of like a property tax or property valuation dispute at your local level.
Personally, I think you at least need some type of proof on which to base the claim before getting into this type of dispute.
Unless a spouse is already getting spousal benefits before the worker dies, then a widow does have to actually do a survivors benefit claim because a comparison to their own benefits has to be made. And even if they are receiving spousal benefits at the time the worker dies - they need to follow up ASAP to make sure the benefits are changed over unless their own benefit is higher and they know it.
https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/forms/ (See heading of: Survivors Benefits)
Personally, I don't think a lot of people keep up with their wages and/or SE tax forms through their working years and thus may have a difficult time of any dispute claim filing when they reach retirement (or an approved disability). It is easy to do and it is THEIR money - 35 years +/- of them could be kept in just one small file box along with a copy of their SS earnings record. Course some people keep nothing and don't even balance their checkbook either ! 😋
Kind of knowing you from this forum - I think your wife should be fine, if or when she becomes a widow. You will have it set up as easy-peasy, I am sure.
It's Always Something . . . . Roseanna Roseannadanna