Mar 31, 2010

Regenstrief Institute Gets Contract

The Regenstrief Institute, which is part of the Indiana University School of Medicine, has been awarded an electronic records contract by Social Security. The amount is not mentioned in the press release.

Mar 30, 2010

Different Commissioners, Different Agendas

Things have changed a bit when it comes to Social Security's relations with the press. Here is the count on the number of press releases in recent years. Michael Astrue became Commissioner in 2008. It is like former Commissioner Barnhart was trying to make her agency disappear from public view. That is definitely not the desire of the current Commissioner.
  • 2001 -- 13
  • 2002 -- 18
  • 2003 -- 12
  • 2004 -- 7
  • 2005 -- 8
  • 2006 -- 7
  • 2007 --14
  • 2008 -- 19
  • 2009 -- 30
  • 2010 so far -- 12

Mar 29, 2010

ALJ Authority To Approve Fee Petitions Raised To $10,000

From the Office of Social Security's Chief Administrative Law Judge:
Effective January 21, 2010, the individual with initial jurisdiction for authorizing a fee under the fee petition process may authorize a fee up to and including $10,000.00.
This is dated January 21 but was just posted online in the last week.

Mar 28, 2010

Colvin Nomination Still Pending

President Obama has just made fifteen recess appointments. Republicans in the Senate had been stonewalling these nominations. The recess appointments are good until the beginning of the next Congress.

The President did not give Carolyn Colvin a recess appointment as Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. Her nomination has been pending in the Senate for more than six months.

Does anyone know what Senate Republicans have against Ms. Colvin?

Mar 27, 2010

It Figures

From the Washington Post (emphasis added):

The call to arms was issued at 5:55 a.m. last Friday.

"To all modern Sons of Liberty: THIS is your time. Break their windows. Break them NOW."

These were the words of Mike Vanderboegh, a 57-year-old former militiaman from Alabama, who took to his blog urging people who opposed the historic health-care reform legislation -- he calls it "Nancy Pelosi's Intolerable Act" -- to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices nationwide.

"So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party [that they] cannot fail to hear, break their windows," Vanderboegh wrote on the blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars. "Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM." ...

Vanderboegh was unapologetic in a 45-minute telephone interview with The Washington Post early Thursday. He said he believes throwing bricks through windows sends a warning to Democratic lawmakers that the health-care reform legislation they passed Sunday has caused so much unrest that it could result in a civil war.

"The federal government should not have the ability to command us to buy something that it decides we should buy," Vanderboegh said. The government, he added, has "absolutely no idea the number of alienated who feel that their backs are to the wall are out here . . . who are not only willing to resist this law to the very end of their lives, but are armed and are capable of making such resistance possible and perhaps even initiating a civil war."...

Vanderboegh said he once worked as a warehouse manager but now lives on government disability checks. He said he receives $1,300 a month because of his congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension.

Mar 26, 2010

File Your Comments On DAA

On January 29th, Social Security published a notice requesting comments on the agency's operating procedures for determining disability when Drug Abuse or Alcoholism (DAA) is involved. This notice surprised a lot of people, including me, because we had thought the issues involved to be well settled and non-controversial. Any significant revision in Social Security's settled interpretations could be extremely controversial.

We still do not know what is behind this request for comments but the time period for filing comments is rapidly drawing to a close. March 30 is the last day. Comments may be filed online.

Mar 25, 2010

The Drumbeat Starts

The New York Times is running an article telling us to be scared and to start thinking about cutting benefits because the Social Security trust funds are paying out a little more money this year than they are taking in.


Mar 24, 2010

Scrooge Cadre?

An anonymous poster on the ALJ Discussion Forum says that the Social Security administration is planning to create a "cadre" of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) to hear Social Security overpayment cases. This is being referred to as a "Scrooge cadre" since it is speculated that Social Security wants to reduce the number of cases in which overpayments are being waived.

Can anyone confirm this?

Health Care Reform Matters Now

A couple of items from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's blog on the immediate effects of the health care bill that was just signed into law:

SMALL BUSINESS TAX CREDITS—Offers tax credits to small businesses to make employee coverage more affordable. Tax credits of up to 35 percent of premiums will be immediately available. Effective beginning for calendar year 2010. (Beginning in 2014, small business tax credits will cover 50 percent of premiums.)

COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTERS—Increases funding for Community Health Centers to allow for nearly doubling the number of patients served over the next 5 years. Effective beginning in fiscal year 2010.
The first one matters a lot to those of us who represent claimants. The second is important to everyone. Inadequate medical care is a huge problem for Social Security disability claimants. Often, Social Security disability claimants' health suffer as a result of inadequate medical care. The lack of decent medical records also makes it more difficult for claimants to win their Social Security disability cases.

Palin Targets Chair Of Social Security Subcommittee

Sarah Palin has revealed a list of 17 Democrats in the House of Representatives that she is targeting for removal from Congress because they voted for health care reform. On the list is Earl Pomeroy, the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee.

Click here to make a campaign contribution to Representative Pomeroy.

Mar 23, 2010

More Patty Duke

A press release from Social Security:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today joined award-winning actress Patty Duke and the cast of her hit 1960s sitcom, The Patty Duke Show, to unveil Social Security’s newest online service – an application for Medicare benefits. This new online application, which takes less than 10 minutes to complete, is for people reaching the Medicare eligibility age of 65 who want to delay filing for Social Security retirement benefits. Currently about a half million Americans enroll in Medicare each year without applying for monthly benefits.

“Social Security’s online services are the best in all of government and exceed the top private sector companies in customer satisfaction,” Commissioner Astrue said. “The new Medicare application is a welcome addition to our suite of online services and will make it easier than ever to sign up for Medicare. I am thrilled that Patty Duke has once again volunteered to help us get the word out. The fact that this time her TV family has joined her makes this even more special and I thank William Schallert, Eddie Applegate, and Paul O’Keefe for their service to America. I also want to thank Dr. David Kessler, former FDA Commissioner, who appeared with Patty as a befuddled family physician in some of our spots.” ...

To view the new public service announcements featuring the cast of The Patty Duke Show, go to

I would embed the video if I could.

I Wish It Were True, But It's NOT TRUE!

From The Daily Tribune of Oakland County, Michigan:
People with early-onset Alzheimer's disease or any of 37 other diseases now are eligible for Medicare benefits without having to wait two years after being diagnosed.

Currently, the Social Security Administration has a "compassionate allowance" for people with any of 50 different diseases, most of which are fatal, that allows the patient to begin receiving medical coverage under Medicare without being 65 or having to comply with the mandatory two-year wait after becoming eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance.

"These patients will no longer be stuck in 'no-man's land' in regards to medical coverage," said Carrie Collins, the client access director for the Alzheimer's Association.
I have no idea where this came from but it is completely wrong. There are only two exceptions to the two year waiting period for Medicare, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). The ESRD exception is only for Part A of Medicare. I hope the Alzheimer's Association nationally is not spreading this nonsense. The Commissioner of Social Security has no authority to change that.

Yeah, Right

The New York Times thinks that "Now that landmark legislation overhauling the health insurance system is about to become law, addressing Social Security’s solvency could well become the next big thing for President Obama and Congressional Democrats. "

All we need is for Democrats and Republicans to agree on benefit cuts and tax increases. What could be difficult about that?

Mar 22, 2010

Representative Suite Of Services Delayed?

Below is an excerpt from a memo that Social Security sent out last October. I don't think this happened, at least not in the sort of numbers that Social Security was talking about at the time. What happened?
Between December 2009 and mid-March 2010, SSA will mail invitations to 3,100 representatives, inviting them to register online and use our appointed representative services. A list of representatives selected to receive invitations for Phase I can be found on the Front Line Resource Kit at:

Mar 21, 2010

Pomeroy A Yes On Health Care Reform

Earl Pomeroy, the new Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee, had earlier voted for the health care reform bill. It has been unclear how he would vote this time around. CNN is now reporting that Pomeroy plans to vote for the bill. Pomeroy may have a tight race for re-election. He may be looking to make as much as possible out of his new role as a Ways and Means Subcommittee chairman.

AARP Supports Administration Social Security Budget Proposal

From a press release issued by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP):
“AARP’s top priorities in this legislation include adequate funding to address the Social Security Administration’s growing disability claims backlog ..."

“For FY 2011, we urge that the Committee provide at least $12.5 billion to operate the programs under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, including Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI). Without this significant increase, the SSA will be unable to maintain quality service to the public, the disability backlog will worsen and program integrity will be undermined.”

Mar 20, 2010

Negotiations On Sick Leave

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) is in contract negotiations with Social Security. Recent posts by AFGE indicate that the current stumbling block is sick leave.

A Little History

Dana Milbank, writing in the Washington Post:

"This is the largest tax bill in history," the Republican leader fumed. The reform "is unjust, unworkable, stupidly drafted and wastefully financed."

And that wasn't all. This "cruel hoax," he said, this "folly" of "bungling and waste," compared poorly to the "much less expensive" and "practical measures" favored by the Republicans.

"We must repeal," the GOP leader argued. "The Republican Party is pledged to do this."

That was Republican presidential nominee Alf Landon in a September 1936 campaign speech. He based his bid for the White House on repealing Social Security.

Bad call, Alf. Republicans lost that presidential election in a landslide. By the time they finally regained the White House -- 16 years later -- their nominee, Dwight Eisenhower, had abandoned the party's repeal platform.

Mar 19, 2010

Trying To Do Too Much With Too Little

The National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel, has issued its March 2010 newsletter. The newsletter features a long article on service delivery problems at large Social Security field offices. Here is how the article begins:
Where can you meet 300-500 new people every day? You can find them in the waiting rooms of Social Security’s busiest offices. Nationwide, Social Security is experiencing growth in the number of people visiting offices. As of early March 2010, the agency has already had five weeks in which it greeted over one million customers. In comparison, the agency had over a million customers only two weeks out of the entire last calendar year.

Social Security employees in many offices, both large and small, are feeling the effects of this customer growth. But, many of the largest offices are experiencing higher customer growth rates than the national average. Consequently, while the agency's overall waiting times have remained steady at approximately 21 minutes for the past several years, the busiest offices are experiencing waiting times exceeding 30 minutes. This is because there is often an average of one Service Representative (SR) for every 45-60 customers visiting per day in these offices. Because some interviews can be lengthy due to their complexity, this number of customers is more than one employee can adequately assist in the six hours usually spent at the reception counter each day.

Mar 18, 2010

More On Astrue As Poet

There may be a new book of Michael Astrue's poetry coming out before long. In November 2008, Astrue's alter ego, A.M. Juster, was expecting to complete a translation of poetry for the University of Pennsylvania Press by the end of the following year as well as a new book of original poetry to be called A Midsummer Night's Hangover.

Do not expect a new book immediately. The editing process could easily take six months or more even if Astrue was able to submit one or both by the end of 2009. I do not thing that an academic press would be rushing a volume of poetry into print.

By the way, Astrue's tastes in poetry go well beyond his preferred style for writing poetry, formal verse. He admires T.S. Eliot's free verse and adores the work of Richard Hugo and Linda Pastan.

Dog Tags And Social Security

Republicans have been making many outrageous claims about the health care reform package that is pending in Congress. Republican scare tactics are not new. This sort of thing happened when Social Security was introduced. This is from the Social Security Administration's website:
The publisher William Randolph Hearst was a fervent enemy of President Roosevelt and the New Deal. All the newspapers in the Hearst chain were expected to regularly publish unfavorable stories about New Deal programs. On the eve of the 1936 presidential election Hearst sought to undermine support for Social Security with allegations that workers would be required to wear "dog-tags" with their Social Security number and would be forced to fill-out questionnaires probing for personal information. In fact, neither allegation was true. However, the "dog-tag" story did have a basis in fact.

When considering ways to assign Social Security numbers, one proposal was to issue metal nameplates, not unlike military "dog-tags." Commissioner Altmeyer vetoed this idea as soon as he heard about it. This did not, however, stop the Hearst syndicate from reporting it as fact. During the early discussion of the metal nameplate idea, one company eager for this potential government business (the Addressograph Corp.) went so far as to prepare a sample I.D. tag in Commissioner Altmeyer's name. Altmeyer kept this sample "dog-tag" in his desk drawer throughout his career with SSA, and he donated it to SSA after his retirement. So the one and only Social Security "dog-tag" ever issued is now on display in the History Room at SSA headquarters in Baltimore.

Senator Dorgan Wants Answers!

KQCD-TV in Dickinson, ND reports that Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) wants to know why Social Security has barely made a dent in its backlogs even after receiving an additional $2.5 billion.

I can give Senator Dorgan the answer more bluntly than Social Security will. The $2.5 billion has made a noticeable dent in the backlogs but mostly that money prevented things from getting much, much worse. Rapid improvement will cost much more money than the agency is getting or will get. Social Security's budget situation was so dire before Democrats gained control of Congress in 2007 that it is going to take huge sums of money and some time for the agency to dig its way out of the backlogs.

Mar 17, 2010

Budget Postions Open At ODAR

Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) is currently advertising openings for Associate Commissioner and Deputy Associate Commissioner for Budget, Facilities & Security.

COLA Predicted To Be 0.1%

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is predicting that the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits that will come into effect as of December 2010 will be 0.1%. If that is the way it ends up, it would hardly be worth the trouble of implementing.

Outing A Poet

Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security, has made no secret of his interest in poetry. I received an anonymous e-mail from a reader who believes that the Commissioner is an award-winning poet who publishes under the pen name of A.M. Juster. There is conclusive evidence that the reader is correct. A.M. Juster is an anagram of M.J. Astrue. There is a recording of an interview with A.M. Juster available online as well as a photo which includes A.M. Juster. The voice and the face are Astrue's.
Michael Astrue has not gone to great lengths to hide Juster's true identity nor does he have any reason to. The awards are real and meaningful. Books of Astrue's poetry have been published not by some vanity press but by the University of Evansville Press and the University of Pennsylvania Press.
The Commentary page on Juster's website, written by "Rhina Espaillat" (another pen name?), includes this description of Juster:
He is fairly sunny about other people and the world, in fact, not because he is blind to flaws, but because reason and maturity keep his expectations modest. He doesn't use satire to settle scores with "Them," but to attack, with self-deprecating humor, the traits, customs and practices that need attacking in all of us. He doesn't use lyric poetry to bewail lost hopes, wallow in envy, or complain of having been cheated by life. His keenest dissatisfactions are reserved for those systems and forms of thought that fail to put the human first and give it due weight, like those bureaucrats in "Moscow Zoo" who condone the murder of millions because it fulfills an ideological need.
Here is a epigram by Juster:
Poems are best
when compressed

I detest
the rest.

Mar 16, 2010

Extended Service Team

A press release from Social Security:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the agency’s first Extended Service Team (EST) is open for business in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Little Rock EST will make disability decisions for state Disability Determinations Services (DDSs) that are most adversely affected by the flood of new initial disability claims resulting from the economic downturn and from counterproductive furloughs of employees at the state level. Later this year, Social Security will open additional ESTs in Madison, Mississippi; Roanoke, Virginia; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The ESTs are in states that have a history of high quality and productivity, as well as the capacity to hire and train significant numbers of additional employees.

“The strategy behind ESTs builds on our success with National Hearing Centers, where cases are handled electronically from all over the country,” Commissioner Astrue said. “These centralized units have reduced the hearings backlog and improved processing times at some of the hardest-hit hearing offices. This approach clearly works and extending it in this way can help us meet the challenge of unprecedented growth in our disability workloads.”

Social Security expects to receive more than 3.3 million applications for disability benefits this fiscal year (FY), about 700,000 more than in FY 2008. In addition, more than a dozen states are furloughing federally-funded state workers who make disability decisions for Social Security. The combination of increased workloads and state furloughs has resulted in a growing backlog of initial disability applications in state DDSs.

“More Americans than ever are turning to us for help,” said Commissioner Astrue. “I am grateful that Governor Beebe bucked the trend and recognized the value of more of our federally-funded jobs in his state. The opening of the Arkansas EST and our other planned expansions in Mississippi, Virginia, and Oklahoma will significantly benefit disabled workers and their families as well as create new job opportunities to these states during difficult economic times.”

Sunshine For Social Security

From Social Security:

Welcome to the Conversation on Open Government!

We’re looking for your input as we create our first Open Government Plan.

Please let us know your specific ideas on how we can become more transparent, participatory and collaborative.

share your ideas

We’ll accept your ideas on our Plan outline until March 19, 2010. We will post our Plan by April 7, 2010.

Thanks to everyone who has already contributed to this dialogue. We’ve received great ideas on how you would like to do business with us, what information you would like to see on our webpage, and how we can make our operations and programs more efficient.

Thank you in advance for your participation in this discussion.

Mar 15, 2010

Pomeroy Reaction

Earl Pomeroy has reacted with delight to becoming the Chairman of the House Social Security Subcommittee. He told the Grand Forks, ND Herald that “In my mind, there couldn’t be a more important committee than Social Security.” He stated that his priorities were "reducing the backlog of disability claims, finding ways to better provide service to recipients, reinforcing Social Security’s 'position as an essential retirement safety net' and protecting against fraud and abuse." He is planning to conduct a series of hearings.

Pomeroy has also released an oral statement.

Mar 14, 2010


A press release from Social Security:

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the agency is providing helpful health care information and website links to the more than three million individuals who apply each year for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. The website links take disability applicants to two U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) websites – where they will find information and tools to help them better understand and cope with their conditions; and where they may be able to get help paying for prescription drugs.

“This year over three million Americans will apply for disability benefits. Whether they meet the statutory test and qualify for benefits or not, almost all of them are facing difficult economic and medical challenges. One of the advantages of our fully electronic system is that our notices can provide applicants with valuable information provided by HHS that might help them make good choices faster,” Commissioner Astrue said. “Twenty five years ago, I had the experience of filing for disability benefits on behalf of my seriously ill father. It would have been a blessing to have had easy access to this kind of important information.”

The website at provides detailed information about specific diseases. For example, an applicant with breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, or other diseases can go to the site to gather information about diagnosis, symptoms, treatment, ongoing research, and local resources available to people with those diseases. The website at links people to the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, which directs people to information on reduced cost or free prescription drugs offered by drug companies, state and local governments, and local organizations.

Mar 11, 2010

Mar 10, 2010

Pomeroy Is New Social Security Subcommittee Chair!

A press release from the House Ways and Means Committee:
Democratic Members of the Ways and Means Committee yesterday unanimously approved the following changes to their subcommittee memberships:
· Representative John Tanner (D-TN) will now serve as Acting Chairman of the Subcommittee on Trade
· Representative Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) will now serve as Acting Chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security
This was caused by Charlie Rangel's resignation as Chair of the full Committee. I had figured that Representative Tanner would not want to move to a different subcommittee since he is retiring at the end of this Congress but what do I know?

Pomeroy would be described as a moderate Democrat. Tanner is a very active member of the Blue Dog Caucus which puts him somewhat further to the right politically.

New Addresses For Service Of Process

When you sue someone you must serve them with a copy of the complaint as well as a summons, which is a document telling the person being sued that they have been sued and had better defend themselves. Social Security gets sued by thousands of disability claimants each year. The agency's Office of General Counsel (OGC) has previously published a list of where they want these summons and complaints sent. Different OGC offices serve different areas of the country. Social Security will publish in the Federal Register tomorrow a new, changed list of where they want these documents sent.

Mar 9, 2010

The First Recipient Of Social Security Retirement Benefits

Ernest Ackerman, a Cleveland streetcar motorman, received the first Social Security retirement payment in March 1937.

Mar 8, 2010

Astrue Wins Award

From a press release:
Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue is the recipient of the Alzheimer's Association's 2010 Humanitarian Award. The award is given each year to a public official who has made a significant contribution to help those who are struggling with Alzheimer's disease. This year, the award will be given to Commissioner Astrue in recognition of his exceptional leadership in creating the Compassionate Allowances Initiative and the decision to include early-onset Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in that initiative.

How Does This Happen?

I recently received a printout of the cases I have pending with the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). The oldest request for hearing date for a case that has not yet been scheduled (and for which there is no other explanation for it taking so long) is February 18, 2009, about thirteen months ago. The newest request for hearing date for which a hearing has been scheduled (and for which there is no other explanation for the rapid scheduling) is February 4, 2010. The one where the hearing was just requested a month ago has been scheduled for May 7, 2010.

I am happy that the oldest case is less than 13 months old. Not long ago, my oldest case would have been well over two years old. I still have to ask, how does it happen that one claimant is still waiting for a hearing to be scheduled after thirteen months while another gets a hearing scheduled within a month after a request for a hearing?

Mar 7, 2010

Compassionate Allowance Cases To Be Given Priority

A recent issuance in Social Security's Program Operations Manual Series (POMS) gives some details on processing of compassionate allowance cases. One important detail is that these cases are to be given priority at all levels or review.

Mar 6, 2010

Fee Payment Stats

Social Security has released updated statistics on payments of fees to attorneys and others entitled to direct payment of fees for representing Social Security claimants:

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount

Mar 5, 2010

Union Contract Negotiations News

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union represents most Social Security employees. Since last summer, AFGE and Social Security have been in negotiations over a new contract. I just discovered that AFGE is posting regular updates on the status of the negotiations on its website. Interesting reading.

Mar 4, 2010

Sander Levin Gets Ways And Means Chairmanship

Representative Sander Levin has been named as the new Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Wait, I said that wrong. One always says "the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee." Ways and Means has jurisdiction over Social Security. Take a look at some old comments I made about Levin's performance at a Social Security Subcommittee hearing.

New Information On Hearing Backlogs

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri asked Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) to study whether Social Security was devoting adequate resources to resolving the hearing backlog in her state. OIG has produced a report saying that Social Security has. The report contains some statistics by region that I had not seen previously. These statistics certainly back up the assurance given the Senator.

I have reproduced some of these statistics below. Limitations in Blogger make it impossible for me to reproduce the tables as well as I would like but I think you can figure out what it says.

What is interesting is how Social Security has targeted the backlogs. This is not an across the board effort. Social Security is targeting those areas with the largest backlogs. Areas with low backlogs are seeing no improvement or a worsening. This is as it should be. This is a national program. It should take roughly the same length of time to get a hearing whether you are in Boston, Atlanta, Denver or San Francisco. There have been terrible disparities which must be resolved. I wish I knew how the disparities got so bad. I would also like to know how the Boston Region could have a huge increase in the number of cases awaiting a hearing at the same time it decreased the average length of time to get a disposition on closed cases. That does not make sense.

Number Of Cases Awaiting A Hearing Before A Social Security Administrative Law Judge As of September 30, 2008 And September 30, 2009 And Percent Change Per Social Security Region

Kansas City 39,622 33,001 -16.7%
Atlanta 216,407 188,566 -12.9%
Chicago 143,188 125,820 -12.1%
Seattle 24,605 22,117 -10.1%
New York 71,295 65,310 -8.4%
Dallas 72,485 69,971 -3.5%
San Francisco 77,829 79,419 +2.0%
Philadelphia 73,426 77,273 +5.2%
Denver 19,934 21,544 +8.1%
Boston 19,780 28,199 +42.6%
National Hearing Centers 2,242 11,602 +417.5%
Totals 760,813 722,822 -5.0%

Average Processing Time of Administrative Law Judge Dispositions As Of September 30, 2008 And September 30, 2009 In Days And Percent Change By Social Security Region

Dallas 445 398 -10.6%
New York 519 465 -10.4%
Chicago 665 615 -7.5%
Seattle 561 531 -5.3%
Boston 373 356 -4.6%
Kansas City 556 531 -4.5%
Atlanta 551 528 -4.2%
Philadelphia 393 402 +2.3%
Denver 429 447 +4.2%
San Francisco 436 472 8.3%
National Hearing Centers 615 687 +11.7%
National Average 514 491 -4.5%

The 1099 Problem

Social Security is now sending out 1099s to attorneys and others who have received direct payment of fees for representing Social Security claimants. These 1099s show the gross amount of the fees paid before the user fee which is charged by Social Security.

Attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants keep accounting records. We record income as it arrives in our offices. At the time we receive a payment of a fee we record what we receive rather than some theoretical fee as it might have been before the user fee.

Eventually, when the 1099s show all fees paid, the totals reported by Social Security on the 1099s will be higher than the totals shown on attorney financial records and that will cause tax problems for those who represent Social Security claimants.

It seems to me that there are two good solutions for this problem. One would be for Social Security to report on the 1099s the net fees actually paid to those who represent Social Security claimants. The other would be for Social Security to provide an annual statement of user fees withheld to each entity receiving a 1099. The entity could then make two offsetting entries in its financial records, one to show the user fees as income and the other to show the user fees as an expense. The accounting records would then match up with the 1099s and everyone would be happy.

I hope that Social Security does not take a third approach to this problem, which would be, "It's your problem. You figure out a solution."

Bonus Plan Voted Down

From the Associated Press:
The Senate on Wednesday rejected a proposal by President Barack Obama to give people on Social Security a $250 bonus check.

Republicans and Democratic deficit hawks combined to reject the idea by a 50-47 vote. The plan, offered in the Senate by Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would have added $14 billion to the out-of-control budget deficit.

Mar 3, 2010

How Women Saved Social Security

From the Economix column in the New York Times:
One of the great advances of 20th century was increased life expectancy. This advance might have bankrupted Social Security, if it were not for women in the work force.

Proposed Regs On Disability Examiner Authority To Make Decisions

Coming tomorrow in the Federal Register:
We propose to amend our rules to permit disability examiners in the State agencies to make fully favorable determinations in certain claims for disability benefits under titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (Act) without the approval of a medical or psychological consultant. The proposed changes would apply on a temporary basis only to claims we consider under our rules for Quick Disability Determinations (QDD) or under our compassionate allowance initiative.

Three Years, Four Months and 11 days

From the Lawrence Journal-World & News:

For three years, four months and 11 days, Debra Shirar waited for the Social Security Administration to say yes to her disability claim.

In that time, she accepted state assistance for a little more than $100 a month, lived with a friend and rummaged through her neighbors’ garbage to find aluminum cans she could sell to buy medicine.

“I have taken 30 days worth of pills and made them last 90 … because I don’t have the money,” Shirar said. ...

Two weeks ago, the Social Security Administration told Shirar something she had known since October 2006: She was disabled.

“It’s over,” 58-year-old Shirar said. “The resolution is nice, but not as sweet as it would be if I didn’t have to go through with it in the first place. I would rather be working.”

Rangel Leaves As Ways And Means Chairman

Charlie Rangel is temporarily stepping down as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. It is unclear who will succeed Rangel or whether this will lead to any reshuffling of the Subcommittee assignments. This matters since Ways and Means has jurisdiction over Social Security. The Social Security Subcommittee has an important role in Social Security matters. John Tanner, the chair of the Social Security Subcommittee, is retiring at the end of this Congress. I would like to think that this would mean that the Social Security Subcommittee would be untouched by Rangel's decision but we will have to see.

By the way, Representative Tanner voted against health care reform earlier but he is now undecided on how he will vote when it comes up again.

Mar 2, 2010

Hearing Backlog Declines

A press release from Social Security:
Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that the number of disability hearings pending stands at 697,437 cases -- the lowest level since June 2005 and down more than 71,000 cases since December 2008, when the trend of month-by-month reductions began. In addition, the average processing time for hearing decisions has decreased to 442 days, down from a high of 514 days at the end of fiscal year (FY) 2008.

“We have decreased the number of hearings pending by almost 10 percent over the last 14 months and cut the time it takes to make a decision by nearly two and a half months. This remarkable progress shows our backlog reduction plan is working,” Commissioner Astrue said. “With ongoing support from the President and Congress as well as the efforts of our hardworking employees, I am confident the hearings backlog will continue to diminish.”

Social Security has actively addressed the hearings backlog and increased the capacity to hold more hearings. The agency hired 147 Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and over 1,000 support staff in FY 2009, and has plans to hire an additional 226 ALJs this year. The agency now has four National Hearing Centers to help process hearings by video conference for the most hard-hit areas of the country. The agency also has aggressive plans to open 14 new hearing offices and three satellite offices by the end of the year. The first of these offices was opened in Anchorage, Alaska on February 19, 2010.

Fourteen new hearing offices by the end of this year? A December 31, 2009 report listed only thirteen new hearing offices to open this year and one of those offices was to be in Fayetteville, NC. Take a look at a recent photo of the "building" where the Fayetteville office is supposed to go. Perhaps, some temporary space has been or will be found for the Fayetteville office but pending an announcement, count me as skeptical that there will be a true hearing office in Fayetteville, NC this year.

Colvin Nomination Remains Stalled

About five and a half months ago, Carolyn Colvin was nominated to become Deputy Commissioner of Social Security. No confirmation hearing has been scheduled. The likely problem is the same as for dozens of other nominations stalled in the Senate: Republican obstructionism -- using the threat of filibuster. Probably, the obstruction is not aimed at her. It is just generally gumming up the works, trying to make it hard for the Obama Administration to move forward on any front, especially the health care front, hoping this will lead to voter dissatisfaction with Democrats. Ms. Colvin is caught in the middle.

Mobile Paper Covers Alabama DDS Story

Mar 1, 2010

Are MEs Paid Enough?

Below is an e-mail that I have received that I am posting here with the writer's permission. One detail that might help identify the writer is omitted. The ellipses are in the original. I think there are others who feel the same as this writer.
Having been a follower of your blog for some long while, I've often thought of writing you.

By way of introduction, I am a Ph.D. psychologist in private practice...I've worked at least part-time since 1994 in the SSA [Social Security Administration] system, first at DDS [Disability Determination Services] as a consultant, and now doing ME work for ODAR [Office of Disability Adjudication and Review]. Unlike many MEs [Medical Expert witness at Social Security disability hearing], I am not an elderly retiree, doing this work as supplementary income. I consider it very important work, and I try to bring my varied clinical experiences to bear on the disability cases I read. I work for 7 different ODAR offices in __________, when they call.

What 'pushed me over the edge' to write to you now was a recent case I was asked to review in an interrogatory form. The case involved well over 1200 pages of records relevant to mental health issues, as well as Appeals Council and District Court opinions. I don't mean to sound self-righteous, but I read every page of the case...all the while processing other thoughts....For one, no ME had ever been involved before in this case, though years of back and forth had occurred. For another, I could not do anything but despair about the time I had to invest in it...11 hours including the reading and then writing of an opinion. I could have spent even more time. For this, I will be paid $130. If my forensic colleagues were to take on a case such as this, their fees would approach $2000!

I have very little interaction with other MEs (partly because of the way the ME system is arranged). I have many other concerns..especially the capricious nature of how the case work comes to different judges work so very differently, ..and on. Do other MEs correspond with you? Is there a "lobby" for us? How could I impact the fee structure (unchanged in the time I have worked for OHA [Office of Hearings and Appeals, the former name for ODAR]/ODAR)? So, I am curious about your thoughts...

I look forward to hearing from you...
thanks much,

NADE Newsletter

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of personnel who make disability determinations at the initial and reconsideration levels for Social Security, has issued its Winter 2010 newsletter. NADE members have a different viewpoint on many of the issues addressed in this blog.