socialNsecurity

Fugitive Attorney Eric Conn Faces Life Imprisonment In Social Security Benefits Fraud Case

Employee allegedly helped fugitive lawyer Eric Conn plot his escape for a year

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SSA Announces 2% COLA Increase in 2018.

Social Security checks to be 2% bigger in 2018.

Average monthly check will go up $27

 

NEW YORK  – Millions of Americans will get a boost to their Social Security checks next year.

The government announced a 2 percent increase to Social Security Benefits October 13. The bigger checks aim to help offset rising prices.

The average monthly check is estimated to increase to $1,404 in January — a $27 increase from $1,377 a month.

Millions of Americans rely on Social Security to help make ends meet, and many have been struggling in the face of higher prices on essentials like health care, rent and food. Not all of the recipients are retired workers — many are people with disabilities, or surviving spouses and children.

The 2 percent increase is the highest since 2012 when retirees got a 3.6 percent raise.

At the start of 2017, recipients saw an increase of just 0.3 percent.

In 2016, there was no increase. Over the summer, the Social Security trustees had projected a 2.2 percent increase in benefits.

Around 62 million Americans will receive around $955 billion in Social Security benefits this year, according to the Social Security Administration.

The annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) was introduced in 1975 and is based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). CPI-W tracks how much consumers pay for goods and services.

But some argue the increase is not enough to cover rising prices.

“For the tens of millions of families who depend on Social Security for all or most of their retirement income, this cost of living increase may not adequately cover expenses that rise faster than inflation including prescription drug, utility and housing costs,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins.

The Social Security Administration also announced the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax will increase to $128,700 from $127,200.

(  VASEL, K., CNN Money, 13Oct2017)

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Social Security Administration Paid Almost $2 Million In Benefits To Dead Federal Workers

                                                                                                

October 11, 2016 – The Social Security Administration (SSA) paid deceased federal employees $1.7 million in benefits for an average of seven years after they died.

According to an audit by the Inspector General (IG), the error occurred due to the SSA’s failure to crosscheck beneficiaries’ death files with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). As a result, the deaths were not logged in SSA records. The office manages the administration of retirement benefits and other services for government workers.

“The erroneous benefit payments account for a handful of cases out of the millions the SSA processes each year,” said David W. Magann, a prominent attorney in Tampa, Florida, whose firm specializes in Social Security disability law. “However, this latest incident throws a spotlight on how the administration needs to change its practices when handling records to make sure such mistakes do not happen in the future.”

Investigators found the SSA made the erroneous payments of old-age, survivors and disability insurance benefits to 35 individuals. Among them, one beneficiary had died in 1991, but the Office of Personnel Management never reported the death to Social Security.

The inspector general claimed the SSA would have likely paid the deceased individuals around $258,000 in benefits over the coming year if the discovery had not been made.

Calling the $1 Million $700 Thousand Dollars an “extremely small number,” the SSA said it “represents less than one-tenth of a percent of total benefit payments.” In the administration’s official response to the audit, it promised to do better and ensure the situation is resolved by the beginning of the next fiscal year. The SSA said, “Over the years we have made, and will continue to make, enhancements to ensure our death data is accurate and to stop payments when we receive confirmed death reports.”

In one example that was cited, a Georgia woman received benefits until 2015 even though she had died in 2007. Although her son reported her death to the SSA, he was able to receive his mother’s benefits checks totaling $68,192 over seven years.

He must now repay $63,446 in penalties to the government.

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Social Security Judge Erred, Failed To Credit Claimant’s Pain Allegations, Reversed, Collect Benefits

Social Security Judge Erred on Credibility. Decision Reversed.

 

Disability ClaimOct. 3, 2016 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit granted a Wisconsin woman’s claim for disability insurance benefits, concluding that an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) erred when making a credibility determination.

Claimant, Debora Ghiselli, applied for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. She claimed that certain health problems, including degenerative disc disease, asthma, and obesity, prevented her from working.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied the claim.

A Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin upheld the ALJ’s decision.

But Ghiselli appealed, arguing that the ALJ committed errors.

The ALJ had followed the Five-step Sequential Evaluation Process for evaluating the claim, under 20 C.F.R. section 404.1520(a)(4).

(See https://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8)

The Fourth Step required the ALJ to consider Ghiselli’s “residual functional capacity” (RFC) and “past relevant work”(PRW).

To do this, the ALJ considered reports from several physicians. One was the doctor who treated Ghiselli after a workplace injury to her back. The Treating Doctor had recommended that Ghiselli limit daily work to four hours as a customer service manager.

Two other Consultative Doctors, state agency medical consultants, said Ghiselli had “severe pain and limited mobility” but the medical evidence did not support such extreme restrictions. Two other physicians performed imaging examinations and found only mild impairment.

The ALJ determined that a four-hour workday restriction may have made sense after an initial injury, but there was no medical basis to support the restriction years later. The judge assigned “significant weight” to the non-treating physicians’ reports.

In determining Ghiselli’s “residual functional capacity (RFC),” the ALJ noted Ghiselli’s own testimony. Ghiselli said she could still do light housework, drive her car, go grocery shopping, care for her pets, and perform other activities of daily living (ADL).

The ALJ also found that Ghiselli gave inconsistent statements that damaged her credibility. For instance, in one report, Ghiselli claimed her doctor restricted her from working at all until she was cleared to lift more than 15 pounds. But the doctor had said she could work four hours per day, as long as she lifted no more than 25 pounds.

The ALJ ultimately concluded that Ghiselli could perform a range of light work and was not functionally disabled for purposes of disability insurance. The district court affirmed.

But in Ghiselli v. Colvin, No. 14-2380 (Sept. 16, 2016), a three-judge panel for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the ALJ’s decision and remanded the case to the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The panel ruled that the ALJ made an improper credibility determination based on Ghiselli’s subjective accounts of the pain she was experiencing.

“His credibility determination was based in part on his conclusion that Ghiselli could successfully perform numerous life activities,” wrote Judge Diane Wood.

“But without acknowledging the differences between the demands of such activities and those of a full-time job, the ALJ was not entitled to use Ghiselli’s successful performance of life activities as a basis to determine that her claims of a disabling condition were not credible.”

The panel said the error was not harmless “as it informed several aspects of the ALJ’s findings with respect to Ghiselli’s residual functional capacity (RFC) and consequently her ability to perform past relevant work (PRW) or to adjust to other work.”

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Whistleblower Retaliation At Social Security Administration

Social Security whistleblower questioned by investigators after going public

https://www.amazon.com/SocialNsecurity-London-Steverson-ebook/dp/B006VOQIKK?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc

MADISON, Wis. – One week after going public with allegations of misconduct and intimidation by managers at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Celia Machelle Keller had a visit from federal investigators peppering her with questions and making accusations of their own.

“I got home today (Wednesday) … and the dogs are going crazy,” Keller said. “Two guys are at my door. They gave their cards and told me they were with the (Social Security Administration) Inspector General’s office and they want to speak with me.”

Keller said it’s just more retaliation from a Social Security disability claims review agency that has come under fire for an array of conduct issues – including going after whistleblowers.

Watchdog.org file photo

Watchdog.org file photo

INVESTIGATED: Social Security Administration whistleblower Celia Keller says she was interrogated at her home this week by SSA Inspector General agents, days after she went public with her allegations of harassment and intimidation at the Madison office.

The lead case technician has worked for the Madison office for several years, and she claims management retaliated against her after she was called to testify in an inner-office misconduct case last year. The incident involved alleged “inappropriate behavior” by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), she said.

RELATED: Whistleblower: ‘I want to do my work without fear of retaliation’

Now, Keller claims the Inspector General’s office is dogging her because she took her complaints to Wisconsin Watchdog and to the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Keller, who did not want her name publicly disclosed in the first story last week for fear of reprisal, says she’s tired of living in fear.

“I’m scared to death to go into work tomorrow. What are they going to have waiting for me? Are they going to perp walk me out like they did the guy from Milwaukee?” she said.

Keller is referring to Ron Klym, a senior case technician in the troubled Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Klym was the first Milwaukee ODAR whistleblower to go public with his allegations of lengthy case delays, inter-agency “shell games” of case transfers, and retaliation against employees who pointed out misconduct. Klym was temporarily placed on administrative leave shortly after he went public with the charges.

Klym also was subjected to an Inspector General investigation not long after taking his allegations of administrative misconduct to federal authorities.

Keller said the Inspector General agents told her they were investigating her for scheduling her son’s girlfriend, Danielle Bray, as a hearing monitor for disability claims appeals. The investigators took issue with what they characterized as a suspiciously higher amount of work Keller was providing Bray.

“They said, ‘Danielle Bray is scheduled for 12 days. Do you see how that looks suspicious?’” Keller said. The insinuation, Keller said, was that she was taking kickbacks for assigning Bray more work. Keller’s son and his girlfriend live with Keller and her husband in their McFarland home.

“They were out here for 30 minutes, drilling me, asking me, ‘Don’t you see how bad this looks?’” she said.

“They were questioning my integrity. I would never put my family in jeopardy for a few extra dollars.”

There’s apparently no policy against assigning family members work. Keller said several relatives of administrative law judges and supervisors at the Madison office work as hearing monitors and in other positions.

An official with the SSA Office of the Inspector General, citing the Privacy Act, said she could not confirm the existence of, or comment on any specific allegations involving any possible investigation.

“However, I can tell you that the Office of the Inspector General does have a role in the whistleblower process and we take whistleblower allegations very seriously,” said Tracy B. Lynge, communications director for the Inspector General’s office.

Keller said she provided the agents with scheduling documents and emails showing there was nothing untoward about the process. She sent Wisconsin Watchdog the same records. Everything looks in order, with Bray’s schedule approved by supervisors.

In one email chain in February, the director of the Madison office, Laura Hodorowicz, wrote a curt message threatening that she will “absolutely stop using” Bray after Keller complained that Bray was not getting as many hours as other monitors.

Keller previously told Wisconsin Watchdog that she and other staff members have been bullied and intimidated by Hodorowicz.  Keller said she and some of her colleagues learned after they complained in another harassment case that raising conduct questions was basically futile. Hodorowicz, she said, made life difficult for whistleblowers.

“We had a bullseye on our back,” Keller said.

Doug Nguyen, regional communications director at the Social Security Administration’s Chicago office, did not return a call seeking comment. He has declined comment in the past, saying the whistleblower allegations are “personnel matters.”

At the same time, Keller has received exemplary ratings in her performance reviews, even as investigators were called to look into the scheduling issues.

“Machelle exceeded expectations, both in terms of the volume of work she produced and the quality of what she did. She routinely pulled more than her fair share of cases,” her supervisor wrote in Keller’s appraisal in October 2015. She received a similar review in April 2016.

“How does a person get all 5s (the highest performance grade) on her employee evaluation and get accused of scheduling” irregularities? she said.

“Retaliation,” Keller answered her own question.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my 28 years of being a paralegal,” she said.

( By   /   May 26, 2016 )

 

Social Security whistleblower now faces firing

MILWAUKEE – Ron Klym spoke out publicly, alleging incompetence, misconduct and retaliation in the federal government office where he has worked for 16 years.

Doing so might just cost him his job.

On Thursday, less than a month after Klym’s accounts were featured in a Watchdog.org special investigation, the senior case technician at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review was forced to sign his own employment death warrant.

Klym said he was called into the office of Chief Administrative Law Judge Christopher Messina.

“He had a stack of papers in front of him. I said, ‘Well, it looks like a disciplinary action. Can I speak to my union rep? He said, ‘This is not a disciplinary action. This is a proposal to terminate. I need you to sign off on this,” Klym said.

Watchdog.org file photo

Watchdog.org file photo

COST OF WHISTLEBLOWING? Ron Klym faces being fired, he says, for blowing the whistle on alleged bad activity at the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

The veteran employee of the Social Security Administration office that handles disability claim appeals was placed on administrative leave. He was told that Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge Sherry Thompson would make the final decision on the proposal within the coming weeks.

Klym, who claims he has endured several incidents of supervisor-driven retaliation since taking his complaints to federal authorities, said he wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s events.

“Frankly, this is the epitome of how they do business,” he said.

Earlier this month, Klym detailed the Milwaukee office’s growing backlog of cases. Wisconsin Watchdog obtained records of some of the more lengthy delays.

Dozens of cases on appeal took more than 700 days to complete. One Green Bay case clocked in at 862 days to dispose of. A Marquette request for benefits hit 1,064 days, and another was completed in 1,126 days.

“We had two clients who stopped in the office yesterday wondering what’s going on, and they have been waiting for 21 months,” Jessica Bray, partner at Upper Michigan Law in Escanaba, Mich., said in the May 4 investigative piece. Her colleague handled the noted cases that topped 1,000 days. “I sent a letter to the Milwaukee office, but I don’t think it’s going to do any good. Those cases haven’t even been assigned yet.”

In 2011, the inventory for the Milwaukee region’s disability claims appeals office was at approximately 2,200 cases; today it’s running at about 12,000, Klym said.

RELATED: Social Security whistleblower questioned by investigators after going public

Doug Nguyen, communications director for the Social Security Administration Chicago region, a six-state region that includes Milwaukee, said the agency acknowledges that Milwaukee ODAR has a “high average processing time for disability appeal hearings, and we are working to address the issue.”

Nguyen has said he cannot comment on personnel matters.

More problematic is what Klym calls the administrative “shell game.” He said the Milwaukee office’s case disposition numbers have at times drastically improved because managers in the chain have dumped off scores of cases to other regional offices.

“They are wholesale shipping cases out,” the senior legal assistant said. The impression is that the offices are performing at a better rate than they actually are. “When you ship 1,000 cases to somewhere else, then you do an audit, it looks better.”

At least three other ODAR employees have confirmed Klym’s account.

Now Messina is moving to have the whistleblower removed.

Klym said he is being charged with performance failures and conduct unbecoming a federal employee – all trumped up charges, he said.

The senior case technician said he is being held to a higher standard than his peers, required to meet increased production metrics. Those new standards, coincidentally, went into effect not long after he took his complaints to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last July, Klym said.

But he has documentation showing that his supervisor had rescinded the higher thresholds, noting that Klym’s previous workload – at as much as twice the output of his colleagues – was satisfactory.

He also has performance appraisals noting his exemplary performance in preparing cases.

Klym also faces being fired because he raised his voice and used “obscene” language during a discussion earlier this month with the ODAR office director, Trevor Pelot.

Klym said the discussion did get a little heated when Pelot told him that he had violated the public trust by taking his complaints about the office public.

“There is a definite retaliatory thing going on here,” he said. “I’m concerned that Mary and Ms. Keller may be next.”

Klym referred to Mary Brister, another employee at the Milwaukee office, and Celia Machelle Keller, a lead case technician at the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

Brister, who went public with her complaints about the Milwaukee office, was suspended last week and she lost her tele-work privileges for a year. She claims management retaliated against her for telling her story to Wisconsin Watchdog.

Keller had Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General agents show up at her door this week, days after the whistleblower publicly claimed managers harassed and intimidated her after she testified in an office harassment case.

Klym, too, was interrogated by Inspector General agents at his home, some 18 hours after he contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, about the issues in the Milwaukee office.

He will remain in his position while he awaits the final judgment. But Klym is not allowed in the building.

“I’m in a difficult position,” he said. “I can’t enter the office, so how can I access documentation or speak with anybody to prove I am innocent?”

He said he plans to reach out to representatives on the Senate committee and the federal office charged with protecting whistleblowers.

( By   /   May 27, 2016 )

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Social Security Claimants Commit Suicide After Being Told Benefits Would End

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

AGKFX2 Social Security Card Among Dollar Bills

 

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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The Long Wait At SSA

Sick And Waiting For Help In Miami, The Longest Line For Disability In The USA

Consider the Case of Sherice Bennett. She is a caretaker in Florida.

She takes care of her sister who has cerebral palsy. She had two sons, two dogs and she still has the tank that used to house her turtle and fish.

It’s a role she happily fills on top of the other roles she’s taken on over the years: call center coordinator, caterer, accounts payable, executive secretary and, when that failed, school bus and truck driver.

But about 10 years ago, working in any capacity started getting harder. Bennett was diagnosed with diabetes that had gone untreated for a while. A few years later she injured her ankle, which meant she couldn’t stand up for very long. Then an inflammatory lung disease, arthritis in her hands, and in 2013, after putting off visits to the doctor, she was told he had an aortic valve condition, something she was born with.

She had to stop working. She had no health insurance.

Disability benefits were designed to help when people get sick or hurt and can’t work. Those on disability get monthly disbursements to go towards expenses and automatically get health insurance — either Medicaid or Medicare.

Most disability applications are initially denied. After two denials, the only other recourse is to request a hearing to make your case in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at the Social Security Administration (SSA). And in Miami, that can take a long time.

The Social Security Administration is responsible for handling applications for disability benefits.

Over the last year, the Miami Office of Disability Adjudication and Review has had the longest average wait times in the country – a little more than 20 months, that’s about two years to get a hearing..

Bennett has applied for disability so many times she’s lost track – at least five times – and each time she’s been denied.

“For me to pay my bills, I have friends sometimes that step up to the plate and they’ll send me money or they’ll pay the bill for me, but you don’t want to be a burden on somebody else,” said Bennett.

“Let’s put it this way. If you’re a person and you have means and you have money, you can get up and go to the restaurant. You can take a vacation. You can go out with friends. You can go shopping for clothes. These things that they take for granted are things I have to plan for. I have to put that money away a dollar at a time.”

She filed her most recent application in July of 2014.

So now—like 9000 other people who’ve applied for benefits through the Miami disability office—she’s waiting to argue her case in front of an ALJ and make a convincing argument for why she should not have been denied.

So far, Bennett’s been waiting 18 months on her most recent case. And statistically, she’s got months to go before she’ll get a hearing.

“I had an uncle who was awarded benefits posthumously five years after he applied,” says Judge Thomas Snook, an administrative law judge for the Social Security Administration, where he’s been deciding on disability cases for 18 years.

There’s something wrong with a system that is designed to help people [who] are disabled, where people are dying before you can hear their cases. — Judge Thomas Snook, ALJ, a Member of the Board of the Association of Administrative Law Judges of America (AALJ) and a judge in the Miami Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).

The Social Security Administration  has no plausible  explanation for the long wait.

It’s my money. I mean, it’s crazy to deny me what I’ve put into the program,” said claimant, Sherice Bennett.
The government takes out money for social security from most paychecks — money she is hoping to recoup now that she needs it.

“If Social Security had given me what’s due me, I would have Medicare,” said Bennett. “I wouldn’t have to worry about my health, I wouldn’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay my bills and just basic living needs.”

In October, Bennett joined a “Class Action Lawsuit” against the Social Security Administration with a dozen other people who’ve been waiting to see a judge — some of them for nearly 30 months.

The suit was organized by the University of Miami School of Law’s Health Rights Clinic, which sits at this unusual intersection between lawyers and doctors. Through the university, it has easy access to the staff and doctors at the medical school and the clinic is trying to leverage that access to help people get disability benefits more quickly.

Aside from getting things sorted out through the lawsuit, the UM clinic may have figured out another way to deal with the issue on the front end of the problem.

That’s the approach Carlos Nuñez from Stuart, Fla., tried. He has also applied for SSA disability benefits.

Last April, he was diagnosed with a type of brain cancer usually found in kids. Every few weeks he goes for treatment at the pediatric wing of Sylvester Cancer center in Miami and the treatments can last a few days.

At 23 years old, Nuñez towers over the other patients in the hallways.

He proudly sports a beanie with the face of the cartoon character Stitch on it, a present from his sister. It covers his head — bare except for a little fuzz — but it doesn’t hide the half-foot-long scar long that runs up along the nape of his neck.

Doctors told Nuñez he couldn’t work for at least a year so he quit his job as a cleaner in a mall. His mom had to quit her job, too, in order to drive Nuñez the two hours down to Miami from Stuart almost every week for his treatments. They leave him too weak to drive. Even conversation is hard for him to sustain after a few hours.

Carlos Nuñez would seem like a perfect candidate for a kind of disability called supplemental security income, or SSI.

And with brain surgery, dozens of rounds of chemo and radiation, he says he needs the health insurance he’d get through the program.

He applied right after his brain surgery in April.

“It all goes down to the letter. The letter is the decision,” explains Nuñez. “When I got my letter I was at my house: denial.

Like Sherice Bennett, the only choice he had was to request a hearing and wait for an ALJ.

But before he submitted that paperwork, he got linked up with the Health Rights Clinic.

Melissa Swain, associate director of the clinic, says Nuñez’s case is so black and white; she has no idea how the Social Security Administration could have denied him in first place. It’s something she sees pretty frequently.

“The problem is that doctors and social security don’t really communicate on the same level. They don’t speak the same language,” explains Swain.

For Dr. Michael Kolber, that difference was very clear in his work at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“A lot of the disability questions I remember had nothing to do with the way I look at disability,” said Kolber.

And in this litigious world, doctors are wary of filling out forms they’re unfamiliar with. Kolber has helped the Health Rights Clinic bridge some of these divides and get doctors on board with the clinic’s seemingly simple solutions.

For Carlos, Swain of the Health Rights Clinic created a one-page solution that translates the medical diagnosis into language made for the Social Security Administration “so that they could understand: ‘Oh, wait. He is eligible, what were we thinking?’ ”

This one page is essentially a road-map to the hundreds of pages of evidence people like Nuñez have to submit from their doctors — in language made for the Social Security Administration.

And with this one-page form, the students at the health clinic got his case reopened and approved.

This type of one-page form could cut down the number of people waiting for a disability hearing. And that, hypothetically, could help cut down on the extremely long wait times for other people who don’t have as cut-and-dry cases.

The clinic is hoping to make more of these road-maps available to the public, but Swain knows Nuñez’s case is unusual.

Nuñez won his benefits and automatically gets Medicaid, which helps pay for medical expenses like chemo therapy.

She doesn’t see the Social Security office going back and reopening a bunch of cases like Sherice Bennett’s, who just has to continue waiting for her latest disability hearing.

In the meantime, she’s had open-heart surgery. The hospital picked up the tab.

If she wins her benefits, though, she could get back pay — all the way back to when she first applied six years ago.

She says if she gets disability benefits, she’d buy a home with the back pay, but she’d keep her car, just get it fixed up a bit.

And for the first time in a long time, she’d have health insurance.

)

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Thousands Of Americans 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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If The Social Security Administration Says That You Are Dead, You May Wish That You Were

The first thing I do every morning when I get my newspaper is to read the Obituaries. I want to make sure I am not dead. If The Social Security Administration reports you as dead, you may wish you were. Your life can become a living hell. They will stop paying you and begin to confiscate your bank accounts.

From May 2007 through April 2010, SSA’s publication of the “Death Master File” resulted in the breach of  Personally Identifiable Information for as many as 36,657 additional living individuals erroneously listed as deceased on the DMF. SSA made these individuals’ SSNs; first, middle, and last names; date of birth; and State and ZIP codes of last known residences available to users of the DMF before learning they were not actually deceased.

Holiday Hills man is among 9,000 falsely reported dead by Social Security each year.

McHenry County family felt chain reaction affecting health benefits, income and more.

(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com
By EMILY K. COLEMAN – ecoleman@shawmedia.com

Linda Grether read the letter four times.

 The letter from their Medicare Part D insurance provider was addressed to the estate of her husband, John Grether, and it expressed condolences for her loss.

The thing was, John Grether wasn’t dead.

The Holiday Hills man wasn’t dead six months later, either, when a second letter arrived, or this December when a third letter arrived, but for some reason, John Grether kept getting reported as deceased to the Social Security Death Master File, resulting in a chain reaction that affected their health benefits, their Social Security income and his pension from his job as a construction company shop foreman.

Social Security receives death information from a variety of sources, primarily from family members, funeral homes, financial institutions and state governments, regional spokesman Doug Nguyen said in an email. Of the 2.8 million death reports Social Security posts each year, about 9,000 are found to be false.

That number is down from the average of more than 12,000 a year found to have been erroneously added to the Master Death File from May 2007 through April 2010 by the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, according to a 2011 report.

Nguyen credits the increased use of electronic death registration, which automates Social Security’s receipt of death information. Illinois is among the 42 states using the system.

“Universal implementation of [the system] has the potential to virtually eliminate death reporting errors and would ensure that our death records – whether pertaining to current beneficiaries or other persons – include the most accurate and most current information,” Nguyen said in an email.

The Grethers have their suspicions for why the death reports keep happening, but they don’t understand why Social Security hasn’t been able to flag the account or otherwise prevent it from happening again.

“I just keep dying,” John Grether said. “Isn’t that something?”

Despite the wry humor, the experience has been anything but funny.

“We find out by accident [that he’s been reported deceased],” Linda Grether said. “Like all of a sudden, we’ll go fill a prescription and it’s not covered. Or the bank will call and [we] saw our accounts are over-drafted because they’ll just take the money away.”

The Grethers have had to go into the Woodstock office to prove John’s alive. They’ve spent two-plus hours on the phone each day for a week trying to get their benefits restored and to figure out how to prevent it from happening again.

When John Grether’s breathing got worse, a result of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he couldn’t go to an immediate care center. They had to use his nebulizer at home.

“Until you even get a little bit, you don’t understand just how devastating the whole thing is,” Linda Grether said. “I mean, we just sat here nights and just cried because we have no way to do anything. We’re at their mercy.”

Social Security reached out to Grether after the Northwest Herald contacted them about the Grethers’ situation and is looking into what can be done.

http://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/full/pdf/A-06-10-20173_7.pdf

 

(NOTE: Summary Report from the Social Security Administration’s Office Of The Inspector General)

Follow-up: Personally Identifiable Information Made Available to the Public Via the Death Master File (Limited Distribution)

Our objective was to determine the status of corrective actions taken by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to address recommendations in our June 2008 report, Personally Identifiable Information Made Available to the General Public Via the Death Master File SSA implemented procedures to report erroneous death entry-related personally identifiable information (PII) breaches to the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team each week. SSA also hired a contractor to provide ongoing reviews of Death Master File (DMF) exposure related to 26,930 individuals whose  Personally Identifiable Information, SSA inadvertently exposed from July 2006 through January 2009. The contractor evaluated available data for anomalous patterns that could identify organized misuse. SSA stated that, to date, the contractor has identified no organized misuse. However, SSA did not implement a risk- based approach for distributing DMF information, attempt to limit the amount of information included on the DMF version sold to the public, or explore alternatives to inclusion of individuals’ full Social Security number (SSN). SSA continued to publish the DMF with the knowledge its contents included the  Personally Identifiable Information of living number holders.

From May 2007 through April 2010, SSA’s publication of the “Death Master File” resulted in the breach of  Personally Identifiable Information for as many as 36,657 additional living individuals erroneously listed as deceased on the DMF. SSA made these individuals’ SSNs; first, middle, and last names; date of birth; and State and ZIP codes of last known residences available to users of the DMF before learning they were not actually deceased. As such, we believe SSA should take additional precautions to limit the number of reporting errors and the amount of personal information published in the DMF —
particularly the version sold to the public. We made two recommendations for corrective action.
The (SSA) Agency disagreed with both recommendations.
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How To Win Your Social Security Disability Claim? Simple, Find The Right Judge.

Disability Claim Denied? Find the Right Judge

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

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.

(Photo: Getty Images/Illustration Works)

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.)

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