Aug 31, 2014

Social Security Not Faring Well In 7th Circuit

     From the online American Bar Association Journal:
In a published opinion issued two weeks after oral argument, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned the denial of disability benefits to a woman who claimed severe pain because of a herniated disc.
The two-week turnaround by the author of the opinion (PDF), Judge Richard Posner, is quick even by his speedy standards, according to Illinois lawyer Barry Schultz, who represented the claimant. The 7th Circuit has been reversing a lot of adverse determinations in disability cases, particularly in the last year, he tells the ABA Journal. ...
The claimant in Goins v. Colvin had testified that the incessant pain, along with drowsiness caused by medication, limited her daily activities to eating, caring for her dogs, watching TV and sleeping. An MRI taken in 2010 after she applied for disability benefits revealed she had degenerative disc disease, stenosis, and a condition in which her brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. At an evidentiary hearing, the 250-pound woman said she had to quit a cafeteria job in 2008 because it was too strenuous, and she rated her pain an 8.5. An administrative law judge concluded she was exaggerating and denied benefits. The appeals court reversed. Posner took issue with the ALJ's conclusion and with two doctors who evaluated the claimant's medical records for the Social Security Administration ...
Posner said the ALJ should not have drawn adverse inferences based on the fact that the claimant had not sought frequent medical treatment. The claimant was indigent, Posner said, and had no health insurance....
Posner also criticized Social Security Administration lawyers for arguing the ALJ had accommodated the claimant's obesity by providing that her work duties could not require her to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds and only occasionally require her to climb stairs, balance, kneel, crawl, stoop, or crouch. "Does the SSA think that if only the plaintiff were thin, she could climb ropes?" Posner asked.

"If we thought the Social Security Administration and its lawyers had a sense of humor, we would think [the argument] a joke," Posner said.
     By the way, if you read the actual opinion, the woman had a Chiari malformation. That's what Judge Posner was writing about when he used the phrase, "a condition in which her brain tissue extends into the spinal canal." That's not just a routine herniated disk or spinal stenosis problem, although those can be bad enough. A Chiari malformation is a serious congenital problem at the base of the brain. If you know anything about the base of the brain, you know it is absolutely the last place in your body that you want any kind of problem.

Aug 30, 2014

Senator Wants Public Notice And Comment On Office Closures

     From The Hill:
A bill awaiting Congress when it returns from its August recess would attempt to slow field office closures at the Social Security Administration, an agency that has shuttered more than 60 facilities in recent years.
The 2014 Social Security Access Act, introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., aims to bring more community input into the closure process. The bill would require SSA to provide 180 days’ notice to “all individuals residing in areas serviced” by any field office subject to any “reduction in access.” ...
Schumer’s bill would create a public comment period and require SSA to hold at least one public hearing a month after disseminating information to constituents about an upcoming closure. The agency would have to post online and provide in writing to local members of Congress and other elected officials a range of information about the decision, including the number of SSA employees affected, the number of people who visit the office, Internet access in the region, transportation options to the next closest facility, projected cost savings and the estimated cost of co-locating with another federal agency instead of the proposed closure.
The SSA commissioner would also have to submit a report to Congress justifying the closure, and findings made as a result of the public comments or meeting.

Aug 29, 2014

Growing Opioid Issue

     From Health Day:
A growing number of Americans on work disability chronically use powerful prescription painkillers, according to a new study.
Researchers found that between 2007 and 2011, about 44 percent of people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits were prescribed narcotic painkillers each year. And the percentage using the drugs long-term rose from 21 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2011. ...
The findings, reported in the September issue of the journal Medical Care, aren't surprising, [a researcher] noted. Nationwide, prescriptions for narcotic painkillers -- also known as opioids -- surged 300 percent after 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ...
"In the short term, people get some relief," said Dr. Eric Collins, physician-in-chief at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Conn., which specializes in psychiatric and addiction treatment.
"But there's no good evidence that long-term use is effective for non-cancer pain," Collins said. ...
The truth is, Meara said, treating chronic pain is difficult. Common problems such as low back pain have no one-size-fits-all therapy, but a number of non-drug options exist, such as exercise, over-the-counter pain medications, acupuncture and biofeedback.
     To be clear here, the dispute is over whether the expanded use of opioids that has been seen over the last 20 years or so is a problem or simply necessary treatment for chronic pain. No one is suggesting that those on Social Security disability benefits abuse opioids any more than any other group. A very significant percentage of those on Social Security disability benefits suffer from conditions which produce chronic, severe pain. It's a question of how you treat that pain.
     I've long noted that anyone experiencing severe pain regards their pain as an emergency which requires urgent treatment. However, when it's someone else's pain, especially if that person is a stranger, people regard pain as merely "subjective" and possibly feigned. If you want additional restrictions on prescriptions of opioids, remember that someday, perhaps soon, you may be in severe pain and desperate for relief.

Aug 28, 2014

This Problem Will Just Get Worse

     From CBS:
Thousands of Social Security beneficiaries have become victims of identity thieves who have hacked into their accounts and stolen millions of dollars in desperately needed benefits.
69-year-old Carole Folkes is one of them. For seven years her $354 Social Security check was directly deposited into her bank account. Then last June, she said, “The Social Security check wasn’t there and I was baffled.”
Folkes called Social Security and was told her money was sent to a different bank and she was supposedly sent a debit card to collect it. ...
Folkes, who is confined to a wheelchair, said she had to make three trips to her Social Security office to try and straighten it out. In the weeks it took to get a replacement check, Folkes got an eviction notice from her building manager because she did not have enough money to pay the rent. ...
Most often the scammers are hard to track because they operate from different countries. ...
The Inspector General’s office reported this year on an audit that identified 23,192 beneficiaries who did not receive $28.3 million in benefits between Sept. 2011 and June 2012 due to unauthorized direct deposit changes. Of that, $17.4 million has not been recovered. Through August 2014, 38,585 allegations of direct deposit fraud have been made by beneficiaries.

Guilty Plea In New York Case

     From the New York Times:
A former New York City police officer accused of playing a major role in a scheme to defraud the Social Security Administration pleaded guilty on Wednesday and agreed to testify against his co-defendants.
Prosecutors said that the former officer, Joseph Esposito, was one of four people who concocted a scheme that bilked the federal government out of more than $27 million. ...
Under the terms of the agreement, if his testimony is satisfactory, he will be allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree grand larceny and prosecutors will recommend a sentence of one and a half to four and a half years in prison. ...
Mr. Esposito and Mr. Hale, court papers say, referred most of the applicants to two psychiatrists for treatment and to establish a year’s worth of medical records. On several telephone calls recorded by the authorities, Mr. Esposito was captured coaching applicants on how to mimic the symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress when being examined by doctors. ...
It was also Mr. Esposito’s job, court papers say, to collect a large cash fee from the applicants — usually more than $28,000 per person — after they received the first lump-sum check from the government, prosecutors said. Mr. Esposito would bring the money to Mr. Hale’s house, where it would be split among the four men, according to court papers.

Aug 27, 2014

Obamacare May Be Reducing Number Of Disability Claims In Arkansas

     From Modern Healthcare:
The number of Arkansas residents signing up for federal disability benefits has dropped 19% since October 2013, which some state officials are attributing to expanded Medicaid eligibility....
Arkansas is providing subsidies to individuals with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty threshold to purchase private health plans through the exchange, a model of expansion that several other Republican-controlled states are following. More than 190,000 Arkansas residents qualified for the expanded coverage through the end of July.  
State Sen. Jonathan Dismang, a Republican who was one of the architects of the “private option” plan, said that he and his colleagues had hoped that expanding Medicaid would reduce the disability rolls. “It's too early to say with any certainty that that's the case,” Dismang said. “I think that there's an indication that there has been an impact.”

Union Schedules Rally To Oppose Field Office Cuts

     From a press release issued by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the union that represents most employees of the Social Security Administration:
Hundreds of union activists from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) will rally at the Minneapolis Social Security Field Office Wednesday, Aug. 27 to shed light on the Social Security Administration’s plan to close virtually every field office in Minnesota and across the country ...
When: 3:00 p.m. CDT Wednesday, August 27
Where: Minneapolis SSA Field Office; 1811 Chicago Ave, Minneapolis, Minn.
  • AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.
  • House Democratic Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer
  • Senator Al Franken (Invited)
  • U.S. Representative Rick Nolan
  • U.S. Representative Keith Ellison (Invited)
  • U.S. Representative Betty McCollum (Invited)
  • Minneapolis Social Security Beneficiary Marie Milsten-Fiedler
  • Labor activists and Social Security employees who provide vital public services

Aug 25, 2014

Initial And Reconsideration Allowance Rates

This is from the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) which got it, I'm sure, from the Social Security Administration.

Aug 24, 2014

Top Ten List

     Monique Morrissey of the Economic Policy Institute posts her list of top ten myths about Social Security.

Aug 23, 2014

The Irony

Maybe someday we'll laugh at the irony — SSA cuts staff and office hours, just as the Boomers arrive and workload skyrockets.
--Andy Landis, the author of a book on Social Security, quoted in USA Today 

Aug 22, 2014

Update On Prosecutions In New York

     The New York Times has an update on the prosecutions in the alleged scheme by 136 people to defraud Social Security by feigning mental disability.  None of these cases have gone to trial. Eighty-seven of the accused have pleaded guilty to grand larceny and most of those were given probation in return for promising to return the money. Charges against eight were recently dismissed at the request of the District Attorney since those individuals might actually have been mentally ill.

Aug 21, 2014

Union Concerned About Online Services

     From a press release issued by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union which represents most Social Security employees:
The Social Security Administration has launched a new social media campaign that asks beneficiaries to plan for their ‘#Someday’ retirement dreams by registering for an account on the mySocialSecurity website but neglects to disclose that the website comes at the expense of face-to-face customer service and that it may open users to fraud.
“According to the Social Security Administration, fully one-third of the people attempting to access the website fail to successfully register,” said Witold Skwierczynski, President of the National Council of Social Security Field Operations Locals. “However, the website’s issues are more troubling than simply a poor customer experience.”
Skwierczynski attributed the high failure rate on the website to Experian Credit Corporation which is responsible for providing security for transactions on the site. Users must answer a series of complicated questions about their personal finances, distinguish between real and fake information, recall minute details of their credit history and have knowledge of their astrological sign.
It’s an overly cumbersome and difficult process to navigate and is also vulnerable to identity theft and fraud. An Experian subsidiary, as recently as 2013, was being investigated for either having lost or sold the same type of login information to a Vietnamese crime ring. Skwierczynski said that there is already evidence of identity theft and fraud at SSA, as the Office of Inspector General stated it received 37,000 reports from various sources concerning questionable changes to a beneficiary’s record.

Aug 20, 2014


     From WKZO in Washington:
A new public relations campaign is being launched by the Social Security administration. The Someday campaign, as it's being called, will include TV and radio public service announcements, reminding young people of the importance of planning for retirement. Most experts will tell you that Social Security benefits alone won't make for the greatest retirement, and the Someday campaign is trying to get that message across to those who think the least about preparing for their golden years, young people. The Social Security Administration's Vonda VanTil says you'll probably be seeing some ads soon.
"We have some fantastic PSAs that are coming out for the TV and radio, and they're really, really funny and fun to go along with this idea that, someday, you're going to wish that you did a little bit of planning," VanTil told WKZO. "As we all know, the older we get, the more we wish that we had done a little bit of better planning, whether it's for retirement, or anything else for that matter."

Aug 19, 2014

BOND Survey

     From a recent Social Security Emergency Message:
The Social Security Administration has asked Abt Associates and Mathematica Policy Research (the surveyors) to conduct a survey to learn about the work experiences of people receiving Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits. The survey is part of SSA’s Benefit Offset National Demonstration (BOND). From January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2015, the surveyors will contact approximately 22,600 SSDI participants. Some of these beneficiaries will be BOND participants and some will not. The surveyors will ask them about their and their family members’ work, health and education status, and about their attitudes toward work and their health. They will also ask whether they have worked with a benefits counselor recently.
The surveyors will ask the beneficiaries to complete a survey. The survey responses will provide information on SSDI beneficiaries’ attitudes and efforts toward work.
Beneficiary participation in the survey is voluntary. The survey will take approximately 50 minutes to complete. Participants will receive a $25 incentive payment for participation. Participation will not affect receipt of benefits from SSA.
     By the way, Social Security's "Emergency Messages" seldom deal with actual emergencies. It's just a medium for conveying information to the field.

Aug 18, 2014

Post Writer Pays Attention To Social Security Service Problems

     Joe Davidson at the Washington Post writes about the recent report by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) on the problems that the agency is having delivering service to the public with a dramatically smaller workforce.
     My gut feeling is that sooner or later Social Security's service delivery problems are going to blow up in the same way as the VA's problems blew up. The only question is who gets the blame.

Aug 17, 2014

It's Not Just The U.S.

     Canada has bad Social Security disability claim backlogs and they're getting worse. This is happening after a "reform" that was supposed to make the disability adjudication process more efficient and streamlined. The main problem in Canada, though, is not having enough employees to get the work done. As in the U.S., you can't "reform" your way out of the problems caused by inadequate staffing.

Aug 16, 2014

NADE Newsletter

     The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE), an organization for the state agency personnel who make initial and reconsideration determinations for Social Security, has released its Summer 2014 newsletter.

Aug 15, 2014

Expansion Of CDIs

     From a press release issued by Social Security's press office (not from the Office of Inspector General's office but from Social Security's main press office):
The Social Security Administration, its Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the Michigan Department of Human Services today announced a new Cooperative Disability Investigations (CDI) Unit in Detroit. As part of the nationwide CDI Program, the Detroit Unit will identify and prevent Social Security disability fraud throughout the State of Michigan. ...
With the opening of the Detroit Unit, the CDI program now consists of 26 units covering 22 States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Detroit CDI Unit is the first of seven new CDI units that SSA and the OIG plan to establish by the end of fiscal year 2016 ...