socialNsecurity

When Will SSA Get A Real Commissioner, If Ever?

On January 23, 2017, Nancy A. Berryhill became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, with responsibility for overseeing one of the nation’s largest and most important domestic programs. (When will SSA get a real Commissioner? President appointed only Acting Commissioners.)

                                                                                                                  

 With a $12 billion budget and almost 64,000 employees serving in more than 1,500 offices across the country and around the world, plus 16,000 State employees making disability determinations, the Social Security Administration issues more than $960 billion in payments to nearly 66 million people each year.

Previously, Ms. Berryhill served as the Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security’s largest component, where she successfully implemented many expanded service delivery options for the public. Prior to that position, Ms. Berryhill served two years as the agency’s Regional Commissioner for the Chicago Region and five years as Regional Commissioner for the Denver Region. In Denver, she developed numerous innovative, mission-focused initiatives such as video service delivery, use of webinar technology, and the creation of the first American Indian outreach guide.

Ms. Berryhill began her Social Security career as a GS-2 student employee. In her 40 years at the agency, she has held many frontline positions, including Claims Clerk, Service Representative, Claims Representative, Operations Supervisor, District Manager, and Area Director for the State of Illinois.

Ms. Berryhill has received numerous agency awards, including the Commissioner’s Citation, the agency’s highest recognition. In 2010, she received the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, and in 2015, she received the Presidential Rank Award of Distinguished Executive, the highest honor awarded career executives in the Federal Government. Her work and achievements consistently demonstrate professional excellence, exceptional leadership, integrity, and commitment to public service.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, Ms. Berryhill obtained her degree in Computer Science at the Control Data Institute in Chicago. She is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

PREVIOUS ACTING COMMISSIONER:

Meet The New Acting Commissioner Of THe Social Security Administration, Carolyn Colvin.

                                                                                                             

On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  Prior to this designation, she served as the Deputy Commissioner, having been confirmed by the United States Senate on December 22, 2010 as President Obama’s nominee.  In addition to her role as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Ms. Colvin serves as a Trustee to the Social Security Board of Trustees.

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren.

 https://judgelondonsteverson.me/2013/01/14/who-will-president-obama-select-to-be-the-new-commissioner-of-the-social-security-administration/

Who Will President Obama Select To Be The New Commissioner Of The Social Security Administration?

Michael Astrue

Michael J. Astrue was sworn in as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) on February 12, 2007 for a six-year term that expires on January 19, 2013. President Barack Obama is expected to soon nominate a new Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. Astrue was appointed by President George W. Bush. The White House is silent about who will take the helm at SSA.  The SSA faces voluminous backlogs and claimants may have to wait up to 5 years just to get a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Some extreme cases have taken more than 10 years from the date of filing a claim to get a final decision on whether they are entitled to disability retirement benefits.

Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue’s six-year term expires January 19, 2013. His successor must be confirmed by the Senate, in a process that Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, expects will take a couple of months from the hearings to a vote.

Michael Astrue was still Commissioner of Social Security on 25 January. His term ran out on January 19 but the Social Security Act says he can stay in his job until a successor is confirmed. He hasn’t resigned so he’s still Commissioner. The same is true for Deputy Commissioner Carolyn Colvin. The rumor had been that Astrue did not intend to stay on after his term ended.  So far, he’s proving that rumor wrong. Astrue does seem to be clearing items off his desk. Take a look at what he just sent over to the Office of Management and Budget. I wonder if he’s planning to send over his version of new mental impairment listings before leaving.

The SSA has more than 11,000 employees at its headquarters in Woodlawn, Maryland. It provides benefits to retirees, disabled Americans and the children of deceased workers. The SSA paid more than $778,000,000,000 (that is billion) in benefits to 56 million people. The SSA’s budget rivals that of the Department Of Defense.

Carolyn Colvin is Astrue’s Deputy, but she is not considered to be a serious contender to replace him. She was confirmed by the Senate two years ago. Her term also expires January 19, 2013. She is a former secretary of the state Department of Human Resources and served as special assistant to Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation.

One possibility that comes to mind is that there will never be an announcement of an Obama nominee for Commissioner of Social Security. Astrue will leave the job in the near future and Carolyn Colvin will become the Acting Commissioner for the rest of Obama’s term as President. Colvin as Acting Commissioner, unlike Astrue and unlike a nominated and confirmed Commissioner of Social Security, would be serving at the President’s will. If Colvin displeased the President, she could be removed from the job by Obama nominating and the Senate confirming a Commissioner. I think it is more than possible that the President has had his fill of an independent Social Security Commissioner and wants someone who is truly on his team. I have no inside information. This is just my speculation. Of course, this can’t happen if Astrue keeps hanging around.

(BIOGRAPHY of Catolyn Colvin)

QUOTE: On February 14, 2013, Carolyn W. Colvin became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.  Prior to this designation, she served as the Deputy Commissioner, having been confirmed by the United States Senate on December 22, 2010 as President Obama’s nominee.  In addition to her role as the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Ms. Colvin serves as a Trustee to the Social Security Board of Trustees.

Throughout her career, Ms. Colvin has managed programs that help people with their healthcare and financial needs.  She previously held key executive positions at Social Security Headquarters: Deputy Commissioner for Policy and External Affairs (1994–1996), Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Policy (1996–1998), and Deputy Commissioner for Operations (1998–2001).

Prior to returning to SSA, Ms. Colvin was the Director of Human Services for the District of Columbia (2001-2003); the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (2003-2007); the Chief Executive Officer of AMERIGROUP Community Care of the District of Columbia (2007–2008); and, the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Transportation (2009-2011).  In addition, Ms. Colvin served as the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (1989-1994).

Ms. Colvin has received numerous awards and recognition for her managerial expertise and creativity, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women Award from the Daily Record (2005) and the Women of Achievement Award from Suburban Maryland Business and Professional Women (2005).  She has served on a variety of boards and commissions, including the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Ms. Colvin earned her graduate and undergraduate degrees in business administration from Morgan State University.  Additionally, she completed the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at Harvard University, the Maryland Leadership Program, and the Greater Baltimore Leadership Program. Ms. Colvin is from Maryland and currently resides in Anne Arundel County.  She has one son and six grandchildren. UNQUOTE.

Nancy Altman, who helps lead two Social Security advocacy groups, has emerged as a potential contender. She has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ), a network of 1,400 ALJs who decide disability insurance claims. The endorsement of the AALJ is the kiss of death; so, she cannot really be considered a serious contender for the job.

Nevertheless, Judge Randall Frye, president of the AALJ, has  said the AALJ is backing Ms. Altman for Commissioner because of her expertise.

For her part, Ms. Altman has said “My goal would be to restore confidence in the agency and to let the workforce know how appreciative I am and the American people are for the work that is being done.”

One of the major challenges the next commissioner will confront is building administrative support to decrease the long backlogs in the disability insurance program. This is something that Commissioner Astrue was not able to accomplish despite all of the ALJs he was allowed to place on the federal pay roll and the increase in budget that he was granted. The new Commissioner will also be challenged to improve the quality of service that SSA employees are reputed to provide to the public.  Case workers and administrative staff members at SSA are notorious for their abrupt manners and surly attitudes resulting in a low level of public service. The Agency will be challenged to provide a higher level of service.

Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, was noted to remark that “This is an opportunity at the Social Security Administration to really take it to the next level, and it’s important to make sure it has the resources it needs”.

James Robinson Jr.

My choice for the next Commissioner is something of a dark horse. He is James Roosevelt Jr. He is a Health Care Insurance man and considering the controversy surrounding the implementation of ObamaCare, he would be a natural choice for President Obama for his 2nd term.

President Obama’s reelection lifted much of the cloud that hung over the health care industry in Massachusetts, where caregivers and insurers anticipated a push to repeal the national health care overhaul if Mitt Romney had become president. But Romney was not elected.

“This outcome provides an opportunity for greater cooperation and less contention,” said James Roosevelt Jr., chief executive of Tufts Health Plan.

But health care organizations are still seeking clarity on many features of ObamaCare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, many of which have not yet taken effect. The federal overhaul includes regulations requiring insurers to invest in new technology and funds for expanding Medicaid and revamping Medicare payments as the states press forward with their own efforts to rein in costs and build more integrated health care networks.

Obama’s victory “removes a layer of uncertainty for health plans, providers, and employers,” said Andrew Dreyfus, chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest health insurer.

In 2012 James Robinson Jr wrote an op-ed with Robert L. Reynolds, a Republican and CEO of Putnam Investments,  where he advocates raising the Social Security retirement age at a brisker pace and cutting back the growth of benefits with a different Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Robinson wrote “.. we should accelerate the rise in Social Security’s full-benefit retirement age from age 67 to 68 by 2030 and then index the full benefit age for future generations to gains in longevity. Life expectancy past age 65 has risen nearly 50 percent since 1940, when Social Security first began regular monthly payments. That said, we should improve disability options for those engaged in physically demanding jobs. No one expects coal miners or telephone line crews to work into their late 60s.”

He went further to say “On the benefits side, we should change the way we calculate the cost-of-living adjustment for all beneficiaries, by utilizing a revised Consumer Price Index which most economists agree more accurately reflects the rate of inflation for the expenses most seniors incur. Such a change would curb the rate of increase in benefits for future generations of retirees […]”

Considering President Obama’s attitude and behavior with respect to the “Fiscal Cliff” negotiations I am betting he will select James Robinson Jr to be the next Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

This just in from former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

The press and public have understandably focused in recent weeks on high-profile appointments such as the secretaries of state, defense and treasury as President Barack Obama builds his second-term team. They also should pay close attention to the search for a man or woman to serve as commissioner of the Social Security Administration — a post central to the national welfare and, with a six-year term, an appointment that will continue into the next presidency.

The Social Security Administration, headquartered just outside Baltimore in Woodlawn, touches the lives and pocketbooks of nearly every American. With this cornerstone of our social compact under demographic pressure and political threat, the president’s choice for a successor is vitally important.

Washington is a land of partisan extremes these days, a place where compromise is an orphan and dealmakers are a rare sight. Inevitably, Social Security will again be a political football as Congress attempts to manage America’s fiscal challenges. As a veteran of more than a few policy debates and political fights — some of which didn’t end the way I’d have liked — I want suggest what I think are key job requirements for the new commissioner:

•The nominee should bring substantial managerial experience. The Social Security Administration has roughly 62,000 employees. The agency processes payments of $4.5 billion to 6 million recipients every month. It needs a strong CEO capable of running a large and complex organization that does high-stakes work.

•The nominee should bring considerable policy expertise. For more than 20 years, actuaries have battled, often very publicly, over the viability of Social Security’s funding mechanism. It would be profoundly foolish today to ignore the demographic challenges the retirement of baby boomers will pose to the system. The remedy should not be a Band-Aid, but structural reform for the long haul.

The next commissioner, unlike some predecessors, should bring to the job a detailed historical knowledge of Social Security — of decisions that have made the system stronger and of others that have weakened it.

•Diplomatic skills will be essential. The commissioner of Social Security will need to deal not only with criticism from his or her natural political opponents but also with substantial pressure from natural allies. A commissioner perceived as a zealot or out of touch with the private sector will have a hard time advancing arguments for a new structure of benefits or changes to Social Security’s long term funding.

•The commissioner of Social Security needs considerable fortitude. One of the most important aspects of the job is appearing before Congress (approximately four times a year, though the frequency can shift). For at least the next two years, that will mean confronting a Republican-controlled Congress whose leadership lives in fear of tea partiers whose rhetoric would suggest they’d like to see Social Security dismantled altogether. The next commissioner of Social Security will need the strength of will and command of facts necessary to stand toe-to-toe with well-prepared congressional foes.

•Finally, the next commissioner will have to be someone passionately dedicated to the principles that underlie the Social Security system and eloquent in articulating those principles.

The vast majority of Americans want a fair system that offers dignity to the elderly while preserving economic opportunity for current and future workers. They deserve a commissioner who can ensure Social Security operates properly, provide a vision for its long-term future and lead the fight to preserve it from political critics or demographic threats.

(Bill Bradley)

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Congress to SSA “Let’em Die. That’s Life, right?”

10,000 people died waiting for a disability decision in the past year. Will he be next?

WEBSTER COUNTY, Miss. – On the 597th day, the day he hoped everything would change, Joe Stewart woke early. He took 15 pills in a single swallow. He shaved his head. And then he got down to the business of the day, which was the business of every day, and that was waiting. He looked outside, and saw his mother there in a green sedan, engine running. So many months he had waited for this moment, and now it was here. Time for his Social Security disability hearing. Time to go.

Stewart, 55, set out on crutches, tottering out of his mobile home and down a metal ramp he’d laid when stairs became too much. “I’m sweating my ass off,” he said, getting into his mother’s car, his long-sleeved dress shirt hanging open. He tilted the passenger seat all the way down, placed a pillow at the small of his back and, groaning and wincing, settled in as best he could.

“Did they say long-sleeved?” asked his mother, Jean Bingham, 73.

“It was the only decent shirt I had!” he said.

He knew only what he’d been told by his lawyer, who wanted to see him again before the hearing, and that was not to wear a T-shirt and to bring along a list of medications he uses to treat the pains that are all he has to show for a lifetime spent installing vinyl siding throughout Webster County. Neurontin for nerve pain. Baclofen for muscle spasms. Trazodone for depression. Hydroxyzine and Buspirone for anxiety, a condition that seemed to worsen each day his wait stretched into the next.

Stewart had first applied for federal disability benefits on May 21, 2015. The application was denied, and so was his appeal. When he appealed the second rejection, he went to the back of one of the federal government’s biggest backlogs, where 1.1 million disability claimants wait for one of some 1,600 Social Security administrative law judges to decide whether they deserve a monthly payment and Medicare or Medicaid. “A death sentence” is how Stewart, who has no health insurance, has come to think of another denial.

For other applicants, the wait itself may be enough to accomplish that. In the past two years, 18,701 people have died while waiting for a judge’s decision, increasing 15 percent from 8,699 deaths in fiscal 2016 to 10,002 deaths in fiscal 2017, according to preliminary federal data obtained by The Washington Post. The rising death toll coincides with a surge in the length of time people must wait for a disposition, which swelled from a national average of 353 days in 2012 to a record high of 596 this past summer.

The simplest explanation is that there isn’t enough money. The Social Security Administration’s budget has been roughly stagnant since 2010, while the number of people receiving retirement and disability benefits has risen by more than 7 million, despite a slight decline in the disability rolls beginning in 2015 as some beneficiaries reached retirement age.

The more complicated explanation, however, also includes fewer supporting staff members helping judges. A recession that increased the number of applications and appeals. A new regulation that requires additional medical evidence, lengthening the files judges have to read. And heightened scrutiny in the aftermath of a 2011 scandal in Huntington, W.Va., where one judge, who approved nearly everyone who came before him, was later convicted of taking $600,000 in bribes. Since then, according to a September report by the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, the average judge has gone from deciding 12 cases every week to fewer than 10, a relatively small slowdown that, spread across hundreds of weeks and hundreds of judges, has contributed to the crushing backlog.

                                                                                          

     (Above, Left, see AALJ President, ALJ Marilyn Zahm and ALJ Randy Frye, Past President.)

“I know that people will die waiting,” said Judge Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ). “This is the reflection of our priorities as an American people. We have decided it’s better for people to die than to adequately fund this program. . . . Will this get worse? Will the number of people who die double?”

While lengthy everywhere, the wait times have stretched longer still in some places, such as in Miami, where people wait an average of 759 days, and Long Island, where the wait is 720 days, and northern Mississippi, where the average is 612 days, and where Stewart couldn’t stop shaking in his car seat.

“My shirt is undone, I ain’t going to be able to put it in my pants. My pants are too tight,” he said, rummaging through a red bag filled with his medications, realizing he had forgotten to bring something to eat.

“You didn’t eat no breakfast?” his mother asked.

“I ain’t have the time!” he said.

He hadn’t felt pressure like this in years – not since he last worked in April 2015, and his world was reduced to food stamps, credit cards and the confines of a single-wide trailer, parked along a country road that few cars go down. He had thought about this day ever since. What would the judge ask him? Would he believe him? Or would he think he was lying, too lazy to work? Would he finally get an answer, or would the wait continue?

Stewart took an anxiety pill and looked at the car’s speedometer.

“Never going to get me there in time,” he told his mother as she steered through the remote county of hills and pine where nearly 1 in 5 working-age adults receive either Supplemental Security Income, for the disabled poor, or Social Security Disability Insurance, for disabled workers.

He fidgeted with the air conditioning vents, opening them up.

“I’m going from chills to hot spells,” he said. “I’ve got hot spells now.”

He leaned back.

“I’m getting cool.”

Then: “I’m sweating.”

Then: “I’m getting worse now.”

For most of his life, Stewart had believed things could only get better. He had been raised with the conviction that a man was only as good as what he could accomplish with his hands, and so he had always felt good, because he could do so much with his. After high school, he started out building furniture. Then he worked as a carpenter. But vinyl siding was what he loved completely. Cutting the metal. Measuring it out. Hauling it in his truck and completing a job worth being proud of, worth attaching his name to, and that was a promise he made to every customer after opening his company, Premium Siding, 10 years ago.

At the time, the county was in the midst of a steady and precipitous decline, accelerated by a recession that never seemed to end, and Premium Siding’s profits were barely enough for Stewart to survive on, let alone pay for health insurance. So already carrying two decades of work injuries – falling off ladders, getting shocked by hot wires – he would sometimes go to a community clinic that charged $35 per visit. Or more likely, he’d use a heating pad and try to think about anything but pain, until one day in the summer of 2013, when pain became nearly the only thing he could ever think about.

He can’t remember what he tried to pick up. He remembers only that he had been out at a work site, lifting and cutting 50-pound coils of metal. He remembers reaching for something that had barely weighed anything. He remembers the sharp, immediate pain, the sudden realization that his back might never be the same, and that, for everything he would ultimately lose, he had never even touched whatever it was he had reached for. The doctor would later say he had a compressed vertebra and a pinched nerve in his lower spine. But in that moment, it felt more stabbed than pinched – “vicious, terrible stabbing” – and he went home, to his bed, which was where he was, four years later, on another day of waiting, when an alarm went off.

Nine in the morning. Time for his medication. He turned on the lights – three bare bulbs – and saw again what his life had become, in this trailer he allowed no one to enter, not even his mother. He stumbled past the leather furniture that hadn’t been sat on since he hurt his back, and the NASCAR toy cars he carefully collected years ago, covered in a thick film of dust along one wall, and the kitchen countertop obscured by months of trash.

“Let’s just get it over with,” he said, looking at his bottles of medicine.

The pills made him drowsy, and he went to the only place he could still sit. The Ab Lounge, an exercise chair he had bought to strengthen his lower back but now used because it could recline just so, was where he conducted his affairs. There were empty peanut jars nearby, a stack of debts and a remote control, which he picked up. A science-fiction show came on, and he tried not to think about the bankruptcy papers he would soon need to file. Or the yard out back he could no longer tend to and had to poison. Or the utter sameness of his life, every day so much like the one before, that his memory felt increasingly blurred. Or that just about the only time his phone rang anymore, as it did at this moment, was when a bill collector called.

“Yeah? Okay,” he said into the phone, realizing it was only his mother, who was planning to use her Social Security check to buy him more medicine later that day. “That will work.”

He hung up and shook his head, unable to handle the shame of it anymore. He had promised himself that if he was denied again, he’d no longer accept his mother’s help. He’d let his pills run out, and his trailer go dark, and start drinking again. So much in his life depended on others now, from the television his brother had helped pay for, to the groceries delivered by his mother, who also took him wherever he needed to go, including on this morning to see his lawyer before his Social Security disability hearing.

“I just need silence,” he said, in the car, hoping that would calm him.

“I’m not used to all of this, Joe!” she said, giving him a weary look.

“I need – I need silence.”

The car went quiet, and Stewart waited for the anxiety medicine to take hold. For his hands to stop quivering. For the car to carry him past all of the payday loan shops and empty storefronts of Webster County to an office belonging to a lawyer who he believed could help him.

“Hugh Gibson Law, this is Samantha, can I help you?” the receptionist was saying to another caller.

On the other side of the counter, sitting on a thick-cushioned couch in the waiting area, was a thin man with gaunt features who grimaced whenever he shifted in his seat. Every now and again, someone at the office would ask him if he needed anything.

Water? Something to eat? Want to lie down?

The man tightened his grip on his cane.

“I want someone to shoot me,” he finally said.

“Hugh Gibson Law,” the receptionist said to another caller.

A few minutes later, Gibson, the most prolific Social Security disability lawyer in Webster County, a tall, garrulous 71-year-old who himself walks with a limp and a cane, came into the waiting room, glanced at the man on the couch and headed into the back of the office. Gibson had spent years witnessing the disintegration of people like him, marooned in a disability adjudication system that he still believed could be a force for good, despite everything. He started taking disability cases four decades ago, when claims in Webster County predominantly involved illnesses and car accidents. But then the factories that once powered the county’s economy closed, and more unemployed workers started applying, and the wait became longer and longer.

When potential clients now ask about applying for disability, Gibson tells them that it could be two years minimum before they get a judge’s decision, and that they can’t work while they wait if they want to be approved. They usually lose the car first, then the house. Next comes bankruptcy. Stresses accrue, marriages fracture, pains and illnesses mount, and some die right before their hearings, when the wait is worst, and when Gibson brings clients into his office to prepare one final time, clients like the thin man with the cane, Joey Sims, 36, now seated in front of him.

“Does he have a good case?” Gibson asked his assistant.

“He hasn’t been to the doctor but twice this year,” she said.

“A semi-idiot then,” Gibson sighed, knowing that the severity of a medical condition mattered only so much as what was documented, and not enough was documented here.

“If I had money to go see the doctors, then I wouldn’t need help,” Sims said, exasperated.

“Yeah, well, we have serious things to deal with to get you approved,” Gibson said, glowering, because it seemed that way with every case. If clients weren’t too young, then often there were drugs in their pasts. Or they’d return to the job after an injury and, even if they quit soon after, it would look to a judge like they could still work.

“I’ll do whatever you need me to do,” Sims pleaded, and Gibson began a routine he performs for all of his clients, the same one he did again the next day for an anguished woman in a back brace.

“You can’t just go in there and be an idiot,” he told her.

“They don’t pay liars,” he told her.

“See that shirt you got on? Don’t wear that,” he told her.

Gibson knew how terrible he must sound sometimes, hollering at clients, cutting them off, ordering them around, but he also knew what could happen if he didn’t. They could say something to a judge that would be innocuous in other circumstances – that they could drive, or mow grass – but could lead to a quick denial, which had been happening more often, as the disability approval rate among judges nationwide dropped from 73 percent in 2008 to 55 percent last year.

There were increasingly days when Gibson wondered whether it was time to scale back. After all, he was paid only if his clients won. Maybe the other lawyers were right, some cases just couldn’t be won. And that was how he was quietly beginning to feel about Stewart.

Outside Gibson’s office, Stewart held a stack of medical papers and, disoriented, tried to listen as his mother asked question after question.

“Are you taking those in there?” she asked of the documents.

“How long is this going to take?” she asked.

“Are you going to be okay?” she asked.

“Remind me to tie my shoes,” was all he managed to say, going inside the law office, shoelaces flopping this way and that. He took a seat in a back room, head full of doubts. If he couldn’t focus well enough to answer his mother’s questions, how was he going to answer the judge’s?

“Joe,” Gibson said, riffling through all 169 pages of his medical file. “Let’s go over what you do all day.”

Stewart didn’t say anything. His mouth was dry. He was still wearing sunglasses he’d forgotten to take off.

“What time do you get up?” Gibson asked after a moment.

“Around nine,” Stewart said.

Gibson cringed.

“How many of [your medications] make you lightheaded?” came another question.

“Quite a few,” Stewart said. “About half.”

Another bad look came over Gibson’s face. He tapped his pen against the folder.

“Make no mistake, if you don’t do this well, you’re going to lose,” he said slowly. “You’ve got to speak up and tell him what is what and not be vague. ‘Sometimes.’ ‘A little while.’ ‘A little bit.’ ‘Not very much.’ ‘A whole lot.’ All those words. They don’t mean anything. They don’t mean anything. You might as well just open your mouth and close it. Because nothing comes out worse than those vague words. And I just want to grab people and slap them – wake up! You can’t just say ‘sometimes’ with a judge!”

“Lord, mercy,” Gibson said, telling Stewart that he could not have drawn a stricter judge. James Prothro had the 31st lowest approval rating among Social Security administrative law judges, according to a Washington Post analysis of every judge’s disposition record between January 2010 and April 2017. During that period, Prothro decided 2,610 cases, approving 27 percent of them.

Later, Stewart would get angry. He would think about all of the people he had seen in Webster County receiving benefits whose disabilities he considered milder than his, and wonder how they had gotten them, and why everything had to be so difficult for him. But at that moment he just nodded slowly, wanting to absorb everything Gibson said – stand to show he couldn’t sit for long; never say, “I don’t know” – until Gibson rose from his seat.

“You have a slim shot,” he said. “People sitting around the house, watching TV all day, they’re not used to talking, and I understand that. But I have to get you to talk. Tell the judge the things the judge needs to know. Can you do that, Joe?”

And then Stewart was back in the car, and he was rummaging for his anxiety medicine, and he was saying, “I need to put it in my pocket so I can remember to take it,” and he was going into a courtroom, and the door behind him was closing, and it was locking, and he was trying to stay calm.

Five-hundred and ninety-seven days.

One-hundred and sixty-nine pages of medical evidence.

One hearing.

How to condense so many years of physical deterioration, so many days of waiting, into one hearing? How to convince someone of pain, when no one can see it? How to remember to say everything that needed saying – the pills taken, the number of pounds that can be lifted, the distance that can be walked, the falls, the different doctors and their names?

So Stewart did his best to follow Gibson’s directions. He carried his back pillow into the courtroom. He stood when he felt pain. He was specific. He said, “burning in the chest.” He said, “I went to see my chiropractor, but they wanted $60, so I haven’t been back.” He said, “My mother, she’s tired of driving me around; she has other things to do.”

And he tried to look at the judge, to express with his eyes what he couldn’t with words, but the judge wasn’t in the room at all. He was sitting in front of a camera in another courtroom 65 miles away in another Social Security Administration building in Tupelo, Mississippi part of a government policy to work down the backlog by holding some disability hearings by video-tele-conference. Stewart heard the disembodied voice of someone whom Gibson called a “vocational expert,” whose role it was to use, among other sources, the government’s list of possible jobs, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, last updated in 1991, to discern whether there was any work someone like him could do anywhere in the United States, regardless of pay, distance from his house, or whether he would be hired.

And then an hour had passed, and the hearing was over, and Gibson was saying, “Thank you, your honor.” Stewart, feeling dazed and unsure whether that was really it, sat for a moment, until he saw everyone else was standing. He got up. He collected his crutches and walked outside with Gibson, who was going on and on about the judge.

“One lawyer – a good lawyer – they had 13 cases with him, and they didn’t win a one,” he said. “Not a one.”

“Whether or not he’s going to pay you, I do not know,” he said.

“So we’ll wait and see. . . . You might not get a decision until February.” And: “It may be six months.”

Gibson said something about errands he had to run, shook Stewart’s hand and got into his bright red truck. And Stewart, now caught in another backlog of people awaiting a disposition after the hearing – which has doubled in the last year, from 35,000 claimants to 70,000 – watched him drive off, then saw his mother. She was in her car, waving at him to move it, so he climbed in and reclined the seat until he was nearly supine.

“Can I ask you a question?” said his mother, who had sat outside the courtroom but overheard something about a videoconference. “Was he in there?”

“Who?” Stewart asked.

The judge.

“No, he was on TV,” he said, and she looked confused.

“Well, I’m relieved it’s over,” she finally said.

“It ain’t over,” he responded, and there was nothing else to say, so on they went to Webster County, through the endless rows of tall pines, past the houses Stewart had once worked on, stopping at his trailer. “There’s another day,” his mother said and pulled away, and he was alone again. The trailer was dark inside. He took his afternoon medication. He sat in his Ab Lounge. The television came on. The pills started to do their work. The 597th day was over, and the only thing left to do was to wait for the 598th to begin.

(By  , November 21, 2017)

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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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