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.
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.