Mar 31, 2007

Martin Gerry's Departure From SSA

I try not to post based upon anonymously posted information, but this is too good to pass on. I cannot vouch for it. It is possible that it is a complete fabrication. If it is, please let me know. Read this reply to a post I made yesterday about Martin Gerry's apparent firing. Gerry was the right hand man of former Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart. Gerry made the surprising decision to try to stay on at Social Security after Barnhart's term ended. He recently left his job at Social Security in what appeared to be an abrupt manner that strongly suggested he had been fired. Former Commissioner Barnhart wanted everyone to love her. If this post is true, Commissioner Astrue wants everyone to fear him. That would be a dramatic change for upper level Social Security personnel.

Iowa County Proposes Aid To Those Waiting And Waiting For Action On Their Social Security Disability Claims

From the Daily Iowan:
A proposed addition to Johnson County's general-assistance program, which helps county residents experiencing financial crises, would assist those waiting to receive state Social Security disability benefits.

Under the proposed interim assistance program, as presented to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors last week, the county would help support citizens applying for benefits, providing monthly payments to those waiting for state approval. ...

Currently, individuals waiting on benefits do not receive money until their applications are approved. State reimbursement would go to the county rather than the individual under the new plan. The proposed program would provide immediate financial relief to those waiting for Social Security disability benefits.

Mar 30, 2007

Social Security Budget Situation

Let me start out by saying that I am no budget expert. In fact, the more I study Social Security's budget situation and the federal budget process, the more complicated it seems. Acknowledging that I may err, let me summarize what I understand the situation to be.
Social Security's Fiscal Year (FY) Actual Budget 2007 -- (October 1, 2006 to September 30, 2007) $9.3 billion

Social Security's FY 2008 (October 1, 2007 to September 30, 2008) Budget Request -- $10.44 billion -- a 13% increase over FY 2007

President's FY 2008 Budget --$9.6 billion -- a 4% increase -- little more than inflation

House of Representatives FY 2008 Budget Resolution Budget For Social Security--$10.11 billion -- a 9% increase over the FY 2007

Senate FY 2008 Budget Resolution Budget For Social Security -- I am still trying to figure this one out. I think it is similar to the House Budget Resolution, but a bit lower. I would appreciate it if someone who understands the process better can supply me with the Senate number.
These budget resolution figure, to the extent that I can understand it, is only a general guideline. The Appropriations Committees of the two houses of Congress must report out specific funding bills and those must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President. Other agencies are jockeying with Social Security for appropriations, within the general guidelines set forth by the budget resolutions. In other words, Social Security's actual appropriaton for FY 2008 could go up or down from the figures suggested by the House budget resolution, but will probably be in the same ball park.

This certainly suggests that Social Security's FY 2008 budget will be much better than its FY 2007 budget, but that does not mean that all of Social Security's budget problems will disappear. Even the budget put forward by Social Security is likely to be well below what the agency needs to work down its backlogs quickly. Any agency must avoid offending the White House's Office of Management and Budget and Congress with budget requests which seem extravagant. Social Security's budget request for FY 2008 was prepared under the direction of Jo Anne Barnhart. She was never willing to pursue her agency's budget needs aggressively, so there is good reason to believe that, if anything, the budget she produced suffers from an excess of modesty, and Social Security is not going to get all of that.

What we can hope for at the moment is enough funds to stabilize Social Security's field offices, teleservice centers and payment centers, which are in a state of impending collapse, and to make some modest improvements at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), which suffered a collapse in 2001 from which it has never recovered. Full recovery at ODAR (which should include a name change back to the Office of Hearings and Appeals -- everybody involved HATES the name ODAR) is likely to take many years.

Baltimore Sun On Jo Anne Barnhart, Michael Astrue and Martin Gerry

I have written before about the Baltimore Sun's lack of attention to the largest employer in the Baltimore area, the Social Security Administration. I have found it amazing that the newspaper ran no articles whatsoever about the nomination, confirmation or installation of Michael Astrue as Social Security Commissioner.

The Baltimore Sun has finally noticed Social Security. In the context of an article discussing "burrowing," political appointees seeking civil service positions before an expected change in government, the Sun finally mentions Social Security. The article does not mention any burrowing going on at Social Security, although that may be happening. Indeed, the mention of Social Security appears to be tacked onto an unrelated article. Still, the article does mention Michael Astrue, Jo Anne Barnhart and Martin Gerry. Here is an excerpt, which to my reading makes it clear that Martin Gerry was fired:
A longtime political appointee who oversaw the first wave of reforms to the nation's disability system is no longer employed by the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration, agency spokesman Mark Lassiter said this week.

Lassiter declined to say whether Martin Gerry, who also served under Presidents Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush, resigned or was fired from his post. A spokesman for the agency's inspector general also declined to comment. A call to what is believed to be Gerry's Ellicott City home was not returned.

Gerry's departure, however, comes as new Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue contemplates the agency's current strategy for streamlining the disability process - reforms that were a legacy of former Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart. ...

Although Astrue has told Congress that he stands firmly behind Barnhart's goal of reducing the red tape and heaps of appeals from denied applicants, he has not committed to Barnhart's solution, which began in the New England region last year.

Awful Crime Alleged In Massachusetts

From the Associated Press:

Parents accused of killing their 4-year-old daughter with an overdose of prescription drugs had concocted symptoms of mental illnesses to qualify the girl for government benefits, a prosecutor said Tuesday. Michael and Carolyn Riley pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges Tuesday and were ordered to remain in custody without bail.

The Rileys' applications for Supplemental Security Income for their daughter, Rebecca, were twice rejected after government doctors examined her and found no evidence to back the parents' claims of bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, Assistant District Attorney Frank Middleton said. ...

Rebecca's older siblings, now ages 11 and 6, already had gone to the psychiatrist, Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, and were diagnosed with the same disorders and were receiving Supplemental Security Income, the program administered by the Social Security Administration for disabled children.

Middleton said Carolyn Riley told Kifuji that Rebecca had "mood swings" and was "driving me crazy." Kifuji diagnosed her with bipolar disorder at age 3.

Carolyn Riley "continued to feed Dr. Kifuji fabricated symptoms," Middleton said. He said Rebecca's teachers, a school nurse, mental health therapist and neighbors and adults who lived with the Rileys all told a grand jury that "Rebecca showed none of these behaviors."

Mar 29, 2007

Social Security Attorney Fees And Bankruptcy

From the New York Law Journal:
The Social Security Administration does not have the authority to demand the return of fees it paid to an attorney who represented a disability claimant whose debts were discharged in bankruptcy, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the payment of $1,200 to the firm of Binder & Binder could not be undone by the agency even though the debtor disputed the firm's bill in her bankruptcy petition.

The ruling in Binder & Binder v. Barnhart, 05-6794-cv, was issued by Judges Roger Miner, Joseph McLaughlin and Robert Katzmann, with Judge Miner writing for the court.

Mar 28, 2007

Letter From Witold Skwierczynski To House Budget Committee Chairman

Witold Skwierczynski is the President of the National Council of SSA Field Operations Locals of the American Federation of Government Employees which represents 28,000 Social Security employees. He sent a letter today to thank the Chairman of the House Budget Committee for additional Social Security funding provided for in the House Budget Resolution. The letter is reproduced above. To see it at full size, just click on each page. The letter gives important information about the status of Social Security's budget for fiscal year 2008.

Senior ALJs Sought

I understand that the e-mail below went out early this morning:

From: Cristaudo, Frank
Sent: Tuesday, March 27, 2007 5:15 AM
Cc: Griswold, Nancy J.; #ODAR All RO Mgmt Team; #ODAR All HOCALJs; #ODAR All HODs; #ODAR HQ OCJ Exec Staff
Subject: Senior ALJs and Re-employed Annuitant ALJs

We need to know as quickly as possible the names of retired ALJs who would be interested in appointment as Senior ALJs or Re-employed Annuitant ALJs. We are being advised that a significant number of retired ALJs are interested in appointment as either a Senior ALJ or as a Re-employed Annuitant ALJ. Because of the urgency of this matter, I am copying the HO Chief Judges and HO Directors and asking them to let us know if they are familiar with any retired ALJs interested in re-appointment and to provide this information directly to the Chief Judge's Office with a copy to the ORCJ. The information should be sent to Vicki Norton who will have this information compiled for us. If you have any questions, please let me know. Thanks.

Frank A. Cristaudo
Chief Judge

Social Security Starting To Hire

The e-mail from Commissioner Astrue posted here recently said that Social Security had found some money to begin hiring some replacements for departing employees. Social Security has now posted online openings for 29 employees. This is, by far, the most openings that Social Security has had in many months, perhaps in years. Probably, there will be many more jobs posted in the near future as the agency does the paperwork to start the process of hiring new employees. As helpful as this is, all signs are that Social Security will be unable to keep its workforce from shrinking.

Decline In Social Security Workforce Continues

The Office of Personnel Management has released figures on federal employment as of December 2006. This shows that Social Security's workforce declined by .4% over those three months. The decline was 3.6% from December 2005 to December 2006, even though Social Security's workload went up in 2006 due to the Medicare prescription drug benefit and the aging of the baby boomer population.

Digital Imaging Contract Attracts Attention

Social Security's effort to find a vendor which can provide software to magically reorganize scanned disability claim files so that duplicates records are eliminated and the proper records are neatly organized is attracting attention from a leading industry news source,

There will be good money to be made from such a contract, even though the task is quite hopeless. Vendors for projects such as this get paid whether the software they try to develop works or not. As I have said before, this is like something out of Dilbert.

Mar 27, 2007

No Politicking At SSA

From the Baltimore Sun:

... The Merit Systems Protection Board, for instance, overturned a lower court ruling favorable to two former Social Security Administration employees, who forwarded e-mails revealing their allegiances while at work in the agency's Kansas City, Mo., field office.

The first e-mail, from Leslye Sims was titled "FW: Fwd: Fw: Why I am Supporting John Kerry for President" Sims began her e-mail with "Some things to ponder ..." and then copied and pasted a pro-Kerry letter from John Eisenhower, son of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. ...

Sims e-mailed the letter to 22 people, including colleague Michael Davis, who responded to 27 people with an e-mail tagged, "FW: Your Vote." The message contained a graphic of a button with a flag background and President George W. Bush's face in the center. Above his head were the words "I vote" and below "the Bible." The message questioned Kerry's morals and leadership skills.

...The addressees on both e-mails were not identical and included people not working for the federal government, but Smith said they clearly were improper.

Ana Galindo-Marrone, chief of the Hatch Act unit at the Office of Special Counsel, explained the rules this way.

"E-mails on duty or while in a federal building directed at the success or failure of a candidate, party or political organization are prohibited," she said. "Employees opining on the Iraq war or abortion, even though they may be issues in a hot race, are permitted -- unless they're specifically tied back to a candidate or party."

Mar 26, 2007

ALJ Joe R. Hooper Dies

Greenville Online reports that Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Joe R. Hooper of Greenville, SC has died. His funeral is set for Tuesday, March 26.

SSA Responds To Media Attention?

The Charlotte Observer has reported on the severe backlogs affecting Social Security claimants who ask for an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing. They are now reporting in a new article that one of the claimants whose name appeared in the article has just been approved by an ALJ.

One thing not mentioned in the article, but which has been a topic of conversation among local Social Security attorneys, is that both the Charlotte and Greensboro, NC hearing offices have recently shipped out a large number of cases to be heard by ALJs from other offices. Those claimants will receive video hearings. Perhaps not coincidentally, a television station that serves an area covered by both the Charlotte and Greensboro hearing offices is preparing a story on Social Security backlogs. The only other hearing office in North Carolina, Raleigh, has nearly as big a backlog as Charlotte and Greensboro and the Raleigh backlog is growing much more rapidly than the backlogs in Charlotte and Greensboro, but no cases have yet been transferred out of the Raleigh hearing office.


Proposed New Regulation

From today's Federal Register:
We propose to revise our regulations to codify two provisions of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 that affect the payment of benefits under title XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). One of the provisions extended temporary institutionalization benefits to children receiving SSI benefits who enter private medical treatment facilities and who otherwise would be ineligible for temporary institutionalization benefits because of private insurance coverage. The other provision replaced obsolete terminology in the Act that referred to particular kinds of medical facilities and substituted a broader, more descriptive term.

Results Of Last Week's Unscientific Poll

How do you rate the chances of former Commissioner Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement plan being implemented nationally?
Almost certain (2) 2%
More likely than not (4) 4%
Some chance (21) 19%
Little chance (39) 36%
No chance (42) 39%

Total Votes: 108

Mar 25, 2007

An Image From The 1980s

Odd And Surprising Decision From the Sixth Circuit

Thanks to Eric Schnaufer for posting links to federal appellate decisions in Social Security cases. Here are some excerpts from Cook v. Commissioner of Social Security, issued on March 21, which I would characterize as an odd and surprising decision that suggests that some federal judges look for ways to dispose of Social Security cases without hearing them:
Cook appealed to the SSA’s Appeals Council, which issued a notice of denial of review dated July 27, 2005. This notice was sent to Cook by regular mail in an envelope bearing a postmark of July 28, 2005 ... On Monday, October 3, 2005, Cook filed a complaint in federal district court, appealing the Appeals Council’s denial of review. ...

Under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, Cook had 60 days from the Appeals Council’s notice of denial in which to file his appeal. Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(B) (“When the United States or its officer or agency is a party, the notice of appeal may be filed by any party within 60 days after the judgment or order appealed from is entered.”). But he also had a five-day “grace period” before the 60 days began to run, which reflects the SSA’s rebuttable presumption that he received his notice of denial within five days of the date of the notice. 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(c). Rule 26(a)(3) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure provides that when the final day of an appeals period falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, then those days are excluded in computing the time period. Fed. R. App. P. 26(a)(3). If the appeals period ended on a weekend day, the appellant accordingly would have until the following Monday in which to timely file. ...

But Cook urges us to calculate the five-day period from the date of mailing, represented by the postmark date, rather than from the date on the notice itself. Unlike the facts in McKentry, however, Cook does not deny that he received the Appeals Council’s notice. He instead argues that the district court miscalculated the applicable review period because the notice was not actually postmarked until July 28, 2005, even though the first page of the notice bears a date of July 27, 2005. ...

Contrary to Cook’s argument, this court has consistently calculated the filing period from the date on the notice itself. See, e.g., McKentry, 655 F.2d at 724; Harris, No. 01-3522, 25 F. App’x at 273-74. This is in keeping with the applicable regulations. Cook has presented no persuasive argument for deviating from this interpretation. His complaint filed on Monday, October 3, 2005, was thus one day late.

Mar 24, 2007

A Ray Of Budget Light

A recent e-mail to all Social Security employees from the Commissioner of Social Security:
A Message To All Social Security And DDS Employees

Subject: Budget News

As I told you last month, Congress approved and the President signed legislation allocating an additional $200 million for Social Security. That number brought us about half of the way back to the President's recommended budget level for this fiscal year.

This week I had the pleasure of releasing additional resources to different parts of the agency so that we can prepare to do some hiring that will deal with staffing imbalances and loosen restrictions on overtime. As you know, these limits have made it difficult to live up to our own standards. Please join me in congratulating Dale Sopper, Bob Wilson and their staffs for their fine work in making our case to Congress. It is a real credit to SSA that we received such strong support from our Congressional committees of jurisdiction, the Appropriations committees and from outside organizations concerned about the impact of five years of budget reductions on our ability to deliver service.

While I was responsive to most of the requests from senior managers, we are still faced with an overall budget environment that limits our ability to increase the size of our staff and sustain it into the next year. Fortunately, at this stage of the Congressional budget process, the budget levels targeted by the House and Senate for fiscal year 2008 would not require us to consider furloughs or other drastic measures in the coming year. This is incredibly good news but I must caution that Congress is faced with scores of competing priorities, so it is important that we remain vigilant until there is a final vote later this year.

Senior managers will be providing you soon with additional information about what this week's budget decisions will mean for your specific organization.

Michael J. Astrue

United Spinal Association Calls For More SSA Funding

From a press release from the United Spinal Association, which suggests that Social Security's fiscal year 2008 budget is under active review in Congress:
The delays facing applicants for disability benefits at the Social Security Administration are unconscionable and lawmakers could remedy the situation by voting for the full amount the agency has requested in the FY 2008 budget, according to Paul J. Tobin, President and CEO of United Spinal Association.

n an urgent call for action, United Spinal recently received over 1,000 responses from concerned citizens across the nation eager to help alert Congress to the gravity of the situation. “We are asking lawmakers to ensure that the FY 2008 budget includes the full $10.44 billion that the Social Security Commissioner requested for staffing and administrative expenses––not the lesser amount in the Proposed Budget for FY 2008,” Tobin said.

“Unless the Proposed 2008 Budget is increased, Social Security will lose nearly 7,000 full time positions at a time when there were over 700,000 applications for disability benefits pending in Social Security offices last year.” ...

Mar 23, 2007

SSA Employment Dropping

The Office of Personnel Management has finally come up with the numbers showing the number of employees that the Social Security Administration had as of the end of 2006. Below is that number and the same number for other recent dates. This shows a 4% reduction in personnel between the end of 2005 and the end of 2006.
  • December 2004 65,286
  • December 2005 65,777
  • March 2006 64,297
  • June 2006 64,814
  • September 2006 63,647
  • December 2006 63,410

Mar 22, 2007

Senators Press For Adequate Funding For Social Security

Thirty-seven U.S. Senators have joined in a recent letter to the Chairman and Ranking Minority Member of the Senate Budget Committee asking for better funding for Social Security in order to reduce hearing backlogs. Only Senators Barbara Mikulski and Elizabeth Dole have put out press releases on the subject, as best I can tell.

While this sounds good, last November more than 50 Senators joined in a similar letter. Apparently, several Senators were willing to sign a letter last fall are unwilling today.

Mar 21, 2007

Hearing Backlog Ideas That Can Be Implemented Quickly -- Installment IV

Make a statistical review of cases in which ALJs reverse prior administrative denials to look for patterns showing which types of cases are most reversal prone and carefully consider adjusting policies and practices at the initial and reconsideration levels to allow more of these cases.

This was done during the Clinton Administration and it worked. This was a part of something called Process Unification. I have my own candidates for types of cases that Social Security should look at. The most important type would be bipolar disorder. Social Security is turning down almost everyone who is bipolar at the initial and reconsideration level, but 80-90% of these claims are approved by ALJs.

I have more clients suffering from bipolar disorder than anything else. It may be 10% of my caseload. The next biggest category is chronic pain syndrome. If the claimant is going to a pain clinic and being told to take methadone or some other powerful narcotic several times a day, they might just be in severe pain. However virtually all such claims are being denied at the initial and reconsideration levels, while the vast majority are approved by ALJs. Social Security probably ought to look at its policies on mental retardation, congestive heart failure, obesity and peripheral neuropathy as well.

You could probably eliminate 10-20% of appeals to ALJs in this manner and the vast majority of these claims would have been approved by ALJs anyway. This would probably take at least a year to implement.

Maybe Dilbert's Employer Will Try To Get This Contract

Below are extracts from a request by Social Security for information from potential contractors. The agency is not ready to seek bids, but is seeking information only.

Let me make it clear that I regard this request as a complete fantasy that reveals the naivete of whoever came up with this idea and whoever approved this request for information. What is requested is far beyond the capacity of any computer program -- but some contractor will certainly be willing to promise to produce a program that does this, for $100 million or so, but definitely without a money back guarantee. Go ahead with this nonsense and you will be wasting lots of money.
The Social Security Administration (SSA), Office of Systems (OS) and Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) are seeking to identify qualified sources interested in providing and implementing a Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Image Knowledge Base software product or a service that provides and/or utilizes the functionality of an Image Knowledge Base software product. The software or service may consist of multiple components, if necessary to meet the SSA's requirements. ...

ODAR employees in hearing offices classify documents into various categories and extract pertinent information from those documents. The employee must look at a document's identifying features, determine the type and title of the document and then enter the information into the electronic folder. Afterwards, the employee organizes the documents chronologically and removes duplicates. ...

The SSA invites all qualified sources to respond to this sources sought announcement.ALL REQUIREMENTS ARE MANDATORY.

  • At a minimum, possess the capability to process a national workload from 145 hearing offices and remote sites nationwide that process approximately 550,000 cases per year that consist of, on an average, 300 document images per case. Possess the capability to process these images within an acceptable period of time and with an acceptable level of accuracy. ...
  • Possess the capability to use the knowledge base of information to classify the document images into categories and subcategories according to the established SSA Electronic Folder (EF) rules for classification.
  • Possess the capability to separate document images from one another to avoid multiple document images from being inappropriately scanned, stored, and treated as a single document image. The document images may be any combination of multiple known forms and/or multiple free format text documents. This needs to include the ability to address those document images that already exist within SSA's unstructured data repository where there is already some document separation and classification information.
  • Possess the capability to extract structured data from the document images such as Social Security Number (SSN), treatment dates, treatment source names, etc., and place the data in the appropriate fields specified by SSA for the Electronic Folder using SSA's application program interfaces (APIs)....
  • Possess the capability to automatically organize the document images (after classifying them), chronologically by treatment date or other parameters established by SSA for the EF.
  • Possess the capability to support SSA's viewing function (of the document images) by accessing the stored metadata in the EF, using SSA's API's, to organize the document images based on parameters established by SSA.
  • Possess the capability to identify and flag duplicate document images.
  • Possess the capability to identify and flag document images with poor quality.
  • Possess the capability to identify and flag images with low probability of being classified correctly with the ability to configure and dynamically adjust the probability ratio.

Mar 20, 2007

NTEU On The Future At SSA

As reported on the Association of Attorney Advisors board (and yes, that is a rather new board), this is a message from the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) to its Social Security attorney advisor members, who write decision for Administrative Law Judges:
March 19, 2007
The Importance of Addressing the Backlog

Members of the Subcommittee on Social Security of the House Committee on Ways and Means have made in clear that addressing the backlog at ODAR hearing offices should be of the highest priority. This is a significant change, and one that bodes well for us. SSA is under considerable pressure to deal with the backlog, and there is little doubt that Commissioner Astrue understands the situation and is committed to effectively dealing with it. However, it is equally clear that presently hearing offices cannot effectively deal with the backlog. Congressman Michael R. McNulty, Chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee, and Congressman Sam Johnson, the ranking member of that Subcommittee, sent a letter dated March 15, 2007 to Congressmen John Spratt and Paul Ryan, the Chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Committee on the Budget seeking to significantly increase the appropriations to SSA. Prominently cited in that letter was the size and impact of the Hearings level backlog.
Commissioner Astrue: We have a solution to the backlog crisis that could be implemented immediately; that is cost effective; and that has a history of success – an enhanced version the original Senior Attorney Program. We can provide the Agency with an additional 100,000 legally defensible decisions a year without adversely impacting ALJ productivity or the payment rate.


Commissioner Astrue has stated that he will review DSI in detail prior to deciding which DSI programs will be retained, which will be terminated, and which will be altered. Currently, there are a number of rumors floating around that indicate that the FedRO program will be terminated. While we emphasize that we have no definitive “inside knowledge” regarding the veracity of these rumors, we believe that they may well be true. The implementation of the FedRO program has been a disappointment to many, including NTEU Chapter 224, and it may well be following the path of the Disability Redesign and HPI. In any event DSI was never intended to offer immediate relief to the Hearings level backlog.

As you will recall, we have been a supporter of the FedRO concept - as it was originally formulated in 2003. We have vigorously cautioned against significant changes from the original concept of an independent decision maker located in the field. We have been very disappointed that our warnings were ignored. Simply stated, the FedRO program that was implemented is not the FedRO program we supported. We believe that the FedRO program as presently constituted is seriously flawed, and consequently, we are not surprised by its relative lack of success despite the talent and dedication of the current FedROs. The bureaucratic reengineering of the FedRO concept may simply have been too much to overcome.

As the FedRO program rolled out, it became clear that the original concept, an independent decision maker empowered to review appeals of state agency determinations and render legally defensible decisions, had not been realized, and that the FedRO had been turned into a “federal reconsideration”. Bureaucratic red tape has all but precluded efficiency and substantially increased the cost of the program. In these times of tight budgets funding a new, expensive, and not terribly productive program may be unsustainable. On the other hand, shifting the priorities of the disability program from DSI to eliminating the hearing office backlog certainly should benefit Attorney Advisers currently in the hearing offices.

In addition to cost, we fear that operational errors have significantly limited the effectiveness of the FedRO program. The FedROs were not located locally; rather they were placed in Falls Church, depriving the program of many, many highly qualified individuals, the Agency’s attorneys in the field. The decisional independence of FedROs has been seriously eroded by the influence of the “medical units”, the “quality assurance process” and even the FedRO management structure. Additionally, FedROs have been discouraged from producing high quality, legally defensible decisions and are burdened with an inadequate decision drafting format.

The Future

We again emphasize that we have no definitive knowledge regarding the fate of the FedRO program. Commissioner Astrue could decide to continue it, alter it to enhance its viability, or terminate it. Nonetheless, we believe it is a possibility that it will be terminated. What is the impact of the potential demise of the FedRO program on Attorney Advisers in hearing offices? Obviously, the demise of this program would be a blow to those who hoped to become FedROs in the future. However, whether or not the FedRO program continues, the crisis at the hearing level must be addressed.

Can SSA afford to continue to ignore us? Will SSA continue to ignore its own history or will it finally recognize that the Senior Attorney Program was instrumental in eliminating the backlog of the 1990’s? Will SSA again recognize that we are the solution? We are doing our utmost to make SSA and Congress understand what is in their best interest and the best interest of the claimants and the public at large. Hopefully, SSA will finally listen and implement our improved version of the Senior Attorney Program.

- Jim Hill

OPM Item On ALJs in FR

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has posted something -- I am not sure what to call it -- in the Federal Register (FR) about the selection process for Administrative Law Judges (ALJs). The Social Security Administration employs far more ALJs than all other federal agencies combined. I have no idea where this "final rule", as OPM puts it, leaves us, but it definitely is not really the final step towards hiring more ALJs.

Hearing Backlog Ideas That Can Be Implemented Quickly -- Installment III

Raise the length of time a claimant has to request reconsideration or a hearing from 60 days to six months.

This is my idea. It was not tried as a means of decreasing backlogs during the Clinton Administration or at any other time, as far as I know. However, the time limit for appeals was six months until the mid-1970s. I do not know why it was changed then.

Because of the common tendency towards procrastination, going back to a six month time limit would temporarily reduce the number of reconsideration requests and requests for hearings, since it would increase the average length of time between a denial and an appeal. A good guess is that this would increase this average length of time by one to two months at each level, which would produce a temporary but dramatic reduction in the number of reconsideration requests and requests for hearings. This would be a nice breather for Social Security.

This change might also result in less churning. Many claimants are denied at the initial level, become discouraged or make an unsuccessful attempt to return to work, miss the 60 day cutoff to file an appeal and have to start all over again. It would be better for them and would mean fewer new claims for Social Security if they could just file an appeal.

However, this regulatory change does encourage procrastination and that is not a good thing. I would not suggest it if there were not such a backlog.

This change could be done in three to six months, assuming there is no unusual holdup at the Office of Management and Budget, which has to approve changes in regulations -- and this one takes a change in regulations.

Proposed Regulation Change

From today's Federal Register:
We propose to revise the threshold billing amount that triggers annual onsite reviews of medical providers who conduct consultative examinations (CEs) for our disability programs under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the Act). The proposed revision would raise the threshold amount to reflect the increase in billing amounts since we first established the threshold amount in 1991. This proposed revision is intended to restore the level of oversight originally required by our rules.

A Dead Man's Social Security Number

From the Rapid City Journal:
Steven Litz, no age listed, Rapid City, faces federal charges of false representation of Social Security number and false statement in application for disability benefits after an investigation by the Social Security Administration.

According to federal court documents, Litz is accused of using a Social Security number that was not his to apply for disability benefits on May 18, 2005, in Rapid City. Litz allegedly claimed his name was Ronald Vincent Amen. Litz applied for more than $1,000 worth of benefits, documents show.

Mar 19, 2007

More Personnel Changes

The information below was posted on the CONNECT board. It appears to be an e-mail sent to Social Security personnel. I am unable to evaluate what this might mean on a policy basis. I can say that it is a major promotion for Andrew Biggs, whose nomination to become Deputy Commissioner at Social Security was recently rejected by the Senate. Biggs is a huge proponent of Social Security privatization. There has been no previous sign that Biggs has any real interest in the day to day policy issues faced by Social Security, particularly in the area of Social Security's disability programs. The information about Jim Winn leaving the Disability Review Board (DRB) to return to his old job suggests that the DRB may not be around much longer.
The following Senior Executive Service assignments are effective immediately:

In the Office of the Commissioner, Office of Executive Operations, David A. Rust will be appointed as the Executive Secretary. David previously served as the Agency’s Associate Commissioner for Disability and has been with the Department of Agriculture since he left SSA in 1989.

In the Office of Policy, Andrew Biggs will be appointed as the Deputy Commissioner for Policy. In addition to his new assignment and to ensure continuity within the organization, Dr. Biggs will continue in his former capacity as the Acting Associate Commissioner for Retirement Policy until I name a replacement. Larry Love will resume his full-time responsibilities as Counselor to the Commissioner.

Manny Vaz, Regional Commissioner in Boston, will replace Martin Gerry as Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs on an Acting basis for the next several months. During this interim period, Susan Harding will serve as the Acting Regional Commissioner in Boston.

Jim Winn, Associate General Counsel for Program Law, who most recently has been serving as the Acting Executive Director for the Disability Review Board, will return to his position in the Office of the General Counsel.

DSI Prospects Poll

More Job Openings In Woodlawn

This may be coincidental, but there are now job openings at Social Security's central offices in Woodlawn, MD for Associate Commissioner for Research, Evaluation and Statistics and Deputy Associate Commissioner for Personnel. Some of this may be ordinary turnover, but it sounds as if the new Commissioner is making personnel changes.

What I would wonder about if I worked in Woodlawn is whether Larry Dye's new role as Social Security's Liaison to the White House is to pack Social Security with Bush loyalists. If so, there may be little job security at the upper reaches of Social Security.

Results Of Last Week's Unscientific Poll

How do you rate the job that Jo Anne Barnhart did as Commissioner of Social Security?

Excellent (32) 21%
Good (26) 17%
Fair (39) 26%
Poor (53) 35%

Total Votes: 150

Gerry Gone?

There is a report on the CONNECT board that Martin Gerry is leaving his current position as Deputy Commissioner for Disability and Income Security Programs. The surprise may be that he tried to continue in this position after Jo Anne Barnhart's term as Commissioner of Social Security ended. Gerry was brought in by Barnhart and appeared to be her right hand man. With a new Commissioner who appears to be unimpressed with the Disability Service Improvement (DSI) plan championed by Barnhart and Gerry, it has seemed unlikely for at least a month that Gerry could survive in such a prominent position for long.

Mar 18, 2007

An Image From 1968

FOIA Amendments Pending

Congress is taking action on the many problems that have arisen over the years with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Many agencies are essentially stonewalling the public with lengthy delays in responding to FOIA requests. Social Security may not be the worst offender, but it has had its moments. Two problems that come to mind are Social Security's refusal to provide statistics showing the reversal rates of individual Administrative Law Judges by name and Social Security's assertion that it could not find any report on the experiments it did in the past on dispensing with Appeals Council review.

The bill that has made the most progress is H.R. 1309, which has been reported out of Committee in the House of Representatives. Here is a link to the Committee report.

Mar 17, 2007

NAMI And ARC And Disability Policy Collaboration On Social Security Budget

Nearly identical press releases from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) and Disability Policy Collaboration:

People with mental illness who apply for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) or for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are currently waiting longer and longer for decisions on eligibility. This is especially the case for claimants that are forced to file appeals to overturn a denial of benefits to which they are entitled.

As revealed in Congressional hearings and news articles, some people have lost their homes and families while they wait for decisions. Others use up all their resources and cannot afford critical medications and treatments, resulting in increased disability and even death. In some places, the wait is almost 900 days, or almost two and one-half more years!

Insufficient funding has also resulted in other reduced services, including delays in processing earnings reports and the inability to respond to reports of lost checks or answer questions from beneficiaries or the public.

The problem has reached crisis proportions and will continue to get worse for people with disabilities. The President’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2008 indicates that average waiting times will continue to grow, even if the Social Security Administration (SSA) is funded at the level of his request ($9.6 billion).

The solution is simple: the SSA must be given enough funding to get disability decisions made in a timely manner. As required by law, the Commissioner of Social Security submitted a budget request separate from the President’s request. This request indicates that the agency needs $10.44 billion in administrative funding for FY 2008 for its administrative expenses, known as SSA’s Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE). This is almost $1 billion more than the President requested.

Action on the FY 2008 budget has already begun. If SSA is going to receive the funds it needs to reduce the backlogs of disability decisions and improve other services, it is imperative that the House and Senate Budget Committees include enough funding for SSA in the FY 2008 Budget Resolution. The House and Senate Budget Committees will mark up their Budget Resolutions in early to mid March.

Action Needed

Contact your representatives in the House and Senate and urge them to contact the leadership of the House and Senate Budget Committees to encourage them to authorize additional resources for the Social Security Administration (SSA) under the Limitation on Administrative Expenses (LAE). This funding is vital to reducing the backlog of Social Security claims and speeding up response time.

It is important that every Member of Congress urge the Chairman of their respective Budget Committee to include sufficient funding in the Budget Resolution to appropriate funds for SSA’s Limitation on Administrative Expenses at the level requested by the Commissioner of SSA: $10.44 billion for FY 2008.

Mar 16, 2007

At Least Part Of DSI About To Be Terminated?

On January 19, Social Security solicited proposals from potential contractors to develop a "profiling/screening tool (software) for identifying Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) disability decisions that are likely to be appealed to federal district court and remanded or reversed by the court." This was Request for Proposal SSA-RFP-07-1011.

This would be an essential part of former Commissioner Barnhart's Disability Service Improvement (DSI) plan. DSI had been criticized on the grounds that removing Appeals Council review would swamp the District Courts with Social Security civil actions. To respond to this criticism, Barnhart came up with the idea of the "profiling/screening tool" that would allow cases that would be appealed and reversed to be identified and dealt with by the Decision Review Board.

Social Security posted this late yesterday:
Request for Proposal SSA-RFP-07-1011 is hereby cancelled in its entirety.

Basis: The agency no longer requires the solicited services.
One possibility is that Social Security has decided that it can produce the necessary software in-house. Another possibility is that Social Security thinks it can somehow get by without the "profiling/screening tool" or wants to delay its procurement. The more likely possibility is that the DSI plan to terminate the Appeals Council is being abandoned which means that all of DSI is in serious trouble.

Hearing Backlog Ideas That Can Be Implemented Quickly -- Installment II

Re-start re-recon and senior attorney decisions

Re-recon was never Social Security's term, but no one remembers what term Social Security was using. Re-recon was the term most people were using. When re-recon was last used, during the Clinton Administration, once a Social Security disability claimant was denied at the reconsideration (often called "recon") level and asked for a hearing, the case was quickly examined to see if it fit into one of several categories of cases that were frequently allowed by Administrative law Judges (ALJs). If the case fit into one of these categories, such as claimants over 55 or claimants suffering from chronic mental illness, the case was diverted to one of several special units where it was reviewed to see if the claim should be approved. The review was something like a new reconsideration review, hence the term re-recon. The re-recon review was done quickly. If the claim was approved, the case was over and done with in a month or two without any ALJ ever having to look at the file. If the case could not be approved at re-recon, the file was sent on for a hearing, with no delay for the claimant. I would give a guess that re-starting re-recon could reduce the number of cases requiring ALJ review by around 5% and the vast majority of the cases would have been approved by ALJs anyway. Social Security should have statistics showing what effect this had the last time it was done. This could be implemented in about six months to a year, without the need for new regulations.

Senior attorney decisions could be implemented more quickly since those personnel are already in place. Once case files reach ODAR, which is the office where ALJs work, they are routinely reviewed to see if the case can be approved without the need for a hearing. These are called on the record reversals, or ORRs or OTRs. Usually, it is a staff person rather than an ALJ, who does the ORR initial review at ODAR. Once a staff person identifies a case that he or she thinks is a good candidate for ORR, he or she must get an ALJ to sign off on the ORR. Most of the time the ALJ does agree with the ORR, but there are some ALJs who seem to believe that virtually no case is appropriate for ORR and some other ALJs seem unwilling to take the time to review these case files, which may not be as unreasonable as it might sound when you consider ALJ workloads. In the senior attorney program, which was also employed during the Clinton Administration, Social Security's senior attorneys reviewed case files for potential ORRs, much the same as now, but instead of taking potential ORRs to an ALJ for action, the senior attorney was able to take action on his or her own to approve the claim. Like re-recon this can be criticized as paying down the backlog, but the vast majority of the time these claims would be approved by ALJs later anyway. ALJs do not like senior attorney decisions because they feel it reduces their status. Under the circumstances neither objection seems important. My estimate is that re-starting the senior attorney program would reduce the number of cases requiring ALJ hearings by 5-10%. Again, Social Security should have numbers showing what the results were the last time this was done.

The problem with restarting the senior attorney program is that the regulations which allowed senior attorney decisions have lapsed, meaning that an official re-start of the program would require new regulations which would require the approval of the Office of Management and Budget, which could take months, but the re-recon regulations are still on the books. There is nothing in those regulations that prevents the re-recon regulations from being used as authority for senior attorney decisions. Using this authority the senior attorney program could be restarted in less than three months, although, again, the complaints about it would continue for years.

Mar 15, 2007

Hearing Backlog Ideas That Can Be Implemented Quickly -- Installment I

The only real solution for Social Security's humongous hearing backlog is many more warm bodies to get the work done. That will happen, but not immediately. There are some things that can be done now, however that will help to some extent. I had posted these ideas earlier in a very long post. I thought I ought to split it up into bite sized chunks. Here is the first installment

Hold hearings on cases without "pulling" exhibits

When case files come into ODAR, they are a mess. There are duplicate copies of medical records. Medical records may have been requested from a single provider on several occasions, meaning that the records from that provider are spread out at several places in the file. Even when all of the records from a single provider are in one place, they may not be in chronological order. Even if they are in chronological order, the order will go forward in one set of records and backwards in another. The files are jumbles. A staff member "pulls" out the relevant medical evidence and places it in some order. The exhibits are marked with numbers. This is extremely helpful for all involved and should never be abandoned permanently. However, staff shortages have made pulling exhibits a bottleneck. Many ALJs would like to hold more hearings but cannot because files have not been "pulled."

Some hearing offices have abandoned "pulling" exhibits as a general matter. The exhibits are "pulled" only if a claim is to be denied. This is inconvenient for all concerned and can lead to confusion and misunderstandings, but there is no doubt that it improves productivity. Social Security seems to have no fixed policy on this. My opinion is that instructing ALJs to hold hearings routinely on unpulled files would improve ODAR productivity by at least 10%. This is a temporary expedient that should be abandoned quickly after the crisis is over. This could probably be implemented in less than three months, although the complaints about it would continue for years after it was over.

Buffalo News Editorial On Backlogs

The Buffalo News has an editorial on Social Security backlogs. The article is only available online to subscribers or to those who pay a fairly ridiculous fee. Here are a couple of excerpts for free:

If you have been disabled and are applying for Social Security Disability benefits, don’t count on a quick resolution of your claim. In the Buffalo and Rochester regions, once a claimant has been denied on an initial application, it may take as long as 22 to 26 months before a SSD or SSI hearing is held. ...

Congress needs to wake up to the fact that the SSD processing delays can have devastating effects upon claimants who, like our clients, dutifully paid into the Social Security system for years and are now desperately in need of benefits. People’s lives are at stake.

It’s time for our elected officials to act. It’s time to remove the hiring freeze. It’s time to gear up the review offices and speed up the hearing process. It’s time to ensure that our citizens are justly protected by the SSD safety net. For justice delayed is justice denied.

Mar 14, 2007

SSA Now Has White House Liaison

The current organizational structure of Social Security shows Larry Dye as "White House Liaison." According to the Wayback Machine (and yes, there is such a thing), there was no such position when Jo Anne Barnhart was Commissioner, or for that matter when Larry Massanari was Acting Commissioner. Dye was Chief of Staff for Barnhart.

Why does Social Security need a White House Liaison?

NCSSMA On Staffing

The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel has written Linda McMahon, Social Security's Deputy Commissioner for Operations about staffing problems. The letter is worth reproducing here in full:
Dear Linda,

As you may know, we are in the process of tabulating the results from the 2007 NCSSMA Survey of Management. The resounding theme I am seeing is that staffing on the front lines is the number one issue of field and TSC management staff across the country. Over the past year, feedback has evolved from subtle messages about staffing and service concerns to strong demands from members that NCSSMA must try to do something to address the deterioration of service in the field and TSC's.

We are most concerned about the significant resource losses in field offices since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2006. FO’s have lost over 1,700 CR and SR positions and in this fiscal year alone, there has been a loss of about 700 in these two positions. The Field has 1,270 fewer positions now compared to the beginning of FY 2005, which was before we did special hiring for Part D Medicare. Losses in these critical positions are significantly more than the average losses for the entire Agency. The Field and TSC’s [Teleservice Centers] have lost had nearly two-thirds of the FTE [Full Time Equivalent] losses in the Agency since the beginning of the Fiscal Year while they only represent about 52% of the Agency’s staffing. (Note Area Offices are included in this percent.) Offices across the country are finding it very difficult to provide a full level of service.

We can clearly see this from the survey results and overwhelming feedback coming in from the Survey of Management. The results of this survey will be published soon. Here are three examples of comments that are typical of the feedback we received:

■ “We have lost 20% of our staff over the last several months with little hope of replacing them. A once happy, productive and successful office now has morale sinking to an all time low. Management staff is doing all the clerical work and is taking over more and more production workloads just to keep things moving and try to keep staff morale from hitting rock bottom. Bright, hardworking employees are finding work elsewhere.

As a manager, I find it very frustrating. I can’t hire. I can’t reduce workloads. I can’t even adequately reward staff members for their hard work.

We have management staff trying to answer the general phone lines all day long, which is impossible with all the clerical and production tasks we are trying to cover in addition to management duties.”

■ “It is discouraging to keep being asked to do more with less and embarrassing to see the service you provide erode before your very eyes. Although we manage to keep our head above water, the constant interviewing and long lines of people waiting to be seen is also impacting our staff. Even my most energetic staff members seem to be demoralized and anxious wanting to take care of their workloads and dealing with irate visitors who want to know what’s taking so long to clear their cases.”

■ “We have not been able to replace our losses, resulting in very poor telephone service answering in FO’s. Our reception area is standing room only because callers cannot get through on the telephones.”

Most offices are not doing an adequate job of answering telephone calls, and waiting times are climbing. As we continue to refine and promote our internet services, the need for skilled interviewers to assist the online filers is increasing. This additional task is falling on the already burdened shoulders of our front-line employees. As the recent hearings on disability backlogs graphically illustrated, the Congress has a strongly held interest in public service issues. We would hope that the steady deterioration of field office resources be remedied before we too are subject to such outside scrutiny.

We recognize that the Agency’s budget is very tight this year and that next year’s budget could also be very bleak. We helped advocate for the funds that are available this fiscal year and well understand that the ability to hire new CR’s and SR’s will be limited. However, now is the time to reprioritize within the Social Security Administration - the status quo is not acceptable nor fair to the public we serve. We firmly believe that there needs to be an Agency wide focus on providing more resources and support to critically shorthanded Field Offices and on increasing the number of interviewing positions.

We do believe that we need to slow down the trend of assigning CR’s [Claims Representatives] to non-interviewing positions such as SDW [Special Disability Workload -- too complicated to explain here] cadre. We need a commitment to increase the number of interviewers and slow down the growth of staff components. Although we agree that the Regional Offices play an important role, we note the Regional Offices have grown in staff in the past few years despite the losses we’ve seen in field offices and TSC’s.

Perhaps a special workgroup can be formed soon to come up with a plan on how to best address these losses. We certainly would be willing to provide our assistance in any such workgroup. We do believe that a concerted effort needs to be made immediately to look at this issue. We sincerely want to be part of developing the solutions needed to address the staffing and service issues that we are facing in the field and TSC's.



Rick Warsinskey

NCAA Challenge -- Still Time To Join

The Social Security News NCAA Challenge will close at noon on Thursday, when the NCAA basketball tournament begins. There is no prize other than public recognition for your basketball knowledge. Fedblog says that office pools are non-existent in the federal sector, so where else are you going to compare your picking ability with others.

The name of the group is Social Security News and it is on ESPN Tournament Challenge. It is a public group, so anyone can join.

Mar 13, 2007

Barnhart Poll

Hearing Office Processing Times

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) recently published a report it obtained from Social Security that ranks Social Security hearing offices by average processing times. This report is reproduced above. Click on each page to view it at full size.

Mar 12, 2007

Off Topic: Social Security News NCAA Tournament Challenge

For those who are interested, I have set up an NCAA Tournament Challenge group. The name of the group is Social Security News and it is on ESPN Tournament Challenge. It is a public group, so anyone can join.

Attorney Fee Payments Down

The Social Security Administration has posted the numbers for payments of fees to attorneys and others for representing claimants before the agency for January and February of this year:

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

The figure for January was lower than for any month in 2006. It was a 24% decrease from December 2006. February payments were lower than all but two months of 2006. There is little doubt that staffing shortages and the lack of overtime at Social Security will hurt everyone who deals with the agency this fiscal year, including those paying a user fee for the service they receive. The problems will only get worse as the year goes along and employees retire or otherwise leave employment and all backlogs get worse.

GAO Questionnaire On Attorneys And Non-Attorney Representatives

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been given the task of studying attorney and non-attorney representation of Social Security claimants. As part of this study, GAO has been asking Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) in a few hearing offices to complete a questionnaire on individual attorneys and non-attorneys who appear before them. I have obtained a copy of one of these forms and am attaching it in the biggest size that Blogger will allow. You may have to find some way of enlarging the images in order to read them more easily. Perhaps someone can post a comment on how to enlarge the image, since I have no idea.

Poll Results

If you voted in one of the polls posted here recently you saw the results as of the time you voted, but you may not have seen the results after a lot of people voted, so here they are:

Why are you interested in Social Security News?
I work for SSA. (74) 59%
I am an attorney who represents Social Security claimants. (27) 22%
I am a non-attorney representative of Social Security claimants. (1) 1%
I work for DDS. (10) 8%
I am a Social Security claimant. (2) 2%
I work on Capitol Hill. (1) 1%
I work at a non-profit involved in Social Security issues. (1) 1%
Other reason (9) 7%

What Part Of SSA Do You Work For?
ODAR, including AC and RO employees (35) 32%
Field Office (15) 14%
Area Director Office (0) 0%
Regional Office (5) 5%
Teleservice Center (6) 6%
Payment Center, including OCO (10) 9%
Central Office, other than OCO (29) 27%
Other (8) 7%

The two poll results look a bit different because I used different formats. We will have more polls coming up.

Social Security Advisory Board Agenda

The Social Security Advisory Board (SSAB) has posted the following agenda for its meeting on March 13:

9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m. Martin Holmer, President of the Policy Simulation Group; Joyce Manchester, Director of Division of Economic Research of ORES; John Sabelhaus, Unit Chief for Long Term Modeling at the Congressional Budget Office; Noah Meyrson, Congressional Budget Office; Melissa Favreault, Senior Research Associate at the Urban Institute

12:30 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board (FASAB) -Tom L. Allen, Chairman FASAB; Robert Dacey, Chief Accountant GAO

Mar 11, 2007

An Image From 1954

Lying To SSA Not A Good Idea

From the Cedar Rapids Gazette:
Connie L. Morris, 43, of Waterloo, was sentenced Friday in federal court in Cedar Rapids to ten months in prison for lying to the Social Security Administration.

Morris, when she pled guilty to the charge on Dec. 11, admitted she lied about whether she was married and her living arrangements when she applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits. She received more than $29,000 she wasn't entitled to.

Now she must serve the prison sentence, pay back the money and serve three years of supervised release.

Mar 10, 2007

Fraud By Strip Club Owner

From the State Journal of West Virginia:
Timothy Ray Cline once owned three Southern Exposure bars, including locations in Princeton and Bradley.

Tuesday, Cline pleaded guilty in federal court to tax evasion and social security fraud.

Cline was accused of failing to report over $50,000 in income from 2001.

Cline also collected more than $35,000 in Social Security Disability from September 1991 to March 2003.

Mar 9, 2007

SSA Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage Name Change

From a Social Security Regional Council memorandum posted in Social Security's Program Operations Manual Series (POMS):
You asked us to determine whether an individual who enters into a civil union in the State of New Jersey may legally change his or her name based solely upon the civil union event or whether a court order is required to effectuate the proposed name change. Recently enacted New Jersey legislation legalizing civil unions specifically allows for the right to change surnames based upon a civil union event without a court order. Accordingly, an individual who enters a civil union in the State of New Jersey may legally change his or her name without a court order.

Mar 8, 2007

One Republican Senator Asks For Hearing Speedup

The Raleigh News and Observer reports that Senator Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) has written the Commissioner of Social Security:

"Those appealing a denial of Social Security disability benefits are experiencing outrageously long delays in the scheduling of hearings at the Offices of Disability Adjudication and Review," Dole wrote to Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue. "North Carolinians appealing a denial must in many cases wait nearly two years, and individuals who are ultimately granted benefits on appeal suffer substantial financial, emotional and even physical hardships during this delay.

"This situation concerns me deeply and is clearly unacceptable."

Mar 7, 2007

One View Of Social Security Disability Benefits

From an op ed piece by Melanie Scarborough (no e-mail address given) in the Washington, D.C. Examiner:
Most Americans probably assume that to qualify as “disabled,” an individual must be physically unable to work for a living. In fact, the Social Security Administration deems individuals disabled if they cannot continue working in their chosen profession and “cannot adjust” to a different job. ...

It’s even possible to collect payments for being disabled from a job you were never able to perform. A few years ago, a Newport News pipefitting apprentice was fired for cause after earning failing marks in her training courses.

But because she injured her wrist before she was terminated and would have been unable to continue in the job, had she been able to do it, a judge ruled that she established “a prima facie case of total disability.” ...

The SSA’s guidebook, which might as well be entitled, “You, Too, Can Be Disabled!” walks applicants through the steps to collect their jackpots. The first requirement is not to have traceable income of more than $900 a month.

Next, one must present a malady that is either among the listed impairments or is equal in severity. The lists are so exhaustive that almost everyone has some condition by which they could claim to be disabled. ...

For example, the guidelines say that in determining whether an individual has a musculoskeletal disability, the “inability to walk on the heels or toes, to squat, or to arise from a squatting position may be considered evidence of significant motor loss.” It also may be considered evidence of being older than 40.

Among the disabilities listed under “skin disorders” is dermatitis — i.e., dish-pan hands. Some skin conditions can be deemed disabling merely because they’re upsetting. ...

Yet the biggest travesty is that chiselers are clogging a system designed to help individuals who drew the genetic short straw and, through no fault of their own, cannot work to support themselves.