Sep 30, 2016

More Immigration Enforcement Problems

     Social Security is denying retirement benefits to a man who was born in Canada even though he served in the U.S. Army and his father is a U.S. citizen. The man worked in the U.S. for 48 years. 
     Sounds like where Ted Cruz may be in a few years -- although Cruz never served in the Army.

Sep 29, 2016

New Autism Listing

     From Social Security's new mental impairment Listings effective January 17, 2017:
12.10 Autism spectrum disorder (see 12.00B8), satisfied by A and B:
     A. Medical documentation of both of the following:
      1. Qualitative deficits in verbal communication, nonverbal communication, and social interaction; and
       2. Significantly restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.
AND
     B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):
          1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1).
          2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2).
          3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3).
          4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4).

Sep 28, 2016

New Anxiety Listing

     From Social Security's new mental impairments Listings effective January 17, 2017.:
12.06 Anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders (see 12.00B5), satisfied by A and B, or A and C:
     A. Medical documentation of the requirements of paragraph 1, 2, or 3:
          1. Anxiety disorder, characterized by three or more of the following;
              a. Restlessness;
              b. Easily fatigued;
              c. Difficulty concentrating;
              d. Irritability;
              e. Muscle tension; or
              f. Sleep disturbance.
          2. Panic disorder or agoraphobia, characterized by one or both:
               a. Panic attacks followed by a persistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences; or
               b. Disproportionate fear or anxiety about at least two different situations (for example, using public transportation, being in a crowd, being in a line, being outside of your home, being in open spaces).
         3. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, characterized by one or both:
            a. Involuntary, time-consuming preoccupation with intrusive, unwanted thoughts; or
               b. Repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety.
AND
     B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):
          1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1
          2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2).
          3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3).
          4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4). OR
     C. Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both:
         1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder (see 12.00G2b); and
        2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already par t of your daily life (see 12.00G2c)

Sep 27, 2016

New PTSD Listing

     From Social Security's new mental impairment Listings effective January 17, 2017:
12.15 Trauma-and [so in the original] stressor-related  disorders (see 12.00B11), satisfied by A and B, or A and C:
     A. Medical documentation of all of the following:
          1. Exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or violence;
        2. Subsequent involuntary re-experiencing of the traumatic event (for example, intrusive memories, dreams, or flashbacks);
          3. Avoidance of external reminders of the event;
          4. Disturbance in mood and behavior; and
        5. Increases in arousal and reactivity (for example, exaggerated startle response, sleep disturbance).
AND
     B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):
          1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1).
          2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2).
          3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3).
          4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4).
OR
     C. Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both
     1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder (see 12.00G2b); and
    2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life (see 12.00G2c).

Sep 26, 2016

New Depression/Bipolar Listing

      From Social Security's new mental impairment Listings effective January 17, 2017:
12.04 Depressive, bipolar and related disorders (see 12.00B3), satisfied by A and B, or A and C: 
     A. Medical documentation of the requirements of paragraph 1 or 2: 
          1. Depressive disorder, characterized by five or more of the following: 
               a. Depressed mood; 
               b. Diminished interest in almost all activities; 
               c. Appetite disturbance with change in weight; 
               d. Sleep disturbance; 
               e. Observable psychomotor agitation or retardation; 
               f. Decreased energy 
               g. Feelings of guilt or worthlessness; 
               h. Difficulty concentrating or thinking; or 
               i. Thoughts of death or suicide. 
          2. Bipolar disorder, characterized by three or more of the following: 
               a. Pressured speech; 
               b. Flight of ideas; 
               c. Inflated self-esteem; 
               d. Decreased need for sleep; 
               e. Distractibility; 
           f. Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized;
or 
              g . Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation 
AND
     B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F): 
          1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1). 
          2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2). 
          3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3). 
          4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4). 
OR
     C. Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both: 
          1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder (see 12.00G2b); and 
          2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life (see 12.00G2c) .

Sep 25, 2016

New Eating Disorder Listing

     From Social Security's new mental impairment Listings:
12.13 Eating disorders (see 12.00B10), satisfied by A and B:
     A. Medical documentation of a persistent alteration in eating or eating-related behavior that results in a change in consumption or absorption of food and that significantly impairs physical or psychological health .
AND
     B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F):
          1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1).
          2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2).
          3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3).
          4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4)

Sep 24, 2016

If You Just Can't Stomach Clinton Or Trump

     If you can't stomach either Clinton or Trump you might consider voting for the Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson. However, before you do, you might take a look at some of his positions. For one, he's in favor of abolishing Social Security. Not modifying Social Security. Abolishing it.

Sep 23, 2016

New Schizophrenia Listing

     From the new mental impairment Listings:
12.03 Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders (see 12.00B2), satisfied by A and B, or A and C: 
     A. Medical documentation of one or more of the following: 
          1. Delusions or hallucinations; 
          2. Disorganized thinking (speech); or 
          3. Grossly disorganized behavior or catatonia. 
     AND 
     B. Extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning (see 12.00F): 
         1. Understand, remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1). 
         2. Interact with others (see 12.00E2). 
         3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3). 
         4. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4). OR 
     C. Your mental disorder in this listing category is “serious and persistent;” that is, you have a medically documented history of the existence of the disorder over a period of at least 2 years, and there is evidence of both: 
         1. Medical treatment, mental health therapy, psychosocial support(s), or a highly structured setting(s) that is ongoing and that diminishes the symptoms and signs of your mental disorder (see 12.00G2b); and 
        2. Marginal adjustment, that is, you have minimal capacity to adapt to changes in your environment or to demands that are not already part of your daily life (see 12.00G2c) .

New Mental Impairment Listings

     To my surprise, Social Security has published new mental impairment Listings as final rules. I wasn't expecting them until after the election because that's what they said they planned to do. These are not effective until January. I'll post excerpts from them as I have time.
     Here are the new intellectual disability Listings:
12.05 Intellectual disorder(see 12.00B4), satisfied by A or B:
A. Satisfied by 1, 2, and 3 (see 12.00H):
1. Significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning evident in your cognitive inability to function at a level required to participate in standardized testing of intellectual functioning; and
2. Significant deficits in adaptive functioning currently manifested by your dependence upon others for personal needs (for example, toileting, eating, dressing, or bathing); and
3. The evidence about your current intellectual and adaptive functioning and about the history of your disorder demonstrates or supports the conclusion that the disorder began prior to your attainment of age 22.

B. Satisfied by 1, 2, and 3 (see 12.00H):
1. Significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning evidenced by a or b:
a. A full scale (or comparable) IQ score of 70 or below on an individually administered standardized test of general intelligence;
or
b. A full scale (or comparable) IQ score of 71-75 accompanied by a verbal or performance IQ score (or comparable part score) of 70 or below on an individually administered standardized test of general intelligence; and
2. Significant deficits in adaptive functioning currently manifested by extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two, of the following areas of mental functioning:
a. Understand,remember, or apply information (see 12.00E1); or
b. Interact with others (see 12.00E2); or
c. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace (see 12.00E3); or
d. Adapt or manage oneself (see 12.00E4); and
3. The evidence about your current intellectual and adaptive functioning and about the history of your disorder demonstrates or supports the conclusion that the disorder began prior to your attainment of age 22.

What's The Solution?

     From WATE:
A young disabled Knoxville woman has lost her Social Security disability and Medicare assistance. She has epilepsy and until a year ago, had uncontrollable seizures. ...
Over the last 15 months, Amy Schnelle’s mom says her daughter’s health improved dramatically with the help of anti-seizure medications. Now, however, Amy Schnelle’s Medicare is ending and she can’t afford to buy the pills. Everything changed when Social Security sent a letter in May of this year saying her $1,200 a month check would be ending. ...
The Schnelles say what Social Security didn’t take into account is once her disability was dropped, she no longer can get the medications needed to control her condition. ...

Sep 22, 2016

Final Rules On Exclusion Of Evidence

     The following new final rules will appear in the Federal Register tomorrow:
§ 404.1503b Evidence from excluded medical sources of evidence.
     (a) General. We will not consider evidence from the following medical sources excluded under section 223(d)(5)(C) (i) of the Social Security Act (Act), as amended, unless we find good cause under paragraph (b) of this section:
         (1) Any medical source that has been convicted of a felony under section 208 or under section 1632 of the Act;
         (2) Any medical source that has been excluded from participation in any Federal health care program under section 1128 of the Act; or
         (3) Any medical source that has received a final decision imposing a civil monetary penalty or assessment, or both, for submitting false evidence under section 1129 of the Act.
     (b) Good cause. We may find good cause to consider evidence from a n excluded medical source of evidence under section 223(d)(5)(C) (i) of the Act, as amended, if:
          (1) The evidence from the medical source consists of evidence of treatment that occurred before the date the source was convicted of a felony under section 208 or under section 1632 of the Act;
          (2) The evidence from the medical source consists of evidence of treatment that occurred during a period in which the source was not excluded from participation in any Federal health care program under section 1128 of the Act;
         (3) The evidence from the medical source consists of evidence of treatment that occurred before the date the source received a final decision imposing a civil monetary penalty or assessment, or both, for submitting false evidence under section 1129 of the Act;
         (4) The sole basis for the medical source’s exclusion under section 223(d)(5)(C) (i) of the Act, as amended, is that the source cannot participate in any Federal health care program under section 1128 of the Act, but the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Hum an Services granted a waiver of the section 1128 exclusion; or
          (5) The evidence is a laboratory finding about a physical impairment and there is no indication that the finding is unreliable.

Sep 21, 2016

Social Security Remains Third Rail Of U.S. Politics

     From Public Policy Polling:
A new Public Policy Polling survey covering 5 key Senate battlegrounds finds that voters are strongly opposed to a number of changes that Republicans might pursue to Social Security if they get total control of the government after this fall. 69% of voters say they’re concerned about the changes Republicans might make to Social Security, and by a 33 point margin they say they’re less likely to vote GOP this fall if they’re informed about what changes Republican control could bring to the program. In this closely contested election Democrats should be talking more about Social Security, which could be a winning issue for them in these pivotal states.
Key findings of the survey which included voters in Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin include:
  • Only 20% of voters would support privatizing Social Security by investing benefits in the stock market, to 68% who are opposed to that. There’s bipartisan agreement with Democrats (13/83), independents (24/64), and Republicans (27/53) all strongly opposed to privatization. By a 48 point margin voters say they’d be less likely to vote for a candidate who supported that - 63% would be less likely to, compared to only 15% who would be more likely to.
  • Only 5% of voters support making any cuts to Social Security benefits, to 88% who are opposed to them. You’d be hard pressed to find any issue that Americans are in such strong agreement about. There’s more than 80% opposition from independents (5/91), Democrats (6/90), and Republicans (4/84) alike. 80% of voters say they’d be less likely to support someone who would cut Social Security benefits, to only 5% who’d be more likely to vote for someone wanting to do that.
  • Only 28% of voters support raising the retirement age, to 62% who are opposed to doing that. Once again there’s bipartisan opposition with Democrats (18/74), Republicans (34/54), and independents (40/47) all firmly opposed to raising the retirement age. By a 44 point spread voters are less likely to support a candidate who would raise it - 58% say they’d be less inclined to vote for someone who wanted to do that, to only 14% who would be more likely to vote for them. 
  • Only 14% of voters support changing the formula that increases benefits for inflation, to 62% who would oppose doing that. Democrats (11/69), independents (14/69), and Republicans (19/52) all stand together in opposing such changes.
  • When informed about the possibility that Republicans might pursue some of these policy changes if they end up with control of the White House, Senate, and House after the election 53% of voters say that makes them less likely to vote for the GOP in November, to only 20% who say it makes them more likely to support the party’s candidates. Particularly notable is that among pivotal independent voters, 50% say possible Republican changes to Social Security would make them less likely to vote for the party to just 22% who would be more likely to do so.

Rep Payee Fraud In Michigan

     From The Herald-Palladium of St. Joseph, MI:

A Benton Harbor woman who stole Social Security benefits meant for disabled people was sentenced Monday to 2-5 years in prison.

Jill Mae Williams was also ordered by Berrien County Trial Court Judge Arthur Cotter to pay $260,089 in restitution to the Social Security Administration and $25,185 to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.  ...
According to [prosecutor Jane] Wainwright, Williams had arranged for herself to become the “payee” for Social Security benefits for 10 vulnerable adults in Benton Harbor and was taking much of the money for her own use. ...
The people she was charged with stealing from were disabled and/or could not read and write. ...

Sep 20, 2016

GAO Report On Household With More Than One SSI Recipient

     From a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO):
In May 2013, an estimated 15 percent of the 7.2 million households with blind, aged, and disabled individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cash benefits included more than one SSI recipient, according to GAO’s data analysis. Of the estimated 1.1 million households with multiple SSI recipients, most included two recipients (953, 000) and at least one adult recipient between ages 18 and 64 (695,000). Most households with multiple recipients did not have any child recipients, though an estimated 190,000 had one child recipient, 111,000 had two, and 3 0,000 had three or more. Few households reported having married couple recipients (an estimated 90,000). Most multiple recipient households reported that members of one family — those related by birth, marriage, or adoption —lived in the household (an estimated 941,000). GAO was unable to determine the specific relationships of recipients in these households.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) provided households with multiple SSI recipients almost 30 percent, or an estimated $1.2 billion , of the total $4.3 billion paid in SSI benefits in May 2013, according to GAO’s data analysis. In that month, multiple recipient households received an estimated average of $1,131 in SSI benefits, compared to $507 for single recipient households. Further, consistent with federal law that applies a lower maximum benefit rate to married couple recipients, GAO’s analysis found that households with nonmarried multiple recipients received a higher estimated average monthly benefit payment than married recipient households. ...
[A]ccording to SSA staff, SSA’s claims management system lacks the ability to automatically connect and adjust claim records of those living in households with other SSI recipients, as it is structured around providing benefits to individuals. For example, if a mother lives with two of her children who are both SSI recipients, and the mother reports changes to her income, SSA’s system does not automatically adjust both children’s benefit amounts to account for this change in income. In addition, the system is unable to automatically process claims when two SSI recipients marry or separate, so staff must manually complete forms and calculate benefits outside the claims management system, which is time consuming and error prone, according to staff GAO spoke with in three of five selected field offices . SSA officials said the agency has not assessed the risks associated with the system’s limited ability to automatically process claims for multiple recipient households, and has no plans to improve the claims management system to address related issues. ...
     To be sure, there are some issues with households with multiple SSI recipients but the Republican interest in the subject seems to harken back to Ronald Reagan's fables (and they were fables with little basis is fact) about "welfare queens." Households with more than one SSI recipient are hardly living large on $1,131 per month. There's almost never a sinister explanation for why there is more than one SSI recipient in a household. Usually, it has to do with factors such as people who are mentally ill associating with each other (because that's who will associate with them) and families with more than one child suffering from the same congenital abnormality.

Sep 19, 2016

Boring OIG Report On DCPS

     From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
In a February 13, 2015 letter to the Inspector General, Sam Johnson, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security, House Committee on Ways and Means, expressed his continued concerns regarding the development of DCPS [Disabilty Case Processing System]. Specifically, Chairman Johnson requested that we provide regular reports to keep the Subcommittee informed of SSA’s DCPS-related efforts. This report is one in a series of reports that examines SSA’s progress in developing and implementing DCPS. ...
We concluded that SSA’s reported costs of $356 million for the DCPS project for the 8-year period ended September 30, 2015 were reasonably accurate. However, we noted issues with SSA’s processes for capturing and reporting contractor and labor costs. While we did not consider these issues to be sufficiently significant to materially affect the overall DCPS cost figure, we believe they warrant SSA’s attention....

Sep 18, 2016

0.3% COLA Coming?

     A reporter figures that Social Security's Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) for this year will be 0.3%. I'd say that the margin of error on this prediction is no more than a tenth of one percent.

Sep 17, 2016

Spraying For Bed Bugs Leads To Problems In Cleveland Field Office

     From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown has asked the General Services Administration to investigate an incident in which some Social Security Administration employees who work in downtown Cleveland said they became ill after their office was sprayed for a bed bug infestation. 
Furniture from that office later was donated to Catholic Charities. ...
The spraying took place in February at the Social Security Administration office on the seventh floor of the Celebrezze building. After the spraying, workers complained of a chemical smell when they returned to their office. 
A worker told Fox8 that she suffered from vomiting, dizziness and tremors in her arms and legs. 
Brown's letter cites a recently released investigation by the Ohio Department to Agriculture that suggests pesticides intended for outdoor use only were used in the office.

Sep 16, 2016

Congressional Hearing Scheduled To Allow Republicans To Claim Social Security Is Bankrupt

     From a press release:
House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) announced today that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Understanding Social Security’s Solvency Challenge.” The hearing will focus on the difference between the Social Security solvency projections of the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Board of Trustees, the causes of the difference, and what this means for Social Security’s long-term solvency. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, September 21, 2016 in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 10:00 AM.

Sep 15, 2016

Comgressional Hearing On Maximizing Social Security

     The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing yesterday on Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits: What You Need to Know. A group of wealthy Senators were wondering why everyone doesn't wait until age 70 to claim their Social Security retirement benefits. Since there's a delayed retirement credit to encourage people to wait, the Senators figure it must be lack of information keeping people from waiting. There definitely is a lack of information. It's a longstanding frustration for me that most people think that Social Security is simple. No, it isn't. No program that pays benefits in many different categories to tens of millions of people could possibly be simple. Even when you try to tell people about the rules that affect them personally, their eyes start glazing over almost immediately. However, the real reason that people claim benefits earlier than some wealthy people think they should is economic necessity. Most people aren't wealthy like these Senators. They don't have the resources to survive more than a few months after retirement without Social Security. 
     Not that it matters to many people but the math on the delayed retirement credit isn't as wonderful as it's cracked up to be. You get 8% more a year for each year that you delay taking Social Security benefits but that's not compounded and it has to be stacked against the facts that you don't get paid Social Security for the years you waited and that you may die before any theoretical breakeven point or even before drawing Social Security retirement benefits at all. Even if you survive long enough, is it irrational to want to take the money when you're still young enough to be able to do something with it? Life is short. Eating dessert first may not always be a bad idea.

Re-Recon Back?

     I got this recently. Is this a sign of the new re-recon? If it is, I don't expect it to amount to much. This sort of thing doesn't seem like a priority. Even if it were, the staffing isn't there to do much.
     By the way, notice that "DDS Case Number." It wasn't the claimant's Social Security number. Is this a sign that Social Security itself will start moving away from the use of the Social Security number as much as possible?

Sep 14, 2016

Social Security Employee Refuses To "Certify Sin"

     From the Washington Post:
A short video about lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual diversity may bring an abrupt end to a federal employee’s 14-year career with the Social Security Administration. David Hall, who works in information technology at the agency’s office in Champaign, Ill., refused to watch the 17-minute video on several occasions.  
Hall told the News-Gazette that the mandate to watch the video first came in April, when the national office sent out an email memo regarding LGBT diversity and inclusivity training. ...
For Hall, that premise was too sinful. The 42-year-old, who identifies as Christian, said he does not believe God would have wanted him to watch the video. Signing a statement he had watched such a video, moreover, was equal to endorsing “an abomination,” he told WCIA. “I’m not going to certify sin.” ... 
On two occasions in June, Hall’s boss told him to watch the video. When Hall declined, he was reprimanded. He later received a two-day suspension, in August, without pay. ... 
Hall is willing to lose his job — he admits it is likely, in fact — and he sees his stance as a call to other Christians. ...

Sep 12, 2016

ALJs Are Supposed To Schedule 45-50 Hearings A Month

An e-mail from Social Security's Chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Bice:
Jack and I have spoken with many of you over the last few months and know that you share ODAR’s commitment to public service by providing claimants with timely and policy compliant dispositions. You also have shared some of the challenges you face in doing so. We are aware of the challenges you have been facing, even more so now with the hiring freeze. We are working on many initiatives to help support you, such as new regulations, pre-hearing conferences and case summaries of large files.

Given the current environment, you have asked how many cases we expect every judge to schedule each month. Looking at current data, a majority of you are scheduling an average of 45-50 hearings a month and completing the work in a legally sufficient and policy compliant manner. I know that it takes dedication to manage your docket effectively and I thank each of you. I am asking EVERY judge to schedule hearings generally in the range of an average of 45-50 hearings per month. If you feel comfortable handling more cases and can maintain legal sufficiency and policy compliance in your dispositions, please continue to do, and we thank you. If are not yet scheduling an average of 45-50 cases a month, please try to increase your dockets to do so. This may mean adding a day of hearings every month or an additional hearing to each hearing day. We will continue to evaluate our scheduling expectations for all judges in the future.

For those of you who elect to telework, I am going to advise our HOCALJs that, for the October 2016 to March 2017 telework period, an average of 45-50 scheduled hearings a month generally should be considered “reasonably attainable.” I am also going to discuss again with our HOCALJs the need to consider all extenuating circumstances in considering your telework requests.

This is a crisis time for us. Even with all the headwinds in our face, the public we serve is asking us to do the most we can. I am so proud of all of you. If all judges generally can schedule an average of 45-50 hearings a month or more, hold those hearings absent good cause, and move the cases out of ALJ controlled status timely, we can make headway in reducing the wait time for a decision. I speak for your national leaders, your RCALJs and certainly your HOCALJs. All of us, ALL OF US, are appreciative of all you do. I know sometimes our messages do not always reflect that appreciation, but make no mistake - it is unwavering. Judge Allen and I are proud to be your judicial colleagues.

Sep 11, 2016

New Attorney Fee Contacts

     Social Security has updated its list of Office of General Counsel contacts for fee authorizations, other than those under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) -- 406(b) fees.

Regional OfficeJurisdictions Contact Information
REGION I
Social Security Administration
Office of Regional Counsel
JFK Federal Building
15 New Sudbury Street
Room 625
Boston, MA 02203-0002
MA, ME, MI , NH, RI Phone: (617) 565-4277
Fax: (617) 565-4447
REGION II
Social Security Administration
Office of Regional Counsel
26 Federal Plaza
Room 3904
New York, NY 10278-0004
CT, NY, PR, VI, VT
  
Phone: (212) 264-3650
Fax: (212) 264-6372
REGION III
Social Security Administration
Office of Regional Counsel
300 Spring Garden Street
6th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19123-2932
DC, DE, PA, MD NC, NJ, SC, VA, WV Phone: (215) 597-3300
Fax: (215) 597-4662
REGION IV
Social Security Administration
Office of the Regional Counsel
Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Center
61 Forsyth Street, S.W.
Suite 20T45
Atlanta, GA 30303-8910
MD AL, ND AL, FL, GA
       
Phone: (404) 562-1028
Fax: (404) 562-1030
REGION V
Social Security Administration
Office of the Regional Counsel
200 West Adams Street
30th Floor
Chicago, IL 60606-5208
IL, IN, OH, WD KY,WI Phone: (877) 800-7578
Fax: (312) 886-4754
REGION VI
Social Security Administration
Office of Regional Counsel
1301 Young Street, A-702
Dallas, TX 75202-5433-5433
AR, IA, LA, MN, MS, NE ND, SD, TX
   
Phone: (214) 767-3212
Fax: (214) 767-9189
   
REGION VII
Social Security Administration
Office of Regional Counsel
Richard Bolling Federal Building
601 East 12th Street
Room 965
Kansas City, MO 64106-2898
MO, TN
 
Phone: (816) 936-5750
Fax: (816) 936-5963
||KC OGC
REGION VIII
Social Security Administration
Office of Regional Counsel
1961 Stout Street
Suite 4169
Denver, CO 80202-4003
CO, KS, ED KY, NM, OK, UT, WY Phone: (303) 844-0018
Fax: (303) 844-0770
REGION IX
Social Security Administration
Office of Regional Counsel
160 Spear Street
Suite 800
San Francisco, CA 94105-1545
CA, NV, HI, Guam, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Island Phone: (415) 977-8943
Fax: (415) 744-0134
REGION X
Social Security Administration
Office of Regional Counsel
701 Fifth Avenue
Suite 2900, M/S 221A
Seattle, WA 98104-7075
AK, AZ, ID, OR, WA Phone: (206) 615-2539 
Fax: (206) 615-2531
^OGC SEA Admin
BALTIMORE
Social Security Administration
Office of the General Counsel
6401 Security Boulevard
Room 617 Altmeyer Building
Baltimore, MD 21235–6401
MD, SD AL, ED NC, WD NC Phone: (410) 965-0600
Fax: (410) 597–1435


GN 03930 TN 10 - Fee Authorization Under the Fee Petition Process - 09/01/2016

Sep 10, 2016

Airport Workers Keep Their Social Security

     From KTVI:
Nearly 70 employees at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport were relieved to learn they'll get to keep their Social Security benefits.
In May, the airport workers were informed that despite paying into the Social Security system that they were ineligible to receive those benefits because of a decades-old agreement between the state of Missouri and the Social Security Administration.
On Wednesday, Senator Claire McCaskill helped police, city, union, and Social Security officials reach an agreement allowing the workers to keep their benefits. ...
     This reminds me of a case in North Carolina. A new interstate agency was formed that included employees from North Carolina and Virginia, if I remember correctly. Several employees of the state of North Carolina transferred to work at the new interstate agency. Before doing so they received written assurance from the agency that administers pensions for NC state employees that they would continue to be covered by the NC state employee pension plan. Some years later, when the first of these employees retired, he was told, sorry, we made a mistake. Employees of intergovernmental agencies aren't covered by the N.C. government employees pension plan. Here's your contributions back. Goodbye. When they complained it wasn't fair, they were told that the courts had refused to recognize estoppel against the state of North Carolina so, in effect, shut up and go away. If estoppel were applied, the state couldn't argue that the interstate employees weren't covered by the pension plan since the state had told the employees years earlier that they were covered and the employees had relied on this promise. The employees took the case to court and won. The N. C. courts held that estoppel would be applied. The moral of this is that if you're a government agency, don't rely too much on old precedent. If the courts think you're really trying to screw over people, they'll find a way to give those people relief. 

Sep 9, 2016

I Wouldn't Regard This As A Good Sign If I Was Social Security's Attorney

     From an order entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky:
On September 8, 2016, the Court held a telephone conference to schedule and to prepare for oral argument on the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s motions to dismiss. Ned Pillersdorf, Francis E. Budde, and Kelly Lynn Ward Wallen represented the plaintiffs, with Mr. Pillersdorf speaking for that side. Amanda B. Gilman, John S. Osborne, III, and Laura Ridgell - Boltz represented the SSA, with Ms. Gilman speaking for that side. ...
Although the plaintiffs have brought a number of claims against the SSA, the Court is focused on one at the moment: whether the SSA’s redetermination procedures violated the Due Process Clause. That question involves many smaller — but nevertheless difficult — ones, some of which are listed below. As it tries to figure those question s out, the Court would benefit from further briefing and an oral argument. The parties agreed that an in-person argument would work the best. That argument is set for Wednesday, September 21, 2 2016, at 11:00 a.m., at the United States District Courthouse in Pikeville, Kentucky. The parties will submit further briefing by Friday, September 16, 2016. 
In preparing their briefs and arguments, the parties should keep a few things in mind. First , at this stage, the Court is primarily concerned with the plaintiffs’ argument that the SSA failed to afford them due process. The plaintiffs also argue that the SSA applied its redetermination procedures in a prejudicial way — specifically, by initiating those procedures many years too late . To decide that claim, however, the Court first needs to know whether the procedures are constitutional to begin with. 
Second , the Court will construe the parties’ new briefs as cross - motions for summary judgment. The parties agree that the due - process issue depends largely on questions of law that can be resolved through briefing and argument. Plus, the SSA has attached affidavits to its motions to dismiss — when a party has presented such “matters outside the pleadings,” Rule 12 requires the Court to t reat the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). This way, the Court can decide the due - process issue once and for all .
Third, and finally, the Court would appreciate briefs addressing the specific questions that are currently troubling it. As promised at the conference, those questions are listed here:
(1) How exactly, under 42 U.S.C. § 405(u), does the redetermination process work?
a. Where, in the text of the statute, does Congress create the “evidentiary rule” that when the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) finds fraud, parties cannot challenge the finding ?
b. Does Congress even have the power to dictate what evidence an administrative law judge may and may not consider? 
c. Assuming that Congress has that power — and used it in § 405(u) — does the Due Process Clause nevertheless require that parties get a chance to challenge agency evidentiary decisions?
d. What parts of the redetermination process are judicially reviewable?
(2) How did the redetermination process work in the plaintiffs’ cases specifically ?
a. Did the SSA follow §405(u) ?
b. When the OIG alerted the SSA about the fraud, did the SSA take as given that fraud had occurred in every case Eric Conn touched, or did it decide for itself whether fraud occurred in each case?
(3) Assuming that the SSA followed §405 (u), and assuming that under that section the OIG ’s fraud findings are unchallengeable , does the redetermination process violate Goldberg v. Kelly, 397 U.S. 254 (1970)?
a. Did the plaintiffs get a chance to challenge the OIG finding?
b. If they did not, why don’t they deserve one?
(4) If the redetermination process violated the plaintiffs’ due-process rights, what is the proper remedy?
This list is not necessarily exhaustive. Other issues will certainly arise, and the Court will be grateful for the parties’ efforts to anticipate and address them. At the end of the day, however, the problem on the Court’s mind is whether the redetermination process afforded the plaintiffs due process, and if not, what to do about it.

The Binder And Binder Saga Goes On

     There's been an important filing in bankruptcy court in the matter of Binder & Binder. Read it yourself but it looks to me like Charlie Binder and Harry Binder as individuals (or through an entity controlled by the two of them) will be buying the Social Security assets of the Binder and Binder corporation for $3.5 million. Remember, Binder and Binder as a corporation is distinct legally from the two brothers as individuals.

Sep 8, 2016

NPRM On Evidence In Disability Claims

     What immediately jumps out at me from a 176 page Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) that Social Security is publishing in the Federal Register tomorrow:
  • We propose to revise our rules in 20 CFR 404.1504 and 416.904 to state that we will not provide any analysis in our determinations and decisions about how we consider decisions made by other governmental agencies or nongovernmental entities that an individual is disabled, blind, or unemployable in any claim for disability or blindness under titles II and XVI of the Act , and that we are no t bound by those decisions. Although we would categorize decisions made by other governmental agencies or nongovernmental entities within the other medical evidence category if made by a medical source or a statement if made by a nonmedical source , we propose to state in 20 CFR 404.1520b and 416.920b that these decisions are inherently neither valuable nor persuasive to our disability and blindness determinations. ...
  • [W]e propose to state in 20 CFR 404.1520b(c)(2) and 416.920b(c)( 2 ) that we will not provide any analysis about how we considered disability examiner findings from a prior level of adjudication ...
  • Consistent with our goals to better define and organize our evidence regulations to produce more accurate and consistent determinations and decisions, we propose to define a statement on an issue reserved to the Commissioner as a statement that would direct the determination or decision of disability. ... Although a statement on an issue reserved to the Commissioner would be categorized within other medical evidence if made by a medical source or a statement if made by a nonmedical source, w e would not provide any analysis about how we consider ed such statements at all in our determinations and decisions . ...
  • To help adjudicators, representatives, and courts identify statements on issues reserved to the Commissioner, we propose to include the following in 20 CFR 404.1520b(c)(3) and 416.920b(c)(3) : 
  • statements that an individual is or is not disabled, blind, able to work, or able to perform regular or continuing work;  
  • statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) meets the duration requirement for disability; statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) meets or equals any listing in the Listing of Impairments; 
  • in title XVI child claims, statements about whether or not an individual’s impairment(s) functionally equals the Listings; 
  • in adult claims, statements about what an individual’s RFC is using our programmatic terms about the functional exertional levels in Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, Rule 200.00 in stead of descriptions about his or her functional abilities and limitations ; 
  • in adult claims, statements about whether or not a n individual’s RFC prevents him or her from doing past relevant work; 
  • in adult claims, statements that an individual does or does not meet the requirements of a medical-vocational rule in Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2 ; and  statements about whether or not a n individual's disability continues or ends when we conduct a continuing disability review (CDR) . ...
  • In order to assist representatives and our adjudicators in interpreting our rules, we propose to revise our rules to state affirmatively our current policy that we will not use a diagnosis, medical opinion, or an individual's statement of symptoms to establish the existence of an impairment(s). We would clarify our rules to state that a physical or mental impairment must be established by objective medical evidence from an AMS. We would continue to follow our current policy if we have objective medical evidence from an AMS that a claimant has a severe impairment(s) at step 2, we will consider all evidence to determine the severity of the impairment(s) and all other findings in the sequential evaluation process. ...
  • [W]e propose several revisions to how we consider medical opinions and prior administrative medical findings. First, we would no longer give a specific weight to medical opinions and prior administrative medical findings; this includes giving controlling weight to medical opinions from treating sources. Instead, we would consider the persuasiveness of medical opinions and prior administrative medical findings using the factors described below. Second, we propose to consider supportability and consistency as the most important factors. Finally, we propose to reorganize the factors to: (1) list the supportability and consistency factors first, (2) include a "relationship with the claimant" factor that combines the content of the current examining relationship and treatment relationship factors, (3) list individually the three different factors currently combined as other factors, and (4) restate the factors using consistent sentence structure. ... 
     You would think in reading this that Social Security believes that the federal courts are packed with Republican appointees eager to go along with anything hostile to disability claimants. Good luck with that theory. If this is finally adopted, which is doubtful, expect it to be eviscerated by the federal courts.

New Mental Impairment Listings Approved But Won't Be Published Until December

     The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has finished reviewing Social Security's proposed amendments to the agency's Listings on mental illness and intellectual disability and has approved them. The Listings are a major part of Social Security's policies on evaluating mental illness in disability claims. 
     The process that produced this dates all the way back to 2003. This particular draft was first published in 2010. 
     This proposal has been extremely controversial. Normally, new regulations are published in the Federal Register within a week or two after OMB approval. They come into effect thereafter. However, Social Security recently told the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) that it was not planning to publish the revisions to the mental impairment Listings until December. This strongly suggests to me that the agency knows the new mental impairment Listings will be controversial and wishes to put off releasing them until after the election. They want to dump them in the Federal Register during the holiday season with the transition to a new administration underway. 
     I've been representing Social Security disability claimants since 1979. Disability claimants suffering from mental illness are being treated the worst now that they're been treated since about 1983. Claimants with intellectual disability are being treated worse now than at any time in my career. I expect the new Listings will try to crystallize the current restrictive policies. What a legacy for Carolyn Colvin.

Sep 7, 2016

Not Happy About Being Number One

      From WSOC-TV:
Thousands of people nationwide seeking disability assistance are waiting months, or even years, for Social Security to hear their cases.

The Charlotte review office has the biggest backlog of all the 170 offices across the nation.
The latest numbers show that Charlotte has 14,456 pending cases. People wait an average of 622 days for their appeals to be heard, almost 100 days more than the national average.
Randy van Hoosan's wife has multiple sclerosis and said that four years ago she realized she couldn't work anymore.
When she applied for disability, she was denied. He said she appealed in October 2014, but almost two years later she's still waiting for her appeal to be heard.
The couple filed bankruptcy in December. They said they lost their house, a car and "just live day to day." ...
They contacted U.S. Sen. Richard Burr's office and got a letter back last month, saying they should expect to wait another 18 to 24 month. ...

Wisconsin ALJ Taken Off Regular Duties Because Of Comments About Claimants

     From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Administrative law judge John H. Pleuss has been removed from the list of judges within the computer system at the Social Security’s Madison Office of Adjudication and Review, and all of his 60 cases through the end of 2016 have been reassigned, according to two whistle-blowers from the administration and a copy of the list provided to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. ...
Pleuss described disability claimants in his notes using shorthand phrases such as "very black, African looking woman (actually a gorilla-like appearance),” “buxom,” and "attractive; looks innocent,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a conservative website, Wisconsin Watchdog, have reported. ...
Although Pleuss remains at the Madison office in some capacity, office director Laura Hodorowicz and group supervisor Wayne Gentz have both been removed from the hearing office and its directory, according to Holland, lead case technician Machelle Keller and a copy of the directory provided to the Journal Sentinel. ...
     Pleuss was approving 55% of the cases he heard.

Sep 6, 2016

That Two Factor Authentication Fiasco Was Even Worse Than You Thought

     Last month Social Security introduced two factor authentication for its online systems. Claimants would have to enter a password and then enter a second passcode delivered to them via a text message in order to enter Social Security's online systems. Social Security had to beat a hasty retreat two weeks later as senior citizens protested that they didn't have text access.
     As embarrassing as the two factor authentication seemed, the reality was even worse. Computerworld reveals that in the same month that Social Security introduced two factor authentication, the National Institute of Standards and Technology warned federal agencies not to use two factor authentication.
     Social Security is still requiring two factor authentication for attorneys using its online systems. Can we now dispense with that?

Sep 4, 2016

Let Me Tell You A Story

     Let me tell you about a client. I'll change a few minor details to protect her identity but nothing that affects the account in a material way. We'll call my client Greta. Greta's mother was a German national. Her father was a U.S soldier stationed in Germany. Greta's mother didn't marry Greta's natural father. However, Greta's mother later married another U.S. soldier and moved to the United States with Greta when Greta was four. Greta hasn't been back to Germany since. She doesn't remember being there. She wonders whether a trip back to Germany would rekindle some memories. She speaks no German. She went to school in the United States. She got a Social Security card. She worked in the United States. She married and had children in the United States. She never tried to register to vote because she just wasn't interested. She never tried to get a passport because she didn't have the money to travel outside the country. There was never a problem until Greta applied for Social Security retirement benefits. At that point, it was discovered that Greta wasn't a citizen. What's more, she didn't have a green card. Although Greta came to the United States legally, she had become an illegal immigrant because the proper steps hadn't been taken to regularize her immigration status. This amazed Greta. She knew she was born in Germany but thought she had become an American citizen when she was a child. That's what should have happened. It would have been easy but her parents never did what they needed to do. While Greta has enough quarters of coverage to get Social Security retirement benefits, she can't be paid until Greta sorts out her immigration status with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This will be done. INS isn't being difficult. They're sympathetic. They agree that she deserves a green card. She may even be entitled to citizenship without the normal formalities because she was brought to the United States as a child by her U.S. citizen stepfather. However, the INS is slow. Sorting this out will take well over a year.
     Donald Trump wants to throw all illegal immigrants out of the country. At the moment Greta is an illegal immigrant. Do you want to round up Greta, put her in detention and then deport her to Germany? Do you want to punish her for the negligence of her parents more than 50 years ago? Greta wasn't born in Mexico but what if she had been and had been brought to the U.S. by a stepfather who was a U.S. citizen? Would that affect how you feel about the situation?

Sep 3, 2016

CCD Opposes NPRM On Medical Evidence

     The Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), the largest umbrella group of organizations involved in advocating for persons with disabilities, has submitted comments on Social Security's Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (NPRM) on ensuring program uniformity at Social Security. CCD opposes the changes for these reasons (which are elaborated on in the CCD letter):
1. Creating an arbitrary deadline for the submission of evidence is inconsistent with the statutory and regulatory duties of the Commissioner to fully develop the record and inconsistent with the duties of claimants to submit all evidence as required in 20 C.F.R. §404.1512 and §416.912.
2. Excluding material evidence is administratively inefficient and will increase appeals to the Appeals Council and to federal court.
3. The proposed rule ignores the reality that testimony, and sometimes new evidence, is routinely introduced at or after ALJ hearings, and claimants and representatives need the opportunity to respond.
4. Serious problems and inconsistencies exist with the implementation of the 5 business day rule in Region I.

Sep 2, 2016

Charlie Binder Has An Objection

     Below is a letter I have received from an attorney representing Charlie Binder. You can click on each thumbnail to see it full size.
     Binder is objecting to my post Proposed Rules Of Conduct For Appointed Representatives where I wrote that "This [proposal regulation] is just overkill. I'm not Eric Conn or Charlie Binder. Don't treat me like them. I don't deserve it." Binder feels that I have accused him of certain conduct that the proposal would ban and that I am associating him with the allegedly criminal behavior of Eric Conn. 
     I have no problem saying that I have no knowledge that Charlie Binder or anyone else at Binder and Binder has done anything illegal and that I don't know that this proposal would have any more effect upon Binder and Binder than it would have on my firm.  It would not have taken a three page letter from Binder's attorney to get me to say this. A simple e-mail from Binder himself would have been enough.
     My point in using the names of Eric Conn and Charlie Binder was not to say that their behavior has been the same or similar. My point was to express my concern that each, for different reasons, has generated negative attitudes towards Social Security attorneys on the part of upper Social Security management. I am concerned that these negative attitudes are behind recent Social Security regulatory actions. The issues at Binder and Binder, while not criminal, are magnified in importance by the prominence of that entity. I thought about going through the issues at Binder and Binder but decided there was no point. Almost all my readers already know enough about Binder and Binder to have their own opinions.
     The ironic thing is that Charlie Binder doesn't like to be lumped together with Eric Conn. I don't like being lumped together with either Conn or Binder.



Sep 1, 2016

Attorneys Responding To A Crisis

     Many attorneys from around the country responded to the call from AppalReD Legal Aid to help the former clients of Eric Conn who have found themselves faced with the challenge of proving all over again that they are disabled.  AppalReD has provided the following list of the attorneys who have helping these claimants.


     There's one other name that was inadvertently omitted from the list above, Christopher Bush of Kentucky. Also, it's Daniel Smith, not Danny Smith.