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Apr 15, 2010

Service Delivery Hearing

The House Social Security Subcommittee hearing on service delivery at Social Security's field offices has begun. Here are some excerpts from the written testimony:
In our January 2009 report, we recommended that SSA [Social Security Administration] establish standards for field office customer waiting times and phone service to help identify and improve offices with poor service. SSA did not act on this recommendation stating that it would create problems by diverting staff already spread thin across field offices.
Field Offices are also having difficulties with some law firms that advertise nationwide to take claims and appeals for claimants. The work product is often deficient, or some send us only skeleton Internet applications. Often we spend months trying to get all the information we need to process the claim, which disadvantages the claimant. Many attorneys will not file their claims and appeals electronically. Field Offices have to manually load these paper applications into our system, which is labor intensive. We believe there should be greater accountability for law firms that represent claimants; otherwise they should collect their own fees instead of SSA doing so.
In many of our busiest offices, customers line up as early as 7:00 AM to make sure that they can be served when the office doors open. This can lead to security issues when people try to cut the line or become frustrated with waiting.
Commissioner Astrue has testified that iClaims are more accurate than claims taken by SSA employees. What he is not telling Congress is that ALL iClaims are reviewed and corrected by SSA employees before payment can be authorized. In addition, the most common error, incorrect month of election, is not considered an error under Commissioner Astrue’s financial literacy concept. Under this philosophy the client is responsible for determining the best time to begin their benefits and the SSA employee shouldn’t interfere in that decision even if the claimant's choice appears clearly disadvantageous. This philosophy as led to many claimants making uninformed decisions which will result in thousands of dollars in lost benefits. However, since claimants can’t make errors regarding the month they elect benefits, SSA’s Internet statistics look good.

SSA does not and will not perform audits on the Internet claims at the point they are submitted by the applicant. Instead, the claim is reviewed after an SSA employee makes the necessary corrections. This creates the illusion that the public completed the claims correctly. ...

The Commissioner announced last year that SSA’s iClaims process would allow claimants to file Internet claims without SSA employee review starting this year. SSA employees and AFGE were shocked and appalled that such changes would proceed, due to the vast number of claims that require correction before decisions about entitlement or payment amount are effectuated. The Commissioner has delayed implementation of a non‐reviewed iclaims filing process. This delay should be permanent. ...

While resources are limited and field/TSC [Teleservice Centers] staffing levels have not increased in relation to additional workloads, SSA management continues to engage in unethical behavior in processing work and measuring the amount of work completed. SSA management engages in a variety of questionable practices which are designed to enhance individual office statistical performance. Such practices include processing claims for individuals who are clearly ineligible for benefits, and padding statistics by taking unnecessary actions such as reissuing Medicare cards to every client in the office whether or not they request such cards. Systems tricks are employed by some managers to reflect inaccurate processing times in order to claim better statistical performance.
Skwierczynski undermines his credibility by coming across as an angry man. This does not mean that what he is saying is wrong. He knows what he is talking about.

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    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Mr. Skwierczynski is angry as he should be because he has become a target of the SSA Higher ups!! And the some of the minority members of the committees before which he and SSA must appear if the true story is to be told. Wonder how Congressmen know who he is? Also, these members for the most part are anti-union! He is a target.

    11:08 AM, April 15, 2010  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Regarding the point by Mr. Dirago, I think we all know which firms he references and yes, the work they perform is spotty. However, I think SSA needs to start holding themselves accountable for some of the terrible mistakes they make with our fees. I have had fees released to the claimant for no reason more often than I care to admit. I have had SSA tell me that my 1695 wasn't processed before the decision, even after I produced proof that it was done so more than a year prior to the decision. I'm not saying what these national firms do is right, but SSA can't continue to criticize firms for shoddy work when they are often just as shoddy.

    11:20 AM, April 15, 2010  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thank you, Mr. Dirago.

    Considering how much SSA pays directly to these sweatshop-style "law firms" or disability companies, they should really be held more accountable.

    Unfortunately, that raises several difficult questions. How can these firms be fairly identified and targeted? What body should hold them accountable? How, and on what objective measures?

    Makes my head spin.

    12:13 PM, April 15, 2010  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Law firms can hire as many people as they want to handle their clientele. SSA cannot. There will continue to be "shoddy" work by SSA as long as it remains woefully understaffed. First priority is the claimants. Attorney fees, not so much.

    10:15 PM, April 15, 2010  
    Blogger Herrien said...

    Nice post, thanks for sharing this wonderful and useful information with us.

    Green Tea

    12:39 AM, April 16, 2010  
    Blogger Herrien said...

    Nice post, thanks for sharing this wonderful and useful information with us.

    Green Tea

    4:37 AM, April 16, 2010  
    Anonymous Nancy Ortiz said...

    Witold Skwierczynski has been testifying before various Congressional Committee's for decades. Undoubtedly, many current committee members have seen him a hearings before. Witold and everyone in SSA has every reason to be angry with this COSS. The ridiculous assumption that all iClaims are completely correctly without any sort of quality review is a perfect example of how class action suits are born. Big payment errors are piling up and when they come out eventually (as they undoubtedly will thanks to future class suits)we'll have just another big mess to clean up. Oh, well. Throw it on the pile with the Special Disability Workload, the backlogged CDR's and RZ's and we'll continue our tradition of making almost as much work as we complete. Nancy Ortiz

    4:24 PM, April 17, 2010  

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