Dec 31, 2015

Workers Comp Offset Change

     From a notice that Social Security is posting in the Federal Register on Monday:
We propose to amend our regulations to incorporate changes made by the ABLE Act to section 224(a) of the Social Security Act. The ABLE Act amends section 224(a) by changing the age at which disability insurance benefits (DIB) are no longer subject to reduction (offset) based on receipt of workers’ compensation or public disability benefits (WC/PDB), from age 65 to the day the individual attains full retirement age. This change will make our rules consistent with the provisions of the Act, as amended by the ABLE Act

Dec 30, 2015

A Popular Topic

     It's interesting to me that a post I made four and a half years ago continues to attract attention and comments. It received more hits this year than anything I posted this year! My contribution was small. I only quoted from a fact sheet prepared by others. It didn't have what I think of as a catchy title but it keeps attracting more attention and comment than anything else I've posted. The blog post was "SSI Is Not Enough To Live On." It still isn't enough to live on.

Dec 29, 2015

Colvin Gets Personal

     Carolyn Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, has written an unusually personal piece for Social Security Matters, the agency's blog. She talks of the impact of Social Security on her own family -- her brother's disability, her mother's last years and the death of her son at age 34.

Dec 28, 2015

Field Office Employee Disgusted

     One Social Security employee is disgusted by the working conditions at her field office.

Dec 23, 2015

Stay Safe

     I've heard that Social Security's Program Service Center in Birmingham, AL has just closed due to the threat of tornadoes. That's a big facility with, I'd guess, hundreds of employees.

Don't Jump!


An Idea For Improving Retirement Savings

     From an Op Ed by Dean Baker in the Los Angeles Times:
The vast majority of Americans who expect to retire in the next decade can count on little income other than their Social Security. This is true not only for low-income workers, who have struggled most of their lives, but also for millions of middle-income workers. ... Many if not most can expect to see sharp reductions in living standards.
The reason for such bleak retirement prospects is the disappearance of traditional defined benefit pensions and the failure of 401(k)-type plans to fill the gap. A recent analysis by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that, in 2011, only 14% of private-sector employees participated in a defined benefit pension plan. The participation rate has been falling quite rapidly ...
Although many people were hopeful that 401(k)s would be sufficient to support a comfortable day-to-day retirement, this has proved not to be the case. In 2013, the middle fifth of households of people ages 45 to 54 had less than $60,000 in total financial assets. And most homeowners in this age group still had less than 40% equity in their homes, meaning they could look forward to paying off a mortgage well into their retirement.
In response to this situation, Illinois is developing a state-run retirement program that will make it easier and cheaper for workers to save. Many other states, including California, are studying this option. ...
Workers would have a modest amount (around 2% to 3%) deducted from each paycheck, although they could opt out if they chose. The money would then accumulate like a 401(k) during a person's working years, with the option to receive a lump sum or draw a monthly payment at retirement. ...
[P]articipation would be the default option. There is now a considerable body of research showing that workers will contribute to their retirement if they're automatically enrolled, but won't contribute otherwise. ...
[A] publicly run plan would have far lower costs than many privately run alternatives. The administrative fees for a plan in a large state such as California would almost certainly be under 0.5% of the annual holdings. By contrast, private plans can easily charge 1.5% or more. ...

Merry Christmas


Dec 18, 2015

Social Security Seeking Information On Moving Its Data Operations To The Cloud

     Huge sums of money were spent in recent years building two computer centers for the Social Security Administration, a National Computer Center in the Baltimore area and a backup computing center near me in North Carolina. It now looks like this money was wasted. The agency just issued a request for information on moving its data operations to the cloud. At the rate things are going, the National Computer Center may never even be used. Great planning.

Merry Christmas


Dec 17, 2015

Does It Cost This Much To Renovate An Office Building?

     Congress is about to appropriate $150 million to renovate Social Security's Altmeyer Building. The agency had not requested any money for this purpose. I had earlier asked how many square feet there are in the Altmeyer Building. A reader was kind enough to find the answer to my question -- 213,716 square feet. If you divide $250 million by 213,716 you find out that the appropriation would work out to be $701.87 per square foot. 
     Let's try to get some scale on this.  Imagine if you bought an old 2,000 square foot home that needed renovations -- just renovations, not an addition. If you spent $701.87 per square foot doing renovations on that old home you'd end up spending $1.4 million. Does that sound plausible? Office renovations are, of course, different than home renovations but do you really think that renovating Altmeyer will cost $150 million? Even if it does cost $150 million, does Congress have to appropriate all the money now? Such a big project is going to take more than a year. I'd guess that the agency doesn't even have a comprehensive plan to renovate the building. Could construction even begin during the current fiscal year? Wouldn't it be better to appropriate some money to come up with a plan and then appropriate money for construction once you have a better idea what it will cost? Aren't you inviting waste by appropriating a ton of money when you don't know exactly what the agency is going to do with the money? That $150 million would really help the agency deal with its backlogs.

Let Me Put This In Terms People Can Understand

     The whole appropriations process is confusing. You may wonder whether it matters. Let me put it in terms that people can understand. Social Security's plan to start working down its hearing backlog by hiring more ALJs probably went up in smoke. There's no money to increase the number of ALJs without cutting something else. The agency's plan to reduce the hearing backlog with senior attorney and re-recon decisions probably went up in smoke also. They needed to hire more people and use more overtime for this. The money's not there. Improving service at the field offices in any significant way? No money for that. Improving computer systems? No money for that.
     By contrast, the National Institutes of Health got a near 7% increase in its budget. I'm sure that's money well spent but the money would have been well spent at Social Security also.

Starting At Page 999

     There is an appropriations agreement in Congress. It appears that it is likely to pass. Below are quotes from the parts of the 2,009 page Consolidiated Appropriations Act of 2016 that concern the Social Security Administration. If you want to study the bill yourself, the Social Security parts start on page 999.
  • For necessary expenses ... not more than $10,598,945,000 [$10.6 billion] may be expended
  •  [N]ot less than $2,300,000 shall be for the Social Security Advisory Board
  • $116,000,000 may be used for the costs associated with conducting continuing disability reviews under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act and conducting redeterminations of eligibility under title XVI of the Social Security Act.
  • $150,000,000, to remain available until expended, shall be for necessary expenses for the renovation and modernization of the Arthur J. Altmeyer Building
  • In addition, for the costs associated with continuing disability reviews under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act and for the cost associated with conducting redeterminations of eligibility under title XVI of the Social Security Act, $1,426,000,000 [$1.4 billion] may be expended ...  Provided, That, of such amount, $273,000,000 is provided to meet the terms of section 251(b)(2)(B)(ii)(III) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended, and $1,153,000,000 is additional new budget authority specified for purposes of section 251(b)(2)(B) of such Act.
  • For expenses necessary for the Office of Inspector General in carrying out the provisions of the Inspector General Act of 1978, $29,787,000, together with not to exceed $75,713,000, to be transferred and expended as authorized by section 201(g)(1) of the Social Security Act from the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund. In addition, an amount not to exceed 3 percent of the total provided in this appropriation may be transferred from the ‘‘Limitation on Administrative Expenses’’, Social Security Administration, to be merged with this account, to be available for the time and purposes for which this account is available
     If I'm understanding this correctly (and the numbers are reported in a confusing fashion), the total amount for Social Security is $10.6 billion plus $116 million for continuing disability reviews (CDRs) and SSI income and resources redeterminations plus $1.4 billion also for CDRs and SSI redeterminations plus $30 million for the Office of Inspector General for a total of $12.1 billion. I'm not considering the $150 million for the Altmeyer Building renovations since that may not even be expended in this fiscal year). By way of contract the total appropriation for Fiscal Year 2015 (which ended on September 30, 2015) was $12 billion. If I'm understanding correctly, Social Security is being treated quite badly by the appropriations bill. There's almost no increase in the appropriation. $150 million was drained off for office building renovations even though the agency wasn't seeking the renovations.
     By the way, does anyone know how many square feet there are in the Altmeyer building. $150 million is a lot of money for building renovations.

Merry Christmas


Dec 16, 2015

$150 Million In Budget For Altmeyer Building Renovations

     From the Baltimore Sun:
The $1.1 trillion spending bill unveiled by congressional leaders early Wednesday morning includes ... $150 million for renovations at the Social Security Administration's headquarters at Woodlawn. ...
The Social Security Administration would receive $150 million for renovations to its 1950's-era Altmeyer Building in Baltimore County. The 10-story building requires "major upgrades" to address health and safety concerns, according to [Senator Barbara] Mikulski's office. The renovation would also allow an additional 350 staff to work from the building. ...
     I've never been in the Altmeyer Building. It may be in urgent need of renovations. I do know that $150 million for building renovations is probably $150 million less for agency operations. That means fewer new employees, less overtime and less money spent on upgraded software. I know that politicians love to spend money on construction projects. The jobs gained, while temporary, are highly visible and concentrated in one location instead of spread out over the country. Money spent on operations isn't glamorous but it's often more important. I hope this $150 million is well spent.

Merry Christmas


Dec 15, 2015

Merry Christmas From A Social Security Field Office

     Here's an message to me from a legal assistant at my firm: "TC [Telephone Call] _____ DO [District Office]. She said they have 60 days to get the clt in pay after it gets to their office and it has not hit the 60 day mark yet. So they have not began to process SSI." The legal assistant had called about a client whose Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim had been approved on November 5. Generally, these benefits are paid within a month after a favorable decision. They certainly should be. 
     I'm not blaming the field office too much. We've seen other signs that field offices are now having more trouble than usual keeping up. My guess is that things are worse now due of a lack of overtime because the agency is operating on a continuing funding resolution rather than a real appropriation.
     No one in Social Security management or in Congress should think that the service that the agency is giving the public is excellent, good or even fair. Everyone who works at a field office or who deals with the agency on a regular basis knows the service is poor. This isn't because employees are lazy or uncaring. It's because there aren't enough employees and because they're forced to use cumbersome, inefficient systems.

Merry Christmas


Dec 14, 2015

More Social Security Benefits To Be Subjected To Income Tax

     From a study by Social Security's Office of Retirement and Disability Policy:
Since 1984, Social Security beneficiaries with total income exceeding certain thresholds have been required to pay federal income tax on some of their benefit income. Because those income thresholds have remained unchanged while wages have increased, the proportion of beneficiaries who must pay income tax on their benefits has risen over time. A Social Security Administration microsimulation model projects that an annual average of about 56 percent of beneficiary families will owe federal income tax on part of their benefit income from 2015 through 2050. The median percentage of benefit income owed as income tax by beneficiary families will rise from 1 percent to 5 percent over that period. If Congress does not adjust income tax brackets upward to approximate the historical ratio of taxes to national income, the proportion of benefit income owed as income tax will exceed these projections.

Dec 11, 2015

People Cut Off Social Security Disability Benefits In England Didn't Return To Work

Background Many governments have introduced tougher eligibility assessments for out-of-work disability benefits, to reduce rising benefit caseloads. The UK government initiated a programme in 2010 to reassess all existing disability benefit claimants using a new functional checklist. We investigated whether this policy led to more people out-of-work with long-standing health problems entering employment.
Method We use longitudinal data from the Labour Force Survey linked to data indicating the proportion of the population experiencing a reassessment in each of 149 upper tier local authorities in England between 2010 and 2013. Regression models were used to investigate whether the proportion of the population undergoing reassessment in each area was independently associated with the chances that people out-of-work with a long-standing health problem entered employment and transitions between inactivity and unemployment. We analysed whether any effects differed between people whose main health problem was mental rather than physical.
Results There was no significant association between the reassessment process and the chances that people out-of-work with a long-standing illness entered employment. ...

Dec 9, 2015

SSNs To Go Off Army Dog Tags

     From the Army Times:
Soldiers' Social Security numbers will no longer be part of their dog tags, the Army announced Tuesday.
The change, which some have argued is long overdue, is the first update to the ubiquitous identification tags in more than 40 years.
A soldier's Social Security number will be replaced by a 10-digit, randomly-generated number. ...

Dec 8, 2015

Field Office Telephone Service Improves

     Social Security has released the statistics shown below on how well its field offices are answering their phones. They're only able to answer them 84% of the time but this is a dramatic improvement over January 2014 when they were only answering the phone 61% of the time.

Dec 7, 2015

First Re-Recon In 33 Months

     My firm received an "informal remand" decision today. These are also called re-recons. This was the first one for us since March 2013. Informal remand is a way of approving disability claims for those with very strong cases who are trapped in the long way for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Across the country, there are tens of thousands of similar cases that the agency should approve in this fashion.

Look What Happened After The GOP Took Over The House

     There's been no formal change in Social Security's rules for determining disability due to intellectual disability or mental illness in decadess. However, look at what's happened in recent years to the number of people approved for disability benefits for these reasons:

Number Of Disability Insurance Benefits Claims Approved For Intellectual Disability
2010 -- 18,867
2011 -- 14,145
2012 -- 12,009
2013 -- 10,141
2014 -- 9,738

Number Of Disability Insurance Benefits Claims Approved For Mental Illness (Including Intellectual Disability)
2010 -- 218,862
2011 -- 191,898
2012 -- 172,995
2013 -- 145,997
2014 -- 123,676

     What happened in 2010 that started this change? Could it be the fact that Republicans took control of the House of Representatives? Is that the same as a change in the statutes or regulations? What do Republicans have against the intellectually disabled? What do they have against those suffering from mental illness? And the biggest question -- why should a change in the control of Congress affect how Social Security determines disability?

Dec 4, 2015

How Can You Function Like This?

     Earlier in the week I had posted an e-mail I had received about the serious problems attorneys have in getting the Social Security Administration to simply recognize that they are representing particular clients. The post attracted a number of comments from attorneys expressing the same frustration. I think this comment, obviously from a Social Security employee, posted anonymously, is worthy of greater attention since it helps explain why the problem exists and because it demonstrates one of many serious systems problems at Social Security:
This problem is not going away. It results from:

1)A terribly complicated process for adding/changing representatives.

I'll simplify it for those who aren't agency employees. Key in attorney info into the attorney database and link it to the claims. Go to the claims processing systems (one or Social Security Claims another for SSI claims) and pull the attorney information into the claims processing systems. Then you go to the the disability claims system (medical file that is sent to DDS and subsequently ODAR) and pull the attorney information into it. Then you have create the acknowledgment letters to mail to the attorneys and store copies of the actual documents in the electronic folder. If you don't complete all those steps then the attorney is not correctly added and one (or more) components (DDS, ODAR, AC, PC) may not be aware the attorney is involved. Or you may do all that and forget to send the acknowledgement letter, which means the attorney never receives confirmation. Here's the kicker, let's say you sign up to represent a claimant and their claim is already pending at ODAR. The FO is the only component that can take all the steps above. Needless to say, it's hard for FO employees to prioritize that work when the claim is pending at ODAR and may not get a hearing for another 6 months. Even FO employees who understand the need to process the attorney forms timely will still make numerous makes due to the number of steps involved in adding or changing representatives.

Add this to the mix, ODAR can (and does) add the attorney to their case processing system, which will make sure the representative gets the notices from ODAR. BUT, if the FO fails to do it's part, then the payment center or the FO processing the ALJ determination, may accidentally process the claim without the attorney information.

2)There is not enough staff in many offices to process these actions timely. As a result, These actions pile up. Attorneys follow-up and send duplicate packages, which makes the problem worse. Resentment builds up on the part of FO employees towards attorneys, which demotivates FO employees regarding this workload.

The problems may lessen if the Agency is properly staffed. However, even if it is properly staffed, there will always be a level of dysfunction in this area due to the complexity of the process/system for adding and changing representatives. They aren't going away and it's unrealistic to expect them to.
9:13 PM, December 02, 2015
Delete

Dec 3, 2015

Delayed SSI Payments

     From an Emergency Message that the Social Security Administration has released to its staff:
... On December 1, 2015, approximately 18,773 recipients did not receive their recurring monthly SSI payments. After researching the issue, the agency discovered a systems coding issue that prevented the release of the payments. The payments were correctly annotated on the Supplemental Security Income Master Record (SSR), but were not included in the payment files sent to Treasury for processing....
Inform recipients that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is aware of the issue and working to re-release the payments. Electronic payments should be deposited on 12/03/2015. Paper checks will take about 5 to 7 business days. Refer the recipient to his/her servicing field office for further assistance for dire need situations....

Proving Homelessness

     Given the ridiculous hearing backlog at Social Security now -- approaching two years in much of the country -- it's crucial that homeless claimants receive the expediting that Social Security allows them. But how are we supposed to prove homelessness? You might say, "That's easy. Just get the homeless shelter to write a letter on their behalf." That's easier said than done even when we're talking about homeless shelters and most homeless people don't stay in homeless shelters. There are few homeless shelters in rural areas. Homeless shelters can be dangerous places. Most homeless people avoid them when they can. They move around between relatives and friends, never staying anywhere long. Some live in tents or shacks in the woods. How are these claimants supposed to prove their homelessness?
     At the moment, I’m asking homeless clients either to write a letter that I can send to Social Security or get someone at a homeless shelter or a relative or friend to write a letter but this doesn’t work so well. Homeless people often lack the ability to write a letter and lack people in their lives who can or will write a letter on their behalf. 
     I keep thinking there’s got to be a better way. What are other people doing? Would a form that a claimant or someone in their life could complete work?

Dec 2, 2015

This Is Frustrating

     Here's a message I received recently on a listserver for North Carolina Social Security attorneys, edited to remove names and locations:
I can echo ____'s experience with the SSA FO [Field Office] in _____.  The letters of representation along with my 1696s, 1695s, and 827s [apart from the 827 these are forms that Social Security needs to establish that the claimant is being represented]  routinely that I mailed to the FO would disappear into some black hole.  Taking them down to the FO for personal delivery did not work either as the security guards are not permitted to handle materials pertaining to SS benefits nor was a receptacle into which I could put correspondence readily available.  Since delivery confirmation and certified mail are rather expensive, we started faxing in addition to mailing our LOR and initial forms to the SSA FO so that we would receive a fax confirmation sheet showing that we submitted our LOR and initial forms.  Even then, the SSA FO staff there would always react like it was our fault if we called to find out if our letters of rep and initial forms were received and they could not find any record of our represent ation of our client in their system.  The addition of a reminder or "tickle" to f/u with the FO sounds like a great idea for helping to deal with this situation. 
     Note that the field offices complain when these forms are submitted more than once, saying it makes extra work for them and causes confusion, but, at least where I am, the field offices are unreliable in entering an attorney's representation documents into their system. The documents disappear for weeks or months or disappear altogether. The field offices also complain about having to take calls asking whether they've entered attorney representation into their system. When the forms disappear, the field offices always blame the attorney.

Dec 1, 2015

The Choo Choo Is Running Late In Chattanooga

     Here's another story about the huge backlog of people awaiting hearings on their Social Security disability claims. This one concerns Chattanooga. The backlog there is officially 19 months but that number is misleading. Social Security always averages in cases that are quickly dismissed because the claimant was late in filing the request for hearing. The real wait there is probably more like two years.

Social Security Crime Wave

     From the Miami Herald:
As the feds put the screws to South Florida criminals who steal income-tax refunds, more thieves have come up with alternative scams to rip off government benefits — most notably, from elderly Social Security recipients, according to authorities.
By tapping into a federal website, “My Social Security,” they have been able to swipe names, dates of birth and ID numbers to open online accounts and redirect retirement benefits from the victims to themselves. ...
Frisler Clairvil, 29, of Lauderdale Lakes was charged in mid-November with stealing more than 1,300 identities of Social Security recipients and redirecting more than $300,000 in benefits to himself by manipulating personal information on the “My Social Security” website from 2013 to 2015, according to an indictment. ...

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article46781585.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article46781585.html#storylink=cpy

Nov 30, 2015

Hey, Heritage Foundation, No Problem, As Long As You Treat Me Like Other Businesses

     The Heritage Foundation, a right wing advocacy group, has released an Issue Brief calling for an end to withholding of fees for representation of Social Security disability claimants. Here's an excerpt:
... Direct payment for SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance] representatives establishes a dangerous standard. If increased access or guaranteed payment is sufficient reason for the government to intervene in private transactions, what will prevent all sorts of additional intrusions by the federal government into individuals’ lives? Should the government also provide direct payment to apartment building owners, car dealerships, and colleges?...
The fact that many service providers find it difficult to collect payment from their clients does not mean that the federal government should become the fee collector. State law provides avenues, such as small claims court, for individuals and businesses to obtain their just due.  ...
     I've got no problem with this, Heritage Foundation, as long as you afford me the same "avenue" afforded other businesses in similar situations -- a lien. Take your car to a car dealership to be repaired and the mechanic has a lien -- meaning the mechanic can hold onto your car until you pay for the repairs. Hire a contractor to make repairs on your house and then don't pay the bill -- the contractor has a lien on your house which can be collected with foreclosure if necessary. Finance purchase of a car and stop making payments on the car -- the lender can send out the repo man since the lender has a lien on the car. Hire an attorney to represent you on a personal injury claim after you're injured because some other driver runs a red light and you get a $25,000 settlement -- you can't just take the money and stiff the attorney because the attorney has a lien on the settlement. 
     The Social Security Act forbids most liens on Social Security payments, preventing the lien that an attorney would otherwise have on the back benefits of a client they represent. The law forbidding liens on Social Security benefits has a prominent exception for federal student loans so, yes, a lender associated with a college can get direct payment from Social Security. There's also an exception for debts owed the federal government and for child support. Want to end those exceptions while you're at it, Heritage?
     Liens are an essential part of our legal system and our whole economy. They date back centuries. They're part of our legal heritage. Without liens much of our modern economy would become impossible. While the Heritage agenda often has an anarchist flavor, I doubt that they want to abolish liens.
     If the anti-assignment provision in the Social Security Act had an exception allowing a lien on back Social Security benefits for claimants represented by an attorney, I've got no problem with doing away with the current attorney fee structure at Social Security. 
     How would an attorney lien on back Social Security benefits work? Social Security would issue a joint check for the back benefits made out to the attorney and client. They would each endorse the check and the attorney would be able to take out his or her part and pay the rest to the client. That's the way it works with personal injury settlements. It works that way because the attorney has a lien on the settlement. Why shouldn't attorneys who represent Social Security claimants have the same legal rights as other attorneys and other businesses generally?
     By the way, take a look at the chart that Heritage included in their piece. It looks like the business of representing Social Security claimants hasn't been too profitable lately anyway.
     Also, by the way, it's past time to adjust the cap on fees under the fee agreement process. It's now $6,000 but should be more than $7,000 if adjusted for inflation. Social Security can slowly achieve Heritage's goal of choking off attorney representation of claimants by leaving the cap at $6,000 indefinitely. In fact, it appears that's what's happening. It's time to lift the cap. The law is intended to allow claimants to have access to representation. Implement the law's intention.

Nov 29, 2015

Taking Bribes To Speed Up Adjudication Of Social Security Disability Claims

     From the Sun Sentinel, one of many newspapers that hides where it's located:
A former claims representative for the Social Security Administration who took money to speed up the benefits process for selected clients was sentenced to four months in jail followed by four months of house arrest Wednesday.
Maria Sanchez, 50, of Pembroke Pines [apparently a town in Florida], was immediately taken into federal custody. She admitted earlier this year that she received between $13,000 and $15,000 in illegal payments in exchange for moving people to the top of the benefits list.
About every three weeks between 2008 and early 2011, when she decided to stop, Sanchez received a green folder that contained five or six Social Security benefits applications and a white envelope that usually contained $500 in $100 bills. The folders were dropped off at Sanchez's office or during meetings in a Hollywood parking lot, investigators said.
Federal prosecutors said Sanchez took money and gave preferential treatment to speed up the application process for clients of Irma Davidian, 52, of Boca Raton. ...

Davidian was the director of American Advisory Associates, a Boca Raton company that advertised it could help applicants obtain government benefits. Davidian has admitted she recruited clients by running ads in a Russian-language newspaper and they paid her to help them apply for assistance. She is scheduled to be sentenced next month. ...
Though Sanchez did not personally approve the benefits and prosecutors said nobody she helped received any benefit they were not entitled to, Sanchez unfairly moved them to the top of the waiting list and moved other people to the bottom.
     It's hard to tell from the article but it looks like Ms. Sanchez was maintaining her "business" on the side while employed at a Social Security field office.

Nov 28, 2015

Hearing Delays Cause Suffering

     From the Associated Press:
Diabetes, arthritis and open-heart surgery have kept Sherice Bennett from working, but she can't afford her medicine and became homeless while waiting for more than two years for a chance to convince a judge that she qualifies for federal disability benefits.
Maria Ruiz also is waiting to appeal her denial; meanwhile, she's been in and out of psychiatric wards since being diagnosed as bipolar, and hasn't been able to buy her meds since August.
Still others die waiting. One man had already been dead for two months this summer before his request for a hearing reached the desk of Miami Judge Thomas Snook. He ultimately approved the claim and the man's spouse will collect his benefits.
 Overburdened administrative judges are working through huge caseloads of these appeals all over America, but Miami has the country's longest average wait for a hearing, at 22 months. And while they wait, many slip into poverty, burdening their families and dragging down the economy. ...
Delays in other cities are nearly as bad: Brooklyn, New York; Spokane, Washington; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Fort Myers, Florida, have 20-month waits. Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Chattanooga, Tennessee, are close behind with 19 months. The shortest wait time is eight months in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The national average is about one year and four months, according to the Social Security Administration, and petitioners typically wait another four to five months for a decision after the hearing. ...
The agency's current goal is to reduce the wait to 270 days or less by 2020. A pre-hearing triage program has begun, and the hiring of 400 more judges is planned by 2018.

Poor Education And High Rates Of Disability Go Hand In Hand


Nov 25, 2015

List Of Sanctioned Represetatives

     Social Security has recently released a long list of attorneys and claimant representatives who have been barred from practicing before the agency because of misconduct. Note that the list goes back many years. Also note that the list doesn't include the name of Eric Conn.

Nov 24, 2015

First Sign Of Re-Recons

     I heard today of a claimant's request for hearing being diverted to an "informal remand" review, also called re-recon. This is an effort to get strong disability claims approved without the long wait for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. This has been done in the past to help deal with the hearing backlog. 
     I have no idea how many of these will be done or what the criteria will be. I would caution that Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) has been doing Senior Attorney reviews, which are somewhat similar to re-recons, in the last few years but they have amounted to almost nothing because so few reviews have been done and because they have been done under such restricted standards that few claims could be approved. The Senior Attorney reviews done in recent years may have been a waste of staff time. We'll have to see if the agency has gotten past its fears of being accused of "paying down the backlog."

ALJ Productivity Has Plummeted

Nov 23, 2015

One Backlog Soars While Other Backlogs Improve -- A Reflection Of Agency Priorities?





     Also, Social Security dramatically improved its telephone service as the hearing backlogs soared.
     The Acting Commissioner can say she's really concerned about the hearing backlog and that the agency is working hard to reduce it but the numbers suggest that it hasn't been a priority.

Nov 22, 2015

Utah Man Tried To Carry Explosive Device Into Social Security Hearing

     A man was arrested in Salt Lake City on Thursday after carrying an explosive device into a federal building. He had come to the building for a Social Security hearing.

Nov 21, 2015

NADE Newsletter

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of the personnel who make initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has issued its Fall 2015 newsletter.

Nov 20, 2015

Replacement Social Security Cards To Be Available Online

     From the Washington Post:
... The Social Security Administration on Thursday announced that Americans who need a replacement [Social Security] card will soon be able to apply for the document online. The process will work for basic card replacements. ...
The program will roll out slowly, first in Wisconsin and Washington state, before spreading to several other states and D.C. ...

Merry Christmas


Looks Like This Plan Didn't Work

     In an effort to make it more difficult for claimants to object to video hearings, Social Security adopted new rules on June 25, 2014 requiring claimants to object to a video hearing shortly after asking for a hearing, long before they would know whether the agency would actually want to schedule a video hearing for them. The agency expected this would increase video hearings from 28% to 30% of their cases. See the table below from Social Security's Financial Report for 2015 for what actually happened. You may have to click on the table to be able to read it.

Nov 19, 2015

A Message To OIG

     I have asked to receive e-mail notification from Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) when they issue new reports.  In the last couple of weeks I've started receiving this message whenever I try to access one of their reports:
This Connection is Untrusted

You have asked Firefox to connect securely to oig.ssa.gov, but we can't confirm that your connection is secure.

Normally, when you try to connect securely, sites will present trusted identification to prove that you are going to the right place. However, this site's identity can't be verified.
What Should I Do?

If you usually connect to this site without problems, this error could mean that someone is trying to impersonate the site, and you shouldn't continue.

This site uses HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS) to specify that Firefox only connect to it securely. As a result, it is not possible to add an exception for this certificate.
     What have you got against Firefox, OIG? Maybe I should ask, what's wrong with your security, OIG? In any case, if OIG wants users of Firefox, which is a lot of people, to access its reports, it's going to have to get its internet act together. Apart from OIG, I don't know that I've ever seen this message, so OIG, you've really gone out of your way to be inaccessible.

More Than 600 Commit Suicide In Britain As Result Of Disability Reviews

     Recipients of social security disability benefits in the United Kingdom are being subjected to "work capability assessments" and many are being cut off benefits. Researchers at the universities of Oxford and Liverpool have done a study showing that there is an increased risk of suicide among those subjected to these "work capacity assessments." There may have been more than 600 extra suicides as a result of the "work capacity assessments" done so far.

Nov 18, 2015

Nov 17, 2015

Did This Court Understand What Social Security Is Doing To Eric Conn's Former Clients

     From the ruling in the case brought against the Social Security Administration (SSA) by Eric Conn's former clients:
... During the appeals process, however, the plaintiffs can challenge the SSA’s determination that fraud might have been involved in their applications for benefits. ...[T]he plaintiffs know exactly what the SSA is doing and can challenge the suspicion of fraud during the appeals process ...
     However, Social Security's staff instructions say that "... the claimant may not appeal the agency's statutory mandate to disregard evidence based on OIG [Office of Inspector General] referrals of information ..." How is a claimant going to challenge the finding of fraud when Social Security's staff instructions say that finding can't be challenged? Did this court understand what is going on?

Nov 16, 2015

Setback In Kentucky And West Virginia

     A motion for preliminary injunction was filed to prevent the Social Security Administration from going ahead with its plan to make almost 1,500 Social Security disability recipients in Kentucky and West Virginia who had been represented by Eric Conn prove all over again that they are disabled. After what I consider an extraordinary delay the District Court has denied the motion. The agency is free to continue with its plan without making any showing of evidence that there was fraud or similar fault involved in these claimants being awarded benefits. Everyone will just assume the evidence exists.
     I would remind everyone who is sure that there must be strong evidence of fraud or similar fault that no criminal charges have been brought against Mr. Conn, no disciplinary action has been brought against him by the Kentucky Bar and he is still free to represent claimants before the Social Security Administration. How can that be if the evidence against him is strong? Charges aren't true just because you saw them on 60 Minutes. And no one has accused these claimants of doing anything wrong. They just hired the wrong lawyer.

Should I Worry About My Clients Being Thrown Into This Briar Patch?

     The Clinical Neuropsychologist, a scientific journal, has published Official Position of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology Social Security Administration Policy on Validity Testing: Guidance and Recommendations for Change. This is their summary of the paper:
The milestone publication by Slick, Sherman, and Iverson (1999) of criteria for determining malingered neurocognitive dysfunction led to extensive research on validity testing. Position statements by the National Academy of Neuropsychology and the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology (AACN) recommended routine validity testing in neuropsychological evaluations. Despite this widespread scientific and professional support, the Social Security Administration (SSA) continued to discourage validity testing, a stance that led to a congressional initiative for SSA to reevaluate their position. In response, SSA commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to evaluate the science concerning the validation of psychological testing. The IOM concluded that validity assessment was necessary in psychological and neuropsychological examinations (IOM, 2015 ). Objective : The AACN sought to provide independent expert guidance and recommendations concerning the use of validity testing in disability determinations. Method : A panel of contributors to the science of validity testing and its application to the disability process was charged with describing why the disability process for SSA needs improvement, and indicating the necessity for validity testing in disability exams. Results : This work showed how the determination of malingering is a probability proposition, described how different types of validity tests are appropriate, provided evidence concerning non-credible findings in children and low-functioning individuals, and discussed the appropriate evaluation of pain disorders typically seen outside of mental consultations. Conclusions : A scientific plan for validity assessment that additionally protects test security is needed in disability determinations and in research on classification accuracy of disability decision.
     I notice that this is the "Official Position" of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology but it makes reference to the National Academy of Neuropsychology. In addition there are the American Board of Professional Psychology which certifies neuropsychologists, the American Board of Clinical Neuropsychology, the International Neuropsychological Society and the Society for Clinical Neuropsychology. There aren't that many neuropsychologists in the U.S. There may not be 50 in my state, North Carolina. Why do neuropsychologists have so many professional organizations? What is the standing of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology? I don't know. I can say that one of the eight co-authors of this "Official Position" derives at least part of his income from one of the tests that the authors of this report recommend. That's revealed at the end of the report itself. I can also say that widespread use of validity testing by Social Security would create a lot of business for psychologists. It doesn't prove that what they're saying is wrong but it is best to keep in mind that the financial interest of some psychologists is at stake here.
     You might expect me to oppose validity testing but I'm not sure what to think. If anything, I suspect it might help claimants. As a practical matter, at the initial and reconsideration levels of review of Social Security disability claims, Social Security is applying a near conclusive presumption that claimants alleging disability due to pain, intellectual disability or mental illness are malingering. Those claims aren't being approved at those levels except in the most extreme cases. It's not quite like that when these cases get before Administrative Law Judges but there's still a significant bias against claimants who have these problems. I suspect that many claimants who complain of pain, intellectual disability or mental illness would test out as "valid" on the tests being recommended and would be approved more quickly.
     I'm old enough to have been around when the grid regulations were introduced. There was great fear then that those regulations would result in fewer disability claims being approved. What actually happened was that more disability claims were approved.
     Should I worry about my clients being thrown into this briar patch?

Nov 14, 2015

Gotta Go After That Waste, Fraud And Abuse

     From The Columbian:
MEDFORD, Ore. — Wanda Ames was elated when she received a letter from the Social Security Administration over what she thought was a one-time increase on her disability check. 
“At first I was happy,” the 56-year-old Medford woman said. “I thought they were giving me extra money. I thought I was going to get 260 extra dollars.” 
For someone who lives on $766 a month from Social Security plus $350 for food stamps, the small windfall would have been a big help, especially as she worries that she and her husband may lose their modest west Medford house because they can’t afford the payments. Her 55-year-old husband, Michael, is unemployed and looking for work. 
But when Ames read the Sept. 30 letter a little more carefully, she discovered she actually owed Social Security $260.40, apparently as the result of a payment made to her mother when Ames was a child more than 40 years ago. 
The letter from Social Security warned her that her December check would be reduced, which she said would be a major blow to her pocketbook.
“If it isn’t one bomb, it’s another,” she said. 
Ames, who has spinal arthritis and other health issues, found out she’s not the only one to receive letters from Social Security about decades-old bills. 
“Of course, it’s not an isolated situation,” said Dorothy Clark in the Social Security press office. Clark said she didn’t have specifics on the number of letters the agency has sent out for back payments.
     The law requires that Social Security do this. Congressional Republicans seem to lack interest in changing the law.