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Mar 31, 2012

New Instructions On Prohibition Of New Claims While Appeal Pending

     Social Security has issued new instructions on its policy of prohibiting new claims for disability benefits while an appeal is pending at the Appeals Council,. No one would have much problem with this if the Appeals Council could resolve appeals in three months or so but the Appeals Council often takes two years and more. In effect, the Social Security Administration is making it almost impossible for poor claimants -- and that's most of them-- to appeal from an Administrative Law Judge decision. That's wrong.

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  • Mar 30, 2012

    Black Lung Regulations Removed

         Social Security has decided to remove its Black Lung regulations. This requires a little explanation. I'll do my best but this goes back before my time. I hope some real old timers can correct any mistakes I make. Black lung, or coal miners pneumonoconiosis, is a disease caused by exposure to coal dust. It used to be endemic in coal miners. I think that increased regulation has dramatically reduced the incidence of black lung. In the 1970s Congress decided to create a program, which I believe was funded by the coal industry, to compensate those affected by black lung. Social Security was initially given responsibility for administering the Black Lung program. Eventually, responsibility for the Black Lung program was given to the Department of Labor which still administers the Black Lung program. Social Security continued to have responsibility for adjudicating claims for benefits for those who initially filed their claims with Social Security. A handful of cases hung around for many years as they bounced between Social Security and the federal courts. Those cases have long since ended, allowing Social Security to end the regulations.
         Can you imagine Social Security undertaking administration of a big new program? It happened in the 1970s with Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Black Lung.

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  • SSI Claims To Be Available Online

         There has been one prominent exception in Social Security's rush to make it possible to file claims for benefits online -- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims. It looks like that exception will soon end. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, Social Security and other agencies must seek the approval of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for any new form that the agency may ask the public to complete and that includes online forms. Social Security has just sent over a request for approval of forms for the "Modernized SSI Claims System (MMMICS)" and this includes a request for "MSSICS/Signature Proxy." This sure sounds like an online form to me.

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  • Mar 29, 2012

    I Think We Have A Ringer!

         From time to time I notice reader posts on this blog that appear to be from ringers -- people pretending to be Social Security employees who aren't. Here's one now:
    Figured a claimant's finacial assistance the other day. If she were paying taxes, she would have to make about $20.00 an hour to have what she is currently receiving from all finacial assitance. I can not think of any reason she would ever try to go to work. With her background and abilities she is not worth over $8.00 an hour. An thus the system continues to redistribute the wealth.
          If you are talking about $20 an hour, you're talking about approximately $3,500 per month. There is no way you can get to this number if you are talking about needs based assistance. You cannot get much over $1,000 a month. If you are talking about non-needs based assistance -- Title II benefits -- you could get a bit higher but still you could not get to $3,500 per month. And for that matter, Social Security employees are not in a good position to calculate the value of Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance. How would a Social Security employee compute this anyway? I say the post quoted above is bogus. Don't believe everything you hear on Fox News. Relying on public benefits is a tough life. It's never the equivalent of $3,500 per month of income.

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  • Field Office Managers Stressed

         The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel, has released its March 2012 newsletter. Hiring is mostly frozen at Social Security. Inevitably, this causes problems since attrition is uneven. Some field offices have no employees leaving but some small offices have several employees leaving. The newsletter has an article on this problem. Some badly affected offices receive help from other components of the agency but others receive no help and struggle. One particularly interesting point is that new telephone systems in field offices allow managers to see just how bad phone service has been in their offices and to allot additional resources. This has improved field office telephone service but at a cost to other workloads. Field office managers also complain that they are forced into more production work such as answering the telephone and working at the reception window. This leaves them inadequate time for management duties and forces them into overtime to try to keep up.

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  • Mar 28, 2012

    A Snapshot

    • Table 1. Number of people receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, or both, February 2012
    • Table 2. Social Security benefits, February 2012
    • Table 3. Supplemental Security Income recipients, February 2012
    For more detailed monthly OASDI information, visit the Actuary's website for Beneficiary Data. For more detailed monthly SSI information, see SSI Monthly Statistics.
    Table 1. Number of people receiving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, or both, February 2012 (in thousands)
    Type of beneficiary Total Social Security only SSI only Both Social Security
    and SSI
    All beneficiaries 61,138 52,975 5,387 2,777
    Aged 65 or older 39,507 37,444 899 1,165
    Disabled, under age 65 a 13,822 7,722 4,488 1,612
    Other b 7,809 7,809 . . . . . .
    SOURCE: Social Security Administration, Master Beneficiary Record, 100 percent data. Social Security Administration, Supplemental Security Record, 100 percent data.
    NOTES: Data are for the end of the specified month. Only Social Security beneficiaries in current-payment status are included.
    . . . = not applicable.
    a. Includes children receiving SSI on the basis of their own disability.
    b. Social Security beneficiaries who are neither aged nor disabled (for example, early retirees, young survivors).
    CONTACT: (410) 965-0090 or statistics@ssa.gov.
    Table 2. Social Security benefits, February 2012
    Type of beneficiary Beneficiaries Total monthly
    benefits
    (millions of dollars)
    Average monthly
    benefit (dollars)
    Number
    (thousands)
    Percent
    All beneficiaries 55,752 100.0 62,707 1,124.80
    Old-Age Insurance
    Retired workers 35,876 64.3 44,165 1,231.10
    Spouses 2,291 4.1 1,393 608.30
    Children 605 1.1 366 604.60
    Survivors Insurance
    Widow(er)s and parents a 4,216 7.6 4,881 1,157.70
    Widowed mothers and fathers b 148 0.3 129 873.60
    Children 1,926 3.5 1,512 785.10
    Disability Insurance
    Disabled workers 8,630 15.5 9,584 1,110.70
    Spouses 163 0.3 49 298.60
    Children 1,897 3.4 627 330.70
    SOURCE: Social Security Administration, Master Beneficiary Record, 100 percent data.
    NOTES: Data are for the end of the specified month. Only beneficiaries in current-payment status are included.
    Some Social Security beneficiaries are entitled to more than one type of benefit. In most cases, they are dually entitled to a worker benefit and a higher spouse or widow(er) benefit. If both benefits are financed from the same trust fund, the beneficiary is usually counted only once in the statistics, as a retired-worker or a disabled-worker beneficiary, and the benefit amount recorded is the larger amount associated with the auxiliary benefit. If the benefits are paid from different trust funds the beneficiary is counted twice, and the respective benefit amounts are recorded for each type of benefit.
    a. Includes nondisabled widow(er)s aged 60 or older, disabled widow(er)s aged 50 or older, and dependent parents of deceased workers aged 62 or older.
    b. A widow(er) or surviving divorced parent caring for the entitled child of a deceased worker who is under age 16 or is disabled.
    CONTACT: (410) 965-0090 or statistics@ssa.gov.
    Table 3. Supplemental Security Income recipients, February 2012
    Age Recipients Total payments a
    (millions of dollars)
    Average monthly
    payment b (dollars)
    Number (thousands) Percent
    All recipients 8,164 100.0 4,493 515.60
    Under 18 1,294 15.8 829 613.60
    18–64 4,806 58.9 2,806 532.50
    65 or older 2,064 25.3 858 414.60
    SOURCE: Social Security Administration, Supplemental Security Record, 100 percent data.
    NOTE: Data are for the end of the specified month.
    a. Includes retroactive payments.
    b. Excludes retroactive payments.
    CONTACT: (410) 965-0090 or statistics@ssa.gov.

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  • Mar 27, 2012

    Trying Way Too Hard

    From an e-mail I received this morning:
    Twitter Chat
    Social Security’s Ticket to Work Program Hosting First Disability Employment Twitter Chat on March 30th
    Topic: “Career Help for People with Developmental Disabilities”
    When: Friday, March 30, 2012, 1:30 p.m., EST
    Where and How: Follow @chooseworkssa and the hashtag #DEChat on Twitter

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  • Mar 25, 2012

    Musings On Exchanging A Propane Tank

         I need to exchange the propane tank for my gas grill this afternoon. (What an exciting lead sentence!) This puts me in mind of the last time I did this. I stopped by a convenience store near my house. When I went in there was a fellow in line ahead of me whom I recognized. He is the retired chief justice of North Carolina. He had a distinguished legal career before becoming Chief Justice. He had an outstanding tenure as Chief Justice. He has an unblemished reputation for rectitude. What was he doing in the convenience store? He was buying lottery tickets.
         My point is that we should be reasonable in our expectations about any group of people who bear the title "judge", including Social Security's Administrative Law Judges. People with the title of "judge" almost always try to live up to their title but they are made of the same stuff as the rest of us.

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  • Mar 24, 2012

    Now You Too Can Write In Academese

         I have written in the past about academese, the opaque writing style of academia. Now, you too can write like an academic. A new website automates it.
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  • Mar 23, 2012

    Is The Actuarial Reduction Still Fair?

         Full retirement age for Social Security benefits is currently 66. This will soon start rising to 67. Most people go on Social Security retirement benefits before their full retirement age, a key fact that is usually lost when politicians talk of raising the retirement age. Those who go on retirement benefits before their full retirement age receive reduced benefits. This is called the actuarial reduction. This actuarial reduction was 20% when the full retirement age was 65 and is going up to 25% when the full retirement age reaches 67. Alicia Munnell and Steven Sass at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College ask whether the actuarial reduction, which was first enacted more than 50 years ago, remains appropriate. Their conclusion is that it remains pretty close to actuarial equivalence. Their study is flawed, however, by the fact that they pretended that full retirement age was still 65. I don't understand why they did that. They certainly know what the current full retirement age is and doing the projections for full retirement age being 67 should not have been that difficult.

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  • Mar 22, 2012

    2011 Workload Data

    From Social Security via the NOSSCR newsletter.

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  • PEBES Suspension Criticized

         Michael Hiltzik writes in his column in the Los Angeles Times about Social Security's suspension of sending out Personal Earnings And Benefit Estimate Statements (PEBES). He thinks the suspension is a terrible idea.

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  • Mar 21, 2012

    Taking Out The Meat Cleaver

    From the Associated Press:
    [Greek] Health Ministry officials say nearly one-in-six disability allowances will be canceled at the end of the month after discovering thousands of payments were based on false claims — including of drivers registered as being legally blind and bogus cases of leprosy.

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  • Astrue Interview

         The IBM Center for the Business of Government interviewed Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue for its show on WFED radio last week. You can hear and view the interview below. There is not much new to the interview. I am incredulous at Astrue's hope that health information technology improvements will cause the length of time needed to get a hearing before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge to decrease or that these improvements will even allow the elimination of reconsideration. I see no connection at all. The problem is lack of resources at Social Security. Speeding up the acquisition of medical records does little to help.

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  • OIG Report On SSA Reviews Of ALJ Decisions

         Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has done a report on Social Security's efforts to review Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions. The report makes it clear that it is impossible for Social Security to target individual ALJs for review. The Administrative Procedure Act (APA) would have to be changed before Social Security could do that. 
         The APA is one of the proudest achievements of American legal thinking. Amending it to allow targeting of ALJs isn't going to happen. The APA is fundamental to American government. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have any interest in touching the APA.

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  • Mar 20, 2012

    Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

         Here's the witness list for today's hearing before the House Social Security Subcommittee, with my description of one's witness' testimony:
    PANEL 1:

    The Honorable Michael J. Astrue
    Commissioner, Social Security Administration
    Testimony


    PANEL 2:

    Trudy Lyon-Hart
    Director, Office of Disability Determination Services, Vermont Agency of Human Services, on behalf of the National Council of Disability Determination Directors
    Testimony

    Lisa D. Ekman
    Senior Policy Advisor, Health & Disability Advocates on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Social Security Task Force
    Testimony

    Dan Bertoni
    Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office
    Testimony

    Leighton Chan, M.D.
    Chief, Rehabilitation Medicine Department, National Institutes of Health
    Testimony 
    • If I hear one more person involved in rehabilitation talking about "shifting paradigms" I think I'm going to start throwing things. Dr. Chan talked about a project he is working on "to create a real time functional assessment that is rapid, reliable and objective. This project assesses the feasibility of developing Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) instruments that could be considered for integration into the SSA’s disability evaluation processes. CAT methodology, coupled with Item Response Theory (IRT), is used to measure outcomes precisely across the full continuum of human functioning. IRT/CAT represents a simple form of artificial intelligence software requiring a computer for administration." I will not bore my readers with a full description of IRT/CAT except to say that the idea that it has anything to offer to disability determination is laughable from any point of view.
    Nicole Maestas, Ph.D.
    Senior Economist, RAND Corporation
    Testimony

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  • Tough Sledding At The Supreme Court

         It sounds like it was tough sledding at the Supreme Court for the attorney arguing for Social Security children's benefits for twins conceived after the death of their father using frozen sperm.

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  • Mar 19, 2012

    It's Different In Persia

         President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reportedly appointed Saeed Mortaz (pictured here with Ahmadinejad) to become head of the Iranian Social Security Fund even though there are pending charges against Mortaz for the torture and murder of prisoners.

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  • Mar 18, 2012

    Start The Backtracking Now

    From Huffington Post (with one interjection from me):  
    Two separate campaigns have been launched to pressure AARP to stand firm against cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits. The campaigns follow a report by HuffPost that the influential senior citizens lobby will soon be holding a private, principals-only "salon-style conversation" ["Salon-style conversation"? What is this -- 18th century Paris?] with a host of advocates of entitlement cuts. ...
    AARP's listening tour officially launches on Monday and is dubbed "You've Earned a Say and We're Listening."
    One AARP volunteer who attended a two-day training last week wrote HuffPost to say that the listening tour appeared to be aimed at shifting AARP policy in favor of cuts to benefits....
    AARP has expressed an openness to benefit cuts in the past, only to backtrack under pressure from its membership. The organization, in recent years, has become increasingly entangled with its growing insurance operation.

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  • Mar 17, 2012

    AFL-CIO Says Social Security Benefits Should Be Raised

         From an AFL-CIO press release:
    It is time to stop thinking of Social Security as a problem and start thinking of it as a key solution to our retirement security crisis. ...
    While Social Security is an obvious solution to the crisis, its current benefit levels are too modest. Social Security’s income replacement rate is one of the lowest of all the industrialized countries. To compensate for the decline of traditional pensions and the loss of retirement savings, Social Security retirement benefits must be increased across the board, which would be especially meaningful for low-income seniors. ...
    The reason why the debate in Washington, D.C., has gone so far in the wrong direction is that the enemies of Social Security have spent enormous amounts of money spreading misinformation about the program. The truth is that Social Security is not in crisis. ...

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  • Mar 16, 2012

    Admin Leave During Investigations Costly

         From the Washington Times:
    The Social Security Administration paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to a handful of employees who were placed on administrative leave for more than half a year while officials considered misconduct accusations against them or their involvement in illegal acts.
    The agency’s Office of Inspector General said in a report dated Friday and made public Wednesday that from October 2005 through January 2009, 17 employees each racked up at least 1,000 hours — or 25 weeks — of paid administrative leave totaling $1.5 million while officials considered their cases.
    In one instance, two teleservice employees placed on paid administrative leave in February 2007 were arrested at their workplace “while in the act of blackmailing/extorting other SSA employees.”

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  • AARP Needs To Move Its Headquarters Out of D.C.!

    From Huffington Post:
    The senior citizens lobby AARP on Monday will kick off a national Social Security and Medicare "listening tour" called "You’ve Earned a Say and We’re Listening." Through "town halls, community conversations, bus tours and other events," the influential organization promises to offer members a chance to speak out on the simmering debate over the future of Social Security and Medicare. 
    The outreach is part of the group's campaign to restore trust it lost during last year's spending debate, when a top AARP official told the Wall Street Journal the organization was open to cuts to the entitlement programs....
    But while AARP staffers fan out across the country to hear from members, the group's CEO, Barry Rand, will be listening to a different cast of characters.
    An AARP invitation to a secret "Relaxed and Robust Evening of 'Salon Style' Conversation" to be held at a Capitol Hill home on March 27, obtained by The Huffington Post, indicates that the organization is still very much interested in a "grand-bargain" style deal that puts Social Security and Medicare cuts on the table. ...
    This year's salon is the third focused on entitlement, and AARP has held at least eight such affairs over the past three years ...
    While the overwhelming majority of AARP members are strongly against benefit cuts, the group's team in Washington nevertheless wants to be an influential part of the conversation, and they appear to believe that an openness to cuts is the way to appear serious.
          Why is cutting Social Security considered "serious" in D.C.? The country isn't going to buy it. The solution to keeping Social Security going is obvious and simple -- remove the FICA cap. It's going to happen. It's just a matter of when.

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  • Mar 15, 2012

    COBOL Isn't Going Away

         Social Security is stuck with a lot of old mainframe computer programs written using the COBOL computer language. The agency is trying to transition from COBOL but an article in Computerworld makes me wonder whether the transition is really necessary or practical.
         In any case, Social Security is not alone in having lots of COBOL code. COBOL remains ubiquitous in large data processing operations.
         If you know someone who wants really good job security, tell them to study COBOL. No matter what anyone says, it's clearly not going away in the foreseeable future.

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  • Mar 14, 2012

    Social Security Subcommittee Schedules Hearing

         From a press release:
    U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security, today announced a hearing on how disability is decided.  The hearing will take place on Tuesday, March 20, 2012, in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 10:30 a.m. ...
    In announcing the hearing, Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) said, "Americans with disabilities deserve to get the right decision as early as possible, but that’s just not how it currently works.  States struggle on the front lines to make sense of the program’s complex rules to decide who gets benefits.  At the same time advances in treatment, rehabilitation, and the workplace have created new opportunities for those with disabilities to return to work.  Securing the future of the disability insurance program should address these challenges and opportunities while keeping the process fair for both claimants and taxpayers."  
          Could someone tell me what those advances are in rehabilitation and the workplace that create new opportunities for those with disabilities to work? Don't try to tell me the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) changed anything. Have you seen how the Supreme Court has interpreted the ADA out of existence? The ADA is a dead letter. The only people who still think it means anything are those who fought against its approval.
         Have medical advances really created new opportunities for people with disabilities to work? I think that joint replacement surgery and coronary stents would qualify but those are old news. New treatments for stomach ulcers would certainly qualify but that's such old news that few people reading this can even remember the days when stomach ulcers caused considerable disability. (For those who do, remember Billroth II? Dumping syndrome?) Roux-en-Y surgery for obesity might qualify. Better diagnosis and treatment of obstructive sleep apnea has made a difference but it's not like Social Security was ever putting many people on benefits for this anyway. The medications we have available for HIV are wonderful and certainly allow more people to work but in the past those people would not have been drawing Social Security disability benefits for long because they would have been dead. Spinal surgery has gotten a bit better over the years but it's far from being a reliable solution for back or neck pain. When it comes to psychiatric illness, suffering has been reduced a bit but I don't think many knowledgeable people would claim that this has done much to restore the ability to work. Schizophrenia remains horrible, horrible, horrible. Counter to the advances that enable some people to work are advances that keep disabled people alive longer to draw Social Security disability benefits longer. To what extent do those longevity advances offset advances that enable people to continue to work? And what about medical advances that allow better diagnosis so that some people who were denied disability benefits in the past are now approved? The advent of the MRI certainly put more people on Social Security disability benefits for multiple sclerosis. Lupus is much more easily diagnosed now than in the past. And further, what about the obesity epidemic. It's certainly making more people disabled. And what about crack cocaine? People aren't found disabled as a result of using crack cocaine but it damages people's health to the point that they are found disabled based on physical illness. And then, there's the hepatitis C epidemic. It gets little press but it's a much bigger deal than HIV-AIDS and medicine can hardly treat it! It's producing a lot of disability that was not present in earlier years. My opinion is that the whole notion that disability is being significantly reduced by scientific advances is just wishful thinking. At ground level, it's just not happening.

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  • Mar 13, 2012

    It's Not Just Social Security ALJs Who Are Inconsistent

         From the New York Times:
    A new analysis of hundreds of thousands of cases in federal courts has found vast disparities in the prison sentences handed down by judges presiding over similar cases, raising questions about the extent to which federal sentences are influenced by the particular judges rather than by the specific circumstances of the cases....

    In the Eastern District of New York, for example, the 28 judges in the study delivered a median sentence of 24 months for drug cases in the past five years. But there were disparities: Judges Jack B. Weinstein and Kiyo A. Matsumoto gave median drug sentences of 12 months, while the median drug sentence for Judge Arthur D. Spatt was 64 months. 
         I sometimes wonder if we have too much respect for the title "judge." We expect anyone with that title to give us JUSTICE that no one can question. However, JUSTICE is merely a general goal. There is no way to be certain of what JUSTICE is in an individual case or even in the aggregate, whether we are talking about criminal sentences or Social Security disability determination. Justice must be administered by flesh and blood people who have to cope with laws that give them discretion to deal with individual circumstances. Dealing with those individual circumstances is what judging is all about. If we want judges to deal with those individual circumstances, and I think we do, we must expect disparities. Don't expect omniscience when you give someone the title of "judge" because you won't get it.

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  • Mar 12, 2012

    Tennessee Man Arrested For Threatening ALJ

    From KNOX:
    A Knoxville man was arrested by federal agents when they learned he had been released from a mental health facility only a few days after allegedly vowing to murder a judge he had already stalked once in an ambush try.
    Last month, Roy Kenneth Wade Jr. voluntarily sought help for depression and thoughts of killing himself, but during his medical and mental health evaluation stated that he also intended to kill Social Security Administrative Law Judge K. Dickson Grissom, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court. ...
    Wade expressed "overwhelming anger and hate toward Judge Grissom" and was "adamant" in his desire to kill him, according to the affidavit. Wade added that he had a 9mm handgun and had already waited outside Grissom's office to shoot him, but that plan fell through when Grissom did not come out, according to the affidavit.

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  • Mar 11, 2012

    Scapegoating ALJs

         Jon Dubin and Robert Rains have written an Issue Brief for the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy titled Scapegoating Social Security Disability Claimants (and the Judges Who Evaluate Them) in response to the Richard Pierce hit piece in Regulation, a publication of the Cato Institute. Here is one paragraph from the Dubin and Rains piece (footnote omitted):
    Policy is often initiated, and sometimes adopted, based on popular misconceptions, partial truths, commonly repeated falsehoods, and isolated anecdotes with unfortunate consequences. Because neither the Pierce proposal’s media-anecdote-driven factual assumptions nor core legal suppositions about the identified problem are well-founded and because the proposed solutions are both misguided and unsound, this initiative, and other similar initiatives, should be non-starters.
         My experience tells me that if there were simple solutions that would produce consistent decision-making  on Social Security disability claims, we would long since have achieved those solutions. The people administering the Social Security disability programs, like the rest of us, occasionally do stupid things but they are far from stupid and they have had decades to study the problem. Disability determination has been studied many, many times over the years by outsiders and many of them spent far more time on it than Pierce. The only people who think there are easy solutions are people like Pierce, who have only studied the problems superficially.  I think the worst label one can put on a policy recommendation is "naive" and naive is the kindest thing I can say about what Pierce has written.

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  • Mar 10, 2012

    Report On 53rd Week Problem

         From report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General:
    In an October 6, 2011 letter, [Congressional] Committee members expressed concern that managers in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) may have instructed ALJs and hearing office employees to set aside their disability cases during the last week of September 2011 and refrain from issuing decisions until the following week, which would have delayed the award of benefits to thousands of claimants awaiting ALJ decisions. ...
    Since as early as 1983, SSA has not counted workload totals for the 53rd week [of the Fiscal Year] in its year-end management information (MI) data. As a result, from September 24 through 30, 2011, also referred to as Week 53, SSA did not include its process workload count toward either its Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 or 2012 MI totals. This policy affected how workloads were counted throughout the Agency and not only ODAR’s hearing workloads. Several ODAR nationwide hearings workload counts, namely hearing dispositions and decisions written, decreased significantly during Week 53. For example, hearing dispositions dropped 87.8 percent compared to an average week in FY 2011. Even when we compared this workload decrease to end of FY 2010 data, this decline was significant. Other workloads, such as cases pulled and hearings held, did not appear to change. ODAR executives stated these Week 53 workload decreases may have related to some employees deferring certain workloads which did not count toward performance goals.

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  • Mar 9, 2012

    Why Hire A Paralegal When You Can Hire An Attorney For The Same Money?

         Law firms representing Social Security disability claimants frequently use paralegals and legal assistants to help their attorneys represent more clients. Lee Rosen, an NC attorney who practices family law, raises a issue that may extend to Social Security practice:
    Over my 25 years of practicing law, I’ve seen the economy change quite a bit. The biggest impact in my little world has been the price of associates [that is, non-partner attorneys]. Over the years, it has come steadily down to the point where we can now pay an associate very, very little money.
    That has an impact on the mix of employees in a law firm. I’d advocate that you stop hiring paralegals and replace them with lawyers.
          The current glut of young attorneys may not last a long time but if it does a lot of things are going to change in the legal profession.

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  • Mar 8, 2012

    Gotta File The Whole Appeal Online.

         From today's Federal Register:
    We are clarifying the requirement that appointed representatives file certain appeals using our electronic systems in matters for which the representatives request direct fee payment. Specifically, we are clarifying that the electronic filing requirement includes both the submission of the forms we require to file the appeal request and the Disability Report--Appeal.
         Filing the appeal itself online is the easy part. Filing the Disability Report -- Appeal is the tedious, time-consuming part.
         Sending out tons of e-mail touting a webinar starting at a specific time to train people on how to file these appeals online and then not being able to handle the web traffic you generate for the webinar isn't a good way of encouraging compliance with this directive.

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  • Mar 7, 2012

    Oops!

         Social Security is now requiring that attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants file appeals for their clients electronically if they want to receive direct payment of fees. To help educate everyone on how to file appeals online, Social Security sent out invitations to a "Webinar" today.
         I have heard from several attorneys who tried to access the "Webinar." They all say that they were not allowed to join the "Webinar."
         Update at 2:15 P.M. EST: I just tried to join the Webinar. I was able to but the video feed keeps hanging up.

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  • If You Wonder What It's Like Representing Social Security Claimants

         A couple of months ago I advised a client who explicitly said he was disabled by psychiatric illness to get in psychiatric treatment. A month ago I called to see if he had done so. He told me that he hadn't gotten around to it yet. I restrained myself from asking why his busy schedule as a disabled person did not allow him time to get around to this. I just encouraged him to make the call. I checked back with him recently. Again, he said that he hadn't gotten around to it. Again, I encouraged him to get in treatment. Although he deserved it, I still did not inquire about why he couldn't find time to get in treatment. I just talked about the importance of psychiatric treatment to his case and to his life in general. He then told me that he had no intention of getting in psychiatric treatment because "I've been trying to get on Social Security disability for five years and I know very well what's disabling me." When I responded that the five year time he had been trying to get on Social Security suggested to me that he should try a new tack, he said he needed a different attorney. I told him, "Fine, I'll withdraw from representing you."

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  • Mar 6, 2012

    I Hadn't Heard This One Before

         I thought I had heard all of the criticisms of Social Security that there were but I was wrong. John Carney at CNBC digs up the very old criticism that Social Security leads inevitably to population decline because people will have fewer children because they will not feel the need to have children to support them in their old age. And I thought that the introduction of "The Pill" was the cause of the decline in fertility rates in the 1960s!
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  • Mar 5, 2012

    What's Wrong With This Picture?

         A new Harris poll shows that only 12% of Americans want to cut Social Security. All Republican candidates for President endorse cuts in Social Security.

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  • Mar 4, 2012

    Major Increase In Fee Payments In March

         These are Social Security's numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing claimants before the agency. These payments are not an expense of the Social Security Administration. They come out of the back benefits of the claimants involved. This is a useful analog to show the speed at which Social Security is able to pay claimants after they are approved for benefits. A slowdown in these fees means a slowdown in getting claimants on benefits and a speedup in these payments means a speedup in getting claimants paid.

    Fee Payments

    2011

    Month/Year Volume Amount
    Jan-11
    34,467
    $113,459,847.04
    Feb-11
    33,305
    $107,796,771.38
    Mar-11
    34,885
    $112,463,768.46
    Apr-11
    48,033
    $153,893,755.37
    May-11
    36,479
    $115,159012.77
    June-11
    33,568
    $104,782,743.07
    July-11
    40,451
    $123,981,011.36
    Aug-11
    35,575
    $109,778,785.74
    Sept-11
    36,159
    $109,990,042.36
    Oct-11
    27,269
    $79,526,149.33
    Nov-11
    32,677
    $100,272,851.46
    Dec-11
    38,447
    $116,455,779.92
     



    2012
    Jan-12
    29,926
    89,749,312.99
    Feb-12
    43,946
    134,207,416.10

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  • Mar 3, 2012

    How Is She Supposed To Correct This?

         From WCNC:
    Audrey Curry is a man, at least that’s what Social Security thinks. ...

    Audrey was born a woman, she was married three times and her husbands’ will all vouch for her femininity.  Her kids, all four of them, know she’s a she, and her grandkids know Audrey as grandma, with an emphasis on the ‘ma.’

    The only people who seem to be confused about the difference between men and women are the hims and hers at Social Security.

    The “he” mistake happened back in 1985 during a marriage and a name change.  It only came to light now because Audrey qualifies for Medicare disability, coverage she says she needs.

    “It’ll hold up my coverage, because when I go down there they say that my card says male, but I’m a female,” Curry said.  “I can’t get treated.”

    All of her official documents say “she.”  But Social Security told Audrey it’s up to her to fix their mistake.

    “Just say I am sorry, but no, they get snotty and say you have to go correct it. I don’t stand for that,” Curry added.

    When NewsChannel 36 called Social Security’s regional office in Atlanta, they said this rarely happens and they said, “We will fix this for her.”  ...

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  • Mar 2, 2012

    Social Security Moving Towards Awarding Contracts For Occupational Information System

         This was posted yesterday on FedBizOpps.gov (and the question marks are in the original):
    This is a REQUEST FOR INFORMATION. It is NOT a solicitation for proposals, proposal abstracts, or quotations and in no way obligates the Government to award a contract.

    The purpose of this Request for Information (RFI) from the Social Security Administration (SSA) is to identify potential vendors that are capable of assisting in researching and performing job analysis data collection and developing a comprehensive Occupational Information System (OIS). SSA is also seeking feedback from industry on processes under consideration. The information provided in response to this RFI will be used in SSA?s market research efforts and procurement planning purposes which include:? The availability and capability of potential sources;

    ? Assistance with appropriate acquisition strategy (e.g., one procurement for all requirements or more than one procurement based on specialty skills).

    ? The best methodologies and processes to use to accomplish our goals
          There's an "interested vendors" list that has only one name on it at the moment but that list will surely grow.

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  • More On Possible Union Contract

         More on the possible new union contract for Social Security, from the Federal Times:
    ... [S]everal key subjects still have to be hammered out. AFGE [American Federation of Government Employees] said provisions covering merit promotions, teleworking and performance appraisals are still being negotiated and must be written into the contract by the end of June. ...
    Monthly transit benefits, now $60, will increase to $70 in the contract's first year, $80 in its second year, and $90 in its fourth year, said Witold Skwierczynski, who led negotiations for AFGE.
    The current $50 benefit for eye exams and up to $175 for eyeglasses will increase to $65 for an exam and $200 for glasses, he said.
    Skwierczynski also said employees will get more rights to union representation when meeting with SSA managers. For example, the contract will require managers to orally remind employees that they have the right to union representation when they're called into a discussion that might lead to disciplinary action. Currently, SSA only has to publish a notice once a year on those rights, Skwierczynski said.
    And the agreement contains language that says SSA will not tolerate bullying from managers. Skwierczynski said that gives the union "a foot in the door" to file grievances against managers who allegedly bully their employees.

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  • Mar 1, 2012

    Conceptual Agreement For New National Contract Between SSA And AFGE

         From a union press release:
    After 27 months of negotiations, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the Social Security Administration have reached a conceptual agreement for the terms of the new national contract. ... 

    Negotiations between AFGE and SSA have been ongoing, two weeks every month, since December 2009. AFGE referred the bargaining to the Federal Service Impasses Panel in September 2011, in reaction to the lack of progress in national contract negotiations. The language for the new contract is conceptual and will be finalized by both AFGE and SSA management, then sent out for ratification by AFGE locals. Once the contract is ratified by AFGE and SSA, it will be valid for four years.
    “We made improvements in eye care and travel benefits, strengthened employee rights in the workplace and allowed for the union to have broader ability to represent employees in meetings with SSA management,” explained AFGE Lead Negotiator Witold Skwierczynski. ...

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  • A Question

         Do Social Security's online appeal forms include an option for requesting interim benefits for claimants appealing termination of disability benefits? To the best of my knowledge, Social Security never got around to devising a paper form for this purpose, leaving field offices to improvise. I was wondering if this problem has continued over to online appeals.

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  • Delaware ALJs Draw Media Attention

    Delaware's federal legislators are asking the Social Security Administration to explain why disability cases heard by Dover judges are consistently denied at some of the highest rates in the country.
    The agency's administrative law judges in Dover have denied 57 percent of the cases they've heard since October, compared to a national average of 41 percent, statistics show. It was the fifth-highest denial rate among the agency's 170 hearing offices. ...


    Carol Moore, 57, of Bear, worked for more than 25 years as an administrative assistant before developing scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder, and Raynaud's phenomenon, a condition in which blood-vessel spasms block blood flow to the fingers, toes, ears and nose. Moore said she experiences swelling, joint pain and feelings of extreme cold. ...


    After she was initially denied benefits six years ago, Moore appealed, and her case was heard by Dover Administrative Law Judge Judith Showalter, who dismissed her claims, Moore said. Showalter has denied 72 percent of the cases she's heard since October, the 27th-highest rate among the nation's 1,123 Social Security judges.

    "She had no idea what the diseases were and didn't want to hear it," Moore said. "Nobody can stop her. She's not a doctor, but she can go beyond a doctor's diagnosis. How is one allowed to get away with that?"
    Showalter did not respond to a request seeking comment for this story.
         If you think that scleroderma is just some trivial skin disease, think again. Scleroderma is also known as Progressive Systemic Sclerosis. Sclerosis means hardening, so the name means progressive systemic hardening -- and we're talking not just about hardening of the skin but of internal organs, like the heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, etc.and we're talking about real hardness, the kind of hardness that would shut down one of these organs. That doesn't sound like some minor skin disease, does it? Scleroderma is a very serious rheumatic condition that is often fatal. I've represented a number of clients with scleroderma over the years. I don't think I've ever lost one of these cases. A 57 year old claimant with scleroderma gets denied by an ALJ? That raises both of my eyebrows.

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