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Oct 22, 2014

1.7% COLA

     From a Social Security press release:
Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for nearly 64 million Americans will increase 1.7 percent in 2015, the Social Security Administration announced today.
The 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that more than 58 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2015.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2014. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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  • Oct 21, 2014

    NADE Newsletter

         The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) has posted its Fall 2014 newsletter. NADE's members adjudicate disability claims for Social Security at the initial and reconsideration levels.

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  • Oct 20, 2014

    COLA Announcement Due On Wednesday

         The announcement of this year's Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits is due out on Wednesday. It will probably be 1.7%.

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  • Nazis On Social Security

         The Associated Press is reporting that there is a "loophole" that allows people who are suspected of having been Nazi war criminals to collect U.S. Social Security benefits after fleeing the U.S. According to the AP at least 38 suspects are involved. Apparently, these are people who left the U.S. after being threatened with formal expulsion.
         I would not call this a "loophole." There is no provision in the Social Security Act that would deny benefits to these people even if they had been convicted of war crimes unless they were actually in prison. 
         The article is sloppily written or edited. For instance, it keeps using the abbreviation "OSI" without once saying what it means. Apparently, OSI is the Office of Special Investigations at the Department of Justice which seeks out Nazi war criminals living in the U.S. The article talks of "a bitter back-and-forth between the two agencies with each accusing the other of being un-American." However, the article doesn't identify the two agencies. I don't think Social Security was one of those agencies but I can't tell for sure.
         By this point, this is mostly of historical interest. The handful of former Nazis involved who are still alive are at least 90. The evidence against them couldn't have been all that strong at the time they left the U.S. or they would have been prosecuted. By this point virtually all witnesses who could testify against them are dead. If some process was created to strip them of their Social Security benefits, they'd be dead before the process could be completed.
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  • Oct 19, 2014

    Washington Post's Bleak Take On Social Security Hearings

         The Washington Post has an article on Social Security's huge backlog of disability hearings. Here are a couple of excerpts to give an idea of the article's bleak, despairing tone:
    In this case, the [disability hearing] system became, in effect, too big to fix: Reforms were hugely expensive and so logistically complicated that they often stalled, unfinished. What’s left now is an office that costs taxpayers billions and still forces applicants to wait more than a year — often, without a paycheck — before delivering an answer about their benefits. ... 
    “I really wonder if what we’re doing is effective at all. If it helps at all,” [Social Security Administrative a Law Judge] Pennock said, after a day of hearing cases and trying to reduce her share of the backlog. “If, based on the amount of evidence we get, my decision is any better than flipping a coin.”
         A reader could only come to the conclusion that not only is the Social Security disability hearing process broken but that it is unfixable. The only solution would be to abolish Social Security hearings and maybe to abolish Social Security disability benefits themselves. It is the right wing view of government as hopeless, something to be largely eliminated since it can't be reformed. 
         Disability determination is a messy business but many worthwhile things in life are messy, including mankind itself. Disability benefits are an essential lifeline for millions. Without hearings Sovial Security disability would lack legitimacy. If the hearings were abolished, they would have to be restarted almost immediately. There would be too many horrible injustices that couldn't be righted.                      
         There is a simple solution for Social Security's hearing backlog -- more resources. That's been done before. We know it works. It was working until tea party Republicans took control of the House of Representatives in 2010. Everything else has been tried without success. 

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  • Oct 18, 2014

    Don't You Know The Department Of Justice Has To Study This For Another Year Or Two?

         From USA Today:
    When the U.S. Supreme Court reopened the door for same-sex marriages in Indiana last week, Ryan Selby and Barry Cox thought their battle for recognition was over. ... 
    [W]hen Selby called the Social Security Administration the same day the Supreme Court let stand federal court rulings striking down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage, he thought they'd be able to honor his request to change his last name to his husband's.Instead, he was met with uncertainty. 
    "They said they didn't have any process in place," Selby said.

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  • Oct 17, 2014

    What I Spend A Lot Of Time Doing

         If you wonder what attorneys who represent Social Security claimants do, let me tell you about one client I recently met with. He's a young man with a congenital health problem. In addition to helping him file a request for reconsideration of his disability denial and telling him how ridiculously long it will take for him to get a hearing after he's denied at recon, I advised him on the help available to him under the Affordable Care Act (not much since NC declined additional Medicaid benefits), advised him on local free or lost cost health care (which will be an enormous help to him), advised him on prescription assistance plans to help with his very high drug costs (which again will be an enormous help to him and his parents) and advised him on filing for Medicaid. I also talked with him about applying for Disabled Adult Child (DAC) benefits once one of his parents dies or goes on Social Security, making sure to warn him that he wouldn't be able to get DAC if he's married.
         This client needed more non-Social Security advice than most but an attorney must know all this and a lot more to effectively advise Social Security disability claimants. 
         Most Social Security employees have no idea how much help Social Security claimants need from their lawyers and how much of that help is only indirectly related to Social Security benefits.
         And to lawyers who don't do this sort of counseling because they never meet with their clients until the day of the hearing, real lawyering is a fulfilling career. You ought to try it.

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  • Oct 16, 2014

    OIG Explains Its Need For Ammo

         Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) tries once again to explain why it needs to buy large quantities of ammunition. I think the issue that OIG is avoiding is whether it is classifying too many of its employees as law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers get to retire at an earlier age than other employees.

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