Apr 30, 2011

Fayetteville Gets New Hearing Office

Since I have posted in the past about the delays in opening a new Social Security hearing office in Fayetteville, NC, I must now post the fact that the new permanent hearing office in Fayetteville opened on May 16.

Local attorneys had concerns when we were told in early 2010 that the new office would be opening in August 2010 but the location at which it was to be opened was a burned out shell of a building. The hearing office opened in a temporary location last Fall and has just moved to its permanent location in what had been the burned out building. The contractor made quick progress.

Ten Million To Be Converted To Direct Deposit In Less Than Two Years

From USA Today:

If you sign up for Social Security benefits after April 30, be advised: The check won't be in the mail.

Starting May 1, everyone who applies for Social Security or other federal government benefits will be required to arrange for direct deposit of their payments. The government plans to phase out paper checks entirely by 2013. ...

Seniors who are already receiving paper checks have until March 1, 2013, to switch to direct deposit. To avoid delays, though, individuals shouldn't wait until the last minute to sign up, Gregg [a spokesman for the Department of the Treasury] says.

"We do get surges of calls, and we have about 10 million people who are getting checks who need to be converted" to direct deposit, he says.

Raborg Receives Presidential Award

Ronald Raborg of the Social Security Administration received the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award at a black tie banquet at the Diplomatic Reception Rooms at the State Department this past Thursday. Raborg is the Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Quality Performance.

Apr 29, 2011

Social Security Timing Software

A press release:

Senior Market Sales, Inc. today announced the launch of its new patent-pending Social Security Timing™ software, which helps married retirees uncover tens of thousands in additional Social Security benefits they may have otherwise left on the table.

“Whether to elect Social Security early or late is a decision virtually every retiree is faced with,” said Joe Elsasser CFP, Director of Advisory Services for Senior Market Sales and the software’s creator. “Social Security Timing™ is the only software in the marketplace that simultaneously calculates all whole year election age combinations across nine possible election strategies in order to identify the strategy that offers the highest lifetime benefit.”

Social Security Timing™ has two components that help retirees make better choices. One is the free “What’s at Stake?” consumer calculator, which allows married couples to find out in real dollars the difference between their best and worst possible Social Security election decision. The calculator also shows their top three election strategies and gives them the option to consult an advisor for further guidance. The second component is the Social Security Timing™ software that financial advisors can purchase to use with their clients.

Good Report On iClaims For Retirement Cases

From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (footnotes omitted):
At an April 15, 2010 hearing before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Social Security, Congressman Xavier Becerra asked the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to review the iClaim application to ensure individuals filing for benefits using the iClaim application were receiving an appropriate level of service from SSA.

To address Congressman Becerra’s request, we selected a random sample of 250 RIB [Retirement Insurance Benefits] iClaim applications filed in May 2010.

We surveyed the SSA [Social Security Administration] employees who processed the RIB iClaim applications to determine the number of times the Agency had to re-contact individuals for additional information or clarification and the reasons for the re-contacts. We also obtained the employees’ perceptions of the iClaim application process. Finally, we reviewed 50 of the RIB iClaim applications from our sample to determine whether the information provided by the individuals in their iClaim applications corresponded with the information recorded in SSA’s system that was used to determine individuals’ eligibility for benefits and their benefit amounts. ...

SSA employees were generally positive regarding the amount of time it took to process an iClaim application. However, employees expressed concerns about the difficulty in re-contacting individuals.

In addition, we found that the information provided by individuals in their iClaim applications corresponded with the information recorded in SSA’s system. ...

Re-contacts with individuals are a necessary and important part of processing some iClaim applications. In fact, of the 245 individuals in our review who filed a RIB iClaim application, SSA re-contacted 144 individuals (59 percent) to obtain additional information or clarification. ...

While SSA employees had both positive and negative comments about the iClaim application, employees were generally positive about the amount of time it took to process an iClaim application. ... In fact, most employees responded iClaim applications were faster to process than in-person or telephone applications. Specifically, 62 percent of employees in our review stated iClaim applications were typically the fastest application type to process. ...

Although iClaim applications generally take the least amount of time to process, employees were concerned about the difficulty with re-contacting individuals. To fully develop the claim, we found employees had to re-contact individuals in our sample up to five times, for an average of two times per individual. ...

During our review of RIB iClaim applications, there were no indications that individuals filing for RIB using the iClaim application did not receive an appropriate level of service from SSA. In fact, SSA employees re-contacted more than half the individuals in our sample to obtain additional information or clarification. While employees raised concerns regarding some difficulty in re-contacting individuals, they also recognized that iClaim applications were typically faster to process than in-person or telephone applications. In addition, we found that the information individuals provide on their iClaim applications corresponded with the information in SSA’s system used to determine benefit eligibility and amount.
Note carefully that this was a study of the retirement claims, which are, by far, the easiest claims to take. The report would be far more mixed if it were talking about survivor claims or disability claims. Supplemental Security Income claims cannot even be taken over the internet.

Apr 28, 2011

Maybe I Need To Set Up An Office In Britain

From the Daily Mail, a British newspaper:

More than a million people have failed to qualify for state sick benefits since tough fitness tests were brought in.

The million – around three quarters of all new disability benefit claims – were found fit to work or have dropped their claims after doctors examined whether they were really disabled. ...

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith now plans to reassess the existing 2.6 million long-term claimants on IB [Incapacity Benefit].

More On Arrest Of Joseph Murphy

From KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids:
More victims are emerging after Dubuque police sent out a warning about a Social Security scam.

Joseph Murphy is now in the Dubuque County Jail. Police say he pretended to be a Social Security benefits advocate, convincing several people to give him cash, which he kept for himself. ...

Police say Murphy set up a fake business called American Disability Entitlements.

He’d promise to help people who needed Social Security benefits start their paperwork. ...

The victims tell police Murphy demanded cash or credit card numbers up front. ...

Baxter says Murphy could also have victims in Wisconsin and Illinois. If you think you may be a victim, contact Dubuque police.
Update: And there is this from the Janesville, WI Gazette:
An Edgerton native with a local history of fraud and harassment now is accused of bilking more than $30,000 from two Sheboygan residents, one of whom is mentally disabled. ...

Murphy has been in and out of prison on theft and probation violation cases and often has sought out media attention.

In 1997, for example, he made national news after he complained to the media that the Social Security Administration branch in Janesville did not protect him from himself when it gave him almost $50,000 in back benefits. Murphy claimed he had a gambling problem and that he gambled away the money. ...

In the recent Sheboygan County case, a 47-year-old Sheboygan man told police he contacted Murphy so the man could get disability payments. Murphy listed himself in the yellow pages under American Disability Entitlements.

According to the complaint, Murphy over several weeks pressured the man to give him about $30,000. ...

In January 2009, Murphy aired a commercial in the Janesville area advertising the same company and seeking clients. ...

“Twenty-five years ago I was disabled and unable to work,” Murphy said in the commercial. “I was frustrated with the red legal tape, so I researched the Social Security laws and what I was entitled to. And I was just one case.

“Did you know there are up to 75,000 new disability claims in Wisconsin per year? If you are unable to work due to a physical or mental condition and are having trouble collecting Social Security disability benefits, please give me a call. I’m the little guy who will fight for what you are entitled to.”

Did this fellow ever qualify as a non-attorney representative?

Budget Limitations Hinder Debt Collection

From a recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) (footnotes omitted):
Our review focused on SSA’s [Social Security Administration's] debt collection arrangements in the SSI [Supplemental Security Income] program. Since Fiscal Year (FY) 2002, the percent of outstanding SSI debt in a collection arrangement has decreased. Specifically, between FYs 2002 and 2010, SSI debt in a collection arrangement decreased by more than 5 percent. SSA stated resource constraints in the SSI program have caused the Agency to shift focus from debt collection activities and other program integrity workloads to maintain front-line services.

During FYs 2008 through 2011, we estimated, based on historical SSI collection rates, that SSA could have recovered an additional $200 million of SSI debt. This could have been accomplished if SSA had placed an additional $441 million of outstanding SSI debt into collection arrangements at the FY 2002 level during FYs 2008 through 2010.

Apr 27, 2011

Disability Advocate Arrested

From Eastern Iowa News:
William Joseph Murphy, 44, (currently incarcerated in the Dubuque County Jail) is the focus of an ongoing theft investigation involving fraudulent social security disability advocacy. Anyone who may have been deceived by Murphy and/or his company, American Disability Entitlements, LLC, is asked to contact Investigator David Randall at 563-589-4429.

Answer To The Quiz

I received a number of answers to yesterday's "quiz", many of them having to do with the Vocational Expert testimony in the case. Those answers may have merit but I am sure that some would argue with them.

The issue that I was asking about is indisputable. It strongly appears that no one involved either at the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) level, the Appeals Council level or the District Court level recognized that the allegation of statutory blindness changed everything.

For purposes of statutory blindness, the date last insured for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits, which is what the Plaintiff in this case was trying to get, requires only the claimant be fully insured. The separate standard of disability insured status is dropped. This makes it much easier for a person who is blind to meet the insured status requirement.

It is conceivable that a person would last meet the fully insured and disability insured standard on the same date but that would be rare. If that had happened it should have been addressed in the ALJ decision. Enough of that decision is quoted that it seems most unlikely that this is the case. It is certainly possible that the Plaintiff in this case has never met the statutory blindness requirements but that is impossible to tell from this opinion since both the ALJ and the District Court stopped looking at the evidence after the date that the claimant last met the special disability insured requirement. Indeed, it appears that there was little or no evidence in the record after the date that the Plaintiff last met the special disability insured requirement because no one thought that was relevant -- but it was!

Instead of being a case where the ALJ needed only to look at the evidence up to the date that the Plaintiff last met the special disability insured status requirement, which was December 31, 2001, this was a case in which the ALJ needed to look at the evidence of all of the Plaintiff's impairments, which went beyond visual problems, up to December 31, 2001 under the regular disability standard but then look solely at the visual problems to determine whether the Plaintiff was statutorily blind until the date that the Plaintiff was last fully insured. This makes this a unusual and complicated case. That complication should have been addressed in the ALJ decision but it was not. It is entirely possible, even probable, that the Plaintiff remains fully insured today. You only need 40 quarters of coverage to be fully insured for life and this Plaintiff probably earned those 40 quarters a long time ago. Since visual problems often get worse with time and since December 31, 2001 was quite some time ago this opinion gives me an uneasy feeling.

So who got it right? Here are the ones I received:
  • Anonymous
  • JOA
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Ralph Wilborn
  • Anonymous
I have some concern that my spam filter may have "eaten" some correct answers. Sorry, if I missed seeing your response, but if it was anonymous I guess you would never know anyway.

So what does the low number of correct answers tell us? What does it tell us that this case went so far with so fundamental an error? Anybody slapping their head? What do you think?

Will History Repeat Itself?

From the Washington Post (emphasis added):
The White House is warning that catastrophe will strike if Congress fails to raise the limit on the national debt: With too little cash to pay creditors, the U.S. government would default. Interest rates would skyrocket. And the economic recovery would collapse. ...

So far, the Treasury has nearly drained a $200 billion cash-management account at the Fed, providing a cushion of money to pay bills without new borrowing. Next, Geithner is likely to take a series of “extraordinary actions,” such as suspending the issuance of special securities that help state and local governments manage their own finances. Once the debt hits the limit, Geithner may declare a “debt issuance suspension period,” permitting him to borrow from the pension fund for federal workers.

[Robert] Rubin [Treasury Secretary in the Clinton Administration] pioneered these strategies in 1995, at the start of the budget battles between President Bill Clinton and Republicans led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). As the fight dragged on through two government shutdowns, Rubin had to juggle the nation’s bills for 135 days. Finally, Clinton threatened to delay Social Security checks, spurring Congress to approve more borrowing to make sure the checks went out on time.

Apr 26, 2011

A Quiz

Take a look at the decision in Jackson v. Astrue, 733 F.Supp.2d 506 (D.Del.2010). Does anything strike you as odd about this decision? Worrisome?

Maybe things were handled properly but the decisions of both the Administrative Law Judge decision and the District Court decision were poorly drafted. Maybe a lot of people missed the boat but it does not matter anyway. Maybe an injustice has been done. You just cannot tell.

If you think you know what I am talking about, use the "Send Feedback" button on the right side of this page to send me an e-mail. I am blocking comments on this post for now. I will post something later with the names, or initials if you prefer, of those who figure out what I am talking about. You do not have to be a lawyer to take this quiz. Many non-lawyers with Social Security experience know about this.

One hint: If you know your Social Security stuff, you will probably be able to guess the problem by the time you finish reading the second paragraph of the opinion.

Update: Another hint. I have had a couple of correct answers that were not even one complete sentence. Also, pay attention to the first hint. Some people are going to be slapping their heads when I reveal the right answer.

NADE Newsletter

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization of the personnel who work at state government agencies but who make initial and reconsideration determinations on Social Security disability claims, has issued its Spring, 2011 newsletter. Here is an excerpt from one article:
A Group of NADE leaders (President Andrew Martinez, Past President Susan Smith, President-elect Tom Ward and Legislative Director and Past President Jeff Price) traveled to Washington, DC the week of April 11-15 for a series of meetings with SSA, Congress and Governmental oversight agencies. This group canvassed our Nation’s Capital seeking support for NADE’s Top Issues (see front cover) as well as general support for NADE and SSA. The message delivered by the NADE leadership was very specific and both political parties and both houses of Congress were receptive to NADE’s message. ...

NADE is on record as supporting an enhanced reconsideration appeal step but the NADE leadership discovered an over-riding concern among Members of Congress, the claimant advocate community and others was the question, “Does reconsideration have a future?” After lengthy discussions with SSA, with congressional representatives, and with others who have an interest on this issue, it was agreed NADE should investigate its long-standing position to determine if it was still relevant. The true value and effectiveness of this intermediate appeal step should be the subject of serious study to determine its role in the 21st century.
Don't worry, NADE, reconsideration isn't going anywhere. There are many good reasons to wish it gone but doing away with it would be way too expensive. Do worry, NADE, about the editing of your newsletter. An article continued from page 24 to page 8 -- and page 24 said it was continued to page 9!

Apr 25, 2011

SDW Finished -- But Was All The SDW Done?

Social Security has announced an end to the Special Disability Workload (SDW) project. SDW has been a long ongoing effort to identify and correct past mistakes in the processing of Social Security disability claims. A simple example would be a widow who filed only a claim for widow's disability benefits when she could also have filed a claim for disability benefits on her own account and received more money. Most, if not all, of the SDW cases were identified by database searches and matches. (There is a fascinating back story on the "unknown hero and pariah" who brought about SDW.) Many of the SDW cases involved staggering amounts of money. Not rarely, people received over $100,000 in back benefits as a result of SDW reviews. Many of the SDW cases were enormously complicated affairs since they went back years, involved complicated interrelations between different types of Social Security benefits and Social Security's byzantine disability work incentives. To handle the SDW cases, Social Security formed an SDW "cadre" of its most able, experienced people. SDW was conducted well out of view of the public but it was an important effort to get it right, to pay the correct benefits to the right people.

I would be happy to see Social Security finished with the SDW since it ate up a lot of staff time but the announcement suggests that there may be some SDW that remains, work that may never get done. Has Social Security truly finished the SDW except for some minor loose ends or is SDW being abandoned because of budget pressures? The timing suggests the latter.

Apr 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Apr 23, 2011

Social Security Doesn't Like Binder And Binder's Release

An e-mail that went out recently, just in Social Security's Atlanta Region as best I can tell:
Subject: INFORMATION: Binder and Binder's Privacy Statement


The firm of Binder and Binder (B&B) serves nationwide as the authorized representative for a large number of SSA claimants. In some cases, B&B has submitted the following Privacy Statement in conjunction with their claims and appeals:

Privacy Statement
I do not authorize SSA to release my medical records and/or to discuss my medical condition with any neighbor, friend, or third party non-physician not directly affiliated with SSA.
My right to privacy is paramount to me. I do not want my medical information or any information disclosed in a SSA form to be discussed with anyone who is not an employee of SSA, an employee of the state agency contracted to process my social security case, or a health care professional contracted to examine me or review my file as part of the social security process.
I expressly authorize SSA to release any and all information to my representatives, . . . .
To the extent that any form I sign (including SSA-827) is inconsistent with this, this statement takes precedence.

Dated & signed by the claimant
The Office of Privacy and Disclosure (OPD) notified Charles Binder on April 11, 2011, to discontinue the use of these Statements. These Privacy Statements conflict with Federal statutes and regulations for disclosures related to SSA’s program administration. A form drafted by an authorized representative cannot overrule the requirements of the Privacy Act (5 USC 552a) and SSA’s regulations when we are permitted to disclose an applicant’s record information to assist us in making entitlement determinations for our program purposes.

Now that Mr. Binder has been notified, B&B should discontinue using this Statement. However, if you know of any situations in which the claimant or B&B has submitted or continues to submit the above Privacy Statement, please notify Martha Shepherd, RSI Programs Team at [e-mail address redacted] or by fax at 404-562-1583. You should provide the claimant’s name, SSN and address and a copy of the signed Privacy Statement. OPD will take the necessary action to notify the claimant and Mr. Binder that the Statement cannot be honored.

Contact Martha at 404-562-1319 if you have any questions.

Amy Roberts

Assistant Regional Commissioner

Management and Operations Support

Apr 22, 2011

Social Security Employee Pleads Guilty

From the Contra Costa Times:

A 29-year employee of the U.S. Social Security Administration office in San Jose has pleaded guilty to illegally creating and selling Social Security cards to more than 25 people she knew were not eligible to receive them.

Rachel Ochoa, 66, of San Jose was arrested at an office in San Jose in November and eventually pleaded guilty to one count of unlawfully producing an identification document -- Social Security cards -- as part of a plea agreement, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Recipients of the cards were illegal immigrants who paid from $2,500 to $5,000 to obtain them, according to an affidavit by the FBI. ...

Ochoa is scheduled to be sentenced on July 18 and is facing a maximum term of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the Department of Justice.

Apr 21, 2011

Service Cut In Alabama

From the Troy, Alabama Messenger:

Residents headed to the Pike County courthouse to visit the remote office of the U.S. Social Security Administration in Troy this week found a sign taped to the door that read, “The Social Security office will be closed until further notice due to budget cuts.”

According to Probate Judge Wes Allen, the closing of the office doors came without much warning.

“All we know is what they put on the front door,” Allen said. “We got a phone call and they said, ‘we would not be open, because of budget cuts and constraints, and will be closed until further notice."

Apr 20, 2011

No Match Letters Going Out Again

The Immigration Employment Blog reports that Social Security has resumed sending out "no match" letters to employers after a long hiatus. The no match letters are sent out when an employer reports earnings with a name and Social Security number that do not match.

Remember Oklahoma City

Yesterday was the anniversary of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 16 Social Security employees. Here is a quote from President Clinton's State of the Union address in 1996 that still seems timely:
Our federal government today is the smallest it has been in 30 years, and it's getting smaller every day. Most of our fellow Americans probably don't know that. And there is a good reason: The remaining federal workforce is composed of Americans who are now working harder and working smarter than ever before, to make sure the quality of our services does not decline.

I'd like to give you one example. His name is Richard Dean. He is a 49-year-old Vietnam veteran who's worked for the Social Security Administration for 22 years now. Last year he was hard at work in the federal building in Oklahoma City when the blast killed 169 people and brought the rubble down all around him. He reentered that building four times. He saved the lives of three women. He's here with us this evening, and I want to recognize Richard and applaud both his public service and his extraordinary personal heroism.

But Richard Dean's story doesn't end there. This last November, he was forced out of his office when the government shut down. And the second time the government shut down he continued helping Social Security recipients, but he was working without pay.

On behalf of Richard Dean and his family, and all the other people who are out there working every day doing a good job for the American people, I challenge all of you in this chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again.

Thanks to Tom Shoop at Fedblog for this memory.

Apr 19, 2011

Obama Backs Increase In FICA Base

From Reuters:
President Barack Obama on Tuesday backed boosting the amount of individual income subject to Social Security taxes, one of the first concrete proposals he has endorsed to put the retirement program on a stronger fiscal footing. ...

"For the vast majority of Americans, every dime you earn, you're paying some in Social Security," Obama said at an event with college students in Virginia. "But for (billionaire investor) Warren Buffett, he stops paying at a little bit over $100,000 and then the next $50 billion he's not paying a dime in Social Security taxes."
Actually, I think Warren Buffett does not make $50 billion a year (that would be his net worth) and most of his income is from investments and would not be covered by FICA anyway but let us not quibble.

Heading To The Supreme Court?

From Schafer v. Astrue (4th Cir. April 12, 2011):
Don and Janice Schafer married in 1992. Don died the next year. With the help of in vitro fertilization, however, Janice gave birth to W.M.S., Don Schafer’s biological child, a number of years later. Janice Schafer then applied on W.M.S.’s behalf for survivorship benefits under the Social Security Act.

The Social Security Administration rejected W.M.S.’s claim. Because under its view natural children must be able to inherit from the decedent under state intestacy law or satisfy certain exceptions to that requirement in order to count as "children" under the Act, W.M.S. was not eligible for survivorship benefits. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(h)(2), (h)(3)(C). The district court agreed. On appeal, Schafer contends that undisputed natural children such as W.M.S. plainly fall within 42 U.S.C. § 416(e)(1)’s basic definition of "child," making their state intestacy rights irrelevant.

We shall affirm the judgment. The agency’s view best reflects the statute’s text, structure, and aim of providing benefits primarily to those who unexpectedly lose a wage earner’s support. And even if the agency’s interpretation were not the only reasonable one, it falls well within the range of permissible readings entitled to deference under Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984).
This opinion is at odds with Gillett-Netting v. Barnhart, 371 F.3d 593, 597 (9th Cir. 2004) and Capato ex rel. B.N.C. v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., ___ F.3d ___, 2011 WL 9368 (3d Cir. Jan. 4, 2011). The issue is also pending before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals at the moment in Beeler v. Astrue.

This issue does not break down easily on liberal-conservative lines but we cannot completely dismiss that as an issue, especially when talking about the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals which has been highly ideological and right wing in recent years. The Shafer opinion was written by Judge Wilkinson and joined by Judge Agee. Judge Davis dissented. Wilkinson was appointed by President Reagan and Agee by George W. Bush. Davis was appointed by President Obama. A majority of the 4th Circuit's judges are now Democratic appointees. This is a dramatic change since President Obama took office.

I have not talked with the attorneys representing the mother and her child so what follows is just my speculation. I have to expect a motion for rehearing en banc, that is by all the judges on the Court. Rehearing en banc is uncommon but this is an uncommon case and the 4th Circuit is in transition. If the case is not reheard en banc or if it is reheard and the decision remains the same, I expect a petition for certiorari, that is a request that the Supreme Court hear the case. I would expect that petition for certiorari to be granted since the Courts of Appeals would be in disagreement on the issue and that normally gets a case heard at the Supreme Court.

Apr 18, 2011

Union Newsletter Contains Account Of Danville Assault

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union local that represents most Social Security employees has released its April 2011 newsletter, Unity, which contains this account of the recent assault at the Danville, VA Social Security field office:
In less than a minute, Anthony Burtt’s life changed forever.

A Service Representative in the Danville, Va. Social Security Office, he recently helped to subdue a man who allegedly stabbed security guard Jason Alsbaugh four times.

“I’d just come off break,” Burtt told UNITY, “and we were actually celebrating the guard’s birthday. I saw the suspect (Byron Clements) stab the guard in the neck and then I ran through the vestibule and hit the suspect in the head with my right elbow.”

In the melee that followed, a number of other people also came to Alsbaugh’s rescue, and Burtt remembers trying to get the guard’s handcuffs while Alsbaugh went to get medical help.

“He was bleeding pretty badly,” Burtt said. “He was really hurt!”

At that point, Clements apparently tried to run away, but Burtt hit him a second time with the back of his hand and the suspect fell to the ground, unconscious.

“Then he managed to get up again,” Burtt recalled. “He stood straight up and I was on top of him, and I’m a pretty big guy, so he was really strong.”

Clements then attempted another escape and it took three people to subdue him. He was eventually handcuffed, arrested by the police, and is now accused of malicious wounding.

Burtt, 38, is the Assistant Area Coordinator for AFGE. ...

Apr 17, 2011

Updated Fee Payment Numbers

Updated numbers from Social Security on payments of fees to attorneys and others who represent Social Security claimants. These fees come out of claimants' back benefits.

Year 2011

Fee Payments

Month/Year Volume Amount



Apr 16, 2011

ALJ Leopold Dies

I regret to pass on the news that Administrative Law Judge Richard L. Leopold of Charlotte died this morning of an apparent heart attack while playing golf.

Bad Time For a 25th Anniversary?

The National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI) is planning a big celebration on June 8 for its 25th anniversary. There will be a dinner honoring Marty Ford, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Arc of the United States, Virginia P. Reno, Vice President for Income Security at the National Academy of Social Insurance, Wayne Vroman, Economist at The Urban Institute and James N. Ellenberger, President of the AFL-CIO Retirees Association.

NASI deserves to celebrate its anniversary and these fine folks certainly deserve to be honored but it is hard for someone who believes in the concept of Social Insurance to be in a celebratory mood at this point in our nation's history. The Social Security Administration's operating budget has been cut to the point that it is on a glide path to collapse. The whole concept of Social Insurance is under assault as never before. We are looking at serious Republican proposals to end Medicare, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. There are other proposals to dramatically cut Social Security and Unemployment Insurance benefits, almost certainly as a way station to ending them altogether. Many Republicans are pledging to do anything short of violence to achieve their ambitious agenda, including destroying the nation's credit.

The one thing that gives me hope is the conviction that Republican have greatly overreached and are bound for electoral disaster.

Apr 15, 2011

Bad Axe Service Gets The Axe

From the Huron, MI Daily Tribune:
BAD AXE — County officials learned April 1 the Social Security Administration no longer will send representatives to the county building on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month to help residents with Social Security business.

“Because the administration is cutting back on travel, they no longer will be sending a representative twice a month to the court house,” explained Huron County Board of Commissioners Executive Secretary Jodi Essenmacher, who received notice April 1 that effective that day, Social Security Administration (SSA) representatives no longer would be coming to the county.

Instead, the county on Tuesday entered into an agreement to allow SSA to set up a video terminal to service county residents.

Apr 14, 2011

Winners And Losers

From the Washington Post:
The Congressional Budget Office estimate shows that compared with current spending rates the spending bill due for a House vote Thursday [and which just passed] would cut federal outlays from non-war accounts by just $352 million through Sept. 30. About $8 billion in immediate cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid are offset by nearly equal increases in defense spending.
Got that? Social Security got budget cuts that leave it barely functioning while defense spending went up.

House Social Security Subcommittee Hearing

Theresa Gruber, Social Security's Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Operations, testified today before the House Ways and Means Committee on Social Security number verification and identity theft. Her written testimony is now available.

Apr 13, 2011

President On Social Security

From a White House summary of President Obama's speech today:
The President does not believe that Social Security is a driver of our near-term deficit problems or is currently in crisis. But he supports bipartisan efforts to strengthen Social Security for the long haul, because its long-term challenges are better addressed sooner than later to ensure that it remains the rock-solid benefit for older Americans that it has been for past generations. The President in the State of the Union laid out his principles for Social Security reform which he believes should form the basis for bipartisan negotiations that could proceed in parallel to deficit negotiations:
  • Strengthen retirement security for the low-income and vulnerable; maintain robust disability and survivors’ benefits.
  • No privatization or weakening of the Social Security system; reform must strengthen Social Security and restore long-term solvency.
  • No current beneficiary should see the basic benefit reduced; nor will we accept an approach that slashes benefits for future generations.

Lawsuit Alleges ALJ Bias In Queens, NY

From the New York Times:
The Queens office that hears appeals of Social Security disability cases is well known to lawyers, judges and many other New Yorkers as an inhospitable place to seek benefits. ...

Now, a class-action lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn says that five of the eight Queens judges are not just difficult, but also biased against the applicants — many of whom are poor or immigrants — and have systematically denied benefits to the disabled by making legal and factual errors. ...

The five judges named in the suit are David Z. Nisnewitz, Michael D. Cofresi, Seymour Fier, Marilyn P. Hoppenfeld and Hazel C. Strauss. ...

The Times’s analysis found that the rejection rate for the entire Queens office, 50.9 percent, was the highest in New York State, and far higher than in other New York City boroughs; in the current fiscal year, Manhattan has an average denial rate of 37 percent, the Bronx 33 percent, and Brooklyn 14.5 percent.

Apr 12, 2011

House Democrats Worried

A group of House Democrats apparently fear that the President will propose Social Security reductions on Wednesday, since they have sent the President a letter warning him not to cut Social Security or risk losing their support.

Bold Republican Plan

The Republican Study Committee, which includes most Republican in the House of Representatives, has issued a report calling for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to end, with block grants to the states being substituted -- and the block grants would be at the 2007 spending level. The report also calls for a 25.6% reduction in discretionary spending, allowing Medicare beneficiaries to opt out, raising the Medicare age to 67, ending Medicaid and substituting block grants to the states, and raising full retirement age for Social Security to 70, with everyone who is currently under 60 being affected.

If this is the Republican platform for 2012, voters will definitely have a choice.

President To Propose Ending FICA Cap

From the Los Angeles Times:
President Obama will call for shrinking the nation's long-term deficits by raising taxes on wealthier Americans and requiring them to pay more into Social Security, drawing a barbed contrast with a Republican plan to save money by deeply slashing Medicare, Medicaid and other domestic spending. ...

Obama would end tax breaks for households earning more than $250,000 a year, trim Pentagon spending, lift a cap on the amount of income that is assessed for Social Security, and save on Medicare and Medicaid through alterations to healthcare delivery, administration officials said. He will speak about 1:30 p.m. Eastern time on the campus of George Washington University.

Final Appropriations Numbers For Social Security

The House Appropriations Committee has finally posted numbers on the cuts for various agencies under the final continuing resolution that will fund agencies through the rest of the fiscal year (FY). These numbers show no specific cut for the Social Security Administration other than a 0.2% cut being imposed across the board on all civilian agencies.

If I understand correctly, this means that Social Security's operating budget for the rest of the fiscal year will be the same as for the last fiscal year, less 0.2%, which would be about a $23 million reduction, at a time when Social Security's workloads are increasing dramatically. The Republican appropriations bill would have reduced Social Security's funding by $125 million from FY 2010, not counting recissions in funds already appropriated for construction of a new national computer center. The President's bill would have given Social Security almost a billion dollars more than FY 2010.

The bottom line is that under this level of funding, Social Security can probably avoid furloughing employees -- and I would guess that to have been the only goal shared by Democrats and Republicans -- but backlogs will grow and service will deteriorate. I am curious to know whether any overtime will be possible for the rest of FY 2011. Social Security has been getting a lot of its workload accomplished using overtime. No overtime would be very bad news for Social Security. Also, we need to know to what extent Social Security will have to freeze hiring for the rest of FY 2011.

Funding for Social Security's new national computer center is more precarious than anyone, including Republicans, would like. That money will have to be painfully squeezed out of the budget each year until it is finished.

Update: That 0.2% reduction in funding must not have been applied exactly evenly. According to the actual bill, Social Security's reduction was $26 million, not $23 million. More importantly, $75 million in funds previously appropriated to Social Security for information technology, telecommunications hardware and software infrastructure was rescinded. This is on top of the $200 million in rescissions for the national computer center. We already knew about that one.

This is going to be a mess to manage. Social Security is on a path towards administrative collapse.

Proposed Change In Evidence Collection Regulations

From a notice of proposed rule-making posted by the Social Security Administration in today's Federal Register (footnote omitted):
We propose to modify the requirement to recontact your medical source(s) first when we need to resolve an inconsistency or insufficiency in the evidence he or she provided....

Sometimes the evidence we receive from your treating physician, psychologist, or other medical source is inadequate for us to determine whether you are disabled; that is, we either do not have sufficient evidence to determine whether you are disabled or if after weighing the evidence we determine we cannot reach a conclusion about whether you are disabled. Our current regulations describe what actions we will take in these situations. Currently, we will first recontact your medical source to determine whether the additional information we need is readily
available, unless we know from past experience that the source either cannot or will not provide the necessary findings. We will seek additional evidence or clarification from your medical source when the report from your medical source contains a conflict or ambiguity that must be resolved, does not contain all the necessary information, or does not appear to be based on medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques....

[W]e propose to modify the requirement in Sec. Sec. 404.1512(e) and 416.912(e) that we first recontact your medical source(s) when we need to resolve an inconsistency or insufficiency in the evidence he or she provided. Under our proposed rule, after we have made every reasonable effort to help you get medical reports from your medical sources, we will determine the best way to resolve the
inconsistency or insufficiency. We will do that by taking one or more of several actions, including recontacting your medical source(s) when we need to resolve an inconsistency or insufficiency in the evidence he or she provided. ...

Apr 11, 2011

My Surgery

It snowed on Christmas Day in Raleigh. It wasn't your classic White Christmas since the snowfall did not start until late on Christmas afternoon but it was the closest this Southern boy has ever come to a White Christmas. On the day after Christmas, I went out for a walk in the newly fallen snow. It was wonderful. Few cars had passed. The snow was ankle deep and soft, giving excellent traction. I have been walking regularly for exercise for years and that was as good as a walk could get. I remember passing by a neighbor who was shoveling her driveway. I called out with the standard Southern advice for snow -- "Don't bother shoveling! It'll melt!"

By the next day, December 27, much of that snow had melted. I decided to go out and walk again, which was a terrible mistake. I got about two blocks from my house before I slipped and fell on ice. I fell straight back landing flatly on my shoulders. My immediate reaction on hitting the icy asphalt was relief that the impact did not hurt. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I was in no pain because I could feel nothing below my neck. I could also move nothing below my neck. As bad as that sounds, it does not quite convey how dire things seemed. I looked to my left and saw something close by that I could not immediately identify. I soon realized that what I saw was my left arm stretched out at shoulder level. I had thought it was by my side. The left arm that I was looking at did not even seem to be part of me.

I called for help. My neighbors were ensconced in their warm houses and could not hear me. It took a few minutes before someone drove up. In those few minutes, I started feeling pain in my shoulders. Sensations of the cold, cold pavement that I was lying upon were entering my buttocks and legs. I began to wiggle my fingers and toes. I was even able to think about trying to get up but quickly realized that I could not get up on my own and that any attempt to do so would be insane.

I have been asked many times how long the quadriplegia lasted. I have told people that it may have been two to six minutes but that I was certainly not looking at my watch and that my perception of time was probably skewed by what I was experiencing.

An ambulance finally arrived. I was placed on a body board and taken to the emergency room. A technician tried to check my temperature on arrival at the emergency room. The thermometer did not register. He muttered that it must be broken and got another one. It did not register either. He got a third thermometer which finally registered. I was not told what it showed but the technician immediately got some warm blankets and put them over me.

Many x-rays and MRIs were done. They showed one thing which I already knew, that I did not have a head injury. They also showed to my surprise that I did not have any shoulder injuries even though as time passed at the emergency room, my shoulders hurt more and more. The MRIs of my cervical spine showed much pre-existing arthritis, spondylosis to be technical, that was constricting my spinal cord although there was no appearance of acute spinal stenosis, that is, pinching of the spinal cord.

I was regaining sensation and movement the entire time that I was in the emergency room -- about nine hours. By the time I was released from the emergency room, I was in a lot of shoulder pain, I had pain in my rubbery arms and legs, I was exhausted, thirsty and hungry but I was able to button my shirt and tie my shoes, which was extremely encouraging. I still felt terribly, terribly cold.

I was told to make an appointment with a neurosurgeon, which I did. The neurosurgeon looked at the MRIs and said that he could see no damage to my spinal cord but said that it took time before spinal cord damage shows up on MRIs. He said that my cervical spine looked to be tight around my spinal cord but not tight enough to require surgery. Still, he implied that I might need spinal surgery in the near future, saying that my spinal cord first needed time to heal. He ordered a course of oral steroids, which he thought should have been given to me at the emergency room, and physical therapy. The steroids helped a lot but the benefit ended soon after they stopped. The physical therapy helped me keep up my strength and range of motion.

Things began to settle down. I had pain, numbness and weakness in both shoulders, both arms and both legs. My symptoms were patchy and variable. None of it was acute. It was just that the symptoms covered so much of my body.

I was supposed to go back to my neurosurgeon on April 14. By early April, I called to ask that my appointment be moved up because my symptoms were rapidly accelerating. It took some time to get in to my neurosurgeon's office. In the meantime, new MRIs were ordered. When I finally got to my neurosurgeon's office, I was told that he had been called out of town due to some unspecified emergency and would not be back for two weeks but that I could see his physician's assistant (PA). The PA had an odd look on his face when he came in the room. He did an extremely hurried exam and seemed to expect every abnormality he found and he found a lot. He showed me the MRIs which he had looked at before examining me. My spondylosis had accelerated. Also, and even more important, I now had a badly herniated disk at C3-4. My spinal cord was obviously compressed at c3-4 to the point that it was perhaps one-quarter of the diameter above and below that point. The pinched portion of the spinal cord looked nearly white on the MRI. The PA told me that was dangerous. He informed me that I could not wait until my neurosurgeon returned to town, that I must see another neurosurgeon as soon as possible.

I saw another neurosurgeon the next day. He recommended that I have a C3-4 anterior cervical diskectomy and fusion (ACDF) and soon. He told me that I also have significant problems at C7 and to some extent at C4-6 but he felt those did not require surgery now and might never require surgery.

I had the C3-4 ACDF surgery last Friday. I was home by Saturday afternoon. My throat is awfully sore. Having an anterior fusion means the surgeon goes in through the front of the neck, having to navigate around the trachea, esophagus and larynx which do not appreciate being disturbed, any more than the cervical vertebrae appreciate having screws drilled into them to support a titanium plate.

My neurologic symptoms are fluctuating but I have seen much improvement. No one can say where I will finally end up but I am confident that I will be much better than I have been since December 27. In any case, but for the surgery I would have been in a wheelchair or worse within a few months.

I had never heard of a fall producing a temporary paralysis. I have found out since that while rare this is far from unknown. This sort of thing is most commonly seen in football. This is a major reason for the current rule requiring that tackles be made with the head up since tackles with the head down put a player at greater risk for spinal cord injury. Remember that I never thought that I had injured my head in the fall? That was because I had instinctively flexed my neck forward so the back of my head would not strike the pavement. That may have saved me from a terrible head injury but it also put me at greater risk for a spinal cord injury.

I have heard a couple of theories about how this sort of temporary paralysis happens. One theory is that the violent slamming of the spinal cord damages the myelin that surrounds nerves much like the insulation that surrounds electrical wires. Another theory is that the violent slamming temporarily disrupts the blood supply to the spinal cord. No one knows.

To readers who wonder why my symptoms did not correspond to the nerve root dermatomes, they are so familiar with, I had and have myelopathy, not radiculopathy; damage to the the spinal cord itself rather than to one or two individual nerves branching off from the spinal cord. Dermatomes are irrelevant when one is talking about myelopathy. You just do not see much myelopathy in Social Security disability determination.

Let me relate one final point that may seem minor to others but which I find fascinating. For more than a year before my fall, I had been complaining to my family doctor of coldness in my hands and feet. He had no idea why this was happening nor any solution for the problem. This coldness got much worse after the fall. By my hospitalization for surgery, it was difficult for nurses to draw blood or establish an IV line since the blood was hardly flowing to the skin of my arms. While I was in the recovery room after surgery I could feel the warm blood coming back into my feet. Soon after I got to my hospital room, I could feel warmth coming back to my hands. It fluctuates some but the blood circulation to my hands and feet has changed dramatically since the surgery. Getting a blood sample or establishing a new IV line became easy. I related this to the neurosurgeon. He did not seem surprised. He had already been told of the difficulty drawing blood and establishing IV lines. He figured that the blood circulation problem was a subtle sign of the spinal cord compression that existed even before my fall.

Apr 9, 2011

Government Shutdown Averted -- At What Cost For Social Security?

A we all know by now, a government shutdown was averted at the last minute. The cost was agreement to massive cuts in appropriations for government operations. Probably, we will not know until early next week what the cost will be for the Social Security Administration. Let us hope that cost will be minor.

I would suggest that eliminating lump sum death benefits would save money. The minuscule $255 payment is not worth administering. If that is not enough, eliminate parents benefits, the benefits that go to the dependant parents of decedents and Social Security recipients and make the change prospective. It is such an obscure benefit that eliminating it would cause little damage to the social safety net. Supplemental Security Income would always be available. Do people who qualify for parents benefits really deserve anything more than SSI?

Apr 8, 2011

Bad Timing

I will be having surgery later this morning. As a result, I will be unable to post on this blog for at least a day, probably two days, maybe longer. You never know about these things.

I am sure that every media outlet in the U.S. will be relaying the news about the possible government shutdown.

Update: Thanks for the good wishes. I am home and not feeling too bad, considering. I think I will post something soon about what brought about the surgery, if for no other reason to reduce the number of times that I will have to repeat a lengthy explanation. I know that everyone thinks their medical condition is fascinating to other people. I will try not to bore readers. I will say now that my story begins with quite a bang and goes into an area of medicine that you just about never see in representing Social Security disability claimants even though it is very close to an area we see all the time.

Groundhog Day

A press release from the House Social Security Subcommittee:

Chairman Johnson Announces Hearing on the Social Security Administration’s Role in Verifying Employment Eligibility

Apr 14, 2011

Focus Of The Hearing:

The hearing will focus on the progress made and challenges created by E-Verify, including the potential burdens on employees, employers and the SSA. The Subcommittee will examine how the current shortcomings of the system could be improved to ease the verification process during this critical time of job creation. Finally, the Subcommittee will also review other proposals to expand employment eligibility verification, including enhancing the Social Security card with tamper-proof, counterfeit-resistant or biometric features and increasing enforcement through the sharing of taxpayer wage information.

Republicans seem to be doing a replay of the exact same hearings they held the last time they were in the majority in the House of Representatives. To be honest, Democrats did the same but with different topics. There is less overlap than there should be.

Apr 7, 2011

Where We Stand

From the Political Wire:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told constituents this morning that he expects a government shutdown, National Journal reports.

Later, on the Senate floor, Reid said, "The numbers are basically there. But I am not near as optimistic -- and that's an understatement -- as I was 11 hours ago."

Meanwhile, President Obama has called for an early afternoon meeting with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Reid in an attempt to break the impasse.
Update: I should add that Social Security is being a lot less than forthright about how big their furlough will be. In 1995, the last time there was a shutdown, almost everyone at Social Security was furloughed initially but then most employees were called back to work three days later. Will we have a repeat of that experience? Will we start out where things ended up after three days in 1995? Will there be a hard line and almost everyone furloughed for the duration of the shutdown? Social Security is not saying. It is not Social Security's call. The White House is making these decisions.

Rearrange Those Deck Chairs

From a press release:
Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman, Subcommittee on Social Security of the Committee on Ways and Means, today announced that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine the role of Social Security numbers in identity theft and options to guard their privacy. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, April 13, 2011, in room B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 2:00 p.m.

New Endocrine Listings

Social Security is publishing new Listings for endocrine disorders. They will appear in the Federal Register tomorrow. The new Listings are obviously intended to make it more difficult to qualify for disability benefits based upon diabetes. Of course, Social Security denies any intent to do what it is obviously doing.

Ticket To Work -- A Waste Of Money

From the New York Times:
... Social Security offers disability beneficiaries some incentive to ease back into the work force. For nine months after starting a job, they can earn any amount without threatening their benefits. For another three years, if their income falls below $1,000 a month, they can immediately receive full benefits again. And they can keep Medicare coverage for eight and a half years after going back to work, something few beneficiaries may realize.

In 1999, Congress passed a law authorizing the Ticket to Work program, which offers beneficiaries practical help with a job search. Social Security also waives medical reviews for those who participate.

So far, the program has had little success. Out of 12.5 million disabled workers and those who receive benefits for the disabled poor, only 13,656 returned to work over the last two and a half years, with less than a third of them earning enough to drop the benefits....

Officials say they have streamlined and simplified the Ticket to Work program. But even with more awareness, they say not enough people could go back to work to make a difference in the disability trust fund.

“We could make this program exponentially more successful and it wouldn’t be enough to dramatically improve the solvency picture,” said Michael J. Astrue, the commissioner of Social Security. “You do it because work — for people who can work — gives them dignity and improves their economic condition.”

I have a suggestion. Ticket to Work doesn't work. There's no way to make it work. Let's get over our fantasies that there's some way to return large numbers of disabled people to work. Just end Ticket to Work and save the money.

Apr 6, 2011

Furloughted Workers Should Not Expect To Be Paid

From the Washington Post:

Rep. James Moran (D-Va), whose Northern Virginia district is home to thousands of federal employees, said furloughed workers should not expect to be paid, based on feedback he is getting from Republican colleagues in Congress.

“It is highly unlikely that about 1 million federal employees who are not working will ever be reimbursed,” Moran said in a conference call Wednesday with reporters. He called the majority of his GOP colleagues “far more anti-government in terms of their mindset” than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich during the 1990s shutdown, when Congress agreed to reimburse furloughed workers retroactively.

What Does "Limited Services" Mean?


A Message To All SSA Employees

Subject: An Important Message From Commissioner Astrue

Throughout the discussions about funding for the rest of the fiscal year, the President has made it clear that he does not want a government shutdown, and the Administration is ready and willing to work day and night to find a solution with which Congress can agree. Given the realities of the calendar, however, prudent management requires that I plan for an orderly shutdown should Congress fail to pass a funding bill.

The President and I know that the uncertainty of the current situation puts Federal employees in a difficult position, and are very much aware that a shutdown would impose hardships on many employees as well as the groups and individuals we serve. As we approach the expiration of the current CR, our leadership team will provide you with updated information as soon as it becomes available. For now, I want to provide you with information on how the potential shutdown -- should it occur -- will affect Federal employees.

As soon as funding lapses, Federal agencies will not be permitted to incur further financial obligations performing activities funded by annual appropriations, except those related to the orderly suspension of operations or performance of excepted activities. This means that some employees will be furloughed and unable to work. Our contingency planning for the potential funding lapse includes determining which agency functions are excepted from a furlough. We plan to continue services associated with the White House's statement that Social Security checks will continue to go out. Our field and hearing offices, teleservice and program service centers, and State disability determination services will provide limited services if there is a shutdown. Should it become necessary to implement our contingency plans, you will receive details from your supervisor no later than Friday, April 8th regarding your furlough status.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has created a document to address some of the questions that I know must be on your mind. The document can be accessed at www.opm.gov/furlough2011. OPM will provide additional pertinent information for Federal employees as the week progresses. We will do our best to provide clear information about the status of events as the week progresses.

I know how difficult it is for you to handle the uncertainty of what may happen next week, and I appreciate your determination to continue serving America even during this tough time.

Michael J. Astrue

AFGE Shutdown Guide

The American Federation of Government Employees, a union that represents many federal employees has put out a government shutdown guide which is probably worth reading if you are a federal employee.

Budget Protest In Greece

From WHEC in Rochester, NY:
Local Social Security Office workers will be protesting President Obama's budget proposal on Wednesday.

The workers are concerned that the proposed federal budget and potential government shut down will cut social security jobs.
Thousands of people are expected to participate in the protest, which starts at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Social Security Office on West Ridge Road in Greece [a town in New York].

Apr 5, 2011

Shutdown Looms

There are reports that House Speaker John Boehner informed those present at the White House meeting today that he would not support any deal unless he could get enough support to pass it solely among House Republicans. The Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, has made the same accusation. In effect, this gives the Tea Party group a veto on any budget deal. If true, this almost guarantees a government shutdown. Indeed, this almost guarantees a long shutdown.

Bad News For Rural America

I have heard an unconfirmed report that Social Security's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) has ordered a halt to hearings at temporary remote locations. As an example, an ODAR office might have an area located 100 miles away but the area does not have enough population that Social Security has established a permanent video site. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) goes to the area in person once every two or three months to hold hearings. Apparently, because of budget problems, this is being suspended.

If the report I have heard is accurate, this is bad news for Social Security disability claimants who live in remote areas. They are going to have to travel long distances to their hearings. I suspect that a lot of the people living in sparsely populated areas have Republicans representing them in Congress.

Going Into Overtime

From the Associated Press:
President Barack Obama, showing growing impatience, said Tuesday it would be "inexcusable" for lawmakers to fail to fund the government through the end of the year and cause a shutdown.

"We are closer than we have ever been to an agreement. There is no reason why we should not get an agreement," Obama said following a White House meeting with congressional leaders.

Appearing before reporters at the White House, Obama said that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were to meet on Capitol Hill later Tuesday to continue negotiations. If that meeting does not produce an agreement, Obama said he would summon the pair back to the White House Wednesday. ...

Obama said he would only accept another short-term funding extension, of two or three days, in order to get a longer-term deal through Congress. But he ruled out a longer extension to allow negotiations to continue.

No Deal

From the Associated Press:
House Speaker John Boehner said Tuesday that private talks with President Barack Obama failed to produce a deal to avoid a government shutdown and warned that the House Republicans "will not be put in a box" of accepting options they refuse to endorse.

Short of an agreement to cover the rest of the budget year, Boehner said House Republicans want a stopgap bill that would keep the government running for one more week and slash another $12 billion in spending. The White House has shown no interest in that approach.

Friday is the deadline to avoid a shutdown. Boehner's account of the meeting between Obama and top lawmakers of both parties, released in a statement from his office, did nothing to suggest the White House and Congress were closer to reaching a deal.

Levasseur Wins Bracket Challenge

The Social Security News NCAA tournament bracket challenge for 2011 is history. Scott Levasseur won. Congratulations.

Apr 4, 2011

Tick, Tick, Tick ...

From the Washington Post:
With the clock ticking towards Friday’s federal budget deadline and President Obama hosting congressional leaders for budget talks at the White House on Tuesday, top administration officials have instructed agency officials to begin sharing details of shutdown contingency plans with top managers. ...

The memo also signals the administration is listening to the guidance of Clinton-era government officials, who have cautioned in recent weeks that any preparations for a shutdown should be communicated in advance to avoid confusion in the ranks.

I Thought They Said They Wouldn't Do That

From the AP:
With budget talks deadlocked, House Republicans readied a week-long bill to cut spending by as much as $12 billion while averting a government shutdown threatened for Friday, officials disclosed Monday night.

The measure also would include enough money to operate the Defense Department through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year, the officials added.

They said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the rank and file in a closed-door meeting he would seek passage of the bill if it became clear it was necessary to avoid shutting the government down.

Not A Good Sign

From TPM:
At a House GOP caucus meeting Monday evening, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told members to expect to receive guidance on Tuesday outlining protocol in the event of a government shutdown.

Budget Status

From Politico:
Budget talks took a turn for the worse Monday amid a flurry of accusatory press statements by House Republican leaders who have called for a party caucus now on the eve of a White House meeting requested by President Barack Obama for Tuesday morning.

Republicans Plan To Privatize Medicare

Republicans are not currently proposing to privatize Social Security but it appears that they are set to propose what amounts to privatizing Medicare, converting it to a program where those eligible for Medicare would receive a voucher which they could use to buy private medical insurance -- if such insurance is available and if they can afford it

Attorney Advisor Decision Program Extended

From today's Federal Register:
We are extending for 2 years our rule authorizing attorney advisors to conduct certain prehearing procedures and to issue fully favorable decisions. The current rule will expire on August 10, 2011. In this final rule, we are extending the sunset date to August 9, 2013. We are making no other substantive changes.
By the way, I have not been seeing attorney advisor decisions lately. Is this merely a local phenomenon or are their fewer attorney advisor decisions nationally?

Apr 3, 2011

What Ever Happened To Gordon Sherman?

I had recently posted a link to a news article about Social Security's new Regional Commissioner for the Atlanta region. That made me wonder what happened to one of his predecessors, Gordon Sherman. Sherman served as Atlanta Regional Commissioner for 23 years before retiring in 1999.

Sherman is now on the board of directors of One Georgia Bank. Their website indicates that he:
... is a principal of Lamon & Sherman Consulting, LLC, an investment and income replacement consulting firm and a director of Government Benefits and Information Services, Inc. Other capacities in which he presently serves include director of Lenbrook Foundation, Inc., a continuing care retirement community in Atlanta; director of the Auburn University Foundation; and a fellow in the National Academy of Public Administration.

Apr 2, 2011

Apr 1, 2011

NCSSMA Newsletter

The National Council Of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security management personnel, has released its March 2011 newsletter. To put it mildly NCSSMA is concerned about Social Security's appropriations.

Proposed Psychiatric Listings Changes Remain Controversial

From UBM Medica Psychiatric Times (emphasis added):

Mental health groups are fighting the Social Security Administration (SSA) over the agency’s proposed changes to disability requirements for mental disorders. The requirements for adults and children, which can vary, were last modified in 1986 and 1990, respectively, and they are respectively based on the now outdated DSM-III and DSM-III-R [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III Edition, Revised].

There have been differences of opinion, too, with the Mental Health Liaison Group (MHLG), which is composed of advocacy groups and professionals—physicians and non-physicians—who treat people with psychiatric disorders. The MHLG could not agree on a common response to the changes the SSA announced last August in a proposed rule. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) argued against use of the Psychiatric Review Technique by adjudicators to determine functional shortcomings because of mental problems. Some members of the MHLG supported use of that. ...

Much of the controversy stemming from the August proposed rule deals with paragraph B, which contains 4 mental abilities. Under the proposed rule, an individual could show a marked limitation of 2 abilities or an extreme limitation of 1 ability to qualify as mentally disabled. These are the abilities to understand, remember, and apply information; interact with others; concentrate, persist, and maintain pace; and manage oneself.

In what was considered a major policy change, the proposed rule stated that SSA adjudicators could use standardized tests to determine paragraph B limitations for adults. Tests were already approved for use in child determinations. However, the SSA did not specify what tests it had in mind, and mental health groups uniformly complained that no such tests existed. Mark Lassiter, press officer at the SSA, asked for detailed e-mailed questions on the testing issue, but he did not respond to them. ...

The APA, a longtime member of the MHLG, assailed continued use of the Psychiatric Review Technique. “The APA finds this scale to be unanchored, allowing wide latitude for subjective interpretation of what qualifies as a ‘marked’ or ‘extreme’ level of functional impairment,” said James Scully, MD, who is CEO and medical director of the APA. “Without more specific guidance for assigning functional limitations on this scale, which is not currently contained in the proposed rule, we believe use of the five-point scale could bring a false level of precision to determining functional impairment.”