Posts Tagged With: Administrative law judge

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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Judge London Steverson, This Is Your Life

 https://www.amazon.com/My-Life-Coast-Guard-Tiger-ebook/dp/B077G9BS5R/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Judge London Steverson has written the story of his life. Trying to write a book about my life is like trying to describe the landscape by looking out the window of a moving train. The events continue to unfold faster than one can describe them. My life is a work in progress. For this reason I have decided to look at my life in phases that have a clearly defined beginning and an end. In this book I intend to describe that part of my life that was shaped by my involvement in the Martial Arts. 

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


IN A NUT SHELL 
I, London Eugene Livingston Steverson retired from the United States Coast Guard in 1988 as a Lieutenant Commander (LCDR). Later, I retired from the Social Security Administration (SSA) as the Senior Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in the Office of Disability Appeals and Review (ODAR) Downey, California.
In 1964, I was one of the first two African Americans to receive an Appointment as a Cadet to the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. I graduated in 1968. After two years at sea on an Icebreaker, the USCGC Glacier (WAGB-4), and another two years as a Search and Rescue Operations Officer in the 17th Coast Guard District Juneau, Alaska, I was appointed Chief of the newly formed Minority Recruiting Section in the Office of Personnel at Coast Guard Headquarters, 7th and D Street, SW, in Washington, DC. My primary duty was to recruit Black High School graduates for the Coast Guard Academy. This was my passion, so I set about this in a most vigorous manner.
I have written several books concerning Military Justice, famous Courts-martial Cases, and Social Security Disability Determination Cases. I am a retired member of the New York State Bar Association, The Association of The Bar of The City of New York, and The Tennessee Bar Associations.
A Presidential Executive Order issued by President Harry Truman had desegregated the armed forces in 1948, but the military academies lagged far behind in officer recruiting.
President John F. Kennedy specifically challenged the Coast Guard Academy to increase appointments to qualified Black American high school students.
I was one of the first Black High School students to be offered such an appointment in 1964. I had a Black classmate from New Jersey, Kenny Boyd. We would become known as “The Kennedy Cadets”, because the pressure to recruit us originated with President John F. Kennedy.
On June 4, 1968, I graduated from the Coast Guard Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and a commission as an Ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard.
My first duty assignment out of the Academy was in Antarctic research logistical support. In July 1968 I reported aboard the Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) Glacier (WAGB-4), an icebreaker operating under the control of the U.S. Navy. I served as a deck watch officer and head of the Marine Science Department. I traveled to Antarctica during two patrols from July 1968 to August 1969, supporting the research operations of the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Research Project in and around McMurdo Station.
In 1974, while still an active duty member of the Coast Guard, I entered The National Law Center of The George Washington University. I graduated in 1977 with a Juris Doctor of Laws Degree.
I worked as a Law Specialist in the 12th Coast Guard District Office, San Francisco, California and as an Assistant U. S. Attorney for the collection of Civil Penalties under the Federal Boating Safety Act from 1979 to 1982. As Assistant District Legal Officer, I was required to defend as well as prosecute military members who had been charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Occasionally I was asked to represent other officers in administrative actions involving sexual harassment and discrimination. One such case was the Case of Christine D. Balboni . 

 Ensign (ENS) Balboni was one of the first female graduates of the Academy, Class of 1981. She filed the first case of Sexual Harassment case in the military.

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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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Psychologist In SSA $550 Million Fraud Case Sentenced

Adkins gets 25 years, $93M in fines

 A Pikeville, Kentucky, psychologist’s involvement in disgraced former Attorney Eric Conn‘s $550 milion Social Security fraud scheme and rejection to take a plea deal will cost him 25 years behind bars and more than $93 million in fines, the U.S. Department of Justice announced September 22, 2017.

Doctor Alfred Bradley Adkins (PHd), 46, was sentenced by Lexington-based U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves of the Eastern District of Kentucky after a jury found him guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire frauds, one count of mail fraud, one count of wire fraud and one count of making false statements after a June 2017 trial.

The $93 million in restitution will be paid to the Social Security Administration and other agencies. He was also ordered to forfeit $187,600 in fees.

While Adkins was the final defendant to be sentenced in the case, the book on the largest Social Security fraud case in the nation may never close with its ringleader Conn missing after he absconded from supervision prior to his own sentencing.

As part of the complex scheme, former Huntington-based SSA Administrative Law Judge David Black Daugherty would seek out pending disability cases claimants represented by Eric Conn and assign the cases to himself.

From 2004 to 2011, Conn solicited Adkins to sign medical evaluation forms his office had previously prepared, without reviewing or even evaluating claimants. He received $350 for each approval. Conn subsequently sent the forms to Daugherty, who in turn approved the claimants’ requests for disability.

Their scheme obligated SSA to pay more than $550 million in lifetime benefits to claimants. Of at least 3,149 disability cases filed by Conn, more than 1,700 have been deemed fraudulent by government investigators.

Conn paid Daugherty more than $609,000 for granting benefits and nearly $200,000 to Adkins for signing the forms. For his part, Conn received more than $7 million in attorney’s fees.

Conn fled from the area prior to his sentencing and was last spotted in July at a gas station and a Walmart in New Mexico, according to the FBI, citing photos from surveillance cameras.

Despite his absence, Reeves sentenced him to 12 years in federal prison, the maximum allowed for stealing from the government through fraudulent disability claims and paying bribes to a Social Security judge.

Conn was ordered to pay more than $100 million in restitution to Social Security and Medicare, along with $5.7 million to the U.S. Department of Justice. He also received a $50,000 fine.

Daugherty, 81, was sentenced last month to a four-year federal prison sentence and to repay more than $93.8 million in restitution to the government agencies

A fourth man involved, Charlie Paul Andrus, 67, who was the chief administrative law judge in the Huntington Social Security Office, admitted to retaliation against an office whistleblower, was sentenced to serve six months in prison.

A $20,000 reward is being offered to information leading to Conn’s arrest. Those with information are asked to call the FBI’s Louisville, Kentucky, office at 502-263-6000.

  • (By COURTNEY HESSLER,
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Red Flag Judges At Social Security Says Rep. Jackie Speier

 

When California Rep. Jackie Speier is not chasing military officers looking for sexual sadists, she is following Social Security Judges trying to “red flag” them. She proposes a system to review cases from “red flag” judges. Judges who have high approval rates send up ‘red flags’. Speier has had enough. The Democrat from San Mateo who has been on the front lines fighting to expose and correct the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment in the military has turned her attention to her own colleagues. Representative Speier introduced a bill that would require all House members and staff to take sexual harassment training every two years.

 Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, one of the heads the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on health care, say Social Security employees should be allowed to look at the social media profiles (such as, Facebook, Twitter, etc) of those applying for disability, reasoning that photos and other information people post can expose the applicants as able-bodied.

She also said that two Social Security judges may have approved thousands of bogus disability claims, but the agency has never gone back to review those judges’ cases to stop the ones that were fraudulent.

Speier said the agency should come up with a system to review cases from “red-flag” judges who show inclinations toward rubber-stamping applications.

In an exhaustive 11-page memo to Social Security acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin, she  detailed nearly a dozen recommendations for improving a disability system that has received an explosion of applications in recent years and is in danger of going bankrupt by 2016.

It was indefensible that the Social Security Administration (SSA) hasn’t reviewed applications approved by two administrative law judges, David B. Daugherty in West Virginia and Charles Bridges in Pennsylvania, who have been accused of making bogus disability determinations.

Kia Anderson, a spokeswoman for Social Security, said the SSA takes fraud seriously and will review the lawmakers’ recommendations.

“We recognize that one case of fraud is too many and work aggressively to detect and prevent abuses. We continue to enhance our program integrity efforts by adding tools like data analytics which enables us to identify patterns of suspicious behavior in disability applications,” she said.

She made a pitch for Congress to grant more funding so the SSA can put more effort into preventing fraud.

The oversight committee has been looking into the disability issue for some time and took testimony from Judge Jasper J. Bede, an SSA Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge who told investigators that some judges appeared to be rubber-stamping applications. (Read more at http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757)

Judge Bede singled out Judge Bridges, who decided more than 2,000 cases a year and who often went beyond looking at an applicant’s disability and considered income or other factors.

Judge Daugherty, meanwhile, approved 99.7 percent of his cases from 2005 through 2011, awarding disability benefits to 8,413 people — the equivalent of $2.5 billion in total lifetime benefits.

Major cases of disability fraud have been reported in West Virginia, Puerto Rico and, most recently, New York City, where investigators said police officers falsely claimed disability from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Some of those New York cases were exposed in part because investigators found online photos of the officers engaged in flying helicopters, going on deep-sea sport-fishing trips and riding personal watercraft.

That is one reason lawmakers want Social Security employees to scour social media before approving applications, and again when they go back for periodic checks, known as continuing disability reviews (CDR).

“To increase efficiency and reduce the number of erroneous disability determinations, SSA personnel should be allowed to review each applicant’s social media accounts prior to the decision to award benefits. Additionally, we suggest that SSA require that all CDRs incorporate a review of the beneficiary’s social media accounts,”  Ms. Speier said.

 

Social Security has repeatedly refused to let its investigators use social media, arguing that its judges aren’t trained to evaluate the information.

“Adjudicators should do what they are trained to do: Review voluminous files to determine eligibility for disability benefits. Office of Inspector General fraud investigators should do what they are trained to do: vigorously follow up on any evidence of fraud,” said Ms. Anderson.

From 2010 through 2012, Americans filed 8.6 million disability claims, but judges and Social Security’s disability review office reported only 411 suspicions of fraud. That works out to fewer than one out of every 20,000 applications.

Part of the problem is that Social Security is lax in reviewing cases of those deemed temporarily disabled to see whether they have recovered.

But a review of cases from 1980 through 1983 found 40 percent of those receiving disability benefits were not disabled, suggesting a tremendous level of bad payments.

Disability judges who have high approval rates send up red flags because by the time a case gets to an administrative law judge, it has already been denied by at least one previous review at the State DDS, and often by a second DDS review, the two lawmakers said. That would suggest the approval rate for those cases should be low.

Social Security is made up of two trust funds. The main one is the Old Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, with the Disability Insurance Trust Fund accounting for a smaller but growing part of the agency’s work.

 

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Social Security Administration Pays Lip Service To Disabled Veterans

Social Security launches new expedited disability process for veterans

Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, today announced the launch of a new disability process to expedite disability claims filed by veterans with a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation rating of 100% Permanent & Total (P&T). Under the new process, Social Security will treat these veterans’ applications as high priority and issue expedited decisions, similar to the way the agency currently handles disability claims from Wounded Warriors.

“We have reached another milestone for those who have sacrificed so much for our country and this process ensures they will get the benefits they need quickly,” said Acting Commissioner Colvin. “While we can never fully repay them for their sacrifices, we can be sure we provide them with the quality of service that they deserve. This initiative is truly a lifeline for those who need it most.”

“No one wants to put America’s veterans through a bureaucratic runaround,” said Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes, a leading proponent for increasing assistance to veterans. “As the baby boomer generation ages and more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need care, this common sense change will help reduce backlogs and cut through unnecessary red tape so that our most disabled veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned.”

In order to receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100% P&T and show proof of their disability rating with their VA Notification Letter.

The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an approval for Social Security disability benefits. These veterans must still meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.

The Acting Commissioner is doing nothing more than giving lip service to disabled veterans in this announcement. This is an empty promise. It is a carrot on a stick. It is a distinction without a difference. This is just a lot of hot air. This will not reduce backlogs and cut through unnecessary red tape. It will have little or no influence on the 1500 Social Security Administration  Administrative Law Judges, many of whom are not veterans and have no sympathy for the disabled veterans. In almost 20 years as a SSA ALJ I never heard more than one or two express anything more than contempt for the military and veterans. When Viet Nam disabled veterans came in for disability hearings they were not given any compassionate consideration. There are a lot of draft dodgers from the 1960s in the ALJ corps. A lot more women are coming into the ALJ corps; many are anti-military.

The requirements for getting benefits have not changed. In order to receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100% P&T and show proof of their disability rating with their VA Notification Letter. It is very difficult for a veteran to get a 100% Permanent and Total Rating. The Acting Commissioner was honest enough to say that “The VA rating only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an approval for Social Security disability benefits. These veterans must still meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.”

Putting the best face possible on this, what the Acting Commissioner has done is promise to provide the the wounded warriors with the quality of service that they deserve. BUT, they should have been getting that all along. That would have been the professional thing to do. So, I ask you, what has changed?

www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability-pt.htm

For information about this service, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability-pt.htm.

 

For more about Social Security’s handling of Wounded Warrior’s disability claims, please visit

http://www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.

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

Social Security Judges Must Follow Treating Physician Rule

Judge Revives Claim For Disability Benefits

 

Eastern District Judge Arthur Spatt (See Profile) has ordered the Social Security Administration (SSA) to reconsider its decision to deny disability benefits to a 55-year-old union carpenter with a knee injury, finding that an administrative law judge rejected the opinions of the man’s treating physician without justification.

The plaintiff, William Box, slipped and fell on the job in January 2009. He was later diagnosed with multiple injuries in his right knee, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus. He eventually underwent two surgeries. In November 2009, Box applied for disability benefits. In August 2010, an administrative law judge denied the application. An Appeals Council (A/C) denied Box’s petition for review, and in March 2012, he sued the Social Security Administration seeking to overturn the decision.

Box’s treating physician, Benizon Benatar, submitted an opinion that Box was completely disabled because he could not stand or walk for more than two hours a day.

Another doctor, Erlinda Austria, also examined Box at the request of the New York State Division of Disability Determination. Austria opined that Box was capable of light work. A person capable of light work is presumed to be able to stand and/or work for six of eight hours in a day.

District Judge Spatt found that the ALJ had improperly credited Austria’s testimony over Benatar’s without justification, going against the “treating physician rule,” which requires deference to an applicant’s treating physician.

While an ALJ can choose not to credit a treating physician, Spatt said, that choice must be justified by an analysis of the record, which the ALJ did not do.

Spatt therefore remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

The Claimant, William Box is represented by Sharmine Persaud.

The SSA is represented by Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Lipari.

The case is Box v. Colvin, 12-cv-1317.

(Brendan Pierson, New York Law Journal,March 19, 2014  )
Read more: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202647472089/Judge-Revives-Claim-For-Disability-Benefits#ixzz2wRwdyspq

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

Video Hearings At Social Security Are A Denial Of Due Process Rights

Social Security Disability Video Hearings Increased In 2013

Social Security Disability Video Hearings Increase In 2013, Allsup Reports

More people than ever before attended a video hearing in 2013 while seeking Social Security disability benefits.

The number of video hearings increased to 179,308 in fiscal year 2013, more than double the 86,320 video hearings in FY 2009, according to data released by the Social Security Administration (SSA) in its Annual Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2015. This was an increase of nearly 17 percent from 153,592 video hearings the previous year (FY 2012).

Video hearings are one of the methods SSA uses to reduce the backlog of SSDI claims.

The use of video-conferencing technology to exclude the Claimant from being physically present in the same Hearing Room as the ALJ and other witnesses violates the Claimant’s due process rights. 

A Claimant who can only observe witnesses on a television screen will not be able to observe

the demeanor  of the witnesses and properly ascertain the accuracy and reliability of their proffered evidence.

( http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757)

The primary  reason, among others, for the use of video hearings is to reduce travel costs and conserve the time of its ALJs and hearing support staff without diminishing the Claimant’s ability to effectively participate in the hearing.”

Social Security (SSA) recently changed its rules regarding videoteleconferencing (VTC), and is now sending notices regarding VTC at an early stage of the hearing level. The new notice requires a decision within 30 days whether or not to object to a video hearing. Previously, the objection to VTC was not made until the time a hearing was actually scheduled.
By moving forward the date by which an objection can be made, the issue of whether to accept a VTC is much easier. You may not know the identity of your judge or when your hearing will be scheduled. This should, make it much easier to “Just say No” to a video hearing.
Social Security loves to use VTC. It is an effective way to reduce a Backlog. There are national hearing centers where administrative law judges (ALJ) hear cases all day by video from remote locations.
SSA expected this change in policy would lead to fewer objections to video hearings. It might have the opposite effect. Logically, if claimants have lawyers who give good advice, this might lead to more refusals to VTC hearings.
Claimants’ representatives are acquainted with the ALJs in their area. They know what the ALJs are looking for in order to decide a case. They can read their body language at an in-person hearing.
A smart attorney would not risk the possibility of his cases being heard by a distant unknown ALJ.
There is another issue that attorneys must consider. ALJs from remote parts of the USA have different and sometimes strange ways of looking at and sizing-up claimants. Also, claimants in certain regions of the USA have different and unique behavioral habits. These peculiarities will effect how an ALJ looks at and judges the claimant and the evidence. Many times it is like a roll of the dice to accept a VTC Hearing. It is safer to “Just Say NO!”.
Every case will be different. It would not be smart to adopt a blanket policy. Every case should be evaluated on its own merit, but the first impulse should always be to refuse to accept a VTC Hearing. You have little to gain and much to loose.

A Claimant could argue that the SSA ALJ must give the Claimant an “opportunity to appear,” as provided in the U S Constitution which requires the defendant and the judge to be physically present in the same courtroom.

 Most reasonable people would agree with this contention, referring to the meaning of appear and to the traditional understanding of a Claimant’s appearance before a court empowered to deprive him of his property, that is to say, his Disability Benefits.

It is noted that both the Webster’s Dictionary and the Black’s Law Dictionary define appear and

appearance so as to suggest that an appearance can only occur if the person comes into the physical presence of the judge. To appear means to be physically present.

The form and substantive quality of a hearing is altered when either the defendant or

the judge is absent from the hearing room, even if he or she is participating by video-conference.

SSDI is a federal insurance program that provides monthly income to people under full retirement age (65-67) with a severe disability lasting at least 12 months or a terminal condition.To apply for SSDI benefits, someone must be unable to work.

SSDI is funded by FICA payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers.

Individuals reach the hearing level after their initial application has been denied two times by the State Disability Determination Service (DDS).

Most hearings are still held in person before administrative law judges (ALJs). But Social Security is increasing its ability to perform hearings through video conferencing, including using video at National Hearing Centers. The SSA has five of these centers in Albuquerque, N.M., Baltimore, Chicago, Falls Church, Va., and St. Louis. (Statistics provided by ALLSUP)

A claimant will give up important due process rights if he or she opts for a video hearing.

During a video hearing, the ALJ, claimant and representative interact with each other using videoconferencing equipment, very similar to a large television. The judge usually remains at his location and connects by video with the claimant at his or her location.

Video conferencing can be more convenient for the claimant, if he or she lives in a remote area. And it saves travel time for the judge.

Consider the following information when preparing for an SSDI hearing.

  •     How should I dress? A hearing is not a time to dress casually. A business suit isnt required, but jeans, shorts and flip flops arent a good idea, even for a video hearing.
  •     What happens when I get there? The process typically is the same for hearings, video or in-person. The judge leads the hearing, and he or she asks questions of the claimant and the representative.
  •     Whats different with a video hearing? It can be important for someone to provide technical support, to make sure the video and sound quality are good, and to ensure the sound recording is working properly. The sound recording is kept for the records.
  •     Who else is there? There also can be vocational experts, medical experts and other witnesses at the hearing to provide testimony.
  •     How does the hearing end? The entire hearing may last about an hour as the ALJ evaluates the information being provided by the person who is seeking SSDI benefits and other testimony. When the judge has all the information he or she needs, the hearing is ended. Its rare that the judge announces the decision (to award or approve) at the conclusion of the hearing.

Some people become very frustrated at video hearings.

  • MADISON, Wisconsin — A Wisconsin Rapids woman will spend three years on probation for threatening to kill a federal administrative law judge (ALJ).

    Fifty-one-year-old Norma Prince was sentenced Thursday March 6, 2014. Prince pleaded guilty in December.

    Prosecutors say the incident happened Jan. 31, 2013, when Prince appeared at a Social Security disability benefits hearing in Wausau.

    Administrative Law Judge Thomas Sanzi was presiding over the hearing by video teleconference from Madison. Prosecutors say Prince became upset and threatened to shoot Judge Sanzi and cut off his head. The hearing was halted and Prince was escorted from the courtroom.

    Prince’s husband told a federal agent that his wife had bought two .22-caliber rifles about a month before the disability hearing.

    At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman said Prince’s mental health issues can be controlled through medication and supervision.

      A video-conference hearing is one  at which all parties were physically present except for the judge and the court reporter, who participate by video-conference from a remote location.

    SSDI claimants should challenge the judge’s decision to conduct a hearing by

    video-conference.

    I present here the question of first impression for SSA SSDI appeals: “whether the

    use of video-conferencing to conduct a hearing violates  the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.

    Although the SSA and no SSA ALJ has previously confronted this exact

    issue, the question of the constitutional and statutory validity of the use

    of videoconferencing technology by the Federal Administrative Agencies is far from

    novel. As technology has advanced rapidly, the SSA has been faced with a surge of new, unforeseen issues that it has had to resolve without legislative direction.

    The invention of video-conferencing appeared to be a perfect solution to the SSA; so, it  has encouraged the use of video-conferencing systems in the Hearing Rooms.

    Courts and government agencies have implemented the use of

    video-conferencing technology in post-conviction proceedings, including

    probation, parole, and supervised release revocation hearings.

    The courts of appeals are beginning to strike down the practice, but only on

    statutory grounds. This trend appears to rest on the general principle

    of judicial restraint that requires courts to avoid constitutional questions

    if statutory analysis is sufficient.

    However, in the absence of legislation or a decision from the United

    States Supreme Court, there remains the potential that SSA ALJ Hearings and other federal courts,  could find that video-conferencing violate a Claimant’s Due Process rights.

    Therefore, the due process rights undermined by the use of video-conferencing technology

    deserve the judiciary’s attention, particularly the right to be present at your Hearing, and to effective assistance of counsel and the right to confront adverse witnesses, such as, SSA’s Consultative Medical Examiners (ME) and Vocational Experts (VE).

     Videoconferencing at Rule 43 Criminal Proceedings

    In the 1990s and early 2000s, circuit courts first considered whether

    the use of videoconferencing at a criminal proceeding governed by Rule 43

    satisfies the statutory requirement that a defendant be “present.”

    Since that time, the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have held

    that the use of videoconferencing at Rule 43 proceedings violates a

    defendant’s statutory rights. For example, the Tenth Circuit confronted this issue in 2002 in

    United States v. Torres-Palma. In Torres-Palma, the defendant appeared by videoconference at his

    sentencing, which took place in a different state than where the judge presided. In determining that Rule 43 required a defendant to be physically present at sentencing, the court concluded that the content and the plain reading of the text of Rule 43, along with the Webster’s Dictionary and Black’s Law Dictionary definitions of presence and present, mandated that physical presence

    was required.

     Fifth Circuit noted that the rights protected by Rule 43 include not only due process rights and the common law right to be present, but also the right of a defendant to meet face-to-face with witnesses appearing before the trier of fact, as governed by the Confrontation Clause.

    After the Tenth Circuit’s decision and the decisions of its sister circuits, it was clear that, even though the use of videoconferencing could increase productivity and save money, the technology was not appropriate for Rule 43 proceedings because it violated both common law and statutory rights to be present.

    The reason for the use of video hearings is to reduce travel costs and conserve the time of its ALJs and hearing support staff without diminishing the Claimant’s ability to effectively participate in the

    hearing.”

    Violates his statutory  and constitutional rights when it denied his request for an in-person

    hearing. Specifically,  the use of videoconferencing violated his due process rights and 18 U.S.C. § 4208(e), which requires that a prisoner “be allowed to appear and testify on his own behalf.

    A Claimant could argue that the SSA ALJ must give the Claimant an “opportunity to appear,” as provided in the U S Constitution which requires the defendant and the judge to be physically present in the same courtroom.

     Most reasonable people would agree with this contention, referring to the meaning of appear and to the traditional understanding of a Claimant’s appearance before a court

    empowered to deprive him of his property, that is to say, his Disability Benefits.

    It is noted that both the Webster’s Dictionary and the Black’s Law Dictionary define appear and

    appearance so as to suggest that an appearance can only occur if the person comes into the physical presence of the judge. To appear means to be physically present.

    The form and substantive quality of a hearing is altered when either the defendant or

    the judge is absent from the hearing room, even if he or she is participating by video-conference.

    The Seventh Circuit of Appeals referred to the Supreme Court’s decision in

    Escoe v. Zerbst, in which the Supreme Court determined that a lower

    court’s decision to revoke a defendant’s probation without a hearing

    violated the requirement that he be “brought before the court.” Although Escoe

    predated video-conferencing technology, and the Internet for that matter, the case provided the traditional legal understanding of a person’s appearance. In Escoe, the Court held that

    “‘the end and aim of an appearance before the court’ under the statute was to ‘enable an accused [parolee] to explain away the accusation,’ and this required ‘bringing the [parolee]

    into the presence of his judge.’” Additionally, the Seventh Circuit referenced the statutory language of other Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that explicitly allow for the use of videoconferencing.

    The court reasoned that, since video-conferencing is permitted only with stated exceptions in the rules, the use of the technology “is the exception to the rule, not the default rule itself,” and that Rule 32.1’s “opportunity to appear,” therefore, excludes appearance by video-conference.

    During its interpretation of the opportunity to appear, the court also examined the statutory rights owed to a defendant at a revocation hearing. Rule 32.1 provides, in pertinent part, that:

    The person is entitled to: . . . (C) an opportunity to appear, present

    evidence, and question any adverse witness . . . ; [and] (D) notice of the

    person’s right to retain counsel or to request that counsel be appointed if

    the person cannot obtain counsel . . . .

    After determining that the opportunity to appear requires a parolee to come into the physical presence of the judge, the court furthered its statutory analysis by noting that this right is not isolated, but instead exists in conjunction with the right to “present evidence,” to “question

    any adverse witness,” and to “make a statement and present any evidence in mitigation. Appearance in court is “the means by which the petitioner effectuates the other rights conferred” by Rule 32.1.

    The conjunctive force of a defendant’s opportunity to appear is particularly important to the defendant’s right to “make a statement and present any information in mitigation” because “appearing before the court allows the [parolee] to plead his case personally to the [deciding]

    judge.”

    This right, known as the right of allocution, “ensures that the defendant has the opportunity to ‘personally address the court’ before punishment is imposed.” Without the physical meeting, the court reasoned, the judge could not experience the impressions of any personal confrontation wherein he or she attempts to assess the parolee’s credibility or to evaluate the defendant’s true moral fiber. Consequently, without the personal, physical interaction between a judge and a parolee, the force of the parolee’s other rights guaranteed by Rule 32.1 is diminished.

    Finally, after determining that the judge’s participation by videoconferencing in Thompson’s revocation hearing violated Rule 32.1, the court vacated Thompson’s term of re-imprisonment and

    remanded. The court resolved the second issue, whether video-conferencing violated Thompson’s due process rights, in a one-sentence footnote: “Because we hold that the judge’s participation by

    video-conference violated Rule 32.1, we need not address Thompson’s argument that holding the hearing by video-conference violated the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.”

    The Court then turned its analysis to the nature of the process that is due a parolee at a revocation hearing, wherein it laid out the minimum requirements of due process. Accordingly, a parolee must have an opportunity to be heard and to show either that he or she did not violate the conditions of release or, alternatively, that there are mitigating circumstances.

    Further, the Court held that the minimum requirements of due process include, in pertinent part, the “(c) opportunity to be heard in person and to present witnesses and documentary evidence; [and] (d) the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearing officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation).

    Defense counsel suffers a multitude of communication challenges when not in the presence of the judge or the courtroom. Anne Bowen Poulin, a law professor at the Villanova University School of Law, stressed in her discussion of the use of videoconferencing technology that “[t]he attorney will be unable to gauge the emotional interactions and mood of the courtroom as effectively to determine when and how to intervene on the client’s behalf.”She also examined various studies

    that suggest that alliances form among those who are in the same physical location—alliances against those who appear via video-conference.In the case where neither the parolee nor counsel is physically present at the revocation hearing, the effectiveness of counsel is even more imperiled. The court in Thompson, although faced with the opposite situation in which the judge appeared by video-conference, foresaw this consequence and determined that “[t]he important point is that the

    form and substantive quality of the hearing is altered when a key participant is absent from the hearing room, even if he is participating by virtue of a cable or satellite link.” The physical separation of a parolee from counsel inevitably takes its toll on the effectiveness of the counsel, and this effect is most strongly felt by the communication between them. Some courts have tried to curb this problem by providing telephone lines that allow for privileged communication.

    However, this practice still cannot replace the quality of the attorney–client relationship created by in-person interaction.

    According to Poulin, the human interactions that foster the relationship are muted by the technology, which detracts from the defendant’s experience. Likewise, counsel cannot gauge the defendant’s mental and emotional state, and neither party can use nonverbal cues to communicate with each other during a proceeding, both of which are necessary to effective communication. Despite the surplus of communication problems caused by the use of

    video-conferencing technology, Poulin believes that these adversities will not rise to the level of ineffective assistance of counsel in the eyes of the courts.

    However, effective communication is so integral to the role of counsel, and counsel’s ability to effectively assist a client, that it is likely to be a key consideration when a court determines whether the right to effective assistance of counsel has been violated by the use of videoconferencing technology at a revocation hearing. In fact, at least one court has recognized that the use of technology to physically exclude a parolee from the courtroom, as well as from counsel, violates the right to counsel because of the detrimental effect it has on communication.

    In Schiffer v. State, the District Court of Appeal of Florida heard an appeal from a revocation hearing and a subsequent sentencing hearing in which the parolee participated via

    video/audio arrangement. The court found that, because the parolee had no means by which to access and to communicate privately with his counsel, his right to counsel was “obliterated.” The court held that “[w]e can imagine no more fettered and ineffective consultation and communication between an accused and his lawyer than to do so by television in front of a crowded courtroom with the prosecutor and judge able to hear the exchange.

    The use of videoconferencing technology in revocation hearings also violates the parolee’s due process right to confront adverse witnesses.

    As with the right to effective assistance of counsel, the parolee’s due process right “to be heard in person”works in conjunction with the due process right to confront adverse witnesses. Without the parolee’s physical presence, there is no effective right to confront adverse witnesses that satisfies the minimum requirements of due process. The Ninth Circuit addressed this issue in

    White v. White when it considered whether a bar to the presence of an adverse witness at a

    parole revocation hearing violated due process.

    The court held that “[w]here the facts are contested, the presence of adverse witnesses, absent good cause for their nonappearance, is necessary to enable the parole board to make accurate

    findings.” Therefore, without good cause, the appearance or the presence of adverse witnesses is necessary.

    A parolee has a strong interest in the right to confront adverse witnesses at a revocation hearing, a proceeding at which the parolee’s liberty is at stake. The parolee, who will either want to argue innocence or prove factors in mitigation, cannot effectively exercise a right of confrontation when appearing via vide-oconference, away from the physical presence of the adverse witnesses. Like in Wilkinson, a parolee who can observe witnesses only on screen will not be able to observe

    their demeanor and properly ascertain the accuracy and reliability of their proffered evidence, evidence that is often determinative of the parolee’s fate.

    Therefore, given the strength of a Claimant’s due process right of confrontation, and the insufficiency, or even the complete absence of good cause by the government, a Claimant should be able to successfully demonstrate that the use of vide-oconferencing technology

    to exclude the Claimant from being physically present in the same Hearing Room as the ALJ and other witnesses violates the Claimant’s due process right to confront adverse witnesses.

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It Is Getting Harder To Get Social Security Benefits. The Hearing Backlog Is Growing again.

Social Security Disability Hearing Backlog Growing Again

 Number of people waiting in the hearing backlog approaches 1 million.

If your application was denied and you must appeal your SSDI benefits claim, it’s important to avoid waiting to file and get help.  The Back Log of people waiting to attend a hearing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is growing closer to 1 million.

As of December 2013, there were 903,720 people who had filed an appeal and were waiting for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). , according to  data released by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

This is a nearly 7 percent increase from 847,984 hearings pending at the end of fiscal year 2013, and a 17 percent increase from 771,318 hearings pending in FY 2011.

As the waiting time grows longer, more and more people are enduring significant financial hardship to receive SSDI benefits through a program they paid into through FICA taxes while they were working.

The first-quarter FY 2014 data also shows that the time it takes to get a Hearing has increased to 393 days from 382 days in FY 2013.

Click here to see a state-by-state ranking of pending hearings, based on an analysis of SSA data.

 

The growing Social Security disability Backlog illustrates the challenges of meeting the SSA’s goals outlined in its FY 2008-13 Agency Strategic Plan.

Social Security had planned to reduce the hearing Backlog to 466,000 claims and the average processing time to 270 days, but a number of factors have worked against this.

Restricted funding has led Social Security to cut the hours its Hearing Offices are open to the public. In addition, the average wait time for calls going to the SSA’s national 800-number have increased. Since September 2010, the SSA has lost more than 7,400 employees from its workforce, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

At the same time that waiting times are growing to get a Hearing, it’s becoming much more difficult to receive SSDI benefits.

For example, the SSA reported that 89,332 people were granted benefits in December 2012. A year later, that number was reduced to 61,983 in December 2013, a 30 percent decline.

SSDI is a federally mandated insurance program that provides monthly benefits to individuals who are under full retirement age (65-67) and who can no longer work because of a severe, long-term or terminal disability. FICA payroll taxes paid by workers and their employers fund the program, which is administered by the SSA.

You Need Help When Filing An SSDI Appeal

Things To Consider When Applying for SSDI benefits.

1.    Consult An Attorney. Those who applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits without a representative have the opportunity to get help with a disability appeal. At the hearing level of the SSDI program, nearly eight in 10 applicants have a representative.

2.    Appeal Every Thing. When people apply for SSDI and are denied benefits, they may decide to give up on their application. It’s important to pursue a disability appeal because delaying or missing important dates can hurt someone’s claim. For instance, those who decide to wait and apply later may wait too long and become uninsured. The SSA requires individuals to be fully and currently insured in order to receive SSDI benefits. Generally, this means having a work history of five out of the last 10 years—and waiting too long could mean missing this window.

3.    Provide documentation and details. It may take the SSA two years or longer to review an SSDI claim through the appeals process, which points to the importance of good documentation. Continue to work closely with your doctors to document updates, new tests and test result. It’s also important to correct any errors, explain changes and provide more detail with your SSDI appeal.

More than 168,000 people applied for SSDI benefits in December 2013 and entered the growing line for review of their disability insurance claims.

It is important for new SSDI applicants to realize they need expert help with their application. That expertise and attention to your claim can result in benefits as early as your initial application. That means avoiding disability appeals altogether.

 

Find more information about SSDI disability appeal see http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757

 

(Statistics Source: ALLSUP) ABOUT ALLSUP :

Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, veterans disability appeal, Medicare and Medicare Secondary Payer compliance services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Allsup professionals deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. Founded in 1984, the company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, go to Allsup.com or visit Allsup on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Allsupinc.

 

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Judges Stripped Of Judicial Independnce At SSA

SSA increases oversight of judges in disability determinations

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced plans to increase its oversight of judges (ALJs) in the disability determination process.
February 25, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ — In an effort to improve consistency in the disability determination process (SSDI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced plans to step up its oversight of the administrative law judges (ALJ) who are responsible for awarding or denying disability benefits. The Social Security Disability Insurance program provides financial benefits to people who are unable to work because of a mental or physical disability. 
The program has increased substantially in the years since the U.S. economy took a downturn in 2008, and there are now approximately 11 million people receiving disability benefits nationwide. New job descriptions for judges To expand its oversight of the eligibility determination process, the SSA is rewriting the job descriptions of approximately 1,500 judges, who in the past have been given broad discretion over the outcome of eligibility hearings. In recent years, these eligibility hearings have yielded notoriously unpredictable results.
According to a 2011 report by the Wall Street Journal, an applicant’s likelihood of being awarded disability benefits can vary dramatically depending on the judge; while a handful of judges award benefits in nine cases out of ten, others deny benefits nearly as often.  
The new job descriptions will include language stating that the judges are subject to supervision and will remove the words “complete individual independence,” the WSJ reported. It is hoped that the changes will increase accountability among the judges and allow the SSA to take corrective measures when judges award or deny benefits inappropriately.
 Disability benefit determination 
Before becoming eligible to receive SSDI benefits, an applicant must first establish that he or she meets the SSA’s requirements for being considered “disabled.” To do so, the applicant must demonstrate that each of the following is true: – The individual cannot work because of a medical condition. – The condition has lasted or is expected to last for a year or more, or is expected to result in death.
 While the process of applying for SSDI benefits may seem relatively straightforward, in practice it can be cumbersome, time consuming and often frustrating. Not only is it necessary to submit medical records and other evidence of disability, but in most cases applicants are also required to attend an eligibility hearing before an administrative law judge.
Benefits often available after initial denial
Overall, first-time disability applicants are denied benefits as much as, according to some estimates, but a majority of denied applicants who pursue an appeal are eventually awarded benefits.
 In many cases, working with an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer can significantly improve an applicant’s chances of being awarded benefits, whether it is a first-time application or an appeal.
(Article provided by The Berkley Law Firm Visit us at www.berkleylaw.net — Press release service.)
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