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Apr 30, 2012

Electronic Medical Records For Wounded Warriors Press Release

     Social Security has sent out a press release touting a project to work with the Department of Defense to speed disability benefits to wounded warriors by increased efficiency in using electronic medical records.

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  • Law Review Article On Non-Attorney Representation At Social Security -- And Pay Attention To What's Coming In June

         Drew Swank has written an article for the Southern Illinois University Law Journal on non-attorney representation of claimants at the Social Security Administration and unauthorized practice of law. Swank argues that Social Security should require that non-attorneys who represent Social Security claimants be competent and that the agency should establish a code of ethics applicable to both attorneys and non-attorneys who represent claimants before the agency.
         By the way, a footnote indicates that the Administrative Law Review will publish another article by Swank in June to be titled "The Social Security Administration’s Condoning of and Colluding with Attorney Misconduct."

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  • Apr 29, 2012

    Takei Wants Social Security To Boldly Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

         Trek Today reports that former Star Trek actor George Takei, who has appeared alongside Patty Duke to support online filing of Social Security claims, has appeared at a rally to support legislation to require that Social Security recognize same-sex marriages. Currently, the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the Social Security Administration from recognizing same-sex marriages. (No, I don't ordinarily read Trek Today. Try Google Blog Seach. It's very useful.)

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  • Apr 28, 2012

    Is This A Good Idea?

         Disability Judges is a website that offers statistics on waiting times for each of Social Security's hearing offices, as well as reversal rates for each office and for each Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The site also offers the opportunity to file anonymous comments about each ALJ.

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  • New Hearing Office In Jersey City

         Social Security has opened a new hearing office in Jersey City, New Jersey. The office will have eight Administrative Law Judges and 40 support staff. Previously, Jersey City residents had their hearings in Manhattan.
         Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue is pictured here with the Jersey City mayor, ODAR head Glenn Sklar and Social Security Regional Commissioner Beatrice Disman

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  • Apr 27, 2012

    Child Disability Contractor Sought

         Social Security is seeking a contractor to do the following over a 36 month time period:
    • Examine how SSI [Supplemental Security Income] disability cash payments for children affect children and their families.
    • Compare national trends in diagnosing mental disorders (including, but not limited to, ADHD [Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder], autism, bipolar illness, depression, and learning disorders) and speech/language disorders in children to trends in the SSI disability program for children.
    • Investigate the use of prescription medications for children with mental disorders.
    • Identify whether the receipt of SSI payments creates an unintended culture of dependence, particularly among adolescent recipients.
    • Evaluate the effect of SSA's [Social Security Administration's] "treating source" rule.
         The request for proposals goes on to say that the contractor chosen will:
    • Examine and evaluate the rise in the number of children on SSI, and compare to the national diagnostic trends in children with mental disorders (including, but not limited to, ADHD, autism, bipolar illness, depression, learning disorders) and speech/language disorders.
    • Identify factors (such as national poverty levels, access to health care, destigmatizing mental illness, changes in special education programs) that correlate with, or cause a, rise in the number of children on SSI with mental disorders and speech/language disorders.
    • Identify the appropriate and effective treatment protocols for mental disorders and speech/language disorders in children, and determine to what extent the treatment for these disorders in SSI children is consistent with national treatment trends.
    • Identify which mental disorders and speech/language disorders are amenable to treatment and subject to improving with age.
    • Investigate the treatment of mental disorders for children on SSI.
    • Are medications prescribed improperly for this population?
    • Are physicians under pressure (explicit or implicit) to "help families make their case for" SSI payments?
    • Evaluate whether SSA's medical source/treating source rules leave the SSI disability program for children vulnerable to manipulation or abuse.
    • Evaluate to what extent, if any, the receipt of SSI cash payments creates a "culture of dependence" among children with disabilities and their families.
    • Determine the relationship, if any, between a child's receipt of SSI cash payments and future school and work success.
         And Social Security wants the contractor to:
    Organize outreach conferences with transcription services to provide a neutral ground for debate and analysis of emerging issues related to the evaluation of disability in children, such as the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and speech/language disorders, and assessment of functional limitations, identified during the contract's period of performance (as approved by SSA) to be held in the Baltimore or Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

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  • Pointless

         The New York Times has an editorial today calling for a "balanced mix of modest benefit cuts and moderate tax increases, phased in slowly" to protect the Social Security trust funds.

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  • Apr 26, 2012

    Oh Lord! Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

         From Reuters:
    It's rare to see a federal official publicly beg reporters to get a story right, but the commissioner of the Social Security Administration seemed ready to get down on his hands and knees at a Monday press briefing. Michael Astrue was cautioning journalists not to scare the public about the meaning of the word "exhaustion."

    "Please, please remember that exhaustion is an actuarial term of art and it does not mean there will be no money left to pay any benefits" he warned in issuing the trustees' annual report on the financial health of the Social Security program.
    "After 2033, even if Congress does nothing, there will still be sufficient assets (from payroll taxes) to pay about 75 percent of benefits. That's not acceptable, but it's still a fact that there will still be substantial assets there," Astrue insisted.

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  • Don't You Have To Know Something In Depth Before You Write A Book About It?

         The New York Times piece attacking the Social Security disability program was based upon the writings of David Autor of MIT. Dr. Autor can be heard speaking on a podcast of the Library of Economics and Liberty. Here are a few excerpts from the transcript of that podcast with my comments in brackets and bolded:
    Host: If you are disabled and you are not working, and you are getting this benefit, what if you work a little bit? Does the benefit go down, stay the same? Or are you not allowed to work at all because you are disabled?

    Autor: So, there is what is called a Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) threshold, which a couple of years ago was $1000/month. And essentially what it means is that if you earn more than SGA, you are in theory not disabled from the perspective of the Social Security Administration. They typically will reduce your benefits. You may lose your benefits for a month if you work above SGA. If you do it frequently, your benefits will be reviewed and you may lose access to the program. You can be viewed as having recovered. ... So, you have to basically be making money under the table. The thing is not by intention but the program creates a very strong incentive against meaningfully participating in the formal labor market. ... [It appears that Dr. Autor has never heard of the Trial Work Period, the Extended Period of Eligibility or Expedited Reinstatement, all of which are Social Security work incentives, not to mention Ticket to Work or the Vocational Rehabilitation exception to the medical improvement standard. Since his basic point is that there are serious disincentives to return to work, lack of knowledge of the work incentives that do exist is a major issue. There is no evidence that under the table employment by Social Security disability recipients is a significant problem.] ...

    Autor: So, the definition of disability used by the SSA [Social Security Administration] adopted by Congress in 1956 is one based on employment more than health. The substance of the definition is that you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity in the U.S. economy for a reason of health or disability. But what it really means is that you are not able to work; and you have to demonstrate to the SSA that you are unable to work; and the reason you are unable to work has to have something to do with your health. It could be your physical health or your mental health. So, it's a very elastic definition. For example, when the unemployment rate is high, there are very few jobs; you may be unable to work because the type of health limitation you have means that the type of job you would be able to do is not available at present. And that would qualify as a disability. ... [It appears that Dr. Autor has not read the part of the Social Security Act that says "An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if ... he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot ... engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work."]

    Autor: At present more than half of all awards are for mental disorders and musculoskeletal disorders. Mental disorders are things like nervous disorders, schizophrenia, and musculoskeletal disorders are basically back disorders.

    Host: Carpal tunnel.

    Guest: Yes. And those disorders are very difficult to verify. So, soft-tissue pain is difficult to prove or disprove; not observable. Obviously if you have a damaged disc in your back, that's observable. Soft tissue pain is not. ... [Musculoskeletal disorders are "basically back disorders?" I think that arthritis in the knees and broken bones and rheumatoid arthritis also qualify as musculoskeletal disorders. Damaged disks are easy to verify but schizophrenia isn't? Does Dr. Autor have any idea how ridiculous a statement that is medically? I'm pretty sure he wouldn't dismiss schizophrenia so quickly if he had any schizophrenics in his family or even in the families of any of his close friends.]

    Autor: Even if population health were holding constant, there ought to be fewer and fewer people who are effectively disabled because of course the types of jobs they need to do require less and less physical capability. So, it is indeed quite surprising from that perspective that we should see an epidemic of disability. ... [Autor entirely misses the point that as the physical demands of some types of employment have decreased, the cognitive demands of almost all types of employment have increased, causing more disability for individuals who have cognitive limitations or who suffer chronic mental illness.]

    Autor: ... And I believe it was 21 U.S. State Supreme Courts [who] ordered their Social Security Field Offices to stop complying with the continuing disability review process [in the early 1980s when Social Security has terminating the disability benefits of huge numbers of people]... [This is seriously fractured history. State governors ordered Disability Determination Services (DDS's) to stop doing continuing disability reviews for Social Security. A young Arkansas governor by the name of Bill Clinton was the first to do this. This was how he first drew national attention. But I digress. The DDS's are state agencies doing work under contract with Social Security. The state Supreme Courts ordered nothing. No part of any state government ordered Social Security field offices to do anything. If they had, the field offices would have ignored them. To think that State Supreme Courts could order Social Security field offices to do or not to do something is to misunderstand a fundamental principle of constitutional law, the sort of thing that I think that someone with a Ph.D. in public policy should know.]
          I understand that Autor was speaking off the cuff, but come on! There's every appearance that there are serious gaps in Autor's knowledge that go to the core of what he's talking about. Not what you would expect from an MIT economist.

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  • Apr 25, 2012

    We Need More Work Incentives!

         Eduardo Porter has a piece in the Business section of the New York Times under the title of Disability Insurance Causes Pain. Here are a few phrases and sentences to give you an idea of what the piece is about:
    • Disability insurance takes too many workers out of the job market prematurely ... slows economic growth ...
    • Some of its growth reflects changes in the population: we are growing older and becoming fragile with age. Similarly, disability rates among women [are rising because they are a larger part of the work force] ...But these factors account for only a small share of the growing cost. 
    • “The health of nonelderly Americans is improving consistently, and we have more technology to help people at work,” observed Mark Duggan, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
    • [B]reakneck growth in the disability program ...
    • [D]isability becomes an attractive alternative for unemployed people ...
    • The disability insurance program was meant for another era, in the late 1950s when working conditions were tougher and disabilities were expected to put an end to someone’s working life.
    • In the mid-1980s, however, Congress softened the criteria. ... required to give more weight to subjective factors like pain ... opened the door for applicants who reported mental ailments like anxiety, or back pain and other muscular problems ...
    • Collecting disability became even easier as rejected applicants were allowed to appeal before an administrative judge without anyone from Social Security present to defend its decision. 
    • [T]he disability program suffers from artificial woes that can be corrected. Fixing the system requires providing incentives to enable disabled workers to continue working if they can.
         Let me list the work incentives already present in the Social Security Act and regulations:
    • Work Not Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)
    • Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA)
    • Impairment Related Work Expenses (IRWE)
    • Trial Work Period (TWP)
    • Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)
    • Expedited Reinstatement (EXR)
         All we need is just one more work incentive program and those folks will be flying off the disability rolls and back to work. That's the bill of goods that people keep trying to sell. I think you can tell how well this works by the fact that Mr. Porter wants another work incentive program despite the number of work incentives that already exist. I think it's reasonable to surmise that Mr. Porter has no idea of the work incentives that already exist.
         By the way, I notice that pain always seems subjective and meaningless when it's someone else's pain. When it's your pain, it's very real and very meaningful.

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  • Apr 24, 2012

    Price Competition

         The Angell Law Group is offering representation on Social Security disability claims for a fee capped at $3,000. The cap set by the Social Security Administration is $6,000. They claim a 98% success rate, suggesting that their strategy is intensive cherry-picking. If you only take the most gold-plated cases, you have to do little work to earn your fee.
          Update: One sharp-eyed reader noticed that the fine print shows that the Angell Law Group is not offering representation at hearings.Further update: The sharp-eyed reader now acknowledges that the really fine print says that Angell will send someone to the hearing.

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  • Apr 23, 2012

    Trustees Report

         From a Social Security press release:
    The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds.  The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds will be exhausted in 2033, three years sooner than projected last year.  The DI Trust Fund will be exhausted in 2016, two years earlier than last year’s estimate.  The Trustees also project that OASDI program costs will exceed non-interest income in 2012 and will remain higher throughout the remainder of the 75-year period.
    In the 2012 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced:
    • The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2033 – three years sooner than projected last year.  At that time, there will be sufficient non-interest income coming in to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits.
    • The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.67 percent of taxable payroll -- 0.44 percentage point larger than in last year’s report.
    • Over the 75-year period, the Trust Funds would require additional revenue equivalent to $8.6 trillion in present value dollars to pay all scheduled benefits.
         The actual report isn't available online at this point but is supposed to be here later. The press release makes no mention of the disability trust fund. The status of that fund is of much more immediate importance than the status of the retirement trust fund.

         Update: The report projects that the Disability Trust Fund will be exhausted in 2016, the same as last year's projection.
     
         Here's some headlines R.J. Eskow says you will NOT see, but should, in reporting on this:
    • "Social Security Trust Fund Even Larger Than It Was Last Year"
    • "Growing Wealth Inequity Will Lead to Social Security Imbalance Later This Century"
    • "For-Profit Healthcare Poses Threat to Medicare, Federal Deficit, and Overall Economy in Coming Decades"
    • "Public Consensus Grows For Taxing Wealthy to Restore Long-Term Entitlement Imbalance"

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  • A Lot Of People Don't Know What They're Talking About

         You can read comments on this board from those who want to remove discretion from disability determination, to require that decision-makers follow only the statutes and regulations so that disability decisions are accurate and predictable. Who could argue with that? 
         Me. I'll argue with it because it's nonsense. When you practice law for more than 35 years you acquire some wisdom. The wisdom sounds a lot like cynicism. Maybe it is cynicism but it's useful than naivete. So, here goes. The determination of disability includes the assessment of pain and mental illness among others things. Have you seen a machine at your doctor's office that measures the amount of pain you're suffering? Of course you haven't. I don't thing you ever will. Do you think that psychiatrists have some reliable test for determining the severity of depression or the frequency of hallucinations and delusions in schizophrenia? Of course not. Physicians assess these symptoms by talking with their patients. They make judgments based upon what they hear and whatever other evidence is available but their judgments are inevitably affected by their social and political views and, yes, their prejudices. It cannot be otherwise because physicians are human.
         Decision-makers at Social Security are also human and they're also assessing pain and mental illness and many other things that cannot be measured, such as fatigue. In situations where there is no clear-cut right or wrong answer they are subject to the same petty influences that affect the rest of us wretched mortals. There is nothing that Congress or Social Security can do to change this because we cannot make humankind different. The bottom line is that there is no gold standard for disability determination and there never will be. We have to accept this.
         You think that disability determination at the initial or reconsideration levels is 95% or more accurate as Social Security claims? Social Security's accuracy rates are ridiculous. They have no gold standard to compare these decisions to. You want proof? Let me show you re-recon, also known as "informal remands." In re-recon, Social Security takes disability claims that have just been denied at the reconsideration (or recon) level, where decisions are supposed to be at least 95% accurate, and sends them back through the same process but with different examiners. Wouldn't you expect this to be pointless? The result would have to be the same almost every time, right? Wrong. I haven't seen the numbers but a very significant percentage of claims that were 95% accurately denied before are 95% accurately allowed on the same evidence by another disability examiner. I know. The cases sent to re-recon are selected based upon some formula designed to find cases that are likely to be reversed -- basically cases of claimants 55 or older or cases involving mental illness -- but that changes nothing. If the determinations were anything like 95% accurate or even consistent, re-recon would be pointless. It isn't because the 95% numbers are ridiculous.
         I'm not sure this completely supports my point but one of the embarrassing problems that caused Social Security to ban claimants filing an appeal as well as a new claim after an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decision was that the new claims were frequently approved at the initial level, based upon the same evidence that had previously gotten the claimant denied at the initial and reconsideration levels as well as by an ALJ. In my office, it was happening almost 30% of the time.
         We cannot compare Administrative Law Judges individually or collectively to any particular standard and say that they are good or bad. The notion that disability determination can be completely consistent if decision-makers could be made to follow only the law and regulations is nothing more than naivete.
         I think we can try to reduce subjectivity and encourage consistency in disability determination by modest means but even those will be controversial. Anyone who thinks that there is some magic scheme that will make things dramatically better does not know what he or she is talking about.

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  • Apr 22, 2012

    Early Claiming Declines

         The Financial Security Project at Boston College reports that the share of Americans claiming Social Security retirement benefits at the early retirement age of 62 has been going down. Why?

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  • Apr 21, 2012

    NASI Wants To Phase Out Reduction In FICA Tax Over 11 Years

         The F.I.C.A. tax that supports the Social Security Trust Funds has been temporarily reduced by 2% because of the recession. The difference is being made up out of general revenues. The 2% reduction is set to end at the end of this calendar year. The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) is promoting a plan to phase out the 2% reduction over 11 years.
         Eleven years!!?? I hope the recession that brought about this reduction is over long before then.

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  • Apr 20, 2012

    In Case You Were Wondering

         From a press item prepared by the Social Security Administration:
    Q: How many Social Security numbers have been issued since the program started?
    A: Since 1935, we have assigned more than 465 million Social Security numbers and each year we assign about 5.5 million new numbers. With approximately 1 billion combinations of the 9-digit Social Security number, the current system will provide us with enough new numbers for several generations into the future. To learn more about Social Security numbers and cards, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10002.html.

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  • More ALJs Coming

         Apparently, Social Security is hiring more Administrative Law Judges at the moment.

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  • Apr 19, 2012

    Mostly Off-Topic But Still Interesting

    From the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College:
    • When economic times are good, deaths in the United States increase.
    • Previous research suggests that a likely culprit is poorer health habits tied to greater job demands.
    • However, the increase in mortality is largely driven by deaths among elderly women in nursing homes.
    • These nursing home deaths may reflect increased shortages of caregivers during economic expansions.

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  • Apr 18, 2012

    Social Security For Dummies

         The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is endorsing a new book, Social Security for Dummies, written by Jonathan Peterson, an AARP employee, and published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc. The book is currently #371 on the Amazon best-seller list.

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  • Apr 17, 2012

    Officials Fight To Keep Social Security Office Open

         From WIBX:
    After the Social Security Administration office in Rome [NY] announced plans to close and relocate to Utica, several high ranking officials teamed up to stop it from happening.Rome Mayor Joe Fusco, Senator Chuck Schumer, Congressman Richard Hanna, State Senator Joe Griffo and Assemblymen Anthony Brindisi, all say they joined forces to help area seniors maintain their access to critical benefits. ...

    The officials were able to reach an agreement to keep the office open for the next three months. During that time a pilot program will be implemented to measure the cost benefit of keeping the office open indefinitely. Schumer says he’s also asking the Social Security Administration for its economic justification for wanting to close shop and relocate. ...
    For the next three months, the office will be open one day a week until a final agreement is reached.

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  • Apr 16, 2012

    Chief ALJ Bans Mandatory Prehearing Orders

    And for those of you who cannot access Scribd, read it here.
    CALJ Memo on Prehearing Orders
         When I post a document using Scribd, I usually get messages indicating that access to Scribd is blocked for those accessing the internet through Social Security's domain. For those of you accessing this at work at Social Security, are you able to see the document above at all or is the problem just with going further by going to Scribd itself or trying to download the document? I can't tell how serious the problem is since I'm not on Social Security's network. I don't know why access to Scribd would be blocked. Scribd isn't aspiring to be Wikileaks. It's just a useful service.

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  • On A Collision Course

         The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of the disability examiners who make determinations on disability claims for Social Security at the initial and reconsideration levels, has issued its Spring 2012 newsletter. Here's an excerpt from a summary of a meeting between the NADE Board and several Social Security officials:
    SSA [Social Security Administration and the DDS [Disability Determination Services] can expect a continued decrease in the national budget.  All departments, including SSA, are facing an across the board funding cut of nine percent (9%) next fiscal year barring a legislative change in the law.  The projections is that close to 3,000 DDS employees have been lost since Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 to attrition with only the ability to hire 200 critically needed employees nationwide. The loss of each examiner equates to a loss of work on 600 claims. ...  Last FY the DDS had 59,000 staged claims awaiting assignment [to a disability examiner]. Currently there are 106,000 staged claims and SSA anticipates there will be 170,000 staged claims by the end of this fiscal year [September 30, 2012]. The Continuing Disability Review (CDR) workload has been set at 435,000 for FY 2012 with the potential for a dramatic increase for CDRs next fiscal year, depending upon the  budget.
          Note the inherent conflict between doing Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs) to determine whether claimants are still disabled and doing reviews of new disability claims. Congress has ordered that there be great increases in the number of CDRs at a time when the agency is not being given enough funds to review new disability claims. Inevitably, this creates a large and constantly increasing backlog of new claims awaiting adjudication. This conflict may become dramatically worse next year because Social Security may be forced to do dramatically more CDRs next year with a dramatically lower appropriation.

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  • Apr 15, 2012

    Fee Payment Numbers

         Below are updated numbers on payments of fees to attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants. These payments come out of the back benefits of the claimants. Since the attorneys get paid at the same time as the claimants, this is an indication of how quickly or how slowly Social Security is able to get benefit payments out to claimants after they have been approved. Note the dramatic change between January and February.

    Fee Payments

    Month/Year Volume Amount
    Jan-12
    29,926
    89,749,312.99
    Feb-12
    43,946
    134,207,416.10
    Mar-12
    47,376
    139,571,577.57

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  • Apr 14, 2012

    $200?

         From KPBS:
    A National City [California] psychologist was arrested and charged today on suspicion of completing and selling immigration and Social Security forms falsely stating that his patients had a medical disability. 

    Dr. Roberto J. Velasquez, 55, was charged with making false statements in immigration documents and applications for Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. ...


    For a fee of $200, Velasquez would provide a form falsely stating that a person qualified for a medical disability exception, even though the person had no actual disability, according to the affidavit. 

    Velasquez was also completing medical reports for people seeking to file applications for Social Security Administration's Supplemental Security Income program, authorities said. Velasquez would falsely state that those people had a medical disability, according to the affidavit.
          I've been representing Social Security disability claimants for more than 30 years and this is the first time I've heard of this happening. I expect it's happened but it's certainly uncommon.  It's not hard to understand why it's rare. Note that the psychologist is alleged to have charged only $200. That's not much money to get in return for prostituting yourself as well as risking jail and the loss of your professional license but that's about all you could hope to get for doing this because the claimants involved are so poor. You'd have to be pretty desperate or depraved or stupid to do it.

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  • Apr 13, 2012

    Rate Of Retirment And Disability Claims Drops In 2011

         From the Urban Institute:
    After peaking in the wake of the Great Recession, Social Security retirement and disability awards fell in 2011 as the economy improved. Only 27 percent of Americans age 62 and older began collecting retirement benefits that year, the lowest take-up rate since 1976. Disability applications and awards remained unusually high, however. In 2011, 18.9 insured workers per 1,000 applied for Social Security disability benefits, more than in any year except 2010.
         Below are a couple of charts from the report

    :

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  • Apr 12, 2012

    Tell Me About Sharepoint

         I notice that this blog gets some hits from Social Security's Intranet Sharepoint platform. Sharepoint is collaborative software which can be used either on an Intranet or over the Internet with password access. Sharepoint looks like it might be useful software for many organizations. How widespread is access to Sharepoint within Social Security? Does everyone have access to the whole thing or are there layers of access? How well does it work? Does most people like participating? How hard is it to set up a new collaborative effort within Sharepoint? Do you think it would be useful software for a professional group?
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  • One Little Thing Not Mentioned In Yesterday's Press Release

         In addition to partially duplicating and to some extent contradicting Social Security's Listing of Impairments, the additions to the Compassionate Allowance list announced yesterday won't even be effective until August 13, 2012, a point that was not mentioned in the press release. What was the point of announcing a policy that won't even be in effect for more than three months?
         Once Social Security gets a new Commissioner next year this whole compassionate allowance thing needs to get folded into the Listings. That's what the Listings are for. If the Listings were inadequate, they should have been amended. There was no need to add another layer on top of the Listings. It's just confusing to those who have to administer the program.

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  • Apr 11, 2012

    Additions To Compassionate Allowances

         Social Security has sent out a press release announcing that 52 conditions have been added to the agency's Compassionate Allowance list. Several of the conditions listed are already in Social Security's Listings of Impairments, often with restrictions not included in this list, meaning that this list to some extent contradicts Social Security's regulations! I have not done an exhaustive survey. I expect there are others where an item on this list is included in the Listings but under a more general description. I believe that hepatoblastoma might be an example since all tumors of the liver meet Listing 13.19. Also, if I remember correctly, tabes dorsalis used to be in the Listings but was removed. Here are the newly added conditions with my notation in bold of the ones where there is a Listing:
    • Aicardi-Goutieres Syndrome
    • Alobar Holoprosencephaly 
    • Alpers Disease
    • Alpha Mannosidosis
    • Carcinoma of Unknown Primary Site Listing 13.27
    • Cerebrotendinous Xanthomatosis
    • Child Neuroblastoma Listing 113.21
    • Child Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Listing 113.05
    • Chondrosarcoma with multimodal therapy
    • Cornelia de Lange Syndrome-Classic Form
    • Ewings Sarcoma 
    • Follicular Dendritic Cell Sarcoma with metastases
    • Fucosidosis - Type 1
    • Galactosialidosis - Early Infantile Type
    • Glioma Grade III and IV
    • Hallervorden-Spatz Disease
    • Hepatoblastoma
    • Histiocytosis
    • Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome
    • Hydranencephaly
    • Hypocomplementemic Urticarial Vasculitis
    • Hypophosphatasia Perinatal lethal Form
    • I Cell disease
    • Infantile Free Sialic Acid Storage Disease
    • Juvenile Onset Huntington Disease
    • Kufs Disease Type A and B
    • Lissencephaly
    • Lymphomatoid Granulomatosis Grade III 
    • Malignant Brain Stem Gliomas - Childhood
    • Malignant Melanoma with metastases Listing 13.03
    • Mastocytosis Type IV
    • Medulloblastoma with metastasis
    • Merkel Cell Carcinoma with metastases
    • Myocolonic Epilepsy and Ragged Red Fibers Syndrome
    • Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis Obliterative Bronchiolitis 
    • Ohtahara Syndrome
    • Orthochromatic Leukodystrophy with Pigmented Glia
    • Pearson Syndrome
    • Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease-Classic Form
    • Pelizaeus-Merzbacher Disease-Connatal Form
    • Peripheral Nerve Cancer - metastatic or recurrent Listing 13.13.B
    • Perry  Syndrome 
    • Rhabdomyosarcoma 
    • Rhizomelic Chondrodysplasia Punctata
    • Schindler Disease Type 1
    • Smith Lemli Opitz Syndrome
    • Spinal Nerve Root Cancer- metastatic or recurrent
    • Stiff Person Syndrome
    • Tabes Dorsalis
    • Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome
    • Xeroderma Pigmentosum Listings 8.07 and 108.07

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  • Office Closures In Georgia

    From the Moultrie, Georgia Observer:
    With the Moultrie Social Security office on the budget chopping block, officials are hoping a way (sic) to find a way to prevent the closure scheduled for the end of June.

    The agency said this week that the closing was based on a review of the office, significant budget shortfalls and other service options available to residents. The move is anticipated to save $2.1 million over 10 years.

    In Georgia the Social Security Administration also closed its Swainsboro office in December, Patti Patterson, regional communications director in Atlanta, said in an email response. So far the agency has closed eight offices nationally with expected savings of $2 million annually.

    The 2012 closings all are of offices that employ less than 11 and serve less than 80 visitors a day, Patterson said. Moultrie’s office has 11 employees and serves about 60 people per day. Those employees will be offered employment in other nearby offices.

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  • Service Limitations Shock Senator

         Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii says he is "shocked" by the limited service that the Social Security Administration is offering in West Hawaii, which receives a visit from two Social Security employees once a month. On their last visit 80 people were lined up outside the door before the satellite office opened. Only 20 were allowed in at a time.

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  • Apr 10, 2012

    Is Social Security Privatization Unconstitutional?

         I cannot find a link but the April issue of The New Yorker includes an interesting letter to the editor from Bruce Brown, former law clerk to Chief Justice Warren Burger. He was writing in response to a Jeffrey Toobin piece in the New Yorker on the oral argument of the health care case at the Supreme Court. Brown wrote that there is an argument out there that if the individual mandate requiring purchase of health care insurance is unconstitutional that any plan to "reform" Social Security which contains a mandatory contribution to an investment owned by the contributor may also be unconstitutional. A mandatory contribution seems to be an integral part of all the Social Security "reform" plans proposed by the right.

         Update: One right wing proponent of privatization, Andrew Biggs, seems to concede that if the health care mandate is unconstitutional that Social Security privatization would be even more unconstitutional since Social Security privatization could not be justified under the Constitution's commerce clause. What Biggs openly wants, however, is for the courts to find all of Social Security unconstitutional. Right wing schemes to "reform" Social Security are all aimed at undermining and ultimately destroying Social Security.

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  • Apr 9, 2012

    The Attacks On Social Security Never Let Up

         Sylvester Schieber, who was George W. Bush's appointee as Chairman of the Social Security Advisory Board, has a new book out, The Predictable Surprise: The Unraveling of the U.S. Retirement System. Predictably, the book is hostile to Social Security. Here are some excerpts from Robert J. Samuelson's review in the Washington Post:
    [Social Security] has become what was then [the 1930s] called “the dole” and is now known as “welfare.” This forgotten history clarifies why America’s budget problems are so intractable. ...
    What we have is a vast welfare program grafted onto the rhetoric and psychology of a contributory pension. The result is entitlement. ...
    By all rights, we should ask: Who among the elderly need benefits? How much? At what age? If Social Security and Medicare were considered “welfare” — something the nation does for its collective good — these questions would be easier. We would tailor programs to meet national needs. But entitlements are viewed as a higher-order moral claim, owed individuals based on past performance. So a huge part of government spending moves off-limits to intelligent discussion.
          We once had a broad consensus on Social Security. People like Schieber have been paid to disrupt that consensus. Those who support the continued existence of Social Security need to understand that there is a group of well-paid "experts" based in Washington whose job is to undermine Social Security. They are funded by right-wing enemies of Social Security. Schieber is one of this group. They produce books, blog posts, op ed pieces and studies. They are always available to speak on television and at conferences. They get appointed by Republicans to be on prestigious commissions and boards. They pose as scholars but they are just polemicists.
         Samuelson's fawning review has already drawn a response from Jared Bernstein.

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  • Apr 8, 2012

    Happy Easter

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  • Apr 7, 2012

    A Warm, Fuzzy Easter Story

    From the Battle Creek Enquirer:
    The pastor of a Foxborough, Mass., church has been charged with attempting to scam four elderly people out of their Social Security checks by telling them they were lottery winners.
    One of the victims is Margaret Swartz, 84, of Athens.

    “He called me in March and told me I had won a bunch of money,” she said today, while in the midst of coloring Easter eggs.

    She told him she only deserved money she earned.

    “He said the government gives out money to people with a very good work record and I fell for it.”

    The pastor told Swartz he needed her Social Security number. ...
    Ranulfo Luther Raposo of the Seventh-day Adventist Church pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges including attempted larceny and identity fraud. He was granted $5,000 bail.Police say all the alleged victims are in their 70s and 80s, live in Michigan, New Mexico and Arkansas, and are unconnected with the church.

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  • Is He Getting The Right Explanation? Sounds To Me Like He's A Fraud Victim.

    From WCAX:
    There are almost 144,000 people in Vermont who receive Social Security benefits. And that system is going paperless by March 1, 2012. The administration says it will save the country's taxpayers about $44 million. But the change is coming with some headaches.
    Harold Nadeau contracted polio when he was 4.
    "From then on I've been paraplegic," he said.
    Once Nadeau couldn't work anymore he applied for disability Social Security benefits. He's been getting that money directly deposited in his account for over 10 years now. But recently he noticed something was off.
    "I went online to make my monthly payments and when I opened my account it was empty," Nadeau said.
    His monthly payment never arrived. So he called the Social Security office in Montpelier.
    "They were baffled," he said. "They had no idea what happened or why."
    But Nadeau finally got his answer from the Vermont Social Security office. Turns out his money was sent to him in the mail on a Direct Express Card. It's part of Social Security's effort to go paperless. The card works and looks like a debit card and your monthly payment gets refilled. But Nadeau never was told he'd be receiving the card. And it wasn't clear when he did that it was from Social Security. ...
    "If you don't respond to this letter then you'll be enrolled automatically into this debit card system," Sarah Launderville said.
    Launderville works for the Vermont Center for Independent Living or VCIL. The nonprofit got several calls recently from people who also did not receive their monthly payments, like Nadeau.

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  • Apr 6, 2012

    Will This Work?

         The Commissioner has sent out a letter warning medical providers that Social Security is switching to electronic signatures for claims filed online. Will medical providers accept electronic signatures?

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  • Apr 5, 2012

    OIG Report On NHCs -- And Read To The End For News On Remands And Possibility Of NHC ALJs Traveling

         From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) on the agency's National Hearing Centers (NHCs):
    During FYs [Fiscal Years] 2010 and 2011, ODAR’s [Office of Disability Adjudication and Review] 5 NHCs processed more than 56,000 hearings to assist backlogged hearing offices with older cases. The Chicago Region transferred the highest number of cases during this period, about 50 percent of all cases the NHCs received. These transfers allowed the Chicago Region to address case backlogs while new hearing offices were being constructed to permanently address workload needs. We found the ALJs [Administrative Law Judges] working in the NHCs had a higher than average disposition rate that may have related to such factors as (1) a higher decision writer-to-ALJ ratio, (2) how attorneys are supervised, (3) the lack of travel to remote sites, (4) useful pre-hearing briefs, and (5) the processing of NHC remands at the hearing office level. However, the NHCs identified a number of challenges that may limit the effectiveness of the NHC model, including (1) availability of video capacity, (2) difficulties scheduling experts, and (3) claimants declining video hearings. The assisted hearing offices we contacted stated case transfers to the NHCs led to fewer pending cases and improved processing times. The hearing offices also had a few concerns, including their processing of NHC remands as well as the extra work related to declined video hearings.
         The OIG report does not try to evaluate the NHCs versus their alternative, which would have been adding ALJs to traditional hearing offices where office space was available and using the excess capacity to help out backlogged offices.
         Also of interest is a statement that Social Security is considering having NHC ALJs travel to hearing sites to hold hearings for claimants who decline video hearings. I suppose that Social Security may be re-evaluating this since they are no longer advising claimants of which ALJ will hold the hearing. There is also a statement that since January 3, 2012 remands from a NHC ALJ decision will be sent back to the NHC ALJ rather than being assigned to an ALJ at the ODAR office with jurisdiction over the area.
         By the way, Social Security doesn't even know how many claimants are declining video hearings with NHC ALJs. From what I hear from other attorneys, I think that number has gone up dramatically since Social Security started withholding the identity of the ALJ until the day of the hearing.

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  • Apr 4, 2012

    It Happens Almost Every Month

         Almost every month payments of attorney fees for representing Social Security claimants come to a near complete halt in the last week of the month and then immediately resume with a bang on the first business day of the next month. This pattern is most noticeable if you receive fees by direct deposit as I do. It's not just me who has seen this pattern. Other attorneys I know have commented on it. This has been going on for more than a year.
         Does anyone know what's going on? My guess is that this pattern is not coming from Social Security but from the Department of the Treasury which actually issues the checks and direct deposits. My guess is that it has to do with cash and debt management and probably affects a wide range of payments made by the federal government but I don't know.

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  • Apr 3, 2012

    I Want Your Filthy Lucre!

         I've created a Cafepress shop  to sell Social Security themed merchandise. Mostly, this is Social Security Administration logo items such as caps, T--shirts and mugs but also some items with Social Security images. Eighty-six items are available for sale.
     

         In case you're wondering, all of the images on these items are in the public domain. If you've visited D.C., you've seen vendors on the streets selling items such as these with the logos of the FBI and CIA and the Presidential seal, for instance. 

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