Dec 2, 2015

This Is Frustrating

     Here's a message I received recently on a listserver for North Carolina Social Security attorneys, edited to remove names and locations:
I can echo ____'s experience with the SSA FO [Field Office] in _____.  The letters of representation along with my 1696s, 1695s, and 827s [apart from the 827 these are forms that Social Security needs to establish that the claimant is being represented]  routinely that I mailed to the FO would disappear into some black hole.  Taking them down to the FO for personal delivery did not work either as the security guards are not permitted to handle materials pertaining to SS benefits nor was a receptacle into which I could put correspondence readily available.  Since delivery confirmation and certified mail are rather expensive, we started faxing in addition to mailing our LOR and initial forms to the SSA FO so that we would receive a fax confirmation sheet showing that we submitted our LOR and initial forms.  Even then, the SSA FO staff there would always react like it was our fault if we called to find out if our letters of rep and initial forms were received and they could not find any record of our represent ation of our client in their system.  The addition of a reminder or "tickle" to f/u with the FO sounds like a great idea for helping to deal with this situation. 
     Note that the field offices complain when these forms are submitted more than once, saying it makes extra work for them and causes confusion, but, at least where I am, the field offices are unreliable in entering an attorney's representation documents into their system. The documents disappear for weeks or months or disappear altogether. The field offices also complain about having to take calls asking whether they've entered attorney representation into their system. When the forms disappear, the field offices always blame the attorney.


Anonymous said...

It is not just North Carolina.

The greatest benefit of online appeals is new ability to attach documents to the appeal. In every case, we attach the 1695, 1696, and fee agreement to the appeal. I then save the receipt showing their submission. At this point, I don't care if that means extra work for the DO.

I await the day when we can submit documents with the application as well.

Matt Berry said...

This is a constant in every field office (my practice is regional/national). We have performed internal studies that indicate that as much as 10% of all mail to SSA is "lost".

Anonymous said...

Happens in New York all the time and especially when grants occur on initial.

Anonymous said...

Happens in Michigan about 50-50 we always follow up within 6 weeks.

Anonymous said...

Yup - we're a regional firm. My main assistant complains that half her time is spent just following up and resubmitting rep papers and fee agreements with DOs. It's maddening and a complete waste of our and the DO's time. This is especially true on favorable decisions.

Anonymous said...

They aren't "losing" paperwork. I suspect they aren't even processing some of the documents received. No idea what might happen to the stuff, but it's a constant for me, too. I am having terrible problems with the FO in my area. I work a project with a homeless services center, where the focus is on supporting the claim at the application stage - hoping to get the benefits awarded on the initial app. But without any cooperation from the FO, there's little I can do. I send information, and never know what happened to it. I do not get copies of notices that my clients get - remember, these clients are homeless, so are less than reliable. And when I call to check status, I'm told to resend documents, so can't get an update on the phone.

And get this - the other day I called for status updates on a number of clients. I was told that I must provide all the personally identifying info, including not just name and SSN and DOB, but mother's maiden name (!) and place of birth! Many of my clients grew up in foster care, or have significant mental issues - and now I have to get this info from them just to ask for an update on a case in which I am the authorized representative?

I have a call into the SSI supervisor for the office. She seemed nice and cooperative, but I know I'm going to have to badger her again to get a meeting to try to rectify the situation.

I sympathize, I really do, at their issues of understaffing, but I'd rather they take longer on claims than constantly create more effort for everyone else

Anonymous said...

So when I call the FO, the computer wants "6 minutes" of my personal data before I will be placed on hold then hung up on.
Here's an idea: I'm wondering if I should make a monthly (weekly?) appointment with each FO, taking all my rep documents and sit while the worker places them on the system.
Then, I can personally collect my receipts/confirmations.

Anonymous said...

This problem is not going away. It results from:

1)A terribly complicated process for adding/changing representatives.

I'll simplify it for those who aren't agency employees. Key in attorney info into the attorney database and link it to the claims. Go to the claims processing systems (one or Social Security Claims another for SSI claims) and pull the attorney information into the claims processing systems. Then you go to the the disability claims system (medical file that is sent to DDS and subsequently ODAR) and pull the attorney information into it. Then you have create the acknowledgment letters to mail to the attorneys and store copies of the actual documents in the electronic folder. If you don't complete all those steps then the attorney is not correctly added and one (or more) components (DDS, ODAR, AC, PC) may not be aware the attorney is involved. Or you may do all that and forget to send the acknowledgement letter, which means the attorney never receives confirmation. Here's the kicker, let's say you sign up to represent a claimant and their claim is already pending at ODAR. The FO is the only component that can take all the steps above. Needless to say, it's hard for FO employees to prioritize that work when the claim is pending at ODAR and may not get a hearing for another 6 months. Even FO employees who understand the need to process the attorney forms timely will still make numerous makes due to the number of steps involved in adding or changing representatives.

Add this to the mix, ODAR can (and does) add the attorney to their case processing system, which will make sure the representative gets the notices from ODAR. BUT, if the FO fails to do it's part, then the payment center or the FO processing the ALJ determination, may accidentally process the claim without the attorney information.

2)There is not enough staff in many offices to process these actions timely. As a result, These actions pile up. Attorneys follow-up and send duplicate packages, which makes the problem worse. Resentment builds up on the part of FO employees towards attorneys, which demotivates FO employees regarding this workload.

The problems may lessen if the Agency is properly staffed. However, even if it is properly staffed, there will always be a level of dysfunction in this area due to the complexity of the process/system for adding and changing representatives. They aren't going away and it's unrealistic to expect them to.

Anonymous said...

@9:13 PM

Thank you for explaining the process. Having attorneys submit this information by paper form seems antiquated in the 21st century. Why not allow attorneys to log in and submit this information electronically?

I know FO employees are not fond of attorneys but I have had mostly good experiences with the FO. I think most of the problem is with under staffing and badly designed software.

Anonymous said...

@702 Sorry, the field offices do not like when you go there in person to personally deliver documents. They give very skeptical when you ask for basic information like their namebor a case status. One time someone got so offended they refuse to give me there first or last name. To compound the situation, I then hastily hand wrote a proof of service form and indicated the person won't give me their name and I described her in very unflattering terms and then emailed the documents to the office manager. It's so tiring dealing with bureaucrats who don't care. But at least you can make it fun.

Anonymous said...

Your call us very important to us. *dial tone*

Ricardo333 said...

Your call is very important to us. Please enjoy this 40 minute flute solo.

Anonymous said...

I tried through the SSA phones many times and I was either diverted to another SSA person who still did not act or I was told that there is no such form. I tried via computer and so far no response. I sense that going through only the internet will make e everything forever impossible
Could I download a copy but then who would I send it to? I have to admit, that when dealing with either state or federal departments, There is no cooperation. It's an annoying phenomenon.
Thank you.

Anonymous said...

re: 9:38pm

It is even more time consuming and tedious than @9:13pm makes it sound. And, trust me, I know. Our office has to be one of the few that actually processes all the 1695/1696/fee agreements we receive on our cases and who actually sends the required letters. Of course, it literally kills our staff to do so. We use a web-based system to manually log and track all of our paper appeals and incoming rep paperwork, then track it until it is processed and removed from the list. The same system we use (Webace) is available to other offices, but somebody has to manually sort and timely post stuff to it (in our office, that is unfortunately me) and management has to monitor it. We are lucky as our management does do this.

As you've seen, most offices don't and won't bother. This has become even more obvious to us since our phones were expanded to where we are sometimes answering phones for offices in multiple states.

Why not do it electronically? Well, the "powers that be in charge (but who be not all that intelligent)" who have spent years creating this steaming pile of dog sh#t half-baked electronic claims system are actually in the very beginning stages of trying to do it. Of course, in true SSA fashion, the people doing the initial planning are totally clueless as to how this process works. I know this is a fact because we have a person on a detail to Systems who has explained (in excruciating detail, plus I've seen her meeting notes so I know she isn't exaggerating) exactly how truly little knowledge about SSA processes these people making the decisions have.

I guess it all comes back to the "if you can't fire them, promote them somewhere else" philosophy SSA has. Well, now, they've promoted all the morons previously proven incapable of doing productive work and they are running the agency.

Thank god I qualify for an early retirement next year, provided they are still offering them.

Anonymous said...

I now appreciate my district office much more

Anonymous said...

In the FO I work in, about 1/4 of the CRs will process the attorney forms pretty quickly. About half let them sit a while until they have more time to get to them so they may sit a few weeks. The other 1/4 just don't get to them or take forever to get to them. When mgmt realizes the last quarter have a big pile of them to do, they give them to the quarter that does their work timely..sometimes.

Even if the FO enters the info, types the letters, etc, if they don't update EDCS (Medical File), the DDS or ODAR will not get the info that there is an attorney involved. Under WAC, there is an option for UAT (Update after transfer) that takes a few minutes to run for a CR (typical pending initial, recons and hearings is over 400 per CR at our office). That will identify any record that you may have forgotten to update on MCS or that someone else in the office forgot to update while updating the attorney info for the claim (MCS).

Re atty/FO relationships, there are a few local attorneys that are very good at getting information so we can process a claim. If an SSA claim alert says the ALJ awarded it and we show there is outstanding development for public disability benefits or worker's compensation, a couple of atty offices will get that info for us right away (before PC processes the claim) if we request it timely. It has been tried with the much larger atty firms without any response. So the claimant may be in partial or full offset and the attorney doesn't get paid as quickly. In our office it comes down to if the atty's office is helpful at all when we request more information, the relationship is much better than one where all we ever get from them are claims, appeals and atty forms.

Anonymous said...

Amen 2:35, my office also has the 1/4 that just can't seem to do their work, and unfortunately management doesn't have the ability or inclination to do anything about it. When someone calls and asks how long it will take to process paperwork they have submitted to us, the truthful answer is "sometime between a few days and never". Wish I could actually say that.

Anonymous said...


if you knew the documentation, warnings, meetings, extra help, monitoring, pulling resources off production (a PA and OPS will surely require significant mentoring time from another employee), etc. etc. that mgmt must do to (properly) take significant discipline like termination or demotion against an employee, then you would know why so few employees receive said discipline.