I've learned a few things about Social Security's re-adjudication of the disability claims of Eric Conn's former clients. Let me share some of what I've heard:
- In at least one case, Social Security's file contains reports from Drs. Huffnagel and Adkins, two of Eric Conn’s pet physicians. The report from Dr. Huffnagel has been excluded from consideration but the report from Dr. Adkins is supposed to be considered. Even though he also did work for Conn, Adkins was also working for Social Security. The agency wants the report that Adkins did for them considered. However, any reports that Adkins did at the behest of Eric Conn are excluded from consideration. He was an upstanding physician when he did work for Social Security but he was a crook when he did work for Eric Conn.
- The claimants who had medical exams at the behest of Eric Conn universally describe the exams as reasonably thorough. The claimants say the exams took about twenty minutes. The write-ups of the exams seem professional. There may be problems with forms completed by these physicians but there's no sign of problems with the exams or the exam reports themselves. For example, there seems to be no reason to disbelieve a report by one of these physicians that he detected crepitation in a claimant's knee. Nevertheless, everything from these physicians has been excluded – unless SSA ordered the exam.
- None of the claimants involved reports having been contacted by Social Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) or the FBI.
- I had thought that Social Security must have given Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) more instructions for these cases than what is contained in the agency's HALLEX manual. It looks like I was both right and wrong. I was right in believing that they should have been given more instructions but wrong in believing that they must have given additional instruction. It appears that they didn't. The result is confusion. At least one ALJ has refused to admit any evidence dated after the prior ALJ decision. Other ALJs are pondering whether they should admit into evidence the reports from Conn’s pet physicians. Nobody has any idea what the process is for asking permission to consider developments in the claimant’s health condition after the date of the prior ALJ decision. It’s not clear that there is a procedure or that any such procedure would be consistent with the agency's regulations, ALJ independence and the prohibition on ex parte contacts.
- There are signs suggesting that no one at Social Security's St. Louis National Hearing Center, which is hearing the vast majority of these cases, has much enthusiasm for the task they’ve been given.
- So far, it looks like well over half of the claimants involved have not sought legal help. There is reason for concern that these claimants are so intimidated by the criminal investigation that they are too scared to do anything even though none of them has done anything remotely criminal.
- We’re still waiting on action from the District Court on the lawsuit aimed at stopping these hearings. The delay doesn’t seem like a good sign for these claimants since the Court knows that the hearings have begun. I’m pretty sure that there are those at Social Security who decided not to worry too much about what the agency was doing in these cases since they figured that the courts would intervene to stop this mess. I thought so too but it looks like we may have been wrong. The Court may dismiss the case on narrow technical grounds. That won't prevent these claimants from eventually getting relief. It just delays it until after these cases grind through the administrative process for a year or two.