Jan 3, 2020

My Top Eight List

     I've finally gotten around to the sort of list you've seen a lot of in the last couple of weeks -- the most important things that have happened in the Social Security world in the last decade. Below is my list but feel free to post your own list. I came up with eight and didn't want to pad it to make it ten.
  1. Constant administrative under-funding of the Social Security Administration accompanied by frequent shutdown threats and occasional actual shutdowns. Agency performance suffered as a result. Service has deteriorated to levels that would have once been thought unimaginable;
  2. After the number of Social Security disability claims soared in the 2000-2009 decade, the number of claims started declining in 2010. That decline is continuing. We think we know why claims soared from 2000-2009 -- primarily the aging of the baby boomer population -- but no one has a good handle on why the number of disability claims filed has gone down so much since then or why the decline continues;
  3. The Eric Conn debacle which led to a general climate of hostility towards Social Security disability claimants;
  4. Social Security went more than six years without a confirmed Social Security Commissioner because Republican Senators wouldn't confirm an Obama nominee and Trump was so slow in nominating anyone;
  5. The ongoing story of Social Security's Disability Case Processing System (DCPS) which may or may not ever work;
  6. The deal to extend the life of the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund;
  7. Social Security's ongoing refusal to deal with the obsolescence of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles;
  8. The collapse of Binder and Binder. Yes, I know there's a stub of Binder and Binder left but it's nothing like what it was. A 60 Minutes hit piece hurt Binder and Binder but the bigger problem was that it was based upon a business model that could not succeed at a time when the number of disability claims was going down and it was becoming progressively more difficult to get a claim approved. The ironic thing was that the 60 Minutes hit piece damaged Social Security attorneys generally even though we were appalled by Binder and Binder long before the rest of the world was. At least the original owners sold out to a private equity company -- which I still find astounding -- before the bottom dropped out and have now bought back the stub.


Anonymous said...

As to your number 2. When you look at the statistics they publish (which you have a link to in the side column) the rate of approvals are declining while at the same time the rate of terminations are increasing. I'm guessing its a tougher environment to get on and stay on benefits than it has been in the past. I imagine the very low unemployment rate we currently have makes an impact too. This administration has made it perfectly clear that they plan to cut SSDI and SSI and they are doing what they can to do so without legislation. Just look at the new proposal for CDR rediarying and frequency. Doing more CDR's more frequently is clearly an effort to purge the rolls. By the way the public comments on these proposed new rules are approaching 5000 and for the most part the are very negative about the proposed changes.

Anonymous said...

*Applications* for disability have been falling since 2011, so notwithstanding the rate of approval and rate of termination, there are a lot less people trying to get on the program.

Anonymous said...

Good list.

4. This was the worst where Obama could not get a new SSA commissioner to succeed Astrue. Do not necessarily agree Obama did everything he could to fix the SSA. He promised a lot in 2008 and 2012 but did not deliver. Now, we are stuck w/ Better Call Saul for at least 7 years.

7. The DOT? I did not know the SSA has done anything with this embarrassment.

3. Conn. I almost hired a Conn attorney who was stuck cleaning up his mess across the country. Glad, he found a job after this debacle. And Conn getting arrested at a Pizza Hut abroad was just classic. There is a movie in there.

8. Binder. I cut my teeth with Binder in its heyday in the mid 2000s and got out thankfully before the 2010s. Now, my former Binder colleagues are scrambling but most have landed on their feet.

Here are some of my other highlights:

1. The 5-day evidence rule. This arbitrary rule was created to make it more difficult. Thankfully, some ALJs can find a way around it.

2. Rise in more VTCs and National Hearing Office. I have never been reluctant to use VTCs if it helps my clients get hearings faster. In psych cases, I simply do not care if the client hobbles into the hearing. In physical cases, I typically discourage them.

3. The shuttering of many local SSA offices. Out here in Cali, there has been many shuttered SSA offices probably due to high costs. It has hurt those winning benes and probably processing disability apps.

Good list. Merry New Year!

Anonymous said...

@10:26AM because the Boomers have been aged out of the disability demographics so there are just less people in the disability age sweet spot.

Anonymous said...


The five-day rule puts no restrictions on an ALJ's discretion to admit late evidence, so there's nothing in the rule for ALJs to "find a way around." And the rule is hardly "arbitrary." ALJs have a very real need to have all the relevant evidence in front of them before starting the hearing so that they case pose appropriate questions to the witnesses and adjudicate the claims without a need for supplemental proceedings. And five days hardly seems unreasonable.

Anonymous said...

The focus of prior posts has been on initial claims . What about the Post Entitlement burdens of SSI ? For example the proliferation of SSI Trusts . You need to be an attorney to understand them . POMS instructions are convoluted. There are numerous attorneys who prepare a trust and do not understand the most basic principle of a 1st party funded trust requiring Medicaid Reimbursement to ANY State during the lifetime of the beneficiary. Once a Trust has been determined to be an excludable resource ( no easy feat )the complexity of this workload is compounded by the time needed to review each and every asset statement for disbursements potentially countable as income. The mere mention of Trust involvement sends shivers down the spine of an interviewer or adjudicator in the FO.

Anonymous said...

Policy world. The rise of Social Security expansion as a viable policy option (see 2100 plan for example)

Anonymous said...

Anon 1:09 "ALJs have a very real need to have all the relevant evidence in front of them before starting the hearing"

Uh just no. I know for a fact many ALJs proceed with questions without looking at the evidence. Some ALJs have a script of questions they always ask. Some ALJs thoroughly know the record prior to questioning. It just depends.

ALJs typically hear 500-800 cases per year. You are telling me an ALJ MUST have all evidence to question a claimant? I just hope an ALJ reads all the evidence prior to writing up the decision, which sometimes take at least 2-3 months or more after the hearing. And you know many let their writers look at all the evidence.

These medical records do not always magically appear 5 days prior to the hearing. You sound like either an OHO writer or ALJ?

Anonymous said...

The older a person is, the more likely they will claim disability. Really becomes noticeable around age 45.

Let's look at birth rates and see how many potential 45 to 55 year olds there are for 2020, that is, how many people were born 1965-1975.
Total is just under 38 million.

Now compare that to 2005 which would have been births between 1950 and 1960. Just under 45 million.

We can also go into the demographics and see more of the 1965 to 1975 group will have attained a degree or certification after high school. The younger group is more likely to be skilled so less likely to have a physically demanding job and more like to have valued skills that lead to employers being willing to accommodate a disability.

Those born in 1950 reached age 18 in 1968. US military all branches had more than 3 million serving in 1968, 1969 and 1970. 1971 there were 2.7 million, moved down to just over 2 million to 1978.

The second group attained age 18 between 1983 and 1993. US military service numbers drifted down from 2.1 million to start the period ending at 1.7 million.

So fewer served in the military and we know veterans are more likely to become disabled and even more likely if they served in periods of combat.

Unemployment moved under 5% in 2015 and has continued to decline. When the labor market is tight, employers are more willing to hire someone with an impairment or make accommodations for them.

2008 to 2015 unemployment exceeded 5% and peaked around 10% in late 2009, early 2010 when unemployment began dropping.

It all adds up to fewer claims.

Anonymous said...

You are completely wrong on #8. Binder didn't fail for any of the reasons you made up.

The owners sold out to a hedge fund in the summer of 2010. The company had zero debt at the time. The hedge fund busted out Binder in classic mob style and left it $80M in debt four years later. Literally the plot of Fargo Season 3 or that Sopranos story arc with Robert Patrick. The hedge fund wound up $80M in the black, and the longtime B&B employees -- on Long Island where the firm originated they had many lifers there 20 years or more -- were fired without a dime of severance.

The Binders made nine figures each on the sale and bought the company back out of bankruptcy for pennies on the dollar. Now it's a proper law firm again, except they no longer have in house attorneys doing hearings. They went from a family business, to a training factory for future firm owners and ALJs, back to a family business.

Vulture capitalism did Binder in. Any other explanation is imaginary.