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.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

1. Client gets approved by ALJ in October for SSI only. Numerous calls from Attorney's office to local office for SSI review. The review is finally held in January. Notice of Award has never been sent. Case involves an Attorney Fee Petition because it was a Court Remand.

2. Client approved after Court Remand. Attorney filed an Attorney Fee Petition. ODAR decided the Fee Petition in April but sent a notice dated 1-31-14. The approval was for less than requested and attorney has 30 days to appeal. After three phone calls ODAR reluctanly sent a letter regarding the discrepancy of the notice date.

Jennifer Leahy said...

I would like to add a recent similar experience -- Client gets awarded by ALJ in September 2013 after Federal Court remand on original application filed in 2008. Monthly benefits start within about 2 months. Past-due amount is still not processed. Fee Petition approved and not processed yet. Payment Center reports 45-60 business days to process since October 2013. Local office has not responded to request for assistance. Congressional liaison has not received a response to inquiry and informs me that there was a sequester and a shut down and sometimes it can take a year for the back pay and sees no problem with this. Client needs back pay to obtain a home for her and her young son. Unacceptable.

Jennifer Leahy, Esq.
Cambridge, MA

Anonymous said...

The checks and balances from ODAR to the field office are weak at best. Let us also not forget that our payment centers are very understaffed. If I can get a request completed by them in 4 months, I'm excited

Anonymous said...

It seems like we deal with these types of issues with much more frequency these days. I probably have 5-6 fee/payment related issues going on right now, whether its failure by the field office and/or payment center to notice a prior app was reopened and therefore date of entitlement is earlier, failure to withhold attorney fee (I've got several of those right now), or even something as simple as calculating the fee but then issuing a check in the wrong amount.

Anonymous said...

Waiting more than 6 months for action on a fee petition or dealing with representative who just do not feel you should get paid is indefensible. It means the system is broken and SSA is not responsive.

Ignore (the bad parts of) SSA and its trolls who post here.

For those egregious cases, jurisdiction exists under mandamus and in some cases Sec 28 USC 1331 and Sec. 405(g) See Binder v. Astrue 848 F.Supp.2d 230, E.D.N.Y., January 25, 2012 (NO. CV-11-0467 SJF)

Courts will provide faster relief, at this point, than Congress.

Anonymous said...

Reason 12445566 ssa should Get out of handling paying rep fees. Just send the $$ to the claimant and let the rep deal with getting his.

Anonymous said...

SSA has its share of problems in processing paperwork and that is incredibly frustrating for those involved, but millions of people every month get their checks on time and get other transactions processed appropriately.

Also, before attacking SSA too harshly, think about whether you and your clients are as timely as possible in providing necessary information. I have seen inexplicably long delays by SSA components in processing payments, but I have also seen a far number of cases where representatives and/or claimants/beneficiaries have been slow to provide requested information.

Anonymous said...

I second David as to the no explanation, indecipherable overpayment letters.

Anonymous said...

There is just way too much work to do in the time we have to do it. Complicated cases like those mentioned get put on the bottom of the pile in favor of lists that management is pushing. Wactions, anyone?

Anonymous said...

Constantly amazed by a group of local attorneys who use third party filing only to hold onto the attestation documents and 827/1696 in order to delay filing a few months so the retro builds up a bit. I'm not saying all attorneys are conducting business like this but I know of a firm in my local area that makes this routine practice.

Anonymous said...

@ 11:52 AM As a member of the bar, I am asking that you please report this activity to someone. You probably are prohibited from reporting it to the local bar ethics committee by your position but you can at least report it to OIG. We dislike these types of attorneys as much as you do.

Anonymous said...

Agreed.

There is no need to hold on to those documents at all, well, maybe for a couple of weeks if you're doing some more investigation into the case, but beyond that, it's just gaming the system, especially if its a clear fully fav case.