May 31, 2014

VA Secretary Resigns Over Backlogs

     The Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs has resigned because VA employees were found to have been playing games to make their agency's backlog stats look better than they actually were. I don't think that there's been any serious game playing like this at Social Security, at least not at the macro level. The problems lie more with the fact that no one with any current power is excited about the growing backlogs at Social Security. 

May 30, 2014

New Diabetes Ruling

     Social Security will publish a new Ruling on diabetes in the Federal Register on Monday. You can read it today. At first glance, it seems to break no new ground for adult disability determination. For children, maybe.

May 29, 2014

What It's Like

     Here are three examples to give you an idea of what it's like dealing with Social Security these days. These examples may give readers an idea of why I think that the agency needs a greater number of well trained employees, not fewer. Once things get off the beaten track at Social Security for whatever reason, it takes forever to get things sorted out.
  • Claimant gets approved by ALJ. No money is paid. We call the field office. The field office politely asks why we would be calling about payment in the case since the ALJ denied the claim. We politely tell them that, no, it was approved. They look and see that we're telling the truth, that it was approved. Someone just entered it wrong in the database. The hearing office tells us that it will be difficult to correct the mistake. I have little confidence that it will be corrected in the near future.
  • We have to file a fee petition. It's approved. When nothing has been paid after a couple of months, we call the payment center. They say, yes, that it was approved but no one at the hearing office told them about it. They ask us to give them a month or so and they'll try to get it paid. I'm not confident this problem will be solved in a month.
  • Claimant approved for benefits last December. She's paid. The attorney fee is paid. We close the file. The client calls back recently saying she's just gotten a notice that her Medicare has ended. We ask her to send us a copy of the notice and we'll look into it. She calls back the next day saying she's gotten a notice saying that her monthly checks have been cut off and that everything she's been paid is an overpayment. She sends us a copy of all this and it's as she says. No explanation is given. To repeat, there's no explanation whatsoever. There's just a curt demand that she immediately pay back all the money she's received. Before we can do anything she calls in to say that she's talked with the field office which says that maybe her earnings record has gotten mixed up with someone else's but that's just a guess. That sounds like a good guess since earnings showing up on her earnings record might explain the benefits being cut off and the overpayment notice but it doesn't explain the lack of due process. The client says she hasn't worked since the date she was found disabled. I'm pretty sure she's telling the truth. My guess is that I may not even know for sure what's going on any time soon. Meanwhile, the client isn't being paid.

May 28, 2014

The Price Is Going Up

    An announcement from the Social Security Administration in today's Federal Register:
We provide fee-based Social Security number (SSN) verification service to enrolled private businesses and government agencies who obtain a valid, signed consent form from the Social Security number holder. ...
To use [the verification service], interested parties must pay a one- time non-refundable enrollment fee of $5,000. Currently, users also pay a fee of $1.10 per SSN verification transaction in advance of services.... 
Based on the most recent cost analysis, we will adjust the fiscal year 2014 fee to $3.10 per SSN verification transaction. New customers will still be responsible for the one-time $5,000 enrollment fee.

May 27, 2014

Disability Facts

     An e-mail I received recently:
Dear Colleague:
We are proud to announce the launch of Social Security’s disability education and awareness initiative, “The Faces and Facts of Disability.”  Through this campaign, we hope to educate the public about the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and dispel common misconceptions.  To learn more about the campaign, visit our Faces and Facts of Disability website at
Please help us spread the word.
As part of this campaign, we developed a series of outreach materials for groups and organizations, at, which includes fact sheets, newsletter articles, posters, social media content, PowerPoint slides, and  web widgets.  We ask that you use these materials, such as the web widgets below, which you can upload to your organization's homepage, to help promote the initiative.
In addition, we would also like you to support "The Faces and Facts of Disability" on Thunderclap at  Thunderclap is a viral campaign tool that allows supporters to donate a Tweet or Facebook status update for a common cause.  All donated tweets and status updates will be posted by the supporters on Wednesday, May 28 at 1:00 pm, to achieve maximum effect -- creating a "Thunderclap" informs your networks about the SSDI campaign.
We hope you will join us in these efforts by sharing the “Faces and Facts of Disability” with your members and providing feedback for further enhancement for the campaign.
It is often said that knowledge is power.  By arming the public with facts about our disability program and telling some of our beneficiaries' stories, together we can empower people to draw their own informed conclusions about SSDI and the vital social support it offers.
Maria Artista-Cuchna
Acting Associate Commissioner
    for External Affairs

May 26, 2014

Memorial Day

May 25, 2014

Mental Illness Is Worse For Your Life Expectancy Than Smoking

     From the University of Oxford:
Oxford researchers say their figures on life expectancy should galvanise governments and health and social services to put a much higher priority on how mental health services can prevent early deaths. ...
The average reduction in life expectancy in people with bipolar disorder is between nine and 20 years, while it is 10 to 20 years for schizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression. 
The loss of years among heavy smokers is eight to 10 years.

May 24, 2014

Take The Quiz

     Take the Social Security Disability Quiz.

May 23, 2014

CRS Study On UI Offset

     The Congressional Research Service is out with a report on the concurrent receipt of Social Security disability benefits and unemployment insurance benefits. The report is superficial but it does contain an estimate from Social Security's Chief Actuary that only about 0.39% of Social Security disability recipients also receive unemployment benefits. In other words, it's a tiny problem. Doing something about it wouldn't save much money.
     The report doesn't deal with the considerable technical problems in implementing an offset. Many states now have an offset that goes in the opposite direction, reducing unemployment insurance for Social Security disability benefits. How do you avoid a double offset? Similarly, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits are already reduced for the receipt of unemployment benefits. Many people receive both SSI and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). Add an offset to DIB and you're doubly offsetting the same benefits. And there's the tax issue. Yes, the tax issue. Unemployment benefits are fully taxable. Social Security disability benefits usually aren't. If you have an offset that goes one way in some states and another one in other states, you have to add a provision to the Internal Revenue Code to equalize treatment. You say that you can't imagine that kind of provision in the Internal Revenue Code? Well, we already have such a provision in the Internal Revenue Code to equalize treatment between states that have a regular workers compensation offset and those which have a reverse offset. Here's I.R.C. 86(d)(3), for your reading pleasure:
For purposes of this section, if, by reason of section 224 of the Social Security Act (or by reason of section 3(a)(1) of the Railroad Retirement Act of 1974), any social security benefit is reduced by reason of the receipt of a benefit under a workmen’s compensation act, the term “social security benefit” includes that portion of such benefit received under the workmen’s compensation act which equals such reduction.
     Overall, it's questionable whether this sort of offset would even save money once you factor in the costs of administration. It's got superficial appeal but it's a dumb idea in my opinion.

May 22, 2014

Millie Tyssowski Passes

     Millie Tyssowski, formerly Social Security's top budget official, has passed away at the age of 93.

In Fantasyland We Can Do Away With The Medical Improvement Standard

     From a recently released report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
Our objectives were to (a) determine whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) would consider beneficiaries disabled using the Initial Disability Standard, rather than the Medical Improvement Review Standard (MIRS), during continuing disability reviews (CDR) and (b) evaluate data on the MIRS exceptions . ...
We estimated, after all appeals, SSA will pay about $269 million in benefits until the next CDR due date to about 4,000 adult beneficiaries who would not be disabled if SSA used the Initial Disability Standard , rather than MIRS , during a CDR.  Additionally, although the cessation determinations were correct, we found issues with the reason coded for cessation for some types of MIRS exceptions. ...
 Our review of 275 sample cases (with a CDR continuance because of no medical improvement) found that if SSA used the Initial Disability Standard instead of MIRS, 12 individuals would not be considered disabled ; 242 individuals would be disabled; and 21 individuals had insufficient evidence available to determine whether the individual would be disabled. ...
     I wonder who asked OIG to look at this question. Who thinks it would be possible to do away with the medical improvement standard? It would have to be someone unlike me who wasn't around in the early 1980s. I know it's not happening in any political environment I can imagine. If it did happen, from the looks of this study, it wouldn't even save much money.

New Acquiescence Ruling

     Social Security is publishing Ruling AR-14-1(8) today, acquiescing to Brock v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1062 (8th Cir. 2012). According to Social Security:
The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that the ALJ [Administrative Law Judge] erred by relying solely on the Grid rules to determine that Brock could adjust to work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. The Court held that ``[b]ecause the ALJ determined that Brock suffered from severe mental impairments, the ALJ should have consulted a [VE] in determining whether Brock had the RFC to perform other jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy.''

If We Can't Do It One Way, We'll Do It Another Way

     From a transmittal of changes to Social Security's HALLEX Manual: 
The AC will not consider referrals or requests from OIG [Office of Inspector General] to review an administrative law judge (ALJ) decision for the following reasons:
  • OIG does not have the authority to refer a case to the AC for possible own motion review.
  • OIG is not a party to the decision and therefore cannot request review of an ALJ decision.
  • OIG units are statutorily precluded from participating in program operating functions, and may not express opinions about whether benefits should be awarded or denied. ...
 B. If the folder contains OIG evidence that the claimant has not previously had the opportunity to review, the AC will also notify the claimant in the Notice of Review that the file contains OIG evidence. If the OIG evidence is associated after the Notice of Review is sent, and the AC anticipates granting review, the AC will send an interim notice to the claimant with a copy of the evidence, providing the claimant the opportunity to comment before the AC takes action. See HALLEX I-3-6-1 C.
     So what's the rule? OIG can't refer a case to the Appeals Council for review but it can just give whatever evidence it has to some other component of the agency and that other component can refer the case to the Appeals Council? How else would the Appeals Council come by evidence developed by OIG that the claimant hadn't seen? Isn't this an open invitation to do by indirection that which cannot be done directly?

May 21, 2014

Newspaper Attacks Social Security ALJ

     The Pennsylvania Record, a newspaper for lawyers, is attacking Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Charles Bridges for having approved the most Social Security disability claims over the last ten years.

Man Arrested For Attack On Social Security Field Office

     From KPIX:
A transient man was arrested Tuesday in connection with an attack using a caustic chemical mixture at the U.S. Social Security Administration office in Santa Cruz last week, police said. 

Joseph Anton Loris, 70, was arrested around 11 a.m. near the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Third Street in Santa Cruz, police said.
His arrest followed an investigation from the May 13 attack at the Social Security office building at 169 Walnut Ave.

Social Security To Do Data Match With VA To Identify 100% Disabled Vets

     From EM-14034, released by the Social Security Administration yesterday:
This is to alert all operational components that Systems will perform a one-time data match. The purpose of this data match is to identify, flag, and message all pending SSA disability claims filed by Veterans who possess a VA compensation rating of 100% P&T as of February 28, 2014.
B. Background On March 17, 2014, SSA implemented a new policy to expedite disability claims of all Veterans rated 100% P&T [Permanent & Total[ by the VA, who subsequently filed for SSA disability benefits (see EM-14013). 
To receive expedited processing, these Veterans must self-identify and provide verification of their VA rating of 100% P&T.
On May 2, 2014, the VA signed an agreement with SSA to provide a one-time data match file to allow SSA to identify and flag for expedited processing all Veterans rated 100% P&T as of February 28, 2014 with a disability claim pending with SSA at all levels of adjudication. This is part of the ACOSS initiative to treat 100% P&T Veterans’ applications as high priority and issue expedited decisions. ...
E. DDS [Disability Determination Services] actions Upon receipt of Systems alert, the DDS should follow the terminal illness (TERI) case procedures in DI 23020.045. Do not designate these cases as TERI unless they meet the TERI criteria (i.e., there is evidence of a terminal illness). ...
G. ODAR 0Office of Disability Adjudication and Review] actions Upon receipt of Systems alert, ODAR offices should follow the critical case procedures in HALLEX 1-3-1-51. ...
     I don't understand the DDS instructions. They seem self-contradictory.

Four Arrested In Texas On Fraud Charges

     Four, including one Social Security employee, have been arrested in Texas on charges of defrauding Social Security. The allegation is that overpayments were deliberately created and then waived.

"The Attacks On Disability Insurance Will Accelerate"

     From Greg Sergeant, writing for the Washington Post:
... Dem Senator Sherrod Brown, a member of the Finance Committee, tells me that GOP Senators have requested hearings into Social Security Disability Insurance this summer. Dems expect Republicans to attack the program as wasteful and fraudulent, in part because conservative media have already done so, and in part because at least one GOP proposal in recent days took aim at the program.
Brown says Dems should seize this occasion to get behind a proposal that would lift or change the payroll tax cap, meaning higher earners would pay more, while adopting a new measure for inflation that would increase benefits for all seniors. ...
Brown said he expects Republicans to renew attacks on disability insurance (as opposed to the retirement security portion) to divide supporters of Social Security and renew the push for structural changes to the program, and said Dems could use that to draw an effective contrast. SSDI’s trust fund is set to be depleted soon, but that could be solved by a reallocation fix that’s been done before, rather than a deep benefits cut, which Republicans may press for.
“They want to separate ‘good’ Social Security (retirement security) from ‘bad’ Social Security (disability insurance), to win support for structural reform,” said Brown, who is holding a Senate Finance sub-committee hearing tomorrow on the overall program. “The attacks on disability insurance will accelerate. This is how they will try to back-door the dismantling of social insurance. But the public is with us on social insurance.” ...

May 20, 2014

Here's The Social Security Fraud -- 36,000 Instances!

     From a recent audit report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG):
In October 2011, we began tracking allegations that indicated individuals other than the beneficiaries or their representatives had fraudulently redirected benefit payments away from the beneficiaries’ bank accounts to accounts the individuals controlled. As of May 20, 2013, we had received over 36,000 reports concerning an unauthorized change or a suspected attempt to make an unauthorized change to an SSA beneficiary’s record. ...
We [at OIG] are committed to investigating allegations of direct deposit fraud. Unfortunately, because of the nature and methods criminals employ to perpetrate this type of fraud, the overwhelming majority of these type of allegations provided little information that lead to identifying a possible subject .
     Certainly, credible cases of fraud in the Social Security disability programs must be investigated but the big time Social Security fraud is in the redirection of benefit payments. Usually organized crime is involved and much of the crime is based overseas. So why doesn't this type of fraud get more attention from the House Social Security Subcommittee? It doesn't fit their narrative. In fact, it goes against their narrative since the vulnerability to this type of fraud was created when the federal government wanted to stop spending money cutting checks to Social Security beneficiaries. Everyone is against waste. It's just that it was usually easy to trace where the money went when a federal check was intercepted and an endorsement forged. It's not so easy when a direct deposit is siphoned into a phony bank account account and then rapidly transferred several times between accounts in places like Anjouan, Belize, Estonia, Gibraltar, the Isle of Man, Nevis and Vanuatu.

May 19, 2014

Field Offices Unable To Process Part Of Their Workload

     I heard last week that one North Carolina Social Security District Office had such a backlog of work to be done that they had decided not to process any paperwork appointing attorneys to represent claimants before the agency. Until that District Office processes that paperwork, those claimants are effectively unrepresented. Social Security will refuse to deal with the attorneys. The attorneys won't be sent notices sent those claimants. Social Security will refuse to give those attorneys information about those clients' cases. The attorneys won't be able to file appeals on those clients' behalf. Appeal deadlines may be missed.
     While at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representative (NOSSCR) meeting last week, I mentioned this development to a couple of attorneys from other states. The same thing had happened in their states recently. 
    How widespread is this? Why is this happening even after Social Security finally got its appropriation for this fiscal year? If these field offices can't take care of this workload now, how are they going to catch up later?

May 18, 2014

She's A Pistol And He's Tuf But Don't Mess With Vice Or Gospel Will Get You

     Nameberry (there's a website for everything) has used Social Security's list of brand new baby names to create its own list of the most outrageous baby names of 2013, with the number of children given each wacky name:

  • Vanellope, 63 
  • Burklee, 10 
  • Pistol, 9 
  • Happiness, 8 
  • Pemberley, 8 
  • Envie, 7 
  • Prim, 7 
  • Rarity, 7 
  • Avaa, 6 
  • Charlemagne, 6 
  • Kinzington, 6 
  • Prezlee, 6 
  • Ransom, 5 
  • Rebelle, 5 
  • Sierraleone, 5 
  • Siqi, 5 
  • Snowy, 5 
  • Temprince, 5 

  • Rydder, 10 
  • Jceion, 10 
  • Hatch, 8 
  • Tuf, 8 
  • Lloyal, 7 
  • Psalms, 7 
  • Xzaiden, 7 
  • Charger, 6 
  • Forever, 6 
  • Kyndle, 6 
  • Power, 6 
  • Warrior, 6 
  • Gospel, 5 
  • Kaptain, 5 
  • Subaru, 5 
  • Vice, 5

May 17, 2014

EEOC Criticizes Social Security

     From the Baltimore Sun:
The Social Security Administration has failed to establish an adequate process for handling discrimination claims from employees and has sparked concerns about conflicts of interest in some of those cases, according to a scathing federal report obtained Thursday by The Baltimore Sun.
Auditors at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged with enforcing workplace discrimination laws, said the agency failed to follow regulations when handling complaints, manipulated data to boost case completion rates and created the impression that managers had intruded into what should have been impartial investigations.
Of 2,292 complaints processed over a four-year period, not one resulted in a finding of discrimination, according to the report.

May 16, 2014

"Cost Per Case"?

     I received an e-mail recently from a company offering a free "analysis" of my firm's "cost per case" during the conference of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) this week.
     The company didn't explain exactly what they meant by "cost per case." I think they were talking about the cost of advertising for cases and screening prospective new clients. The company said that the "industry average" of "cost per case" is $500-$800. They claim to be able to do it for $275-$395 per case.
     I have no idea how they could possibly compute an "industry average" since law firms aren't sharing this sort of information. Indeed, I don't think that law firms are computing this sort of thing nor could they do so on any reliable basis. If a prospective client calls my firm, we ask who referred them, but we can't rely upon their statement of how they got our name. They may say it was a former client and then not be able to give the referrer's name because they are embarrassed to be relying upon a television ad rather than a personal referral. They may say it was a television ad but they may have first heard of my firm from a former client and merely been reminded about my firm by the television ad. Much of the time, a prospective client will have heard of my firm in more than one way. It's the same for other law firms.
     Still, that company's "cost per case" number may not be that far off from what's normal these days. Those not practicing in this field may not understand the heavy expenses associated with representing Social Security claimants.  Despite what you may think if you're not involved in this field, representing Social Security claimants is a low profit margin business. Advertising is just one element of those expenses. Unfortunately, it's one element that we can't skimp on and stay in business.

May 15, 2014

From The NOSSCR Conference -- Via Tweets

     I have been tweeting like crazy from the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) this morning. You don't have to have a Twitter account to read the tweets.
     By the way, it's possible to have a Twitter account but never tweet. You can just use the twitter account to follow the tweets of those people you want to follow. That's a lot easier than going separately to the Twitter account of each individual tweeter.

Oh, Those Days When Cutting Social Security Seemed Inevitable

     From Huffington Post:
American deficit hawks gathered in the nation's capital on Wednesday to commiserate over the collapse of the U.S. austerity movement, solemnly hobnobbing with political royalty to reminisce about the days when slashing Social Security seemed all but inevitable. 
For the past five years, billionaire Peter G. Peterson's annual Fiscal Summit has been a Washington sensation, buzzing with top Obama administration policymakers, celebrity journalists and caffeinated think-tankers pitching budget plans to anyone who would listen. But the centrist scream for a Grand Bargain on taxes and spending has quieted as the budget deficit has declined and prophecies of a debt apocalypse remain unfulfilled. Interest rates on government bonds are near historic lows, and even Republicans appear to have abandoned "government spending" as a political weapon in favor of feverish Benghazi accusations.

Strengthening Social Security To Be Subject Of Senate Hearing

     The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for May 21 on "strengthening Social Security." Stephen Goss, the agency's Chief Actuary, among others, is scheduled to testify.

May 14, 2014

Social Security "Fully Committed" To Field Office Structure

     The recent appropriations bill required the Social Security Administration to provide Congress with a report on its polities and procedures for closing and consolidating field offices. That report has now been filed. Given the ongoing study of closing all field offices, it's interesting that the report says that the agency is "fully committed -- now and in the future -- to sustaining a field office structure that provides face-to-face service..."
     It may be worth noting that the National Academy of Public Administration's website is careful to state that its study is being done "at the request of Congress."
     Closing the field offices may be popular with some members of Congress but it looks like it is an idea that many other members of Congress and Social Security Administration's own leadership oppose.

May 13, 2014

Waterfall Chart 2013 -- What Changed?

     Compare the chart above to the 2012 waterfall chart showing Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) approving 52% of the cases they reviewed and the 2011 waterfall chart showing ALJs approving 58%. Does anyone think the claims got weaker? What did cause this dramatic change in just two years?

May 12, 2014

Social Security Managers Think Eliminating Field Offices Would Be A Bad Idea

     The National Council of Social Security Management Associatons (NCSSMA), an organization of Social Security frontline management personnel, has sent its comments to the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) on their plan to eliminate almost all Social Security's field offices by 2025. If the link given above doesn't work (it's a Scribd link and Social Security has blocked Scribd in the past) try this link.
     Here's some excerpts from the NCSSMA comments:
We do not believe this [using online, self-service delivery as Social Security's primary service channel] is a realistic achievement. In order for online services to be our primary service channel, the majority, if not all, of our services would need to be available online. The agency still has too many obstacles to overcome for this to be a reality. This may be a vision for 20-25 years from now, but not a realistic vision for 2025. ...
Online services do not work for our most vulnerable clients. The vision should take into account how we will provide service to those individuals in rural areas where access to online services is still non-existent. We have seen little change in rural area services over the last decade. What will rural areas look like in 10 years and how does the agency satisfy their needs?
In order for online self-service delivery to be feasible at any time in the future, program simplification must take place. SSA programs are very complex and require highly trained and skilled technicians. Most program simplification requires legislative action and the agency has not been overly successful in the last several years in achieving program simplification. ...
It appears SSA is following IRS down the path of very little direct service. This means the public will be potentially paying third parties to explain complex rules. ...
Much of the above [plan] would describe a vision appropriate to SSA as an organization administering the Retirement Survivors and Health Insurance (RSHI) programs. However, the reality of Disability and SSI is one of growing numbers of people who are ill-equipped to do “virtual business” with us due to language, education, physical and mental barriers, as well as programs requiring ongoing stewardship review. It would be an impressive triumph of technology and efficiency to continue to provide service with the existing workforce numbers and community-based infrastructure as this population increases. Significantly reducing our community presence and/or workforce would adversely impact the vision to deliver high quality services. ...
Congress does not support most of the reductions in our physical infrastructure now and it is unlikely this will change by 2025. ...
From a philosophical perspective, it seems that this vision plan allows technology to dictate public service instead of envisioning what public service we want and the public wants and using technology to provide that service. Technology is a tool for humanity to use as we see fit and for our purposes. We control technology; technology should not control us.
     By the way, the comments were made on an NAPA form. NCSSMA's name isn't at the top or bottom of the form but I assure you that these are NCSSMA's comments.
     Both union and front line management personnel are in agreement that this is a bad plan. How are upper Social Security managers reacting to this? What about the Regional Commissioners? What about Nancy Berryhill, the Deputy Commissioner, Operations? What about Erik Jones, the Associate Commissioner for the Office of Public Services and Operations Support? And, of course, what about the Acting Commissioner? Are they leading or just holding up a finger in the wind, figuring they'll be gone before anything is ever implemented?

May 11, 2014

Do We Need Those Field Offices?

     Take a look at Social Security's video on the history of the agency's field offices. And now, we're going to shut them down?

May 10, 2014

I Don't Even Know What To Say

     Khaleesi is now a more popular name for girls than Sally, Theresa, Janet, Joan or Pamela. Yes, I know about Game of Thrones but still, Khaleesi?

Nightline Story On OIG Investigations

    ABC's Nightline ran a report either Thursday or Friday night on the work that Social Security's Office of Inspector  General (OIG) does in pursuing those who lie to obtain or to continue receiving Social Security disability benefits. No grand schemes are revealed, just the sort of behavior that's inevitable whenever money is involved. 
     I do have a couple of complaints about the written version of the story. First, the number of disability claims being filed is going down, not up as the story claims. Second and probably more important in this kind of story, there's nothing illegal about working while trying to go on Social Security disability benefits or trying to stay on those benefits. You get in trouble when you fail to reveal that work. They want disabled people to try to work. There are complex rules about work activity and Social Security disability benefits. Many people legitimately receive Social Security disability benefits while working.  No one should assume that there is something illegal going on when a person receiving Social Security disability benefits is working. There's nothing illegal going on in most cases.

May 9, 2014

Harry Clay Ballantyne Passes

     Harry Clay Ballantyne, Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration from 1982 to 2000, passed away on May 2.

Most Popular Baby Names

     From the Social Security Administration, the most popular baby names for 2013:
  1. Noah
  2. Liam
  3. Jacob
  4. Mason
  5. William
  6. Ethan
  7. Michael
  8. Alexander
  9. Jayden
  10. Daniel
  1. Sophia
  2. Emma
  3. Olivia
  4. Isabella
  5. Ava
  6. Mia
  7. Emily
  8. Abigail
  9. Madison
  10. Elizabeth

May 8, 2014

Creating A Catch 22 Leading To Loss Of Benefits And Voter Suppression?

     From an e-mail I received:
I am a ... SSA [Social Security Administration] field office employee in Ohio. SSA has initiated the process of deny[ing] numident printouts to individuals (A numident printout is a computer extract of information that is taken from the original application for a Social Security card).
Individuals need these printouts in order to get state ID or Driver license. Additionally individuals use these for HEAP [Home Energy Assistance Program] or Food stamps among other benefits. Individuals now must present photo ID this year [to] SSA to obtain the paper verification. Prior to this year all an individual would do is answer personal identifiable information to the SSA employee to obtain the copy. 
This has created a catch 22 where local motor vehicle bureau require the numident to get an ID but SSA requires a gov't photo ID to get a numident.  The public and field office employees are frustrated by the process.  More cynically, this process will aid in voter suppression, in particular to the urban poor. ...
The urban centers of Ohio delivered the votes for the 2012 election.  New voter restriction/suppression will be directly assisted by numident issuance and office closing. These changes will greatly affect the electorate in Ohio and elsewhere.

May 7, 2014

Fast Tracking For Immigrants

     From the Forum for Expatriate Management:
Nonimmigrants eligible for Social Security numbers are no longer required to wait two weeks after arrival in the United States before applying. 
According to a liaison meeting between the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Social Security Administration last month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is no longer enforcing a 10 day hold period between the time an eligible applicant enters the country and the time when he or she can apply for a Social Security number. The waiting period was meant to accommodate the time it took for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to enter information into shared computer systems. However, with the introduction of automated I-94 cards last May, arrival information is now entered within 24 to 48 hours. As a result, the SSA has removed the 10-day hold policy, except for when an applicant for a Social Security number submits a Certificate of Naturalization (DHS Form N-550/N-570) or a Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-560/N-561).

May 6, 2014

Representative Elijah Cummings Speaking At Social Security Headquarters For Public Service Recognition Week

More On Plan To Close Field Offices

     The Baltimore Sun is running an article on the plan, if it can be called that, to substitute online services for Social Security's field offices. If this happens, and I strongly doubt it will, it will destroy the Social Security Administration's ability to handle disability claims and Supplemental Security Income claims. This is being presented as if it were simply a labor-management issue, as if the only thing at stake was the jobs of union members. I'm not part of any union. I wish the field office employees well but that's not my concern here. My concern is service to the public. My strong opinion is that any attempt to implement this scheme will result in chaos.

May 5, 2014

Daugherty Faces Bar Disciplinary Charges

     Retired Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty faces disciplinary charges before the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board. It is alleged that he approved claims that didn't meet government guidelines, falsified time sheets and improperly assigned attorney Eric Conn's cases to himself. So far, despite considerable publicity given to the case, Daugherty has not been charged with any crime. 
     The ethics charge of falsifying time sheets strongly suggests the involvement of Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG). How would the West Virginia bar know about that otherwise? It also suggests to me that the evidence on the other charges may not be that strong. Why bring what sounds like a jaywalking charge if you've got the evidence to convict on a felony charge? The allegations against Daugherty and Conn are serious but OIG is acting like they're not sure they have the evidence to prove the allegations. Also, how is the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board supposed to decide that Daugherty approved claims that didn't meet government guidelines and how is that an ethics offense?
David B. Daugherty

May 4, 2014

NADE Obsessed With Fraud

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) has released its Spring 2014 newsletter. NADE certainly seems taken with the Republican campaign to root out fraud in Social Security's disability programs. 

May 3, 2014

Fast Track For Non-English Speakers?

     Now the right is making the absurd claim that non-English speakers are "fast-tracked" on to Social Security disability benefits. Yes, there is a minor provision that recognizes the special employment difficulties that handicapped people have if they can't speak English but I've been representing Social Security disability claimants for almost 35 years and I've yet to see a claimant get benefits as a result of this provision.  
     What type of rule is the right proposing -- that impediments to work must be disregarded if they mostly affect people they don't like?

May 2, 2014

Disability Claim Filings Reduced But Backlogs Persist Because Of Decreased Staffing

     Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued a report on the agency's initial disability claims backlog. In 2010 Social Security established a goal of getting the backlog down from about a million to 525,000. That goal hasn't been achieved. The report is too polite to give the main reason, the fact that the House of Representatives passed from Democratic to Republican control after the November 2010 election. This cut agency funding and eliminated most Congressional pressure to reduce the backlog. You can see below what has happened.
     Staffing had gone up significantly between 2008 and 2010. Social Security was poised to work down the backlog. They made a little progress on the backlog in 2011 and 2012 because staffing levels were still above the low level of the Bush Administration but by 2013 progress had pretty much ended as staffing levels decreased.
     One reason for slight optimism about backlog levels is that initial claims receipts reached their peak in 2011 and are now declining, as more and more of the baby boom generation reaches full retirement age. Yes, despite what you may have heard, fewer disability claims are being filed, not more.

May 1, 2014

Visions Of The Future: The Case Of The SST

     I recently posted an e-mail from the President of the union that represents most Social Security employees about the "plan" of a consulting firm envisioning a Social Security Administration without field offices by 2025. Reportedly, the company envisioned an environment in which most people never left their homes except to be entertained. 
     This vision of the future reminded me of the SST. You ask what is the SST? The Super Sonic Transport, of course. The Super Sonic Transport? That would be an airplane that can transport commercial passengers at supersonic speeds, of course. Remember the Concorde? It was an SST. The idea for the SST was that the globe is awfully big, so big that it takes a long time for a commercial aircraft to get from, let's say New York to Los Angeles, much less from New York to London. The time it takes to fly from New York to Tokyo is just ridiculous. It would be so much better if we had aircraft that could take passengers these long distances several times as fast. The vision of the SST emerged in the 1950s. A number of companies started to develop an SST but only one actually produced an SST for commercial use. That was a French-British consortium which produced the Concorde, which first took to the air for scheduled flights in 1976.
     Whatever happened to the Concorde? It turns out that there were a few problems. Planes flying at supersonic speeds create a very loud sonic boom. If you ever hear a sonic boom, you won't forget it. I have. I never heard the Concorde's sonic boom, just the sonic boom from U.S. fighter aircraft. It's literally loud enough to shatter windows. It turned out that no one wanted the Concorde flying over their house. They were banned from flying at supersonic speeds over land. There goes the New York-Los Angeles route and the New York-Tokyo route since so much of that is over land. It also turned out that the Concorde was very, very expensive to build and operate. Concorde fares were sky high, far higher than first class airfare on subsonic planes. The number of people who could afford such expensive airfare was extremely limited. The realization set in over time that there were no technological fixes for the Concorde's problems. The sonic boom can't be engineered away. The cost problem can't be engineered away.
     In the end only two Concorde planes were build. Two. They were gorgeous airplanes but only two were built. The two Concorde aircraft operated for some years but eventually one of them crashed and the other was retired.
     The SST was a wonderful vision. It's a shame that it didn't work but the reasons it wouldn't work were obvious from the beginning. People just ignored the problems because their belief in the vision was so strong.
     The problems with a vision of the Social Security Administration without field offices should be obvious to those who actually have ground level experience with Social Security. The agency doesn't just take retirement claims. It takes disability claims. It takes survivor claims. It takes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims. Even though most of the money paid out by Social Security goes to retirement benefits, most of the work its employees do is on disability, survivor and SSI claims. These claims are messy and complicated. There's no way to remove the messiness or complexity. It's an inherent part of these benefits. While more and more people are computer literate, many of the people that Social Security employees deal with will never be computer literate enough to deal with the Social Security Administration just over the internet. That's because their transactions with Social Security are complicated and many of these people suffer from cognitive problems or mental illness. These problems aren't going away any more than the Concorde's problems would go away.