Aug 23, 2017

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True ...

     From the Detroit Free Press:
Here's some sorry news this summer: There's no secret cash stash out there to pay your utility bills or your old outstanding debts with the state.
Consumers are getting swept into some scams across the country that promise a way to use special bank routing numbers supposedly from the U.S. government to cover their bills. 
One website notes: "Pay all bills now with your no-longer secret Social Security Trust Account." ...
By re-examining the account numbers being used to pay bills, staff members noticed that individuals had been trying to pay old state debts by using routing numbers from two U.S. Department of Treasury bureaus — the financial management service and the bureau of public debt. ... 
Leix said the strategy seems to be one promoted by tax protest groups and others. ...
"It just won't work," Leix said. "It's just not a valid method of payment for any outstanding debt."  ...
People are being told that your Social Security number is all that you need to unlock payment from a “corporate account” that was established by the government in your name. ...

Aug 22, 2017

I'm Not Joking

     Social Security is in the pilot phase of developing DeDoop, a program that is supposed to remove duplicative medical records from the electronic files of Social Security disability claimants.

Aug 21, 2017

ODAR Workload And Performance Summary

     This was obtained from the Social Security Administration by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and published in its newsletter, which is not available online.
Click on image to view full size

Aug 20, 2017

Be Careful What You Ask For

     I heard recently from an attorney who requested some medical records on his client from a hospital. The hospital sent the attorney a good deal more than he requested but it was all on his client. It came to 12,000 pages. If we didn't have regulations requiring that EVERTHING be submitted, the attorney would have culled out the records than hadn't been requested, records that weren't material to the determination of disability such as nurses notes, medication records, endless lab tests, etc, but he can't do that now. He's submitting the whole thing.

Aug 19, 2017

The Most Common Social Security Fraud

     From a report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
In May 2012, the Social Security Administration (SSA) introduced my Social Security — an Internet services portal that allows individuals to create a personal online account to access their own information. In January 2013, the Agency enhanced my Social Security to allow individuals to change their direct deposit bank information. Shortly after SSA made this change, the Agency and the Office of the Inspector General began receiving fraud allegations related to unauthorized direct deposit changes....
Based on our random samples, we estimated that $10.9 million in benefit payments for about 7,200 beneficiaries was misdirected in CYs [Calendar Years] 2014 through 2016. ...
We also estimated SSA prevented about $14.1 million in benefits from being misrouted from about 11,900 beneficiaries whose direct deposit bank account was changed without their authorization.
Comparing our analysis of the CY 2014 through 2016 data the Agency provided to our prior review of CY 2013 data showed that the amount of benefits misdirected through my Social Security decreased. Also, we made recommendations to SSA related to verifying the identities of my Social Security users in our September 2016 report. As a result, we are not making any additional recommendations for corrective action at this time. ...

Aug 18, 2017

The Evil OHO

     Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will soon change its name to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). People will pronounce OHO as Oh-Ho. However, that is the same pronunciation as the Spanish word for eye, ojo. A friend who knows a good deal about these things tells me that the Spanish word ojo also has the connotation of evil eye in Mexican and Central American culture. There are many legal immigrants in the United States from Mexico and Central America who take the concept of the evil eye seriously. We'd better not confuse them by casually referring to Oh-Ho.

Aug 17, 2017

Hard Time

     From the Lexington, KY Herald Leader:
A Pikeville psychologist tried to hang himself after he was convicted of conspiring with disability attorney Eric C. Conn to defraud the Social Security Administration of millions of dollars, according to a court record.
A federal prosecutor cited the unsuccessful suicide attempt in arguing that Alfred Bradley Adkins should not be released on bond pending sentencing.
U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves turned down Adkins’ request to be released. ...
Adkins was charged with signing false mental-impairment evaluations for Conn to use in claims.
A jury convicted Adkins on June 12 of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and making a false statement in a record submitted to Social Security.
Reeves ordered Adkins taken into custody after the verdict.
About an hour later, the U.S. Marshals Service notified Reeves that Adkins had tried to hang himself in a holding cell at the federal courthouse in Lexington, according to a court document. The document didn’t provide any additional details.
Reeves said in an order that although Adkins’ attempt was unsuccessful, it “refutes his claims of stability and the assertions that Adkins is not a danger to himself or to others, or that he would not flee if given the opportunity.” ...
Adkins faces up to 65 years in prison, according to a motion by Dustin M. Davis, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. ...

Read more here:

Read more here:

Read more here: faces up to 65 years in prison, according to a motion by Dustin M. Davis, an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Read more here:

Aug 16, 2017

Why Can't Social Security Get Adequate Administrative Funding?

     Max Richtman of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare wonders why the Sorcial Security Administration can't get an adequate operating budget. He thinks it might have something to do with the fact that Republicans still can't reconcile themselves to the very existence of Social Security.

Aug 15, 2017

1.7% COLA?

     There's always great interest in Social Security's annual cost of living adjustment. We won't know the actual 2018 number until October but it's looking like it will be about 1.7%.

Aug 14, 2017

Happy Birthday!

     President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act on August 14, 1935.

Aug 13, 2017

New Remand Procedure

     From HALLEX, the manual for Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) (and no, the name hasn't changed yet):
I-2-5-12 Remand for Revised Determination Last Update: 8/3/17 (Transmittal I-2-211)  
A.When to Remand for a Revised Determination After a claimant files a request for hearing but before an administrative law judge (ALJ) holds a hearing, an ALJ may, under certain circumstances, remand a case to the Disability Determination Services or other component that issued the determination. See 20 CFR 404.948(c) and 416.1448(c). An ALJ may remand for a revised determination on his or her own initiative, or at the request of a claimant. An ALJ will only remand a case for a revised determination if there is reason to believe the revised determination would be fully favorable to the claimant. While the regulatory language is quite broad, the ALJ will only consider this requirement met if the ALJ is reasonably certain a revised fully favorable determination will be issued on remand. For example, the ALJ may receive new and material evidence that appears to change the outcome, or a change in the law permits a favorable determination. ...

Aug 12, 2017

New Prehearing Reviews

     From HALLEX, the manual of Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) whose name will be changed to OHO this fall:
I-2-5-10. Prehearing Case Review by Other Component Last Update: 8/3/17 (Transmittal I-2-211) 
A.General After a claimant files a request for hearing but before an administrative law judge (ALJ) holds a hearing, an ALJ may, under the circumstances outlined in subsection B below, forward a claim for a prehearing case review to the Disability Determination Services or other component that issued the determination the claimant is appealing. On receipt of the claim(s), the receiving component will decide whether to revise the determination based on a preponderance of the evidence. See 20 CFR 404.941 and 416.1441. Under these procedures, the Social Security Administration may only issue a revised determination if it is fully or partially favorable to the claimant. NOTE: While a prehearing case review is pending, the ALJ retains jurisdiction of the claim and will not dismiss the request for hearing. 
B.When an ALJ May Refer a Case for Prehearing Case Review As set forth in 20 CFR 404.941 and 416.1441, an ALJ may refer a case for a prehearing case review if: Additional evidence is submitted; There is an indication that additional evidence is available; There is a change in the law or regulation; or There is an error in the file or some other indication that the prior determination may be revised. In screening cases for the regulatory criteria, the ALJ will only refer cases for a prehearing case review in which application of the criteria may result in a fully or partially favorable decision. 

Aug 11, 2017

One Writer Describes What It Feels Like To Be Disabled

     From Robert Fowler writing for the Washington Post:
... A few weeks after my stroke, when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to work, my wife drove me to the Social Security office to apply for benefits. After stacks of paperwork, it took several months before my first trip to the doctor, for a psychiatric exam, where they asked me to count to 100 by sevens. It should have been simple, but about halfway through, I stumbled, and felt humiliated. More questions passed, and more confusion. A very thorough physical exam came next. And then there was a very thorough check of our finances, including the number of cars and bank accounts we have. Months on, I still haven’t received a single check. Without help from family, I would be homeless, despite over forty years in the work force. To them, I am forever grateful, but also deeply ashamed. 

In a world where we’re all expected to carry our own weight, I fully understand why my fellow taxpayers don’t want to carry mine. But what I don’t understand is that the lady who helped me with the paperwork at the Social Security office told me disability was not charity. What I am to get out is based on what I put in. She told me to stop crying because it is money I have earned. So In a world where we’re all expected to carry our own weight, I fully understand why my fellow taxpayers don’t want to carry mine. But what I don’t understand is that the lady who helped me with the paperwork at the Social Security office told me disability was not charity. What I am to get out is based on what I put in. She told me to stop crying because it is money I have earned. So why do I feel so much shame? 

I was raised with the feeling that public services should be kept to an absolute minimum, and that people who received government assistance have no class, and should have taken better care of themselves. Three weeks after my stroke, my wife of 41 years lost her job, too. She was upset due to my prognosis, and spent so much of her time taking care of me (making sure, for example, that I could turn off the burners after cooking, and make it around the house on my own) that it was hard for her to make it to work. Without her job, we had to apply for food stamps. When we first received them, I was so humiliated I wouldn’t even go to the store with her. I was afraid and demoralized. 

I would gladly work, just to hold my head up again. And I believe most folks like me would prefer a hand up to a handout. It’s just that a hand up is much harder to come by in circumstances like these. I didn’t grow up poor, and I didn’t intend to become poor: Somehow, it just happened. The poor are rarely in a position to defend themselves. I see that now, and I refuse to judge a panhandler these days. I just thank God I’m not in his shoes yet, if he has any.

Aug 10, 2017

A Message From The Commissioner

Date: August 8, 2017 Refer To: S7A-4

To: Senior Staff

From: Nancy A. Berryhill /s/
Acting Commissioner 

Subject: Organizational Realignment - INFORMATION

I continue to identify opportunities to improve efficiency and public service by unifying efforts and advancing our ability to make data-driven decisions.

Today, I am announcing the establishment of a Deputy Commissioner-level organization – the Office of Analytics, Review, and Oversight (OARO) – which will be implemented October 1, 2017. The six offices involved that will form this organization are as follows:

From the Office of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management:
 • Office of Anti-Fraud Programs; 
 • Office of Business Improvement;
• Office of Quality Review; and
• Audit Liaison Staff 

From the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review:
• Office of Appellate Operations;

From the Office of the Commissioner:
 • Analytics Center of Excellence

Integration of these organizations with complementary missions provides an opportunity to mature our anti-fraud efforts, institutionalize and foster data analysis in our programs, improve coordination to provide oversight of the disability adjudication system, and communicate a unified message within and outside the agency. This restructuring presents an opportunity to maximize our resources and better organize efforts to explore and develop the future of analyses and oversight. I said in my first communication January 23rd that we will be mission focused and mission driven. The establishment of this organization further demonstrates a commitment to maximizing our performance and employee engagement while enhancing and improving agency policies and processes so that we provide quality public service.

Pat Jonas will be Deputy Commissioner, OARO and Amy Thompson will serve as Acting Assistant Deputy Commissioner, OARO. 

In addition to this new organization structure, the Office of Budget, Finance, Quality, and Management will be the Office of Budget, Finance, and Management (OBFM). The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review will be the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). 

Please join me in congratulating our colleagues on their new assignment. I am sure I can count on you to give them your full cooperation as they begin the task of integration and moving forward.

Aug 9, 2017

ODAR To Become OHO

     I am hearing that Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) will be changing its name to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). As part of this process, the Appeals Council will go to a newly created Office, where it will undoubtedly bicker with OHO. 
     By the way, I'm old enough to remember when what is now ODAR was the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA).

Aug 8, 2017

Andrus Sentenced

     From the Associated Press:
A former chief regional Social Security judge [actually Hearing Office Chief Judge] has been sentenced to prison for scheming to retaliate against an employee who blew the whistle on alleged fraud by a Kentucky lawyer. 

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports Charlie Paul Andrus was sentenced Monday to six months in federal prison. 

Andrus pleaded guilty last year to conspiring with disability lawyer Eric Conn to interfere with a person's employment. Conn — at the center of a nearly $600 million Social Security fraud case — disappeared this past June. ... 

Aug 7, 2017

ALJ Register Opening

     From Government Executive:
... The Office of Personnel Management announced this week that it planned to open up applications for administrative law judges throughout government, aiming to replenish a register it maintains for the positions. ... 
SSA cannot resolve the problem simply by adding more ALJs, however, according to Association of Administrative Law Judges President Marilyn Zahm. While SSA must hire 100 judges each year just to keep pace with attrition, Zahm said even an influx above that level would not sufficiently drive down the backlog. 
A shortage of support staff, such as clerks and attorneys, is the driving force behind the growing number of outstanding claims. SSA imposed a hiring freeze in May 2016 ahead of fears that its budget would continue to shrink. It remained in place after President Trump issued a governmentwide moratorium upon taking office. While the agency received authority from OPM to bring on 200 support staff while Trump’s freeze was in place, Zahm said that was a “drop in the bucket” that barely kept pace with the departures taking place across SSA’s 166 hearing offices. SSA lifted the freeze in May, but is hiring on a limited basis for direct service positions only. ...

Aug 6, 2017

Early Out Offered

     From Government Executive:
The Social Security Administration is opening up separation incentives to nearly every job category across its workforce, with about one in four employees eligible to leave. 
The largest independent federal agency announced the early retirement offer in a June memorandum obtained by Government Executive. All employees who wish to take advantage must separate by Sept. 1. Only the agency’s 1,600 administrative law judges are not eligible to accept the offer. 
Employees must have 20 years experience and be at least 50 years old, or have 25 years of service and be any age, to qualify under the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. ...

Aug 5, 2017

Can Someone Translate This Into English?

     From FCW:
The Social Security Administration is moving forward with back-end tech and records systems to support the agency's long-term plan to modernize and improve customer service. 
As SSA continues to invest in its online help and customer services, the Customer Engagement Tools record system will collect and store electronic communications between SSA personnel and beneficiaries with "my Social Security" accounts. 
The database, which will be developed in-house, will also allow SSA's customer-facing systems quick access to user data. 
A Social Security spokesperson told FCW the agency anticipates the system will be ready for use in fiscal year 2018, and that 10 percent of current my Social Security account holders will be able to access the CET system in its first release.

Aug 4, 2017

FICA Receipts Hurt By IRS Budget Problems

     From the Fiscal Times:
A new report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration released this week highlights the problem and suggests that the IRS may still be doing too little to go after employers suspected of hiding wages and failing to report billions of dollars in federal payroll taxes, including for Social Security and Medicare. 
The inspector general analyzed 137,272 cases from tax year 2013 in which there was a glaring discrepancy between employee wage and withholding information reported to both the IRS and the Social Security Administration and found that the IRS declined to investigate most of the possible fraud. According to the inspector general, the IRS intervened in only 23,184 of those cases, or just 17 percent of the total. ...
   And it's going to get worse since the IRS budget keeps getting cut, allowing abusive schemes to flourish.

Aug 3, 2017

Lots Of No Bid Contracting At Social Security

     According to a piece in The Hill by David Williams only 58% of Social Security's contract spending is awarded based upon competitive bidding.

Aug 2, 2017

Disability Insurance Income Saves Lives

From Disability Insurance Income Saves Lives by Alexander Gelber, Timothy Moore and Alexander Strand: 
We show that higher payments from U.S. Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) reduce mortality. Using administrative data on all new DI beneficiaries from 1997 to 2009, we exploit discontinuities in the benefit formula through a regression kink design. We estimate that $1,000 in annual DI payments decreases the annual mortality rate of lower-income beneficiaries by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points, implying that the elasticity of annual mortality with respect to annual DI income is around -0.6. These mortality effects imply large benefits that have not been taken into account in the welfare analysis of DI and other social income insurance programs.

Aug 1, 2017

Do Big Backlogs Help The Disability Trust Fund?

     The Hill asks the question: Is the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund doing better because increasing backlogs slow down the number of claims being approved? The answer is pretty clearly yes to some extent although there are more important factors. 
    I think one overlooked factor is that the long backlogs and harsh adjudicatory environment deter people from filing claims. Few people stop work due to illness or injury and file a disability claim immediately. There's usually a lag time that can be anywhere from a few months to a few years. A perception that the process is difficult and unpleasant can cause people to hold off longer in filing claims. I wish some investigator would look into this. You'd only need to look at the difference between claim date and alleged onset date and chart the difference over time. You could then correlate that with backlogs and approval rates. My guess is that the result would be interesting.