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Sep 1, 2014

On Labor Day Remember How Far We've Come


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  • Aug 31, 2014

    Social Security Not Faring Well In 7th Circuit

         From the online American Bar Association Journal:
    In a published opinion issued two weeks after oral argument, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the denial of disability benefits to a woman who claimed severe pain because of a herniated disc.
    The two-week turnaround by the author of the opinion (PDF), Judge Richard Posner, is quick even by his speedy standards, according to Illinois lawyer Barry Schultz, who represented the claimant. The 7th Circuit has been reversing a lot of adverse determinations in disability cases, particularly in the last year, he tells the ABA Journal. ...
    The claimant in Goins v. Colvin had testified that the incessant pain, along with drowsiness caused by medication, limited her daily activities to eating, caring for her dogs, watching TV and sleeping. An MRI taken in 2010 after she applied for disability benefits revealed she had degenerative disc disease, stenosis, and a condition in which her brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. At an evidentiary hearing, the 250-pound woman said she had to quit a cafeteria job in 2008 because it was too strenuous, and she rated her pain an 8.5. An administrative law judge concluded she was exaggerating and denied benefits. The appeals court reversed. Posner took issue with the ALJ's conclusion and with two doctors who evaluated the claimant's medical records for the Social Security Administration ...
    Posner said the ALJ should not have drawn adverse inferences based on the fact that the claimant had not sought frequent medical treatment. The claimant was indigent, Posner said, and had no health insurance....
    Posner also criticized Social Security Administration lawyers for arguing the ALJ had accommodated the claimant's obesity by providing that her work duties could not require her to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and only occasionally require her to climb stairs, balance, kneel, crawl, stoop, or crouch. "Does the SSA think that if only the plaintiff were thin, she could climb ropes?" Posner asked.

    "If we thought the Social Security Administration and its lawyers had a sense of humor, we would think [the argument] a joke," Posner said.
         By the way, if you read the actual opinion, the woman had a Chiari malformation. That's what Judge Posner was writing about when he used the phrase, "a condition in which her brain tissue extends into the spinal canal." That's not just a routine herniated disk or spinal stenosis problem, although those can be bad enough. A Chiari malformation is a serious congenital problem at the base of the brain. If you know anything about the base of the brain, you know it is absolutely the last place in your body that you want any kind of problem.


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  • Aug 30, 2014

    Senator Wants Public Notice And Comment On Office Closures

         From The Hill:
    A bill awaiting Congress when it returns from its August recess would attempt to slow field office closures at the Social Security Administration, an agency that has shuttered more than 60 facilities in recent years.
    The 2014 Social Security Access Act, introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., aims to bring more community input into the closure process. The bill would require SSA to provide 180 days’ notice to “all individuals residing in areas serviced” by any field office subject to any “reduction in access.” ...
    Schumer’s bill would create a public comment period and require SSA to hold at least one public hearing a month after disseminating information to constituents about an upcoming closure. The agency would have to post online and provide in writing to local members of Congress and other elected officials a range of information about the decision, including the number of SSA employees affected, the number of people who visit the office, Internet access in the region, transportation options to the next closest facility, projected cost savings and the estimated cost of co-locating with another federal agency instead of the proposed closure.
    The SSA commissioner would also have to submit a report to Congress justifying the closure, and findings made as a result of the public comments or meeting.

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  • Aug 29, 2014

    Growing Opioid Issue

         From Health Day:
    A growing number of Americans on work disability chronically use powerful prescription painkillers, according to a new study.
    Researchers found that between 2007 and 2011, about 44 percent of people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits were prescribed narcotic painkillers each year. And the percentage using the drugs long-term rose from 21 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2011. ...
    The findings, reported in the September issue of the journal Medical Care, aren't surprising, [a researcher] noted. Nationwide, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers -- also known as opioids -- surged 300 percent after 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ...
    "In the short term, people get some relief," said Dr. Eric Collins, physician-in-chief at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn., which specializes in psychiatric and addiction treatment.
    "But there's no good evidence that long-term use is effective for non-cancer pain," Collins said. ...
    The truth is, Meara said, treating chronic pain is difficult. Common problems such as low back pain have no one-size-fits-all therapy, but a number of non-drug options exist, such as exercise, over-the-counter pain medications, acupuncture and biofeedback.
         To be clear here, the dispute is over whether the expanded use of opioids that has been seen over the last 20 years or so is a problem or simply necessary treatment for chronic pain. No one is suggesting that those on Social Security disability benefits abuse opioids any more than any other group. A very significant percentage of those on Social Security disability benefits suffer from conditions which produce chronic, severe pain. It's a question of how you treat that pain.
         I've long noted that anyone experiencing severe pain regards their pain as an emergency which requires urgent treatment. However, when it's someone else's pain, especially if that person is a stranger, people regard pain as merely "subjective" and possibly feigned. If you want additional restrictions on prescriptions of opioids, remember that someday, perhaps soon, you may be in severe pain and desperate for relief.


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  • Aug 28, 2014

    This Problem Will Just Get Worse

         From CBS:
    Thousands of Social Security beneficiaries have become victims of identity thieves who have hacked into their accounts and stolen millions of dollars in desperately needed benefits.
    69-year-old Carole Folkes is one of them. For seven years her $354 Social Security check was directly deposited into her bank account. Then last June, she said, “The Social Security check wasn’t there and I was baffled.”
    Folkes called Social Security and was told her money was sent to a different bank and she was supposedly sent a debit card to collect it. ...
    Folkes, who is confined to a wheelchair, said she had to make three trips to her Social Security office to try and straighten it out. In the weeks it took to get a replacement check, Folkes got an eviction notice from her building manager because she did not have enough money to pay the rent. ...
    Most often the scammers are hard to track because they operate from different countries. ...
    The Inspector General’s office reported this year on an audit that identified 23,192 beneficiaries who did not receive $28.3 million in benefits between Sept. 2011 and June 2012 due to unauthorized direct deposit changes. Of that, $17.4 million has not been recovered. Through August 2014, 38,585 allegations of direct deposit fraud have been made by beneficiaries.


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  • Guilty Plea In New York Case

         From the New York Times:
    A former New York City police officer accused of playing a major role in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration pleaded guilty on Wednesday and agreed to testify against his co-defendants.
    Prosecutors said that the former officer, Joseph Esposito, was one of four people who concocted a scheme that bilked the federal government out of more than $27 million. ...
    Under the terms of the agreement, if his testimony is satisfactory, he will be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree grand larceny and prosecutors will recommend a sentence of one and a half to four and a half years in prison. ...
    Mr. Esposito and Mr. Hale, court papers say, referred most of the applicants to two psychiatrists for treatment and to establish a year’s worth of medical records. On several telephone calls recorded by the authorities, Mr. Esposito was captured coaching applicants on how to mimic the symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress when being examined by doctors. ...
    It was also Mr. Esposito’s job, court papers say, to collect a large cash fee from the applicants — usually more than $28,000 per person — after they received the first lump-sum check from the government, prosecutors said. Mr. Esposito would bring the money to Mr. Hale’s house, where it would be split among the four men, according to court papers.


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  • Aug 27, 2014

    Obamacare May Be Reducing Number Of Disability Claims In Arkansas

         From Modern Healthcare:
    The number of Arkansas residents signing up for federal disability benefits has dropped 19% since October 2013, which some state officials are attributing to expanded Medicaid eligibility....
    Arkansas is providing subsidies to individuals with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty threshold to purchase private health plans through the exchange, a model of expansion that several other Republican-controlled states are following. More than 190,000 Arkansas residents qualified for the expanded coverage through the end of July.  
    State Sen. Jonathan Dismang, a Republican who was one of the architects of the “private option” plan, said that he and his colleagues had hoped that expanding Medicaid would reduce the disability rolls. “It's too early to say with any certainty that that's the case,” Dismang said. “I think that there's an indication that there has been an impact.”


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  • Union Schedules Rally To Oppose Field Office Cuts

         From a press release issued by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents most employees of the Social Security Administration:
    Hundreds of union activists from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) will rally at the Minneapolis Social Security Field Office Wednesday, Aug. 27 to shed light on the Social Security Administration’s plan to close virtually every field office in Minnesota and across the country ...
    When: 3:00 p.m. CDT Wednesday, August 27
    Where: Minneapolis SSA Field Office; 1811 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis, Minn.
    • AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.
    • House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer
    • Senator Al Franken (Invited)
    • U.S. Representative Rick Nolan
    • U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (Invited)
    • U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (Invited)
    • Minneapolis Social Security Beneficiary Marie Milsten-Fiedler
    • Labor activists and Social Security employees who provide vital public services

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  • Aug 25, 2014

    Initial And Reconsideration Allowance Rates

    This is from the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) which got it, I'm sure, from the Social Security Administration.

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