Social Security Benefits

The Social Security Administration Must Follow Its Own Regulations

7th Circuit orders disability case back to administrative law judge

Because the Social Security Administration (SSA) Appeals Council (AC) did not consider new evidence when it was presented – despite its own regulations requiring it to do so – the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals sent a disability insurance benefits case back to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for further proceedings.

At the time of the hearing on Angela Farrell’s application for disability benefits, she was married with two children and extremely overweight. She suffered from multiple issues, including anxiety, insomnia, fibromyalgia, and plantar fasciitis. Her initial application was denied, but the Appeals Council remanded her case for reconsideration. On remand, the ALJ again ruled against her, in part because of Farrell’s failure to establish definitively that she suffered from fibromyalgia.

This time, the AC affirmed the ALJ’s decision, despite new evidence before the AC that confirmed Farrell’s fibromyalgia. The District Court also affirmed.

In addition to finding the Appeals Council didn’t follow its own regulations that require it to consider “new and material evidence,” the 7th Circuit found several other aspects of the ALJ’s decision independently require correction, including that the ALJ “failed to grapple properly with the competing medical opinions” in considering Farrell’s application.

Her Treating Physician (TP), Dr. Sarah Beyer, recorded Farrell suffered from several conditions and alluded to the possibility of Farrell suffering from fibromyalgia.

The other Consultative Examining (CE) Physicians who reviewed Farrell’s file as part of the application evaluation process believe that Farrell only had “moderate difficulties” or “mild restrictions on Average Daily Activity Level (ADL).” One doctor testified there was no evidence of a confirmed diagnosis of fibromyalgia or anything that would give rise to arthritic pain.

The 7th Circuit concluded in Angela M. Farrell v. Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, 11-3589,  that the ALJ’s residual functional capacity determination for Farrell improperly discounted the Treating Physician, Dr. Beyer’s medical opinions and that the RFC determination was based on an incomplete assessment of the record.

The judges sent the case back to the ALJ for further proceedings. REMANDED back to SSA ALJ.

This is the Case of  Angela M. Farrell v. Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, 11-3589.

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Undocumented Workers Are Keeping Social Security Afloat

 

In 2013, analysts at the Social Security Administration calculated that in 2010 undocumented immigrants had paid $13 billion into the system and were making on average $34,000 a year at the time. From 1996 to 2003, undocumented workers paid a combined $90 billion into both Social Security and Medicare.

Since 1996, immigrants who didn’t qualify to get a Social Security card numbers have been able to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS. ITINs were originally granted to foreign citizens who were active investors in the American real estate market.

A substantial percentage of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. pay billions in taxes annually and own their own homes, according to a 50 state report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (The Study).

With an IRS ITIN number, undocumented residents can legally open a bank account and apply for mortgage financing and close on a real estate transaction.

“Contrary to a lot of myths out there, The Study shows that the undocumented pay a very significant share of their income to state and local taxes,” Meg Wiehe, a co-author of the report told CBS MoneyWatch. “They are also establishing roots here because they are committed to their communities.”

One in three of the nation’s undocumented families own a home, according to the ITEP report. States such as Idaho and New Mexico report undocumented ownership rates as high as 46 percent. Those statistics are based on research done by the Migration Policy Institute and data collected by the U.S. Census’s American Community Survey.

Expert opinion remains sharply divided on the impact of the undocumented on the U.S. economy.

While analysts at the conservative Heritage Foundation concede undocumented immigrant households do contribute tax revenue, they make the case that what they contribute is far outweighed by what their presence here in the U.S. costs taxpayers.

“In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes,” according to Robert Rector and Jason Richwine in their analysis for the Heritage Foundation.

“This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household,” their analysis said. “This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers. Amnesty would provide unlawful households with access to over 80 means-tested welfare programs, Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare. The fiscal deficit for each household would soar.”

While the expert debate over this hot button issue has raged for years, Pew Research Center polling suggests American public opinion has shifted greatly since the early 1990s. In a 2015 poll, 45 percent of those surveyed expressed the opinion that immigrants were a net benefit for the U.S. versus 37 percent who felt their presence had a negative impact.

 

One of the ironies of the challenging financial future faced by the Social Security Administration is this seldom-discussed fact: Undocumented workers contribute about $13 billion per year to the Social Security Trust Fund, and only get back a small fraction, adding a bit of black ink to a balance sheet in sore need of a boost. These Social Security payments are a proxy of sorts for the potential power of these workers who now stand in the shadows of the economy.

These immigrants are often accused of creating outsize social services costs, but in this important instance the opposite is true. Undocumented workers using fake, invalid, or borrowed Social Security numbers are subject to payroll taxes but usually receive nothing back.

The extent of their contributions hints at the vast scale of the underground economy.

The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration estimates that, out of the approximately 7 million unauthorized workers currently in the US labor force, about 3 million use either false or expired Social Security numbers.

The payroll taxes paid by these unauthorized workers go into the Social Security’s “Earnings Suspense File” — in effect, money without a lawful home.

“You could say legitimately that had we not received the contributions that we have had in the past from undocumented immigrants . . . that would of course diminish our ability to be paying benefits for as long as we now can,”. Undocumented immigrants have contributed $100 billion into Social Security over the last decade.

Major immigration reform legislation would provide work authorization and Social Security numbers for an estimated 11 million immigrants working here illegally. But without changes to protect Social Security, illegal workers whose status later changes could become entitled to benefits based on jobs worked under fake and invalid Social Security numbers. Social Security could be on the hook for hundreds of billions in new liabilities according to a new  research report based on data from the Social Security Administration.

Unauthorized immigrants getting jobs show employers false or invalid Social Security numbers. When the Social Security Administration receives copies of W2s in which the name and Social Security number do not match those on Social Security’s records, they go into the Earnings Suspense File (ESF). The W2s remain on file until the earnings can be reconciled with the real worker, even if that occurs years later. Since 2000, the Social Security Administration has received about 9.3 million such W2s per year on average, representing more than $69.4 billion per year in earnings.

The earnings reported to the ESF over the past 11 years now total more than $763.5 billion, unadjusted for inflation. “Those earnings are important, because that’s what the Social Security Administration uses to determine entitlement and initial benefit amounts — not the amount of taxes paid in,” .

Although Social Security is aware of the problem, no government estimates of the potential future cost of benefits based on work under fake Social Security numbers exist.

Immigration advocates say that the taxes on earnings worked under invalid Social Security numbers help boost Social Security’s financing and that workers would have little chance of collecting benefits. “But that would change under immigration reform that provides work authorization”. “Work authorization and a valid Social Security number are the two requirements that would allow former unauthorized workers to file a claim for benefits.”

That could have significant implications for future Social Security costs because, under current law, the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers to gain employment is not penalized. “One would think that the earnings under fake Social Security numbers would not be used to calculate Social Security benefits. But to the contrary, under current policies, those earnings can be reinstated — no questions asked”.

Social Security uses all earnings to determine entitlement even for jobs worked under fake Social Security numbers. If workers have kept evidence of earnings, like copies of their W2s, tax return earnings under invalid Social Security numbers would be reinstated to the new valid number.

“Congress is considering Social Security changes that would cut the benefits of U.S. citizens and authorized workers who paid into the system under valid Social Security numbers”. “Yet our current polices reward people for the use of fraudulent Social Security numbers, undermining the financial solvency of the program”.

“You could say legitimately that had we not received the contributions that we have had in the past from undocumented immigrants . . . that would of course diminish our ability to be paying benefits for as long as we now can,”. Undocumented immigrants have contributed $100 billion into Social Security over the last decade.

(In part based on an article by Robert Hennelly in MoneyWatch February 29, 2016)

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Why The Rich Are Getting Richer and The Poor Are Getting Poorer

Inequality, class and life expectancy in America

15 February 2016

A study by Brookings Institution economists released Friday documents a sharp increase in life span divergences between the rich and the poor in America. The report, based on an analysis of Census Bureau and Social Security Administration data, concludes that for men born in 1950, the gap in life expectancy between the top 10 percent of wage earners and the bottom 10 percent is more than double the gap for their counterparts born in 1920.

 (DISCLAIMER: I neither agree nor disagree with the social or political philosophy expressed in this article. It is presented merely to disclose the underlying factual basis of the arguments put forth. The Facts and the Statistics speak for themselves.)

For those born in 1920, there was a six-year differential between rich and poor. For those born in 1950, that difference had reached 14 years. For women, the gap grew from 4.7 years to 13 years, almost tripling.

Overall, life expectancy for the bottom 10 percent improved by just 3 percent for men born in 1950 over those born in 1920. For the top 10 percent, it soared by about 28 percent.

Life expectancy for the bottom 10 percent of male wage earners born in 1950 rose by less than one year compared to that for male workers born 40 years earlier—to 73.6 from 72.9. But for the top 10 percent, life expectancy leapt to 87.2 from 79.1.

The United States ranks among the worst so-called rich countries when it comes to life expectancy. But its low ranking is entirely due to the poor health and high mortality of low-income Americans. According to the Social Security Administration, life expectancy for the wealthiest US men at age 60 was just below the rates for Iceland and Japan, two countries with the highest levels. Americans in the bottom quarter of the wage scale, on the other hand, ranked just above Poland and the Czech Republic.

Life-expectancy is the most basic indicator of social well-being. The minimal increase for low-income workers and the widening disparity between the poor and the rich is a stark commentary on the immense growth of social inequality and class polarization in the United States. It underscores the fact that socioeconomic class is the fundamental category of social life under capitalism—one that conditions every aspect of life, including its length.

The Brookings Institution findings shed further light on the catastrophic decline in the social position of the American working class. They follow recent reports showing a sharp rise in death rates for both young and middle-aged white workers, primarily due to drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide. Other recent reports have shown a dramatic decline in life expectancy for poorer middle-aged Americans and a reversal of decades of declining infant mortality.

It is no mystery what is behind this vast social retrogression. It is the product of the decay of American capitalism and a four-decade-long offensive by the ruling elite against the working class. From Reagan to the Obama administration, Democrats and Republicans alike have overseen a corporate-government assault on the jobs, wages, pensions and health benefits of working people.

The ruling elite has dismantled the bulk of the country’s industrial infrastructure, destroying decent-paying jobs by the millions, and turned to the most parasitic and criminal forms of financial speculation as the main source of its profit and private wealth. Untold trillions have been squandered to finance perpetual war and the maniacal self-enrichment of the top 1 percent and 0.1 percent.

The basic infrastructure of the country has been starved of funds and left to rot, to the point where uncounted millions of people are being poisoned with lead and other toxins from corroded water systems. Flint, Michigan is just the tip of the iceberg.

Under Obama, this social counterrevolution has been intensified. The financial meltdown of 2008 has been utilized by the same forces that precipitated the crash to carry through a reordering of social relations aimed at reversing every social gain won by the working class in the course of a century of struggle. A central target of the attack is health care for working people.

Obamacare is the spearhead of a worked-out strategy to reduce the quantity and quality of health care available to workers and reorganize the health care system directly on a class basis. Corporate and government costs are to be slashed by gutting employer-paid health care, forcing workers individually to buy expensive, bare-bones plans from the insurance monopolies, and rationing drugs, tests and medical procedures to make them inaccessible to workers.

The rise in mortality for workers and the widening of the life span gap between rich and poor are not simply the outcome of impersonal economic forces. In corporate boardrooms, think tanks and state agencies, the ruling class is working to lower working class life expectancy. In late 2013, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank with the closest ties to the Pentagon and the CIA, published two policy papers decrying the “waste” of money on health care for the elderly. The clear message was that ordinary people were living much too long and diverting resources needed by the military to wage war around the world.

The social and economic chasm in America finds a political expression in the vast disconnect between the entire political establishment and the masses of working people. Neither party nor any of their presidential candidates, the self-described “socialist” Bernie Sanders included, can seriously address the real state of social conditions or offer a serious program to address the crisis.

In his final State of the Union Address last month, Obama presented an absurd picture of a resurgent economy. “The United States of America, right now,” he declared, “has the strongest, most durable economy in the world… Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.”

In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton and Sanders are seeking to outdo one another in seizing the mantle of the Obama administration and praising its supposed social and economic achievements.

They cannot address the real conditions facing the masses of working people because they defend the capitalist system, which is the source of the social disaster. The remedy must be based on an understanding of the disease. It is the building of an independent socialist and revolutionary movement uniting the entire working class, in the US and around the world.

(Barry Grey, World Socialist Web Site)

(DISCLAIMER: I neither agree nor disagree with the social or political philosophy expressed in this article. It is presented merely to disclose the underlying factual basis of the arguments put forth. The Facts and the Statistics speak for themselves.)

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You Have To Pay Taxes On Social Security Retirement Benefits

Tax On Social Security May Come As Surprise

The requirement to pay income tax on Social Security Retirement benefits may come as a surprise to many retirees. Baby boomers beware. It is a fact.

For an individual, 50 percent of Social Security benefits are subject to income tax if the individual’s income is more than $25,000 a year and 85 percent of benefits are subject to tax if the income is more than $34,000 a year, according to the Social Security Administration.

For a couple, the respective income levels are $32,000 and $44,000. Income for these purposes includes adjusted gross income, tax-exempt interest income and half of the Social Security benefits.

 Social Security is a primary source of retirement income for tens of millions of Americans, and financial planners urge people to take maximum advantage of the Social Security benefits they’ve earned. For many planners, that means advising their clients to wait beyond the early claiming age of 62 before taking their benefits. But even though waiting can be smart for some people, there are good reasons for others to go ahead and take benefits as soon as possible.

These are desperate times for many people in America who were once considered among the Middle Class. They have seen their living standards decline and are struggling to make ends meet. Many were laid off in the last eight years and have not been able to find new jobs. They are not counted in the Unemployment Statistics because they have dropped out of the labor pool. Many are between the ages of 50 and 65 and do not yet qualify for Social Security Retirement Benefits. They have not even reached the age when they would be eligible to apply for early retirement. For many Baby Boomers that is around age 62.

Social Security pays out smaller monthly benefits to those who claim early, but the extra payments give early claimers a head start over those who wait. The Social Security Administration’s goal initially was to set things up so that timing didn’t have a material impact on how much you would receive in benefits over your lifetime.

If you don’t expect you’ll live as long as the typical Social Security recipient, then claiming early can make sense. Keep in mind, though, that if you have a spouse or other loved ones who will claim benefits based on your work record, your decision can affect their benefits as well. But if you don’t have family members who will claim survivor benefits, then you’ll end up better off claiming early if you expect not to reach the age that the SSA’s life expectancy projections would predict.

The primary reason to wait to take Social Security benefits is one based on mathematics and maximizing your family’s total benefits. For some, however, getting the biggest check possible isn’t as valuable as living the life they want.

For many, taking Social Security early allows them to retire at an earlier age or cut back on their hours. Others prefer to use the additional cash early in their retirement when they can still enjoy it the most. Financial planners would tell you that you’re leaving money on the table in many cases, but the actual value of those additional dollars might not be as much as getting to pick the time when the money will have the greatest impact.

People who die earlier should start drawing their Social Security Retirement Benefits earlier. Life-expectancy is the most basic indicator of social well-being. The minimal increase for low-income workers and the widening disparity between the poor and the rich is a stark commentary on the immense growth of social inequality and class polarization in the United States. It underscores the fact that socioeconomic class is the fundamental category of social life under capitalism—one that conditions every aspect of life, including its length.

The Brookings Institution findings shed further light on the catastrophic decline in the social position of the American working class. They follow recent reports showing a sharp rise in death rates for both young and middle-aged white workers, primarily due to drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide. Other recent reports have shown a dramatic decline in life expectancy for poorer middle-aged Americans and a reversal of decades of declining infant mortality.

Late last year, lawmakers made changes to benefits available to Social Security participants who waited until full retirement age to claim benefits. Among them were the repeal of the restricted application or file-as-a-spouse-first strategy and the file-and-suspend strategy. Under a restricted application, those who reached full retirement age could elect to claim only spousal benefits, leaving their own retirement benefits untouched. Similarly, using file and suspend, someone at full retirement age or older could file for benefits but immediately suspend them and still allow a spouse to claim spousal benefits.

As a result of these legal changes, there’s no longer as much incentive for married couples to wait until full retirement age — currently age 66 — to claim their benefits. The thousands of dollars that these couples will no longer be eligible to receive could be enough to push the balance toward claiming earlier rather than waiting, especially if some of the other factors above would ordinarily lead them to take benefits at 62.

When to claim Social Security is a tough decision that involves plenty of variables. But even though many financial planners urge their clients to think twice before claiming benefits at the earliest possible age, there are situations where it makes more sense to go ahead and take Social Security at 62 rather than waiting.

Financial advisors need to know this and be prepared to warn clients about the issue. Tax planning affects when a person should take Social Security Retirement benefits and when benefits should be delayed and that money instead taken from an investment portfolio.

In most situations, a retiree is better off delaying receiving Social Security benefits until he or she is 70 years old because benefits grow by about 8 percent a year until the recipient reaches 70.

In addition, with the current high market value, taking withdrawals from a portfolio now will not deplete the portfolio as much as they would if the market makes a correction. When a retiree hits 70.5 years of age, a minimum distribution amount is required to be taken from an IRA or 401(k). If some money has already been withdrawn before the person reaches 70.5, the required minimum distribution will be less and the tax burden decreased accordingly.

Each client’s situation is different. The tax implications must be determined for each retiree. But advisors may want to help their clients build an income bridge so Social Security Retirement benefits can be delayed until they reach their maximum.

Oldest Boomers Face Big Birthday

The oldest Baby Boomers are facing a big birthday this year as they turn 70, which brings with it some forced financial decisions.

The oldest boomers will have to start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) from their qualified retirement accounts and those who have delayed receiving their Social Security benefits will start receiving that money.

Ideally, the oldest baby boomers began talking with their financial advisors and planning for retirement a decade ago, says Bill Van Sant, senior vice president at Girard Partners Ltd., a Univest Wealth Management company in King of Prussia, Pa.

“This is an important birthday. Those turning 70.5 years old can take their RMD the next year but we advise them to take it the year they turn 70.5 or they will have to take two in the following year, which could push them into a higher tax bracket for that one year,” Van Sant says.

The RMD for retirement plans is determined by a formula based on the value of the assets in the plan. In most cases, the money was not taxed when it was contributed, so it is taxed as it is taken out.

If an annual withdrawal is missed, the penalty is a stiff one, says Mike Piershale, president of Piershale Financial Group in Crystal Lake, Ill. Piershale had a client who was unaware of the required withdrawal, which in her case turned out to be $16,000 for the first year.

“She would have been penalized $8,000 or 50 percent because no one had told her she was required to take money out of her tax qualified plan. We managed to get the money back for her by explaining to the IRS that it was a mistake on her part that first year,” Piershale says.

Withdrawals are required from traditional IRAs and also from company 401(k) plans, if the person is no longer working for the company.

“We make sure we remind our clients of the required withdrawals before they turn 70,” says Piershale.

Ellen Jordan, senior vice president at Bryn Mawr Trust, a wealth management firm in Bryn Mawr, Pa., notes that baby boomers are the first generation that has saved in tax deferred accounts because companies phased out pensions.

“Now they have to start spending what they accumulated and the big scare is that they will not have enough money for the rest of their lives,” Jordan says. “Depending on their health, they may want to continue working.”

Jordan says Bryn Mawr sometimes advises clients to start taking distributions from tax-deferred accounts gradually before they turn 70.5 so they are not pushed into a higher tax bracket when they begin required withdrawals.

Advisors also need to remind clients that Social Security benefits can be taxed. For an individual, 50 percent of Social Security benefit is subject to federal income tax if the income is above $25,000 and 85 percent is taxed if the income exceeds $34,000, according to the Social Security Administration. The limits for couples are $32,000 and $44,000, respectively.

This year presents another deadline as well, advisors are reminding their clients. The Social Security Administration is phasing out the strategy known as file and suspend. Under this strategy, one spouse is able to file and suspend his benefits to allow the other person to collect spousal benefits. This allows the first spouse’s benefits to grow until age 70.

The SSA has given couples until the end of April to file for this benefit, after which it will no longer be available.

(In part Based on Articles By Karen DeMasters)

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Honorably Discharged Navy Veteran Defrauded VA and SSA of $1.5 Million

‘Wheelchair-Bound’ Man Caught in Disability Fraud After Seen Jet Skiing, Riding Motorcycle. He conned the VA and the SSA out of millions of dollars.

/ AP

/ AP

A South Carolina man was convicted of “one of the largest” disability fraud cases in Veterans Affairs history after he was caught riding a motorcycle and going jet skiing while pretending to be wheelchair-bound.

Dennis Paulsen faces up to 20 years in prison for conning the VA and Social Security Administration (SSA) out of millions of dollars, taking nearly $10,000 a month for more than a decade.

Mr. Paulsen obtained the benefits by pretending he was unable to use his feet or hands due to a multiple sclerosis diagnosis (MS). Meanwhile, he regularly hit the gym, joined a club baseball team, played golf, and drove around in his Escalade.

“In conducting one of the largest fraudulent single disability compensation claims in VA history, Paulsen substantially feigned and exaggerated the impairment resulting from his multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis,” the Social Security Administration’s(SSA) Inspector General(IG) said. “After being diagnosed and discharged from the Navy in the early 1990s, Paulsen began receiving a monthly VA benefit as a result of his diagnosis. Unsatisfied with the amount he was receiving, Paulsen began a pattern of malingering by claiming his MS rendered him unable to use his hands or feet in any respect.”

“Still unhappy with the money he was awarded, Paulsen ramped up his claims, lying to his doctors, presenting himself as house- and wheelchair-bound, and making false claims that he required daily professional medical care to live until his benefits were increased to the maximum disability payments available to a Veteran,” the inspector general said.

In all, Paulsen was able to steal $1.5 million from the government, collecting $9,400 each month.

The case is reminiscent of the case of a “blind” Wisconsin man whose Social Security disability fraud scheme ended when federal agents caught him driving a speedboat. Paulsen was caught driving a motorcycle.

“Despite his feigned claims of impairments and presenting himself in a wheelchair to his doctors, Paulsen lived in a non-handicap-accessible residence and was able to ride his motorcycle and jet skis plus play baseball and golf on a regular basis,” the inspector general said. “In 1999, Paulsen met his ex-wife at the gym where he exercised and worked training others.”

Paulsen was also “active in several gyms, joined a baseball league from 2006 until 2014,” and seen “playing pool, swimming in his backyard pool, playing on the beach, and driving his Escalade and manual shift Mini Cooper.” He even participated in a Marine Mud Run.

Investigators used surveillance footage and family photographs to reveal Paulsen’s very active lifestyle, contradicting his claim of suffering from a severe disability.

Paulsen continues to exaggerate his condition, appearing at his trial in federal court, which concluded last week, in a wheelchair.

Paulsen testified, in a wheelchair, for four hours and called three doctors as expert witnesses in an attempt to support his claim that he was and had been totally disabled,” the inspector general said. “The guilty verdict reflects that the jury did not find this testimony credible.”

 

(BY:
January 27, 2016)

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Mentally Impaired Social Security Claimants Commit Suicide After Being Told That Benefits Will End

Lawsuit blames two suicides on notice of imminent cut in disability benefits.

 A move by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to end disability checks for thousands of people in Kentucky played a substantial role in two people killing themselves, a federal lawsuit alleges.

 

The two dead claimants committed suicide by gunshot. They blew out their brains. Melissa Jude and Leroy Burchett, were despondent after getting notice that they would lose benefits, the lawsuit alleges.

Burchett shot himself in the chin on June 1. Jude shot herself in the head the next day, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit further alleges that two Social Security recipients were distraught over the notice from SSA that they would lose their livelihood and might have to repay pass benefits received.

Social Security has notified thousands of benefit recipients of the impending loss of checks.

This case is linked to allegations of fraud in disability cases of Kentucky lawyer Eric Conn.

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Thousands Afraid To Appear At Social Security Hearings

Attorneys worry 1,000 or more Social Security beneficiaries will lose checks when re-evaluated.

Attorneys representing hundreds of people fighting to keep their Social Security federal disability benefits worry those benefits may disappear for most of them if they do not have a lawyer.

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) orders thousands of  people to attend Re-Evaluation hearings to determine whether they should continue receiving disability checks.

Many of those people are former clients of  Attorney Eric C. Conn.

In 2011 a story appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerning the high rate in which SSA Judges approved Social Security disability cases.

Allegations of fraud came under investigation by a U.S. Senate committee Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was the Chairman of The Senate Committee. The Committee’s Report found widespread fraud and a veritable “disability claim factory” allegedly  run by Attorney Eric C. Conn out of his small office in Stanville, Kentucky, a region of the country where 10 to 15 percent of the population  receives disability payments.

The report documents how Attorney Conn allegedly worked together with Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty (ALJ)  and a team of favored doctors with checkered pasts, including suspended licenses in other states, who rubber stamped approval of disability claims. In most cases, the claims had been prepared in advance with nearly identical language by staffers in Conn’s law office.

The report found that over the past six years, Attorney Conn allegedly paid five doctors almost $2 million to provide favorable disability opinions for his claimants.

In 2010, the last year for which records are available, Judge Daugherty approved 1375 disability cases prepared by Attorney Conn’s office and denied only 4 of them – an approval  rate that other administrative law judges have described as nearly  impossible.

Judge Daugherty, 78 years old, processed more cases than all but three judges in the U.S. He had a wry view of his less-generous peers. “Some of these judges act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away,” ALJ Daugherty told a fellow Huntington SSA ALJ, Algernon Tinsley, who worked in the same office, Mr. Tinsley recalled.

The report found, “Judge Daugherty telephoned the Conn law firm each month and identified a list of Mr. Conn’s disability claimants to whom the judge planned to award benefits. Judge Daugherty also indicated, for each listed claimant, whether he needed a “physical” or “mental” opinion from a medical professional indicating the claimant was disabled.”

The report says that when Senate staffers and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General began an investigation based on tips from whistle blowers in the Social Security Hearing Office, Attorney Conn and Judge Daugherty began communicating with disposable, pre-paid cell phones. It also alleges they contracted with a local shredding company to destroy 13 tons of documents.

Attorney Conn also allegedly destroyed all the computer hard drives in his office, a la Hillary Clinton at the State Department.

In 2011, the SSA placed Daugherty on administrative leave. He retired shortly after that.

In October 2013 a West Virginia Police Report said Judge Daugherty was found unconscious in his car in a Barboursville, WVa. church parking lot.

The report said the police found a garden hose running from the car’s exhaust into the passenger side of the vehicle.

Judge Daugherty was taken to a hospital and later released.

Conn has not been charged with a crime. He is suspected by congressional investigators of using fraudulent information to win the benefits. Attorney Conn’s legal fate remains in the hands of the Obama Justice Department.

A prevailing concern is that disability recipients who do not hire an attorney to represent them at their re-determination hearings will lose their benefits.

Unrepresented Claimants should not go through one of these complicated re-determination hearings without a lawyer. People appearing before SSA Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) can get a free lawyer on a contingent fee basis. The attorney does not get paid unless the client wins the case.  That amounts to a free lawyer.

Many disability recipients do not hire legal representation for their hearings. They stand a good chance of losing their benefits.

Even some who were represented at Re-Determination Hearings  are still anxious to hear results.

“Not knowing … that’s been the worst thing is not knowing and trying to prepare in case you do lose your benefits,” one beneficiary said.

One attorney who specializes in representing Social Security Claimants has said in recent weeks several people have told him they’ve thought about killing themselves if they lose their benefits.

The suicide chatter is way up,” the Attorney said. “It was especially bad around Christmas. Unfortunately people have got this unfortunate response that suicide is somehow a rational response to losing their benefits”, the attorney said.

Family members of two people who killed themselves in 2015 are suing the Social Security Administration, because they believe that the Social Security Administration’s decision to terminate disability benefit checks was the reason they committed suicide. The families of of John Daniel Jude and Emma Burchett are convinced that the termination of their SSA benefits played a substantial role in their deaths.

Attorneys for John Daniel Jude and Emma Burchett filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pikeville, KY.

The lawsuit alleges Burchett’s husband, Leroy Burchett, and Jude’s wife, Melissa Jude, killed themselves in June after getting notice that their benefits would be suspended.

More than 1,000 former clients of Attorney Eric Conn received the same letter after Attorney Conn was accused of colluding with  Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty to rig Social Security cases.

These are desperate times for many people in America who were once considered among the Middle Class. They have seen their living standards decline and are struggling to make ends meet. Many were laid off in the last eight years and have not been able to find new jobs. They are not counted in the Unemployment Statistics because they have dropped out of the labor pool. Many are between the ages of 50 and 65 and do not yet qualify for Social Security Retirement Benefits. They have not even reached the age when they would be eligible to apply for early retirement. For many Baby Boomers that is around age 62.

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Thousands Of Americans Are Afraid To Appear At Social Security Hearings

Attorneys worry 1,000 or more Social Security beneficiaries will lose checks when re-evaluated.

Attorneys representing hundreds of people fighting to keep their Social Security federal disability benefits worry those benefits may disappear for most of them if they do not have a lawyer.

Each year, the Social Security Administration (SSA) orders thousands of  people to attend Re-Evaluation hearings to determine whether they should continue receiving disability checks.

Many of those people are former clients of  Attorney Eric C. Conn.

In 2011 a story appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerning the high rate in which SSA Judges approved Social Security disability cases.

Allegations of fraud came under investigation by a U.S. Senate committee Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was the Chairman of The Senate Committee. The Committee’s Report found widespread fraud and a veritable “disability claim factory” allegedly  run by Attorney Eric C. Conn out of his small office in Stanville, Kentucky, a region of the country where 10 to 15 percent of the population  receives disability payments.

The report documents how Attorney Conn allegedly worked together with Social Security Administrative Law Judge David Daugherty (ALJ)  and a team of favored doctors with checkered pasts, including suspended licenses in other states, who rubber stamped approval of disability claims. In most cases, the claims had been prepared in advance with nearly identical language by staffers in Conn’s law office.

The report found that over the past six years, Attorney Conn allegedly paid five doctors almost $2 million to provide favorable disability opinions for his claimants.

In 2010, the last year for which records are available, Judge Daugherty approved 1375 disability cases prepared by Attorney Conn’s office and denied only 4 of them – an approval  rate that other administrative law judges have described as nearly  impossible.

Judge Daugherty, 78 years old, processed more cases than all but three judges in the U.S. He had a wry view of his less-generous peers. “Some of these judges act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away,” ALJ Daugherty told a fellow Huntington SSA ALJ, Algernon Tinsley, who worked in the same office, Mr. Tinsley recalled.

The report found, “Judge Daugherty telephoned the Conn law firm each month and identified a list of Mr. Conn’s disability claimants to whom the judge planned to award benefits. Judge Daugherty also indicated, for each listed claimant, whether he needed a “physical” or “mental” opinion from a medical professional indicating the claimant was disabled.”

The report says that when Senate staffers and the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General began an investigation based on tips from whistle blowers in the Social Security Hearing Office, Attorney Conn and Judge Daugherty began communicating with disposable, pre-paid cell phones. It also alleges they contracted with a local shredding company to destroy 13 tons of documents.

Attorney Conn also allegedly destroyed all the computer hard drives in his office, a la Hillary Clinton at the State Department.

In 2011, the SSA placed Daugherty on administrative leave. He retired shortly after that.

In October 2013 a West Virginia Police Report said Judge Daugherty was found unconscious in his car in a Barboursville, WVa. church parking lot.

The report said the police found a garden hose running from the car’s exhaust into the passenger side of the vehicle.

Judge Daugherty was taken to a hospital and later released.

Conn has not been charged with a crime. He is suspected by congressional investigators of using fraudulent information to win the benefits. Attorney Conn’s legal fate remains in the hands of the Obama Justice Department.

A prevailing concern is that disability recipients who do not hire an attorney to represent them at their re-determination hearings will lose their benefits.

Unrepresented Claimants should not go through one of these complicated re-determination hearings without a lawyer. People appearing before SSA Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) can get a free lawyer on a contingent fee basis. The attorney does not get paid unless the client wins the case.  That amounts to a free lawyer.

Many disability recipients do not hire legal representation for their hearings. They stand a good chance of losing their benefits.

Even some who were represented at Re-Determination Hearings  are still anxious to hear results.

“Not knowing … that’s been the worst thing is not knowing and trying to prepare in case you do lose your benefits,” one beneficiary said.

One attorney who specializes in representing Social Security Claimants has said in recent weeks several people have told him they’ve thought about killing themselves if they lose their benefits.

The suicide chatter is way up,” the Attorney said. “It was especially bad around Christmas. Unfortunately people have got this unfortunate response that suicide is somehow a rational response to losing their benefits”, the attorney said.

These are desperate times for many people in America who were once considered among the Middle Class. They have seen their living standards decline and are struggling to make ends meet. Many were laid off in the last eight years and have not been able to find new jobs. They are not counted in the Unemployment Statistics because they have dropped out of the labor pool. Many are between the ages of 50 and 65 and do not yet qualify for Social Security Retirement Benefits. They have not even reached the age when they would be eligible to apply for early retirement. For many Baby Boomers that is around age 62.

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Would Meaningful Reforms Restore Dignity and Efficacy To The Social Security System?

Would Meaningful Reforms Restore Dignity and Efficacy To The Social Security System?

Disability Claim Denied? Find the Right JudgeSocialSecurityStory

Nine percent of the judges who hear appeals grant benefits 90% of the time, costing taxpayers tens of billions.

A Social Security hearing is not a trial; it is a fact finding inquiry. The system is not even an adversarial system as defined by the judicial process. In an adversarial system, both sides are represented. In the present Social Security Disability Claims System the claimant can bring an attorney, but the system does not provide the government (SSA) with one. The taxpayers have no advocate on their behalf to ask questions, challenge medical evidence or review the 500 to 700 pages of materials that make up a typical case file.
http://www.amazon.com/Judge-London-Steverson/e/B006WQKFJM
The (Social Security Administration) judicial system is not run by anyone with real judicial experience. It is at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats whose only concern is how many cases each judge can churn out and how fast he or she can do it. An adversarial system with both sides represented and all evidence on the table is the best way to root out fraud and ensure that legitimate claims are paid.
(See http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757)
(Below is an Extract from the book, “socialNsecurity, Confessions of a Social Security Judge”.)An Interview of Judge D. RANDALL FRYE, President Association of Social Security Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) JAN. 19, 2014

(Above pictured is D. Randall Frye, on the right, with Marilyn Zahm)

 CHARLOTTE, N.C. — (QUOTE) IT’S hard to imagine a more cynical fraud. According to an indictment unsealed last week by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, post-9/11 phobias of airplanes and skyscrapers were among the fictitious ailments described by retired New York City police officers and firefighters who, in a scheme involving as many as 1,000 people, are accused of ripping off the Social Security disability system by filing false claims.
As an administrative law judge (ALJ) responsible for hearing Social Security disability cases (SSDI), I’m more familiar than most people with the system. But everyone has a right to be outraged by the recent charges. Officials estimate that the fraud cost the federal government $400 million. If true, it is the largest theft in the history of Social Security.
According to court papers, the fraudsters claimed to be so ill that they could not leave their homes to work, but many posted photographs on Facebook of themselves on motorcycles and water scooters, fishing and playing sports. How did they expect to get away with it?
Well, here’s a little-known fact. Neither the staff members of the Social Security Administration, who review initial claims, nor judges like myself, who hear disputed cases, are allowed to look at Facebook in the context of a case. Even if something in the case file suggests a claimant is not telling the whole truth, Social Security Administration policy prevents us from looking at social media, for fear that we cannot be trusted to properly assess the information gathered there. No Facebook, no Pinterest, no Twitter, no Tumblr. None of the sources that most employers routinely use to check the credibility of potential employees are available to us.
It gets worse. When a disputed case comes before an administrative law judge, a vast majority of claimants bring an attorney. After all, the average claim, if successful, will yield a payout of some $300,000 in lifetime benefits. With so much at stake, it’s only reasonable that a person who believes that he has wrongly been denied benefits would hire a lawyer. But isn’t it equally reasonable that the taxpayers should have an attorney present to challenge a claim that might be false?
Sorry, no luck. When I conduct a hearing (which occurs with no members of the press or public present, because of privacy concerns), the claimant can bring an attorney, but the system does not provide the government (SSA) with one. The taxpayers have no advocate on their behalf to ask questions, challenge medical evidence or review the 500 to 700 pages of materials that make up a typical case file. Not only that, but because of Social Security Administration policy, I am no longer allowed to order independent psychological testing to help determine whether a claimant is telling the truth.
Social Security disability courts have millions of claimants and constitute one of the world’s largest judicial systems. But the (Social Security) judicial system is not run by anyone with real judicial experience. Instead, we are at the mercy of unelected bureaucrats whose only concern is how many cases each judge can churn out and how fast we can do it. The Social Security Administration is currently run by an acting commissioner; President Obama should appoint a permanent leader with recognized professional experience in the field of social insurance.
The Association of Administrative Law Judges AALJ), for which I serve as president, favors modernizing disability hearings so that we can give claimants a fair hearing while also protecting taxpayers. Our courtrooms ought to look more like what you see on “Law and Order” or “The Good Wife.” Each side should have an advocate, allowing judges to narrow the facts in dispute and apply the law in a neutral manner. And judges and their staff members should be able to use social media, including Facebook.
Though it is not clear from the Manhattan district attorney’s indictment if any of the claims in question ever wound up before an ALJ, it is clear than the current antiquated system handicaps the effective review of cases and encourages brazen behavior.
The system needs to be made more trustworthy and fully transparent. The actions of a few crooks must not be allowed to threaten the disability payments of millions of people who are genuinely disabled, many of whom paid into the disability insurance fund during their working lives. An adversarial system with both sides represented and all evidence on the table is the best way to root out fraud and ensure that legitimate claims are paid.(UNQUOTE)
D. Randall Frye was an administrative law judge (ALJ) for the United States Social Security Administration (SSA) and the President of the AALJ, Association of Administrative Law Judges.

The Association Of Administrative Law Judges(AALJ), union representing administrative law judges, says judges are required to decide 500 to 700 cases a year in an effort to reduce the hearings backlog. The union says the requirement is an illegal quota that leads judges to sometimes award benefits they might otherwise deny just to keep up with the flow of cases. according to a federal lawsuit filed by the judges’ union in April.The Social Security Administration says the agency’s administrative law judges (ALJs) should decide 500 to 700 disability cases a year. The agency calls the standard a productivity goal, but a lawsuit filed in April 2013 by the Social Security Judges against the Commissioner and the Agency claims it is an illegal quota that requires judges to decide an average of more than two cases per workday.

‘‘When the goals are too high, the easy way out is to pay the case,’’ said Randall Frye, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) and a judge in Charlotte, N.C. ‘‘Paying the case is a decision that might be three pages long. When you deny benefits, it’s usually a 15- or 20-page denial that takes a lot more time and effort.’’

The lawsuit raises serious questions about the integrity of the disability hearing process by the very people in charge of running it. It comes as the disability program faces serious financial problems.

The agency denies there is a case quota for judges and says the standard is a productivity goal.“I find it interesting that there is so much wringing of the hands about a judge who pays almost 100% of his cases, as if the agency didn’t know about it, as if the agency wasn’t complicit in it, as if the agency didn’t encourage it,” said Marilyn Zahm, a Social Security judge in Buffalo, NY who is an executive vice president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), the judges’ union.

Judge Zahm had a lot more to say in an interview in October 2009. (Read the entire interview starting at page 430 in my book, socialNsecurity, available at  http://www.amazon.com/SocialNsecurity-ebook/dp/B006VOQIKK

President Richard Nixon had his Enemies List. President George Bush had his Wanted List. President Barack Obama has his Kill List; and Linda de Soto has her “Hit List“. Lisa De Soto is the Deputy Commissioner for SSA/ODAR, the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability and Adjudication Review. Deputy Commissioner Linda de Soto and Chief Administrative Law Judge Frank Cristaudo fabricated bogus charges against Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and forced many into early retirement.

Former Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who took office in 2007, like every Commissioner before him tried his own brand of reform. He made changes to the Social Security Operating System.

Trying to reduce the Backlog, he tinkered with the personnel system. Mostly, he went after the ALJs. He blamed the ALJs for everything. He was a “blame the Judges first” man.

His reforms produced minor and temporary results. The Backlog was reduced for a moment in time. His programs to increase accountability and judicial turnover were a disaster.He removed good experienced ALJs and replaced them with new, inexperienced and easily manipulated ALJ recruits who could be told how to decide cases.

He had a formula for how many claimants should be granted benefits and how many should be denied. The new ALJs lack proper judicial temperament, and that is what Astrue was after.
He wanted to take away the judicial independence of the judges. It was a numbers game, and a highly volume business.

Along with Linda de Soto ,Astrue marked every ALJ with 15 to 20 years experience on the job for removal. Experienced and senior male judges were forced to retire so that less experienced radical feminist female judges could be installed as Chief ALJ in the Hearing Offices. This was most prevalent in California, in the SSA’s Ninth Region.

Linda DeSoto proudly bragged about the number of judges on her “Hit List” that she had to get rid of. At any one time there were 25 or more judges on her Hit List.

Judges were ordered to retire or resign. Any who refused were brought up on charges. The charges were flimsy and ridiculous; such as, receiving personal mail and magazines at the Office, using the OHA Office address on their official business cards (that were designed, ordered, and printed by the SSA Agency), storing pictures deemed inappropriate on their personal computers (pc), looking at inappropriate web sites during office hours or after hours, writing letters on obsolete stationary with SSA letterheads no longer in use, and using their titles (U. S. Administrative Law Judge) when signing personal letters. Judges’ offices were searched without their knowledge on weekends when they were not present. Judges’ phone conversations were monitored. Their privacy was invaded. Their computers were searched and seized without notice or warning. Some judges went to lunch and came back to the office to find their computers had been taken by Astrue’s henchmen. Judges were locked out of their personal offices. The locks to the main SSA work place were changed and ALJs were not given the new office key. Moreover, if any cases went to NLRB Hearings, the Agency suborned perjury, and disobeyed their own Agency Rules. Astrue’s policies were a disaster. He demoralized the ALJ corps, and morale among the judges plummeted. As a result the administrative staff was confused and frustrated. This atmosphere caused efficiency to suffer and increased the Backlog.

Administrative Law Judge Katherine Morgan, who is 71, sued the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Commissioner of SSA in U.S. District Court in Portland for age and sex discrimination in March 2015.

Judge Katherine Morgan ruled on disability cases for the SSA. She sued the SSA accusing her supervisors of age and gender discrimination and retaliating against her for filing complaints about her treatment.

Judge Katherine Morgan, one of seven judges in the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (SSA/ODAR) in Portland, said in the lawsuit filed Thursday, March 19th, in U.S. District Court in Portland that she was targeted by the office’s chief judge (CALJ)because of her age. She is 71.

 Morgan, who has been a judge since 1994, filed a written complaint to her immediate supervisor, Chief Judge Guy Fletcher, after she was told on Dec. 11, 2013, that she was being targeted in an investigation by the SSA for her performance. The investigation focused on Morgan’s high production rate in deciding cases, for approving a high number of appeals and for attendance issues, according to the lawsuit.

“Chief Judge Fletcher repeatedly falsely accused Judge Morgan of time and attendance violations for documenting her time and attendance in exactly the same manner as the other judges, who were not accused,” the lawsuit says. “The discriminatory conduct directed at Judge Morgan by her fellow employees was known to and acquiesced in by her direct supervisor, Chief Judge Fletcher. The discriminatory conduct was directed at Judge Morgan by Chief Judge Fletcher was known to and acquiesced in by Regional Chief Judge (Carol) Sax, Chief Judge Fletcher’s direct supervisor. The discriminatory conduct was intentional, willful and malicious, entitling Judge Morgan to an award of punitive damages.”
The lawsuit did not specify how much money Morgan was seeking. She demanded a jury trial seeking damages for lost money, emotional pain, compensation allowed by law and other legal fees.
The lawsuit was filed on Morgan’s behalf by attorneys from the Portland law firm Norman, Hanson and DeTroy. One of her attorneys, Theodore Kirchner, declined through a member of his staff to respond.
A regional spokesman for the Social Security Administration, Roberto Medina, could not be reached for comment.
Maine’s offices of Disability Adjudication and Review routinely took longer to decide disability appeals than the national average and approved more disability claims than the national average, according Social Security Administration data compiled by the website www.disabilityjudges.com.
In the most recent fiscal year, Maine judges approved 53 percent of disability claim appeals, dismissed 24 percent of claims and denied 23 percent, according to the website’s statistics.
Morgan approved more appeals than any other judge in the Portland office. She approved 65 percent of disability claim appeals, dismissed 20 percent and denied 15 percent. She decided 148 cases from last Oct. 1 to March 11.
By comparison, Judge Fletcher approved 54 percent of appeals, dismissed 15 percent and denied 31 percent. He decided 48 cases in the same period.
Judge John Edwards approved the fewest appeals in the Portland office, with 35 percent approved, 30 percent dismissed and 34 percent denied. He decided 151 cases.

Using  the Medical Vocational Grids or simply The Listings, until about 1995 every person in America who filed for Social Security Disability Benefits (SSI and SSID) and alleged a mental impairment because of drug or alcohol addiction was granted benefits. All the winos, alcoholics and misfits with the slightest mental impairment were conclusively presumed to be incapable of engaging in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) and therefore were entitled to draw Social Security Benefits according to Social Security Regulations.

Those Regulations were contained in The Listings or The Grid. All SSA Judges were duty bound and required to follow them. Many healthy people who were injured and could not work were denied benefits when the drunks and derelicts of American society were granted benefits. It bordered on a public scandal.

The Regulations they followed were known as the Medical Vocational Grids or simply The Listings. They were not always logical; like a camel is a horse designed by a committee. The Listings were designed by Social Security scholars.

For instance, the bar to benefits approval was and still is lower for someone who doesn’t speak English, on the theory that it is difficult to work in America when you cannot speak English.
These guidelines (in The Listings) also do not give due consideration to actual labor market experience, dictating a looser approval standard for someone with only a high-school degree, even if the person has succeeded in the labor force for decades.
The framework (of The Listings) was developed in the late 1950s, for the previous generation’s workforce, and hasn’t been updated since 1978.

According to a well placed source high in the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Administrative Law Judge, Lisa de Soto had stated that she had a list of 25 ALJs that she intended to get rid of. This was her “Hit List”. She set about her goal in a most vigorous manner.

A federal agency is required to follow its own regulations. This mean very little to Lisa de Soto and Frank Cristaudo. They have violated many SSA regulations concerning the discipline and removal of agency personnel.

Cristaudo and de Soto have brought charges against judges. Chief Judge Cristaudo has testified at Federal Labor Relations Administrative hearings designed to censure or remove judges. None of the charges against any of the judges have alleged poor performance as a judge, or dereliction of duty. No substantive charges have been brought against any judges. Instead, judges have been charged with, among other things, receiving personal mail at the office, misuse of a government computer, and saving pictures on their computers of persons other than immediate family members.

Frank Cristaudo has made a career of destroying other peoples’ careers. He tried running for public office in New Jersey and could not get elected. Some how he managed to get appointed an administrative law judge at the Social Security Administration. He could not conduct a proper hearing so someone appointed him as the Chief Judge. Who better to appoint chief judge than someone who cannot conduct a hearing? It is better to put such a person in an administrative position. That way he does not have to go near a court room. But in a rat race, the biggest rat always manages to winnow his way to the top.

Linda de Soto’s career had not bottomed out before joining SSA. She was the Social Security Administration’s General Counsel. She is an experienced attorney who has held a number of senior management positions in the private and federal sector. She specialized in procurement, bilateral and multilateral negotiations, conflict resolution and organizational change. Most recently, she was the Country Director for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (AID) Office of Transition Initiatives in Nigeria. Before that, she served as the General Counsel of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and as Deputy Assistant General Counsel for Contract and Commodity Management for the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) in Washington, D.C.

Not all judges are paid to judge. One-fifth of SSA’s judges do not hold hearings. That is one out of five judges who do not judge. Twenty percent of the judges on the SSA’s payroll do not conduct hearings. Some judges are allowed to carry a reduced work load. An an example, judges who are union representatives are not counted as full judges. They are counted as one fourth of a judge. If the average full-time judge is required to publish 60 decisions per month, then ALJs who are union representatives are only required to publish 12 to 15 decisions per month. All ALJs earn between $164,000.00 and $169,000.00 per year. That works out to roughly between $14,500.00 and $16,000.00 per month to decide 12 to 15 cases. That translates to loosely $1,250.00 per decision per month.

http://www.amazon.com/Judge-London-Steverson/e/B006WQKFJM

Some of these judges, paralegals, and legal secretaries once took their comfortable life-styles for granted, but not anymore. All of that has changed, since Lisa de Soto and Judge Frank Cristaudo started forcing judges into retirement. All of this has occurred at the same time as the American economy has taken a steep downturn. Judges have lost homes and families.

Many judges, lawyers, paralegals, administrative staff workers are finding out what it is like to be without a job. Many for the first time in their lives cannot find any work. To make matters worse, most of them are old people. They are loosing their jobs, homes, cars, cell phones, health insurance, and middle-class life styles never to be regained. At their ages no one will hire them. Summer vacations and having dinner out have become distant memories.

Several current and former Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) testified before Congress that the Social Security Administration is purportedly pushing ALJs to award benefits (or grant benefits) in an effort to reduce the rather large backlog of disability claims in the system. This further feeds the misperception that ALJs are approving claims willy-nilly left and right. Just as there are Judges who have high approval rates or grant rates (the percentage of claims approved out of all claims disposed), there are Judges who have extremely low grant rates and deny the vast majority of claims that they decide.

Nick A. Ortiz, Esq. crunched the data from all Social Security disability claims decided in Fiscal Year 2012. The data was found here: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/appeals/DataSets/Archive/archive_data_reports.html. [Update: the raw, unedited data can be found here in the archives for 2012: http://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/archive/archive_data_reports.html#ht=1].

 http://www.nickortizlaw.com/the-50-social-security-administrative-law-judges-with-the-worst-grant-rates-in-2012/

Age makes it more difficult to find a job. People who did everything right professionally have reached old age and find themselves on the verge of destitution. Middle level managers and accountants can not get interviews at McDonald’s for a job as a cashier.

Long years of experience are no longer an asset. The job skills that older workers have acquired are no longer needed in today’s job market. Employers today are looking for younger workers without health problems and who know how to use the many word-processing programs used to produce legal documents and client letters.

Richard Eggers is a 68 years old resident of Des Moines, Iowa. He was fired in July 2012 from his job as a customer service representative at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage because of an incident that occurred in 1963, over 50 years ago, according to the Des Moines Register. He put a cardboard cutout of a dime in a washing machine. He admits it was a stupid stunt, but he cannot believe that he was fired because of it 50 years later. Big banks have been firing older low-level employees like Eggers since new federal banking employment guidelines were enacted in May 2011 and new mortgage employment guidelines took hold in February, it was reported in the Des Moines Register.

The tougher standards are meant to clear out older executives and mid-level bank employees and anyone guilty of transactional crimes — such as identity theft and money laundering — but are being applied across the board against older employees.

Wells Fargo confirmed Eggers’ termination. “The expectations that have been placed on us and all financial institutions have never been higher,” said Wells Fargo spokeswoman Angela Kaipust.

Banks have fired thousands of workers nationally, said Natasha Buchanan, an attorney in Santa Ana, Calif., who has helped some of the workers regain their eligibility to be employed.

There is no government or industry data on the number of older bank workers fired due to criminal background checks.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. provides a waiver process employees can follow to show they’re still fit to work at a bank despite a past criminal conviction, but it usually takes six months to a year to be approved. There is also a process for automatic waiver that works more quickly but is limited to people who were sentenced to less than year of jail time and never spent a day locked up. Eggers was jailed two days. Sadly, he doesn’t qualify. So he joins the ranks of the older unemployed who may never find another job.

America is fast becoming a land where there are no jobs for old people. Government employees from the Senior Executive Service to the lowliest General Service employee, along with Fortune 500 middle management executives, and super lawyers from multi-national law firms are being shown the door. America has more lawyers per capita than any other country in the world. Americans love to sue each other.

In the most litigation-happy country in the world, lawyers are being fired. Today’s recession is not like the recession of the 1930′s. Typically when the economy goes down, lawsuit filings go up, according to a former super lawyer who was let go from a prominent law firm. The only kind of legal filings that have gone up in this economy are bankruptcy cases. When the housing bubble bursted, the number of people filing for bankruptcy went through the roof. Lawsuit filings in general have gone down.

You may not feel old, but Social Security Regulations define who is an old person. Because of a vigorous and healthy life style, you might feel much younger than you are. Your chronological age could be 55, and your friends might flatter you by saying 55 today is the new 45. However, government and business managers have regulations that tell them whether you are an old person. According to those regulations, if you are age 55 or older, then you are an old person. You will not be considered approaching retirement age until you are 62.

Many Americans will not have a job after age 55. The American middle class has suffered a direct hit buy this recession. Social Security retirement benefits have become the number one retirement plan in America. Those under age 62 who are too young to collect retirement benefits are applying for Social Security Disability Benefits in record numbers.

The waiting time for a disability case to be decided may be as long as five years. In that period of time families have lost their homes, small business owners have lost their businesses, and ended up living on the streets using credit cards to buy food. Depression and anxiety are at an epidemic level.

The Obama Administration bailed out Wall Street, but not main street. Bankers and Wall Street traders are feeling no pain. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has said that he feels the pain of the older aged workers, who represent about 41 percent of the 12.8 million unemployed workers. Many of the chronic unemployed older people have given up and stopped looking for work. Their job skills have atrophied. Their business contacts have dried up. They have lost their homes and cannot afford descent apartments based on their Social Security Benefits and Food Stamp payments. As they struggle to survive on food stamps, credit cards and Social Security, without cars or cell phones, these older unemployed former middle-class workers are losing their dignity and some are even committing suicide.

Jane Durant is a 57 year old legal secretary at a large law firm in Pennsylvania. After spending 10 years at a smaller law firm, she took a job at a larger firm 11 years ago. In 2009 she was laid off when her law firm underwent a large reduction in force (RIF). Today she is still unemployed. She has exhausted her severance package, used up 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, and has been forced to dip into her retirement funds. She has cut back to one meal a day and has applied for food stamps. Her food stamp application was refused because she still had a small savings account. After 60 job interviews and no offers of even part-time work, she believes she is a victim of age discrimination.

Claude Davis was a California attorney living the good life trading up in real estate, going from a smaller house to a larger one. He was riding the real estate bubble. He bought his last house for over a million dollars with no money down and no interest with an adjustable rate mortgage for the first five years. At the end of five years he would be facing a large balloon payment that would come due. This was not the first time he had purchased a home under these terms. As long as he was working he expected to be able to come up with the cash. He never expected to lose his job. He thought that legal jobs were recession proof. Then the unexpected happened. He was terminated. For a while he managed to get by doing small contracts and by dipping into his retirement funds. When the balloon mortgage payment came due, he was not able to make the payment. He lost his house and his middle class life style. He thinks he will never be able to get another legal job like his last one because he can no longer work the 12 to 14 hour days that are required to get ahead in most law firms. Younger more recent law school graduates are grabbing all the starting legal jobs. Claude Davis is 55 years old and he believes that he also is a victim of age discrimination.

Their misfortune has broader consequences for society as a whole as well as for America’s standing in the world. These former lawyers, administrative law judges, paralegals, corporate executives, and small business owners who are struggling to survive in this hostile economy may be the canaries in the coal mine for America. Their social and economic conditions will have broader and more far-reaching consequences for America and could signal that we are slipping into a welfare society and a less prestigious nation.

In our weakening, job-starved economy what can older unemployed former workers expect in the next 4 years? Does it matter who is elected President?

How would older unemployed Americans answer the question “Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago”?

Governor Martin O’Malley, (D-Md.) an a speaker at the Democratic National Convention said “NO!” He said the country is worse off, and by implication that older Americans are worse off. Gov. O’Malley spoke during a televised interview on CBS Sunday.

What applies to the general population, goes double for the older unemployed American workers. What have the last 4 years brought? Since November 2008, national unemployment has gone from 6.8% to8.3%. Unemployment for old Americans still looking for work is estimated to be above 33% and still climbing.

Since November 2008 the Poverty Level in the USA has gone from 13% to 15%, and that is also rising at a breath-taking pace. In the last 4 years the numbers of Food Stamp recipients have increased from 30.9 million to 44.7 million.

That number would be greater if every older American who applied were granted Food Stamps.But, not everyone who applies receives Food Stamps. Take for an example Jane Durant the 57 year old legal secretary in Pennsylvania who was turned down because had not used up all of her savings account. When she becomes completely destitute, she will qualify for Food Stamps.

That will contribute to a Federal Debt that was $10 Trillion four years ago, but has grown to $16 Trillion today. And the price of a gallon of gas has almost doubled at the pump.

A second wave of mortgage foreclosures has hit nationwide like a giant tsunami. In Maryland alone 20,000 new foreclosures were filed in the 1st Quarter of 2012. More than 37million homes have been lost to foreclosure in the last 4 years. The States with the highest foreclosure rates are CA, FL, NV, OH, PA, and Md..

Since November 2008 the Poverty Level in the USA has gone from 13% to 15%, and that is also rising at a breath-taking  pace. The poorest city in America is Redding, PA where the Poverty Rate is 41.3%. According to the U. S. Census Bureau the Poverty Rate is 33% in Detroit, MI; and 30% in Buffalo, NY; 28% in Cincinnati,OH; 27% in Cleveland,OH; 27% in Miami, FL; 27% in St. Louis, MO; 26% in El Paso, TX; 26% in Milwauki, WI; and 25% in Philadelphia, PA.

Poverty and unemployment, along with escalating high school drop out rates are fueling crime across America. On the first day of school in Baltimore, MD a student was shot in the cafeteria with a shot gun. Police shot 8 innocent people on their way to work in New York City in front of the Empire State Building. There were mass shootings at a movie theater in Denver, CO and at a Sikh Temple in Milwaukee, WI. And Chicago,IL has had a record 31% increase in murders this year.

What is driving the American economy over the cliff? What is turning the American Dream into a real nightmare for older Americans who cannot find work? Who will save America and old unemployed Americans from poverty? These are people who were the “middle class” for the first 50 years of their lives.
Older Americans are looking for a white knight who can save them from spending their senior years in poverty. They want someone who will avoid the fiscal cliff. Will it be a white knight with black stripes, or will it be a black knight with white stripes?

After last weeks blistering appraisal by the Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, Ben Bernake, of the amount of damage the high unemployment has inflicted on our economy and that it will last for many years to come, is there any wonder that old people feel hopeless, betrayed, and mad as hell?

The wisdom in working for the federal government at the highest levels has become akin to that of marrying King Henry VIII — it’s great to be asked, but there’s always that likelihood that eventually, your head will roll.

To all parties involved in a trial, the slam of a gavel should indicate that justice has been served. Unfortunately, this is often not the case with Social Security Disability (SSDI and SSI) appeals. A system designed to serve society’s vulnerable has morphed into a benefit bonanza that costs taxpayers billions of dollars more than it should. The disability trust fund will become insolvent in 2016, and Congress would be wise to begin much needed reform.
A disability applicant whose claim is rejected during the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) first two stages ( before State Disability Determination Services)  can appeal the decision to administrative-law judges (ALJ). These judges must impartially balance the claims of the applicant against the interests of taxpayers.
Over the past decade judicial impartiality has declined significantly, as many administrative-law judges uncritically approve most claims. In 2008 judges on average approved about 70% of claims before them, according to the Social Security Administration. Nine percent of judges approved more than 90% of benefit requests that landed on their desks.
Do nine out of every 10 applicants appealing denied claims need societal support? There are reasons for skepticism. The data show that judges who are generous in granting benefits are consistently generous over time—which is suspicious, since each year they should hear a random set of new cases. The more discerning judges—those who award benefits less than 90% of the time—are more unpredictable from year to year.

Social Security Administration Routinely Refuses To Obey Decisions Of Federal Courts

Driven to reduce a huge backlog of disability claims, Social Security is pushing judges to award benefits to people who may not deserve them, several current and former judges told Congress Thursday June 27, 2013.

Judge Larry Butler, an administrative law judge (ALJ) from Fort Myers, Fla., called the system “paying down the backlog.”

(For a complete explanation of the term “paying down the backlog” see socialNsecurity by Judge L. Steverson, USALJ (Ret.)

The approval rates among ALJs can be quite arbitrary. One ALJ might reverse 9 out of 10 cases and another might deny 9 out of 10 cases. It all depends on the luck of the draw.

There is a practice called “Paying Down The Back Log”. This is where a judge just reverses every case on his docket and grants benefits to the claimant. Some ALJs have been known to do this with no regard at all for the merits of the case. Judges have been known to pay 200 cases or more on-the –record in this manner. Sometimes the Commissioner will take action to stop them. Other times he does not. (Steverson, Judge London, socialNsecurity, p. 19)
http://www.amazon.com/Judge-London-Steverson/e/B006WQKFJM

A former Social Security Judge, J.E. Sullivan, said, “The only thing that matters in the adjudication process is signing that final decision.” Sullivan is now an administrative law judge for the Department of Transportation.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating why many judges have high approval rates for claims already rejected twice by field offices or state agencies. Two current and two former judges spoke at a subcommittee hearing.

The number of people receiving Social Security disability benefits has increased by 44 percent over the past decade, pushing the trust fund that supports the program to the brink of insolvency.

Social Security officials say the primary reason for the increase is a surge in baby boomers who are more prone to disability as they age. Deputy Social Security Commissioner Glenn Sklar noted that the vast majority of disability claims are initially denied.

“I think the data kind of speaks for itself,” Sklar told lawmakers.

To qualify for benefits, people are supposed to have disabilities that prevent them from working and are expected to last at least a year or result in death.

According to Social Security data, there were errors in 22 percent of the cases decided in 2011, Sklar said. He said some errors were procedural and did not necessarily result in incorrect decisions.

“The true wrong rate would be less than 10 percent,” Sklar said.

Nearly 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security disability benefits. That compares with 7.6 million a decade ago. The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $1,130.

An additional 8.3 million people get Supplemental Security Income, a separately funded disability program for low-income people.

“The Social Security Administration has failed to take steps to address the problem of rapid disability growth, probably because the agency has failed to recognize many of the problems,” said Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., the subcommittee chairman.

None of the judges who testified spoke of being specifically ordered to award claims. Three said they had been pressured to decide cases without fully reviewing medical files.

The judges described a system in which there is very little incentive to deny claims, but lots of pressure to approve them. It requires more documentation to deny a claim than to approve one, said Sullivan, the former Social Security judge. Also, rejected claims can be appealed while approved claims are not.
There’s a tremendous amount of pressure to push cases out the door as soon as possible,” Sullivan said in an interview after the hearing. “There’s a push to pay mentality.
Butler, the current judge, told the subcommittee, “I think you need to look at the issue of paying down the backlog. It’s not media hype, its real and for six years it’s been going on.”

If the judges with award rates topping 90% are removed from the data, the rate of denial increases by 2%-3% annually. That amounts to 98,000 claims from 2005-11. Assuming an average lifetime award of $250,000, taxpayers would have saved $23 billion over those six years had the worst judges left the bench. If we lower the threshold to exclude judges with award rates north of 85%, these savings increase to $41 billion.
Former Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue, who took office in 2007, made much-needed changes. Incompetent incumbents saw their influence diluted by new judges drawn from fresh candidate lists. Judicial decisions are now randomly reviewed to ensure that the court remains impartial and fair to taxpayers. Judges were limited to hearing 1,000 cases a year (the figure has since been lowered to 700), and individuals are allowed only one disability application at a time.
Mr. Astrue’s reforms have produced good results. In 2011 judges with award rates exceeding 90% heard a mere 4% of all cases, a 63.6% decline from 2008. But Mr. Astrue’s term expired in 2013, and these changes can easily be undone, either intentionally by future administrators, or unintentionally as bad habits slip back into the system.
His program to increase accountability and judicial turnover should be made permanent. Congress should also institute 15-year term limits for judges, who currently enjoy lifetime tenure, to ensure that fresh legal minds are joining the stale judicial aristocracy. A term of a decade and a half is long enough to insulate judges and prevent undue political influence.
The system faces a huge backlog, made worse by claimants who play adjudication roulette, filing and then withdrawing appeals in hopes of drawing a generous judge. Congress can limit this gamesmanship by allowing only one application per claimant in a three-year period. Because judges must marshal more documentation for a denial than an approval, they have an incentive to grant benefits to keep the system chugging along. The agency can fix this by further limiting the number of cases each judge must decide to 500 from 700.
The system is further complicated because even if a claimant has legal counsel, the judge must advocate on the claimant’s behalf. This dual role should be ended. Most claimants—85%—now have third-party representation. These professionals should be held responsible for getting supporting materials into court expeditiously and completely so the record can be closed in a timely manner.
Even under better legal rules, judges will still face rigid and outdated guidelines for granting benefits. The framework they must follow—known as the Medical Vocational Grid (known as The Listings)—is formulaic to the point of senselessness. For instance, the bar to benefits approval is lower for someone who doesn’t speak English, on the theory that it is difficult to find a job without the language. But that English rule is also applied to claimants from Puerto Rico, where the language of business is Spanish.
These guidelines (in The Listings) also do not give due consideration to actual labor market experience, dictating a looser approval standard for someone with only a high-school degree, even if the person has succeeded in the labor force for decades.
The framework (of The Listings) was developed in the late 1950s, for the previous generation’s workforce, and hasn’t been updated since 1978. Decades ago workers ages 50 or 55 might have been considered retiring, but this is no longer generally the case. Novel job-training programs also make it easier than ever for workers to move into new fields and make up for low levels of education, and new disability criteria would account for these changes.
These solutions would begin to deliver meaningful reform to Social Security disability awards. They can restore dignity and efficacy to a troubled system.
(BY Mark J. Warshawsky And Ross A. Marchand, March 8, 2015)
(Mr. Warshawsky is a visiting scholar at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University and a former member of the Social Security Advisory Board from 2006 to 2012. Mr. Marchand is a first-year economics graduate student at George Mason University.)

Categories: Social Security Benefits | 3 Comments

More Bad News From Social Security

The Biggest Change to Social Security You’ve Never Heard About

 

2014-06-13-ssaofficeclosed.jpg

There’s been lots of debate and discussion lately about how to shore up Social Security for future generations. But already there are dramatic changes underway that threaten to end Social Security as we know it — yet almost no one has even heard of it.

The plan is called Vision 2025, and every working American has a stake in it.

To explain the significance of what’s going on, let me paint a picture. Say you’re the CEO of a major corporation doing $850 billion in business annually out of 1,200 locations across the country. More than 43 million clients walked through your doors in the past year, seeking one-on-one appointments with your experienced customer service representatives on matters affecting their financial security.

But there’s a storm brewing. You’ve lost 12 percent of your employees in just the past three years, and another third of the workforce is projected to retire in the next decade. Customer demand is breaking records, yet failure to fill vacancies means longer waits for appointments. Customers are waiting three times longer than last year for assistance on your 1-800 phone line, while the website that was set up to take pressure off your field offices can’t meet demand either.

So what do you do? If you’re the head of the Social Security Administration, you lay out a plan to close most of your 1,200 field offices, not replace the 30,000 employees about to walk out the door, and force your customers to conduct nearly all of their business using a phone line and website that already are overwhelmed.

This is the real-life scenario playing out at SSA right now, and the ramifications of decisions made today will affect every working man and woman in this country for generations.

This fall, SSA will unveil its long-range strategic plan for the next 10 years, the so-called Vision 2025 plan. A draft of the plan, being developed for SSA by the National Academy of Public Administration, is frightening:

  • The bulk of SSA’s field offices would be shut down, leaving the agency with a “significantly smaller and more virtual workforce.”
  • Many of the employees left behind would be “generalists” who lack the technical skills and expertise to address benefits questions.
  • Customers could reach an actual claims representative only in “very limited circumstances,” either through in-person visits, phone calls, online chats or video conferences. In the vast majority of cases, the only way to interact with SSA would be through “online self-service delivery.”

Self-service checkout may work at grocery stores, but it’s not the right model for an agency tasked with determining complex retirement and disability benefits for tens of millions of Americans each year. Do they really expect grandpa to hop on his iPad Mini to apply for benefits and get all his questions answered?

Most of the individuals contacting SSA for help are elderly, disabled or indigent. Many others are active seniors who simply are overwhelmed by the complicated maze of laws, regulations and policies pertaining to retirement benefits. They deserve and expect face-to-face interaction with skilled employees who can ensure they receive all the benefits they are owed.

Unfortunately, SSA seems determined to cannibalize itself. In addition to leaving thousands of positions vacant, management already has shuttered 80 field offices and dramatically reduced hours at remaining offices — even before its strategic plan is finalized.

As the representative for the bulk of SSA’s workforce, our union is working hard to save Social Security for current and future generations. This week, we plan to submit testimony at a congressional hearing on SSA’s plan to dismantle the program. AFGE will not let it die without a fight.

I urge you to join the discussion about a program that all of us will ultimately depend on. Your retirement security is at stake.

( By J. David Cox Sr., National President of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents more than 670,000 federal and D.C. government employees nationwide, including more than 28,000 SSA field office employees across the country

Categories: Social Security Benefits | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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