Posts Tagged With: Social Security

Social Security’s 79 th Birthday Celebration Marred By Massive Problems

Social Security Has No reason To Celebrate Its 79th Birthday, Massive Problems Are Rampant

SSA Service Cuts, Computer

Problems Plague

Social Security’s 79th Birthday.

Recent reports slam the Social Security Administration (SSA) for (1) reduction in staff, (2) cutting operating hours and (3) computer systems that do not work.
The SSA should have reason to celebrate. After all, August 14, 2014, marked its 79th Birthday, the day when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act, which ushered in the landmark entitlement program.
However, the SSA’s birthday was less than cheerful, coming on the heels of an audit that criticized the SSA for deciding to cut staffing and reduce its service hours. At the same time, the SSA learned that its new multimillion-dollar computer system may very well have turned out to be an expensive failure.
According to the audit produced by the SSA’s own Inspector General’s (IG)  Office, “overall service has suffered” because of the agency’s 2011 decision to trim its staff by nearly 11,000 employees and reduce its weekly field office hours from 35 to 27. The audit found that the end results of the agency’s cutbacks were felt as soon as fiscal year 2013, when “the public waited longer for a decision on their disability claim, to talk to a representative on the National 800-Number and to schedule an appointment” at a field office.
The process of applying for Social Security disability benefits takes a significant amount of time and is very complex. The Inspector General’s findings represent unwelcome news for disabled Americans who need a speedy resolution of their claims.
Compounding the critical assessment from the Inspector General’s Office, an internal report has concluded that the SSA’s new $300 million computer system, which was designed to handle its disability claims, does not work.
The agency laid the groundwork for the new system in 2008 when its aging computers were swamped by disability claims. But the recent report found that delays and mismanagement still plague the new system. And SSA officials have not been able to answer queries on when the new system will be up and running.
The Social Security Administration may have thought that its new computer system could make up for its decision to cut back service, but that assumption was dependent on the system actually working. Instead, already long wait times for the processing of disability claims are getting even longer.

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

Social Security Administration Uses IRS To Seize Poor Peoples’ Tax Refunds To Pay For Debts Incurred By Their Parents

Social Security, Treasury target taxpayers for their parents’ decades-old debts.

Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post – Mary Grice of Takoma Park, MD, talks with her attorney Robert Vogel, at Vogel’s home in Rockville Maryland, April 5, 2014.

A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt.
When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.

Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. Why the feds chose to take Mary’s money, rather than her surviving siblings’, is a mystery.

Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of taxpayers who are expecting refunds this month are instead getting letters like the one Grice got, informing them that because of a debt they never knew about — often a debt incurred by their parents — the government has confiscated their check.

The Treasury Department has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds already this year — $75 million of that on debts delinquent for more than 10 years, said Jeffrey Schramek, assistant commissioner of the department’s debt management service. The aggressive effort to collect old debts started three years ago — the result of a single sentence tucked into the farm bill lifting the 10-year statute of limitations on old debts to Uncle Sam.

No one seems eager to take credit for reopening all these long-closed cases. A Social Security spokeswoman says the agency didn’t seek the change; ask Treasury. Treasury says it wasn’t us; try Congress. Congressional staffers say the request probably came from the bureaucracy.

The only explanation the government provides for suddenly going after decades-old debts comes from Social Security spokeswoman Dorothy Clark: “We have an obligation to current and future Social Security beneficiaries to attempt to recoup money that people received when it was not due.”

Since the drive to collect on very old debts began in 2011, the Treasury Department has collected $424 million in debts that were more than 10 years old. Those debts were owed to many federal agencies, but the one that has many Americans howling this tax season is the Social Security Administration, which has found 400,000 taxpayers who collectively owe $714 million on debts more than 10 years old. The SSA expects to have begun proceedings against all of those people by this summer.

“It was a shock,” said Grice, 58. “What incenses me is the way they went about this. They gave me no notice, they can’t prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus.”

Grice filed suit against the Social Security Administration in federal court in Greenbelt,MD., alleging that the government violated her right to due process by holding her responsible for a $2,996 debt supposedly incurred under her father’s Social Security number.

Social Security officials told Grice that six people — Grice, her four siblings and her father’s first wife, whom she never knew — had received benefits under her father’s account. The government doesn’t look into exactly who got the overpayment; the policy is to seek compensation from the oldest sibling and work down through the family until the debt is paid.

The Federal Trade Commission, on its Web site, advises Americans that “family members typically are not obligated to pay the debts of a deceased relative from their own assets.” But Social Security officials say that if children indirectly received assistance from public dollars paid to a parent, the children’s money can be taken, no matter how long ago any overpayment occurred.

“While we are responsible for collecting delinquent debts owed to taxpayers, we understand the importance of ensuring that debtors are treated fairly,” Treasury’s Schramek said in a statement. He said Treasury requires that debtors be given due process.

Social Security spokeswoman Clark, who declined to discuss Grice’s or any other case, even with the taxpayer’s permission, said the agency is “sensitive to concerns about our attempts to arrange repayment of overpayments.” She said that before taking any money, Social Security makes “multiple attempts to contact debtors via the U.S. Mail and by phone.”

Grice, who works for the Food and Drug Administration and lives in Takoma Park, in the same apartment she’s resided in since 1984, never got any notice about a debt.

Social Security officials told her they had sent their notice to her post office box in Roxboro, N.C. Grice rented that box from 1977 to 1979 and never since. And Social Security has Grice’s current address: Every year, it sends her a statement about her benefits.

Their record-keeping seems to be very spotty,” she said.

Treasury officials say that before they will take someone’s refund, the agency owed the money must certify the debt, meaning there must be evidence of the overpayment. But Social Security officials told Grice they had no records explaining the debt.

“The craziest part of this whole thing is the way the government seizes a child’s money to satisfy a debt that child never even knew about,” says Robert Vogel, Grice’s attorney. “They’ll say that somebody got paid for that child’s benefit, but the child had no control over the money and there’s no way to know if the parent ever used the money for the benefit of that kid.”

Grice, the middle of five children, said neither of her surviving siblings — one older, one younger — has had any money taken by the government. When Grice asked why she had been selected to pay the debt, she was told it was because she had an income and her address popped up — the correct one this time.

Grice found a lawyer willing to take her case without charge. Vogel is exercised about the constitutional violations he sees in the retroactive lifting of the 10-year limit on debt collection. “Can the government really bring back to life a case that was long dead?” the lawyer asked. “Can it really be right to seize a child’s money to satisfy a parent’s debt?”

But many other taxpayers whose refunds have been taken say they’ve been unable to contest the confiscations because of the cost, because Social Security cannot provide records detailing the original overpayment, and because the citizens, following advice from the IRS to keep financial documents for just three years, had long since trashed their own records.

In Glenarm, Ill., Brenda and Mike Samonds have spent the past year trying to figure out how to get back the $189.10 tax refund the government seized, claiming that Mike’s mother, who died 33 years ago, had been overpaid on survivor’s benefits after Mike’s father died in 1969.

“It was never Mike’s money, it was his mother’s,” Brenda Samonds said. “The government took the money first and then they sent us the letter. We could never get one sentence from them explaining why the money was taken.” The government mailed its notice about the debt to the house Mike’s mother lived in 40 years ago.

The Social Security spokeswoman said the agency uses a private contractor to seek current addresses and is supposed to halt collections if notices are returned as undeliverable.

After hours on the phone trying and failing to get information about the debt Mike’s mother was said to owe, the Samondses gave up.

After waiting on hold for two hours with Social Security last week, Ted Verbich also concluded it wasn’t worth the time or money to fight for the $172 the government intercepted last month.

In 1977, Verbich, now 57, was in college at the University of Maryland when he took a full-time job in an accountant’s office. Because he was earning income, he knew he had to give up the survivor’s benefits his mother had received since his father died, when Verbich was 4. But his $70 monthly checks — “They helped with the car payment,” he said — kept coming for a short time after he started work, and Verbich was notified in 1978 that he had to repay about $600. He did.

Thirty-six years later, with no notice, “they snatched my Maryland tax refund,” said Verbich, a federal worker who has lived at the same address in Glendale, Md,. for 30 years and regularly receives Social Security statements there. The feds insisted that he owed $172 but could provide no documents to back up the claim.

Verbich has given up on getting his refund, but he wants a receipt stating that his debt to his country is resolved.

“I’ll put in the request,” a Social Security clerk told Verbich, “but in reality, you’ll never get anything.”

Grice was also told there was little point in seeking a waiver of her debt. Collections can only be halted if the person passes two tests, Clark said: The taxpayer must prove that he “is without fault, and [that] repayment of the overpayment would deprive the person of income needed for ordinary living expenses.”

More than 1,200 appeals have been filed on the old cases, Clark said; taxpayers have won about 10 percent of those appeals.

The Treasury initially held the full amount of Grice’s federal and state refunds, a total of $4,462. Last week, after The Washington Post inquired about Grice’s case, the government returned the portion of her refund above the $2,996 owed on her father’s account.

But unless the feds can prove that she ever received any of the overpayment, Grice wants all of her money back.

“Look, I love a good fight, especially for principle,” she said. “My mom used to say, ‘This country is carried on the backs of the little people,’ and now I see what she meant. This is really sad.”

(Fisher, Marc, The Washington Post, April 11, 2014, p. A1)

FORT THOMAS, Ky. – Cathy Frost opened her mail last week expecting to receive her tax refund. Instead, the Treasury Department sent her a notice that Uncle Sam was keeping her $344.

“I was taken aback. I had already allocated the funds. I couldn’t believe it,” the Fort Thomas woman said Friday.

“I didn’t know the government could just keep your refund. I felt like I was being robbed.”

Thousands of Americans had the same feeling when they got the same letter.

Most of them didn’t know that the Treasury Department has been confiscating tax refunds to recover government over-payments – mainly in Social Security benefits –  from beneficiaries or their survivors.

Some of the debts, as in Frost’s case, are their parents’ and are decades old.

There was such an outcry from taxpayers and politicians that the Social Security Administration announced this week that it was going to stop seizing tax refunds pending an SSA review.

But that doesn’t help Frost, a 55-year-old single woman who just lost her job due to downsizing.

She found out she might not get her money back, even though the SSA overpaid her father – and not her – some  40 years ago, when Frost was a minor.

The whole episode has left her shaking her head, frustrated with her government.

Frost said she called the 800 number on the letter last week and talked with an SSA office worker in Chicago.

They were unable to give me any details, only that there was an overpayment of $869.20 that may have been dispersed to myself or any family member,” she said.

Frost said she told the SSA rep that her father had died when she was 18.

“I wasn’t eligible for benefits, but my younger brother was 17 and my sister was 15, so they would have received benefits for a short period of time,” she said.

“It could even have been my father, because my mother died when I was 9, so he might have received benefits from her.

“They said, ‘Well, that must have been it.’ But they couldn’t tell me for sure. They said they didn’t have any details.

“They said all they could do is take a request to have somebody contact me and send me more information.

“I thought, ‘This is insane! How could people do that? And this is our government!’ “

When the SSA announced that it was suspending the seizure program, the agency directed Frost and other taxpayers to visit a field office and request a waiver for the overpayment.

Frost said she went to the SSA office in Florence on Good Friday, April 18th.

“They checked the records and told me it was an overpayment to my father when I was a minor, so I’m eligible for a waiver,” she said.  “They gave me a list of things I’m supposed to turn in, and if they determine I’m not able to afford the overpayment, they will waive it.”

Talk about government red tape.

The SSA wants to see Frost’s rent or mortgage payments, utilities, loans and credit card payments, medical and dental payments, insurance, property taxes and other fees and obligations, she said.

Before she left the office, the staffer gave her a list of local attorneys, she said.

She said she’s thinking about calling one.

“We’re not talking about that much money, and they’d probably decide I’m able to afford it. But I don’t make that much and I just got downsized from Avon after 17 years,” Frost said.

It doesn’t seem fair for the government to penalize me for something that happened when I was a minor, that I was not a part of.”

She said the government did not seize her brother’s or sister’s tax refunds – only hers.

The Social Security Administration says it has identified about 400,000 people with old debts. They owe a total of $714 million.

So far, the agency says it has collected $55 million.

There used to be a 10-year limit on collecting old debts, but thanks to an unidentified legislator who slipped a rider into the 2008 farm bill, the government can legally recover any overpayment, even from 40 years ago.

“It’s totally nuts,” Frost said.

CNBC (Apr 11, 2014)

US seizing tax refunds of children over parents’ debt?!

Friday, 11 Apr 2014

The government is now going through old records to see if it overpaid people on Social Security. If it thinks it did, it can now seize the IRS tax refund checks of the CHILDREN of those people it thinks it overpaid.

This isn’t a proposal—it’s already happening. For the past three years, the government has been confiscating hundreds of thousands of Americans’ tax refunds, according to the Washington Post. It has already confiscated $1.9 billion in tax refunds this year alone.

Peter Zander | Workbook Stock | Getty Images

The amazing thing is that the government is doing this even if it has little or no proof and no exact details. And the letters the government sends to unsuspecting taxpayers are frightening, use accusatory language, and include other financial threats.

“They gave me no notice, they can’t prove that I received any overpayment, and they use intimidation tactics, threatening to report this to the credit bureaus,” Mary Grice, who had her tax refunds seized a few weeks ago, is quoted as saying.

 

As usual, no one in the government is willing to take the responsibility for this new policy—Social Security said it didn’t do it, ask the Treasury Department. Treasury said—ask Congress.

If you think this is some kind of unprecedented outrage, you’re right. But here’s some advice: get used to it.

Tax refunds are clearly becoming the new promised land for government regulators and bureaucrats desperate for more revenues. We already know that confiscating tax refunds are the only real way the IRS will be able to impose Obamacare non-compliance penalties, and now it seems like the Social Security Administration is jumping on that bandwagon.

But there’s a more powerful and disturbing message here. Remember that the people who benefited from these alleged Social Security payments have not committed any crime—that’s why the government doesn’t need to provide any proof or real documentation. It’s more likely that the SSA simply screwed up and expects the descendants of its accidental beneficiaries to pay up. And again, the money comes out first before you can protest and find out why.

 

So, now we have yet another very good reason to make sure you don’t get a tax refund. First, getting a tax refund means you’ve given the government a free loan for 12 months.

Second, tax refunds are the only way you can be punished—rightly or wrongly—for any ObamaCare (Affordable Care Act) individual mandate non-compliance. And third, your tax refund is now a possible target for government bureaucrats who screwed up in the past and want to come after your money to make it right. If the SSA can do it, what’s to stop the other agencies?

After hearing this story, you wouldn’t think anyone would have to remind the public that Washington already controls too much of their money and has trampled on too much of our financial rights. But I will anyway since so many politicians and other elites don’t seem to be backing down on their incessant calls for more regulations, oversight and of course, more taxes.

 

Once again, we have a case of the government saying: “When you screw up, you pay. When we screw up, you also pay.”

If only our elected leaders would be so honest with us at election time.

This is commentary from Jake Novak, the supervising producer of “Street Signs.”

This is commentary from Jake Novak, the supervising producer of “Street Signs.”

 

POLITICS

Government suspends controversial program to recover money from adult children of dead taxpayers

social_security_benefits.jpg

The Social Security Administration announced Monday it is suspending a controversial program that goes after adult children of deceased taxpayers who the government claims were recipients of overpayments more than a decade ago.

Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin said she has directed an immediate halt to the three-year-old program while the agency does a review. The controversial program seized tax refunds in an effort to recoup the funds.

The move to stop the program came after many of the recipients and members of Congress complained to the federal agency.

“While this policy of seizing tax refunds to repay decades-old Social Security overpayments might be allowed under the law, it is entirely unjust,” Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Barbara Mikulski of Maryland said in a letter to Colvin.

The program was authorized by a 2008 change in the law that allows Social Security and other federal agencies to use a Treasury program to seize federal payments to recoup debts that are more than 10 years old. Previously, there was a 10-year limit on using the program.

In most cases, the seizures are done through tax refunds.

The change was tucked into the 2008 farm bill — but trying to track down which lawmaker added in the one line that lifted the 10-year statute hasn’t been easy. And, not surprisingly, Washington lawmakers haven’t been eager to step up to the plate and take the blame.

Leslie Paige, vice president of policy and communications at Citizens Against Government Waste, says it’s a common problem in Congress.

“Lawmakers try to sneak in these one or two lines into gigantic legislative packages,” Paige told FoxNews.com. “It’s a dirty little secret. Members of Congress don’t know what they are voting on most of the time.”

Paige said the “unintended consequences” of these bills are felt hardest on Americans often left powerless to fight the federal government.

“All [lawmakers] care about is ‘Did my pork, my earmark, my little provision get into this gigantic mess of a bill?’” she said.

Following Colvin’s announcement Monday, Boxer said in a statement: “I am grateful that the Social Security Administration has chosen not to penalize innocent Americans while the agency determines a fair path forward on how to handle past errors.”

Mikulski added, “Garnishing these refunds to collect overpayments incurred through no fault of their own and based on decades-old errors is a policy that must not continue.” 

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, praised the Social Security Administration for suspending the debt collection but continued to raise questions Monday about how this started.

It’s not clear where that authority came in. There’s a difference between collecting decades-old debt from the debtors and decades-old debt from their kids,” he said.

The Social Security Administration says it has identified about 400,000 people with old debts. They owe a total of $714 million.

So far, the agency says it has collected $55 million.

Colvin said she was suspending the programpending a thorough review of our responsibility and discretion under the current law to refer debt to the Treasury Department.”

“If any Social Security or Supplemental Security Income beneficiary believes they have been incorrectly assessed with an overpayment under this program, I encourage them to request an explanation or seek options to resolve the overpayment,” Colvin said.

The Washington Post first reported on the program.

There are several scenarios in which people may have received overpayments as children. For example, when a parent of a minor child dies, the child may be eligible for survivor’s benefits, which are typically sent to the surviving parent or guardian.

If there was an overpayment made on behalf of the child, that child could be held liable years later, as an adult.

Also, if a child is disabled, he or she may receive overpayments. Those overpayments would typically be taken out of current payments, once they are discovered.

But if disability payments were discontinued because the child’s condition improved, Social Security could try to recoup the overpayments years later.

“We want to assure the public that we do not seek restitution through tax refund offset in cases when the debt in question was established prior to the debtor turning 18 years of age,” Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle said in an email. “Also, we do not use tax refund offset to collect the debt of a person’s relative — we only use it to collect the overpaid benefits the person received for himself or herself.”

Hinkle said the debt collection could be waived if the person is without fault and repayment would “deprive the person of income needed for ordinary living expenses or would be unfair for another reason.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

 

‘Government suspends controversial program to recover money from adult children of dead taxpayers’

 

Social_security_card cc

In the words of 2 people I spoke to about this story – “How can this be legal?”

Good question. At least they’re stopping it.

 

(From FoxNews.com)

The Social Security Administration announced Monday it is suspending a controversial program that goes after adult children of deceased taxpayers who the government claims were recipients of overpayments more than a decade ago.

Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin said she has directed an immediate halt to the three-year-old program while the agency does a review. The controversial program seized tax refunds in an effort to recoup the funds.

Another win for social media.

Click here for the article.

 

9


Source

“Government suspends controversial program to recover money from adult children of dead taxpayers.” Foxnews.com, 2014-04-14.

 

Nick Sorrentino

About Nick Sorrentino

Nick Sorrentino is the co-founder and editor of AgainstCronyCapitalism.org. A political and communications consultant with clients across the political spectrum, his work has been featured at Breitbart.comReason.com, NPR.com, Townhall, The Daily Caller, and many other publications. A graduate of Mary Washington College he lives just outside of Washington DC where he can keep an eye on Leviathan.

House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Charles Boustany, and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Sam Johnson seek answers on Treasury debt recovery program

TreasuryHouse Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) recently sought answers about the Treasury Department’s Offset Program and its effects on children who once received Social Security benefits.
Boustany and Johnson wrote to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and acting Social Security Administration Commissioner Carolyn Colvin about recent reports that adults who may have once received Social Security benefits as children had their tax refunds withheld for overpayments made decades ago to their parents.
The parents of some of the affected citizens are deceased and many of the taxpayers never received notice that they owed a debt as provided under law.
Colvin announced last week that the SSA would stop additional referrals of debts to the Treasury Department owed to Social Security that are 10 years or older for collection under the Treasury Offset Program.
“SSA’s decision to stop referrals was the right thing to do,” Boustany and Johnson said. “However, Treasury and Social Security still owe an explanation to the American people. While the government must protect taxpayer dollars, it is difficult to justify the practice of seizing innocent Americans’ tax refunds to pay debts resulting from benefits they may or may not have received when they were children, with little or no notice or evidence documenting the overpayment. The sooner we have those answers the sooner we can work to protect Americans from agency actions that are harsh and unfair.”
The Washington Post reported on April 10 that the Treasury has intercepted $1.9 billion in tax refunds this year, including $75 million of delinquent debts 10 years of age or older. Additionally, 400,000 taxpayers who owe a total of $714 million in debts more than 10 years old have been identified by SSA.

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

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.

 

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

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

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.)
Categories: Social Security Judges | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SSA Judges In NYC Found Guilty Of Bias. 4,000 Disability Claimants Offered New Hearings

New hearings for SS claimants who received unfavorable decisions by ALJs.

A court has approved a settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit involving Social Security Disability claimants in the State of New York. The agreement will provide claimants with new hearings.

January 24, 2014 – A settlement agreement has been reached and approved by the court in a class action lawsuit involving Social Security Disability claimants in the State of New York. Among the different types of relief stipulated in the agreement, claimants are to receive fresh hearings in front of new Administrative Law Judges, or ALJs.

(The specifics of the lawsuit)

 In 2011, various Social Security Disability applicants who sought disability benefits received unfavorable or partially favorable judgements by one of five ALJs from the Queens, New York Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (SSA/ODAR).

The claimants argued that the rulings were biased.

 In April 2011, they filed a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration. The case was later filed as a class action and expanded to include approximately 4,000 total Social Security Disability claimants.

 Attorneys for both sides worked toward a resolution throughout the various months thereafter. (Settlement approved)

A settlement agreement was officially approved by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The approval came after written comments provided to the court as well as information obtained from the settlement hearings, among other evidence, were reviewed.

The Settlement Agreement includes individual, retrospective and prospective relief for claimants, new training and mentoring for ALJs, and a new Social Security Ruling, or SSR.

(New hearings for class members)

 In more specific terms, the Settlement Agreement stipulates that all eligible claimants, those who received unfavorable or partially favorable decisions from one of the named ALJ, defendant judges during the period stipulated in the complaint, will receive new hearings. The Social Security Administration indicates plans to send out notices to each claimant by the end of next month. Eligible claimants are provided 60 days to request a new hearing once their notices are received.

(Other settlement stipulations)

 The Settlement also stipulates that an automatic review will be conducted by the SSA’s Appeals Council (A/C)for any new claimants who receive unfavorable decisions (those that commenced October 2013 and for 30 months thereafter) by any one of the five ALJs named in the recent lawsuit. If the A/C determines any unfavorable decisions are legally insufficient, the claimant will automatically receive a fresh hearing in front of a new ALJ.

Under the agreement, the SSA will also provide additional training and mentorship to all ALJs to help them improve the ways they handle and conduct Social Security Disability hearings in the future. Additionally, the settlement stipulates a new Social Security Ruling that details new procedures on how to address allegations of “unfair ALJ hearings, ALJ bias, and ALJ misconduct.”

( Article provided by The Klein Law Group, P.C., at www.thekleinlawgroup.com)

NYC Social Security Disability Attorneys.

The Klein Law Group, P.C., fights for the rights of those who have been hurt at work or are unable to qualify for disability pay.

Practicing solely in New York state, with lawyers are highly knowledgeable in the area of New York workers’ compensation law, as well as the complex workings of the federal Social Security Administration.

The Klein Law Group, P.C., can confidently take your case at any stage, from initial application through final appeal before the Workers’ Compensation Board. In the rare event that you do not receive benefits, you pay no attorney’s fees.

The Klein Law Group, P.C., offers free consultations to discuss your rights and review your case. Contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our experienced New York workers’ comp attorneys.

Our international staff speaks Polish, Spanish, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese) and Russian.

 

Categories: Social Security Judges | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Big Fraud In The Big Apple

                                                                          (There are worms in the Big Apple.)

The Big Apple does everything in a big way. The Great White Way leads the world in live stage entertainment on and off  Broadway. The World Champion New York Yankees and the New York Knicks set the pace for world class sports entertainment. The New York Times, was the Queen of the Tabloids. The Wall Street Journal is the standard for world financial reporting.

New Yorkers like to do things in a big way; but, when it came to defrauding the Social Security Disability Program,  New York’s Police and Firemen have out-done themselves.

New York tabloids are having a field day with the news that dozens of ex-cops have been charged with scamming as much as $400 million in Social Security disability benefits. The bigger outrage is that this grand taxpayer theft went undetected for over two decades (25 years) and is merely part of the national scandal that the disability program has become.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. this week charged 102 retirees, including 80 former New York police officers and firefighters, with making phony disability claims since as far back as 1988 to obtain Social Security benefits and tax-free pensions equalling up to 75% of their pay.

About half of the cheats attributed their “disabilities” to the World Trade Center disaster on  9/11, even if they never even worked at Ground Zero. 

Heading the alleged racket were 64-year-old retired cop Joseph Esposito and 61-year-old detectives’ union consultant John Minerva. They recruited and then directed disability applicants to Raymond Lavallee, an 83-year-old former Nassau County prosecutor, and 89-year-old Thomas Hale who assists disability applicants. They are alleged to have acted much like college counselors, except their jobs were to make their clients look inept.

The group’s suspected ringleaders — retired officer Joseph Esposito, 64; detectives’ union disability consultant John Minerva, 61; lawyer and former FBI agent and suburban prosecutor Raymond Lavallee, 83; and benefits consultant Thomas Hale, 89. Messrs. Hale and Esposito allegedly coached applicants to feign psychiatric impairments by failing memory tests, dressing shabbily, and describing symptoms with statements such as “My [family member] is always after me about my grooming.” Many said they couldn’t leave the house except for short walks.

They claimed all this even as they have active lives and second careers. One ex-cop who claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) posted a YouTube video of himself teaching karate. Was he trying to make the cut for “America’s Dumbest Cops”?

{(Glenn Liebermann, shown above, received $175,758.40 in benefits. (Image source: NY Manhattan District attorneys Office)}

{(Richard Cosintino, shown above, is seen on a boat sword fishing. He received $207,639.70 in payments. (Image Source: NY Manhattan District attorneys Office.)}

Online photographs showed others riding motorcycles and jet skis, which we doubt passes as physical therapy.

The four ringleaders allegedly charged a flat fee that ranged from $20,000 to $50,000 per applicant. Mr. Lavallee also received $6,000 per applicant in attorney’s fees from the Social Security Administration.  He must really be enjoying his Golden Years.

Prosecutors say two doctors have also been arrested for allegedly agreeing to falsify claims in return for a cut of the disability benefits.

Mr. Vance says the 102 indicted retirees collected on average $210,000 in benefits.

Since most are still in their 40s or early 50s, each could have extracted hundreds of thousands more had the racket continued. One alleged fraudster is only 32 years old. Mr. Vance says as many as 1,000 people may have been involved in the scheme, and the investigation is continuing.

What’s remarkable about all this is that it’s merely an extreme example of what has been happening across the country. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs issued an amazing report last October describing how a Kentucky-based disability law firm colluded with a Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) David Daugherty to abuse the program. The report says that disability attorney Eric Conn employed attractive women to recruit applicants and hired doctors with records of ethical problems to falsify medical opinions.

He then steered his clients’ applications to ALJ David Daugherty. Administrative law judges re-evaluate de novo applications that have been rejected. Some like Judge Daugherty have a reputation for being “intellectually lazy,” to quote his professional colleagues. Judge Daugherty approved benefits in more than 99% of cases compared to a program-wide average of 62%, which is dubious enough. Between 2005 and 2011, he awarded an estimated $2.5 billion in lifetime benefits—while rarely being in the office.

Two women who worked in the SSA’s West Virginia office have filed a civil suit against Mr. Conn and Judge Daugherty. Mr. Conn responded in a statement that “it is noteworthy that the U.S. government studied the lawsuit for a year and a half and decided not to join it or get involved” and that “I have always tried to represent my clients in the best and most appropriate way possible, within all the laws and rules.” Neither man would answer questions at a Senate hearing in October 2013.

The gist of the Senate report is that the SSA’s  disability program (SSDI) has vague criteria for qualifying and lacks even the barest oversight, which makes it ripe for abuse. ALJs decide cases independently and are virtually immune to disciplinary action. Politicians enable the fraudsters by denouncing anyone who proposes a fix as an enemy of the disabled.

The truth is that opponents of reform are the ones hurting the truly disabled. The charts pictured above show how disability claims have exploded—to 8.9 million last year from 5.9 million in 2003 and 2.7 million in 1985. Not coincidentally, that is the year Congress relaxed eligibility standards to make it easier for people reporting pain, discomfort and mental illness to qualify for benefits. Like the jet-skiers in New York.

The second chart shows that all of these claims are bleeding the Social Security disability trust fund, which paid out $137 billion in benefits in 2012 or nearly twice as much as a decade ago. Without reform, the fund is on track to go broke in 2016, triggering either a 20% cut in benefits for all recipients or one more taxpayer bailout.

You’d think that fixing this mess would be a Washington priority, but Mr. Coburn and a few others are voices in the wilderness. Instead the country is treated to a political game over extended jobless benefits that might even be affordable if the Obama Administration cared a whit about stopping disability fraud. The polls say public trust in government is falling to new lows, but judging by the open secret of disability insurance scams it isn’t nearly low enough. (WSJ, Opinion, p.A12, 10 Jan 2014)

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS article:

NYPD, FDNY members cashed in on bogus 9/11 woes as part of massive $400M Social Security fraud: prosecutor

Dozens of former cops and firefighters claiming 9/11 trauma were among the 106 indicted for gaming the Social Security disability system to take early retirement and leech off the taxpayers, authorities said.

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

Photo from Facebook page of Glenn Lieberman, who is accused of participating in a Social Security disability scam to the tune of $175,758.40 according to the Manhattan DA’s office.

They spat on the memory of the real victims of 9/11.

Dozens of former city cops and firefighters used the 2001 terror attacks as an excuse to fund carefree lifestyles on the taxpayer’s dime, authorities said Tuesday.

The former NYPD and FDNY members — who claimed to have suffered stress-related woes from the World Trade Center attacks — were among 106 people indicted for a longstanding Social Security disability scam, officials said.

A former Brooklyn cop, Glenn Lieberman, 44, became the unwitting poster boy for the sprawling ripoff ring, which includes 71 other retired city cops, eight former firefighters and five ex-correction employees.

Lieberman, accused of being part of the crooked crew that soaked taxpayers for $21.5 million, showed his contempt in an undated photo released by prosecutors with a sick grin and two extended middle fingers.

The alleged ringleaders of the disability scam that dated back to 1988.

Joe Marino; Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News

The alleged ringleaders of the disability scam that dated back to 1988.

He and the former cops and firefighters were coached by ringleaders to act dysfunctional and steered to shady doctors who helped green-light disability payments of anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 a year, the 205-count indictment charges.

RELATED: CITY COPS, FIREFIGHTERS SUSPECTED OF SCAMMING SOCIAL SECURITY

“I can only express my disgust at the actions of the individuals involved in this scheme,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said.

He said he was particularly chagrined that 72 former members of the NYPD “disgraced themselves, embarrassed their families.”

“The idea that many of them chose the events of 9/11 to claim as the bases for this disability brings further dishonor to themselves,” Bratton added.

NYPD retiree Richard Cosentino felt good enough for marlin fishing in Costa Rica.

NYPD retiree Richard Cosentino felt good enough for marlin fishing in Costa Rica.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. suggested there might be additional indictments beyond those announced Tuesday by the time they wrap up the probe. The scammers operated from January 1988 until last month, and some 1,000 people filed fraudulent claims for as much as $400 million, Vance said.

The suspects flaunted their money and carefree lifestyle on social media, apparently never dreaming they would be caught.

“The brazenness is shocking,” said Vance.

RELATED: 2 TO SURRENDER IN NYC DISABILITY SCAM: SOURCES

Take Lieberman, an ex-Brooklyn South Gangs officer who quit the force in 2006 after 19 years on the job and collected $175,758.40 in disability payments based on a bogus claim of having a psychiatric disorder, prosecutors charged.

Surveillance photo shows Darrin Lamantia, a cop who retired on a disability claim, playing basketball.

Surveillance photo shows Darrin Lamantia, a cop who retired on a disability claim, playing basketball.

But the ex-cop, who now lives in Palm Beach, Fla., doesn’t look like a tortured soul as he sits on a Jet-Ski and flips a pair of birds in the photo.

Lieberman, who is charged with second-degree grand larceny and criminal solicitation, could not be reached for comment. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

But he was not the only suspect who lived the good life thanks to the fraudulent payments, officials said.

Vincent Lamantia, 43, a retired NYPD officer, used the $150,000 in disability money he collected between May 2010 and June 2013 to “fund his lifestyle,” Assistant District Attorney Bryan Serino said.

“He bragged about what he was doing in a series of YouTube videos,” Serino added.

Workers sift through the pile of rubble at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terror attacks.

ROBERTO BOREA/AP

Workers sift through the pile of rubble at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terror attacks.

RELATED: BERNIE KERIK RIPS ATTORNEY JOE TACOPINA IN BAR COMPLAINT

Richard Cosentino, a 49-year-old retired NYPD officer who now lives in New Hampshire, posted a photo of himself on Facebook with a massive marlin he caught.

“It was an awesome day off the coast of Costa Rica,” he wrote on Sept. 11, 2012, while many New Yorkers were marking the anniversary of the terror attacks.

Prosecutors say Cosentino stole nearly $208,000 between May 2008 and June 2013. He appears happy and functional in his picture.

Louis (Shidoshi) Hurtado, a 60-year-old former NYPD officer, has collected a whopping $470,395.20 since June 1989.

This flow chart provided by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office shows the layers of the scam and the alleged ringleaders.

This flow chart provided by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office shows the layers of the scam and the alleged ringleaders.

But being diagnosed with psychiatric problems didn’t stop him from running his own mixed martial arts school outside Tampa and boasting on its website about serving as a “personal bodyguard” to stars including Sean Connery and James Caan.

Prosecutors said the four ringleaders of the scheme should have known better.

RELATED: I’M TELLING YA, I’M A HERO!

Raymond Lavallee, 83, of Massapequa, L.I., accused of being the brains of the operation, is a former FBI agent who once ran the rackets bureau at the Nassau County DA’s office.

Thomas Hale, 89, of Bellmore, L.I., who allegedly served as Lavallee’s right-hand man, is a pension consultant.

Civilian worker Joseph Morrone (center) helps dish cannolis at the San Gennaro festival.

Civilian worker Joseph Morrone (center) helps dish cannolis at the San Gennaro festival.

Joseph Esposito, 64, of Valley Stream, L.I., a retired New York police officer, allegedly recruited many of the crooked cops and firefighters.

And John Minerva, 61, of Malverne, L.I., also allegedly steered people into the scam. He has been suspended from the Detectives Endowment Association.

The four alleged ringleaders are charged with first- and second-degree grand larceny and attempted second-degree grand larceny. Each faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Esposito said nothing when he turned himself in earlier Tuesday.

RELATED: CON MAN USED CLAIMS OF BEING 9/11 RESPONDER TO GET CLOSE TO CELEBRITIES

John Stefanowski, an ex-cop, loves golf.

John Stefanowski, an ex-cop, loves golf.

“While these are serious allegations, we were aware that they were coming,” his lawyer, Brian Griffin, said. “We did not avoid them.”

The lawyers for the other accused ringleaders protested their clients’ innocence.

Minerva’s lawyer, Glenn Hardy, said: “My client’s involvement in this scheme was minimal at best.”

Joseph Conway, who represents Hale, said his client was a “decorated World War II veteran.”

“For the last 30 years, he’s run a legitimate consulting company,” Conway said. “He vehemently denies any wrongdoing.”

John Famularo, an ex-Finest and motorcycle enthusiast, is accused of taking more than $340,000 in the scam.

John Famularo, an ex-Finest and motorcycle enthusiast, is accused of taking more than $340,000 in the scam.

Lavallee’s lawyer, Raymond Perini, said his client is a Korean War vet and former G-man who investigated organized crime in New York and Miami.

RELATED: GROUND ZERO ‘HERO’ ARRESTED

“He’s denied each and every allegation,” Perini said.

In an 11-page bail letter addressed to Justice Daniel Fitzgerald, prosecutors said cops seeking to claim a disability would seek out Esposito or Minerva, who would then steer them to Hale and Lavallee.

But it was Esposito who “coached” the applicants on what to say to doctors and urged them to “pretend” to have “panic attacks.”

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said he can only express his disgust over Social Security scheme.

JB NICHOLAS FOR NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said he can only express his disgust over Social Security scheme.

“You’re gonna tell ’em, ‘I don’t sleep well at night,’ ” Esposito was caught on a wiretap telling one defendant, Jacqueline Powell. “I’m up three, four times.”

Esposito and the other ringleaders got a kickback for every patient diagnosed with a stress-related illness, prosecutors charged. So did at least two doctors who were part of the scam.

None of the doctors involved has been named or indicted but they could face charges at a later date, officials said.

The DA’s office took on the probe after a Social Security official noticed a series of applications that all seem to be written with the same hand and that all had similar diagnoses.

The NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau joined the probe and uncovered the retired officers allegedly participating in the ripoff.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch said the union doesn’t “condone anyone filing false claims.”

With Larry McShane

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/4-surrender-social-security-scam-article-1.1568664#ixzz2q47HEfUl

During the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on Thursday January 16th, Rep. Tim Griffin (R- Ark.) raised questions about the disability program’s efficiency and accuracy in the wake of recent high-profile fraud cases.

Social Security Administration Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll and SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin testified before the subcommittee about the SSA’s ability to root out fraud and handle employees who are implicated in a scheme.

Colvin testified that 99 percent of disability payments are made correctly. Griffin, however, noted recent disability schemes in New York, Puerto Rico and West Virginia and challenged the accuracy of Colvin’s claim.

That talking point, Griffin said, “needs to be erased” because the nature of fraud makes it impossible to know how rampant abuse of Social Security disability has become.

Griffin also questioned the SSA’s ability to reprimand and fire SSA employees who are investigated or implicated in disability schemes.

“…We all know that in order to fire someone, they do not have to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law applying (the) beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” Griffin said. “That’s not the standard to fire people.”

O’Carroll said the preference is to place an employee on leave without pay while investigating criminal activities; however, sometimes employees are left in place and monitored in an effort to identify co-conspirators.

Ms. Colvin is running the agency until the White House nominates a commissioner, and the White House has not signaled when it might move on the vacancy.

Another 28 former NYPD officers and firefighters arrested in $400million disability benefits scheme

  • Dozens more arrested in social security disability scam totaled $400million
  • Of those arrested today, 16 were retired NYPD officers, four were ex-firefighters, one worked for both NYPD and FDNY among others
  • Comes after more than 100 other former New York police officers and firefighters were arrested in January
  • Were ‘coached’ on how to appear to be suffering from PTSD and other physical and psychological conditions
  • Some claimed that their disabilities stemmed from 9/11 clean up

By Meghan Keneally

|

 

Dozens more retired New York police officers and firefighters have been arrested in connection to the disability benefits fraud scheme.

Another 28 people have been arrested throughout the day, making this the second round of arrests in the wide-ranging social security benefits scheme.

The plot was first reported in January when the Manhattan District Attorney announced that more than 100 people were arrested after being involved in a longterm plot wherein they claimed to have disabilities like post traumatic stress disorder in an effort to steal hundreds of thousands from the government.

Being taken in: This is one of the 28 former police and firefighters who were arrested today for their alleged involvement in the benefit fraud scheme that stole up to $400million from taxpayers

Being taken in: This is one of the 28 former police and firefighters who were arrested today for their alleged involvement in the benefit fraud scheme that stole up to $400million from taxpayers

 

Tarnishing the badge: The latest batch of suspects have been named and have been rounded up

Tarnishing the badge: The latest batch of suspects have been named and have been rounded up

 

Perp walk: The 28 individuals- including at least six women- were brought to authorities in Manhattan on Tuesday

Perp walk: The 28 individuals- including at least six women- were brought to authorities in Manhattan on Tuesday

 

The latest 28 offenders have been named but not identified in pictured.

One of the most interesting arrests is that of former police officer Sam Esposito, whose father Joseph was arrested last month after being labeled one of the scheme’s ‘ringleaders’.

Of the latest arrests, 16 were retired NYPD officers, four were from the fire department, one was from both the fire department and then police department and another was from the department of corrections.

Aside from those 21 individuals, there were seven others who were arrested today and the list of all 28 names was released publicly but it does not indicate which suspect corresponded with which agency.

‘Last month’s indictment was the first step in ending a massive fraud against American taxpayers,’ said District Attorney Cy Vance in a statement.

‘Today, dozens of additional defendants have been charged with fabricating psychiatric conditions in order to fraudulently obtain Social Security Disability insurance, a critically important social safety net reserved for those truly in need.

Warmer waters: Like a handful of other disability recipients before him, William Korinek (seen here with his wife) moved down to Florida after retiring from the New York force

Warmer waters: Like a handful of other disability recipients before him, William Korinek (seen here with his wife) moved down to Florida after retiring from the New York force

 

‘These defendants are accused of gaming the system by lying about their lifestyle, including their ability to work, drive, handle money, shop, and socialize, in order to obtain benefits to which they were not entitled.

Caught: Michael Guicie of Manalapan, New Jersey was one of the 28 accused

Caught: Michael Guicie of Manalapan, New Jersey was one of the 28 accused

 

‘Their lies were repetitive and extensive. My Office is continuing to work with the U.S. Social Security Administration to bring additional cases, where appropriate.’

All told, prosecutors told The New York Daily News that up to $400million may have been netted by the schemers, and it is entirely possible that hundreds of others could be arrested.

There were 102 people who were indicted as recipients in the fraudulent benefits scheme on January 7.

The recipients were a mix of 72 former NYPD officers, eight former fire fighters, and other corrections officers all who made up different physical and psychological conditions that they reportedly incurred on the job.

Some of the accused had been falsely claiming disability funds since the 1980s- with the help of four administrative ringleaders- while others only started after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Many were coached about how they could appear depressed or in the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and others said that their work on Ground Zero led them to feel incapacitated in large crowds.

The roles of the individuals arrested today and the bogus claims that they allegedly made have yet to be explicitly laid out.

Under cover: Some of the schemers had been benefiting from ill-earned disability payments for decades

Under cover: Some of the schemers had been benefiting from ill-earned disability payments for decades

 

Waiting for the story: In the District Attorney's earlier round up of more than 100 recipients, they even told how they were determined to be falsifying their claims

Waiting for the story: In the District Attorney’s earlier round up of more than 100 recipients, they even told how they were determined to be falsifying their claims

When the District Attorney’s office made their case in January, they released photos of some of the accused blatantly showing off their wealth and behaving in ways that would been impossible if their disability claims were true.

Glenn Lieberman, 48, was held up by the New York District Attorney as one of the poster boys for the widespread scam.

Rounding them up: The 28 new suspects are being brought into the Manhattan District Attorney's office over the course of Tuesday- many of whom are now in the custody of their former colleagues

Rounding them up: The 28 new suspects are being brought into the Manhattan District Attorney’s office over the course of Tuesday- many of whom are now in the custody of their former colleagues

 

Walk of shame: This new suspect tries to hide his face using an Under Armor hat

Walk of shame: This new suspect tries to hide his face using an Under Armor hat

 

The former police officer was living in a rented $1.5million  waterfront mansion that has a pool and access to a waterway where he parked his two jet skis at the time of his arrest.

The officers were not the only ones in on the scheme, as The Post reports that some of the accused’ siblings pulled the same move.

Vincent LaMantia is one of the 102 indicted fraudsters, and his siblings Darrin, Karen and Thomas all told officials that they had psychiatric ailments that made it impossible for them to hold down a job.

All told, the Staten Island siblings collected $596,000- with the largest portion- $287,000- going to Thomas as he began making disability claims in 2002.

Their time behind bars: These three men were brought in to the DA's office on Tuesday

Their time behind bars: These three men were brought in to the DA's office on Tuesday

Their time behind bars: These three men were brought in to the DA's office on Tuesday

 

Their time behind bars: These three men were brought in to the DA’s office on Tuesday

Vincent, 43, collected $148,000 and the remaining $161,000 was split between Karen, Kevin and Darrin.

 

Many of the fraudsters left a virtual trail, including Vincent LaMantia who posted a motivational video online (which has now been removed) where he talked about ways to get rich quick. 

Another such example was that of Joseph Morrone, who told authorities that his work after the September 11th attacks left him with a debilitating fear of crowds.

On Facebook, he was pictured selling cannolis at the crowded San Gennaro festival in Little Italy.

The suspicion is that there were a handful of ‘crooked’ lawyers and doctors who worked with the responders in question and were fully aware of how to ‘game the system’.

The four alleged ‘ringleaders’ were identified first, and it is clear that their positions within the NYPD and background in legal work helped them evade capture for years.

Sending a message: Glenn Lieberman is pictured on a jet ski, clearly not as incapacitated as he claimed to be in his benefit filing. He was one of the original 102 people caught in the first bust in January

Sending a message: Glenn Lieberman is pictured on a jet ski, clearly not as incapacitated as he claimed to be in his benefit filing. He was one of the original 102 people caught in the first bust in January

 

Active: Rich Cosentino collected a total of $207639 since May 2008

Active: Rich Cosentino collected a total of $207639 since May 2008

Participants would start out by contacting John Minerva, 61, a Detectives Endowment Association consultant, or Joseph Esposito, 64, a retired member of the NYPD.

Minerva or Esposito would then refer the fraudsters to one of two lawyers who were in on the scheme- Thomas Hale, 89, and former FBI agent Raymond Lavallee, 83.

All four are charged with first and second degree grand larceny. The 9/11 disability claims are not the first that the four men have had a hand in, as ABC reports that they are believed to have been running disability scams since 1988.

The lawyers put the schemers in touch with two different doctors- but not after some coaching.

(By Jonathan Bandler, Oct 7, 2014)

The Police Beat.

 

A retired New York City police officer from Yorktown facing charges of fraudulently collecting more than $300,000 in federal disability pay while working for Tourneau had previously worked for an Elmsford armored car company – also while claiming to be too injured to work.

James Carson was director of security at American Armored Car Co. from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, The Journal News has learned.

But since 1990, when he began getting Social Security after a slip-and-fall accident wrenched his back and forced his retirement from the NYPD, Carson should not have been doing any work. He repeatedly claimed he wasn’t working on federal eligibility forms, according to the criminal complaint against him.

Carson, 50, was released on $600,000 bond following his appearance Oct. 1 in federal court in Manhattan. He was arrested that morning at his home and charged with theft of government property, making false statements and failing to report income. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The charges covered in the complaint relate to the past 10 years, when Carson collected $306,000 in Social Security disability benefits while working at Tourneau. During that time, Carson won a prestigious award from the National Retail Federation in 2010 for solving a scheme in which two company managers made nearly $700,000 in fraudulent credit card purchases.

Carson declined to answer questions about the charges or about his work at the armored car company when he answered the door at his home Monday.

Tourneau representatives have not returned several phone messages.

Carson is accused of hiding income – as much as $138,000 a year – by having Tourneau pay his wages to a corporation, JACC Security, based at his home. The corporation then paid the wages to Carson’s wife, Carmen, the chief executive officer of the corporation. The money was then listed as her wages in the couple’s annual joint tax returns, according to the complaint.

It was unclear whether a similar payment scheme was in place for any employment before Tourneau.

Former co-workers at the armored car company said they recognized Carson from media coverage of his arrest last week.

American Armored Car Co. shut down more than five years ago. One of its owners, Dominick Colasuonno, served two years in federal prison after he and his brother were convicted in 2007 of tax fraud for failing to pay payroll taxes for employees of the armored car company and bank fraud related to their check cashing company

Colasuonno could not be reached for comment.

Federal authorities would not confirm whether they knew about Carson’s earlier employment or whether he could face additional charges related to the disability funds he collected while working for American Armored Car. Since 1990, he has collected more than $650,000 in Social Security disability.

“(We) cannot confirm or deny allegations of Mr. Carson’s alleged work activity prior to 2004, however the investigation is ongoing,” said Special Agent in Charge Edward Ryan of the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General.

Carson filled out Report of Continuing Disability forms in 1995 and 1998, according to the criminal complaint. In them, he agreed that he would notify the Social Security Administration if his medical condition improved and he returned to work and acknowledged that lying on those forms was a federal crime.

Carson was already under investigation in April when he showed up limping and walking with a cane for an interview regarding his continued receipt of benefits. He claimed that he had not worked since the date of his slip-and-fall in 1990 due to his back pain. On forms he filled out, Carson denied having any income since his disability began; said he rarely drives; and doesn’t go anywhere on a regular basis.

But throughout the spring and early summer, Special Agent Peter Dowd chronicled Carson’s regular comings and goings between his home and Tourneau’s Long Island City office. Dowd said he observed Carson himself driving and saw closed-circuit video of Carson walking up stairs from the garage “without apparent difficulty and without a cane.”

Besides the Social Security and salary Carson was collecting, he also got an annual disability pension for his seven years with the NYPD that is now $42,134, according to the New York City Police Pension Fund.

 

Categories: Social Security Benefits | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Government Vows To Clean Up Disability Program Waste

Government tries to clean up disability program

(By Hoppy Kercheval in Hoppy’s Commentary | December 30, 2013)

(NOTE: the views expressed here are those of Hoppy Kercheval and his alone. If you want some accurate information about the Social Security Disability Determination Process, you would be wise to read socialNsecurity, the Confessions of a Social Security Judge. Available on Amazon.com. See  http://www.amazon.com/socialNsecurity-Confessions-Social-Security-Judge/dp/1449569757 )

The federal government may finally be getting a handle on the runaway Social Security Disability Insurance Program. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Social Security Administration is “tightening its grip on 1,500 administrative law judges to ensure that disability benefits are awarded consistently and to reign in fraud in the program.”

SSDI payments have risen dramatically in recent years.  A combination of the economic downtown driving more unemployed workers to the program and liberal awarding of benefits by some judges has raised SSDI rolls 20 percent in the last six years to 12 million people, with an annual budget of $135 billion.

At this rate, the disability program will have spent all its reserves by 2016, forcing either an increase in payroll taxes or a cut in benefits.

The Journal reports that the administrative law judges (ALJ) will no longer have “complete individual independence.”  Instead, they will be subject to supervision and management from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) , the union representing the judges says it fears that will open the process to political interference, but that’s a straw man.  Many of these disability judges need someone looking over their shoulder.

The poster boy for waste, fraud and abuse in SSDI is ALJ  D.B. Daugherty of Huntington.  As a Social Security administrative law judge, Daugherty awarded benefits in virtually every case… thousands of them.  He worked closely with attorney Attorney Eric Conn, who advertised heavily in West Virginia and Kentucky, looking for potential clients.

According to the Journal, Daugherty once told a colleague, “Some of these judges act like it’s their own damn money we’re giving away.”  Daugherty resigned after the Journal first reported the story in 2011.

During the Great Depression, when Congress was first considering a federal insurance program for the disabled (the law didn’t pass until almost 20 years later), a Social Security Advisory Council actuary warned of costs beyond “anything that can be forecast.”

The fear was that well-intentioned assistance for any person with impairments of mind or body that would keep him from being gainfully employed for their rest of his life would devolve into a version of unemployment.

That warning has proven prophetic as this country’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program has spun out of control and is now on course to run out of money by 2016.

Sunday night, CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment entitled “Disability USA,” which probed the abuse of SSDI.  Steve Kroft reported that SSDI rolls have risen 20 percent just in the last six years to 12 million people, with a budget of $135 billion.

West Virginia, despite a small population, is a big contributor to the SSDI rolls.  The AP reports that “West Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of adults receiving government assistance for disabilities.”

A big reason for the surge in SSDI is that people who have had their claims denied are hiring law firms that specialize in winning appeals.

According to 60 Minutes, “Last year, the Social Security Administration paid a billion dollars to claimants’ lawyers out of its cash-strapped disability trust fund.  The biggest chunk–$70 million—went to Binder & Binder, the largest disability firm in the country.

Jenna Fliszar, a lawyer who used to work for Binder & Binder and represent clients from West Virginia and other states, told CBS, “I call it a legal factory because that’s all it is.  They have figured out the system and they’ve made it into a huge national firm that makes millions of dollars a year on Social Security Disability.”

In 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta reported on one Huntington-based disability judge who nearly always sided with the claimant.  Judge David B. “D.B.” Daugherty awarded benefits in all but four of 1,284 cases during one fiscal year.  The national average is 60 percent approval.

A report by the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs estimates that Daugherty awarded more than $2.5 billion in benefits in the last 7 years of his career.

The Journal reported that Daugherty worked closely with lawyer Eric Conn, who advertises heavily in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, looking for potential clients. Daugherty resigned after the Journal’s reports. Conn, who continues a thriving practice in SSDI cases, was evasive in a brief interview with 60 Minutes about his relationship with the former judge.

The abuse of the SSDI system has caught the attention of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. It held a hearing Monday and issued a report finding “a raft of improper practices by the Conn law firm to obtain disability benefits, inappropriate collusion between Mr. Conn and a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (Daugherty), and inept agency oversight which enabled the misconduct to continue for years.”

The Committee report says Daugherty’s bank records show $96,000 in cash deposits from 2003 to 2011, for which Daugherty refused to explain the origin or source of the funds.

As one of the SSDI administrative judges said, “If the American public knew what was going on in our system, half would be outraged and the other half would apply for benefits.”

Frankly, it’s predictable that Americans hit by hard economic times are tempted to latch on to any government help they can, especially when there is an alliance of lawyers, doctors and judges willing to shepherd them through the system.

In doing so, however, they are squandering taxpayer dollars and bankrupting a legitimate program.

Meanwhile, earlier this year federal authorities arrested 75 people in Puerto Rico on charges of defrauding SSDI out of millions of dollars.  A former Social Security employee teamed with complicit doctors to falsely diagnose individuals as mentally incapable of working.

But the problem is not just the outliers like Daugherty and the Puerto Rican scam.

As the Journal reports, there is widespread disparity in how judge’s rule.  “Dozens of judges awarded benefits in 90 percent of their cases, while others were much less likely to find someone unable to find work, denying benefits in more than 80 percent of their cases, data showed.”

SSDI is an essential part of the country’s safety net.  Those who are impaired, either in mind or body, and cannot work are entitled by law to support.  However, it’s important to remember that SSDI is not another option for the unemployed, nor should it be an easy target for scammers.

Politicians like to say they can save taxpayer dollars by tightening up on waste, fraud and abuse–it’s easier than proposing real budget cuts–but in the case of SSDI, they’re right about the profligate misspending.

During the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on Thursday January 16th, Rep. Tim Griffin (R- Ark.) raised questions about the disability program’s efficiency and accuracy in the wake of recent high-profile fraud cases.

Social Security Administration Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll and SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin testified before the subcommittee about the SSA’s ability to root out fraud and handle employees who are implicated in a scheme.

Colvin testified that 99 percent of disability payments are made correctly. Griffin, however, noted recent disability schemes in New York, Puerto Rico and West Virginia and challenged the accuracy of Colvin’s claim.

That talking point, Griffin said, “needs to be erased” because the nature of fraud makes it impossible to know how rampant abuse of Social Security disability has become.

Griffin also questioned the SSA’s ability to reprimand and fire SSA employees who are investigated or implicated in disability schemes.

“…We all know that in order to fire someone, they do not have to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law applying (the) beyond a reasonable doubt standard,” Griffin said. “That’s not the standard to fire people.”

O’Carroll said the preference is to place an employee on leave without pay while investigating criminal activities; however, sometimes employees are left in place and monitored in an effort to identify co-conspirators.

Ms. Colvin is running the agency until the White House nominates a commissioner, and the White House has not signaled when it might move on the vacancy.

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

More Disability Claimants Forced To File In Federal Court

Social Security Disability Approvals Decline

Attorney John Bednarz thought he had a clear-cut case to win Social Security disability benefits (SSID) for his client.

The 39-year-old man had Huntington’s disease, a debilitating and often fatal disorder that caused tremors in his hands, left him off-balance and suffering from frequent bouts of confusion.

An employee at the Social Security Administration (SSA), State Disability Determination Service (DDS) didn’t see it that way, however, and denied the initial claim twice. Mr. Bednarz appealed the case to an administrative law judge (ALJ), who upheld the Agency’s decision.

 

Ultimately his client prevailed after Mr. Bednarz filed an appeal in Federal District Court. It was a long struggle that took far more time than it should have, he said.

“This case is one that really got me,” Mr. Bednarz said. “He had a degenerative neurological impairment. He had involuntary movement in his right hand and symptoms of dementia. … A diagnosis like this is essentially a death sentence.”

His client is not alone in his struggle.

Administrative law judges (ALJ) who hear cases for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) have become more selective in the cases they approve, data show, forcing an increasing number of claimants to file suit in federal court.

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

In the Wilkes-Barre ODAR, the percentage of cases approved has steadily declined the past three years, mirroring a nationwide trend.

Appeals spike.

In fiscal 2010, the office granted 64 percent of the cases. That dropped to 54 percent in 2011, 48 percent in 2012 and 47 percent in 2013, according to data compiled by Social Security. Statewide, 42 percent of cases were approved at the administrative law judge level in 2013.

The increase in denials has led to a huge spike in appeals filed in federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, a review of the court docket shows. As of Nov. 22, 204 appeals were filed, compared to 117 in all of 2012, a 74 percent increase. That compares to 90 appeals in 2011 and 113 in 2010.

 

Officials with SSA say the higher denial rate is partly attributable to an increase in filings due to the poor economy, which historically leads more people with marginal disabilities to seek benefits.

Several attorneys who represent claimants agree economic factors may have played a role. But they’re concerned the system has become increasingly stacked against claimants due, in part, to the SSA’s propensity to hire judges who formerly worked for Social Security. There is also concern judges are being subjected to outside pressure that may make them more prone to deny cases.

“I’m not saying everyone is perfectly honest and that there is not fraud, but we see a lot of cases being denied that appear legitimate,” said Steven Rollins, a Harrisburg attorney who specializes in disability claims. “You have more of a shift of judges who have become more in tune to affirm a denial and are less willing to grant cases.”

Unable to engage.

In 2013, the Social Security Disability system paid 8.9 million workers an average monthly benefit of $1,129 at a total cost of $10 billion, according to the agency. To qualify, claimants must prove they are unable to engage “any substantial gainful activity” due to a mental or physical impairment which has lasted 12 months, is expected last 12 months or will result in death.

The initial determination is made by the State DDS based solely on a review of medical records, attorneys said. Roughly 25 to 35 percent of claimants are approved at that level, Mr. Rollins said. If denied, the case goes before an ALJ – an attorney hired through Social Security to conduct an independent review. The judge can hold a hearing that includes testimony from the claimant and physicians.

 

The are currently 1,500 ALJs in the nation. In Pennsylvania, judges preside in Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

If the ALJ denies the claim, it goes to the Appeals Council within Social Security. The final step is federal court. A judge will review the entire record and has the power to award benefits or return the case to the ALJ for further review.

Few data.

There are no national statics on the percentage of cases remanded. A review of the federal court docket in the Middle District of Pennsylvania shows that of the 90 appeals filed in 2011, the last year for which full data are available, 56 were either affirmed, dismissed or withdrawn by the plaintiffs. Most of the cases filed in 2012 and 2013 remain pending.

Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for SSA, said there is always a debate over whether the agency approves or disapproves too many cases. The agency does not seek to influence ALJs, who have complete independence.

“Our judges have qualified decisional independence to enhance public confidence in the fairness of our process, to protect people applying for disability, and to ensure that they issue decisions free from pressure to reach a particular result,” he said in an email.

As for the overall decline in approval rates, Mr. Hinkle said the agency believes several factors have played a role.

“We have seen an increase in the number of disability cases based on the aging of the baby boom generation and the economy, and when this occurs it is expected that the approval rate will decrease when the number of applications increase,” Mr. Hinkle said.

Jonathan Stein, an attorney with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, said he believes the decrease in ALJ approvals is partly tied to a change in the make up of judges hired to review the cases.

Under pressure to speed up review of cases, the SSA hired an additional 500 ALJs within the past three years. Mr. Stein said. A large percentage of those attorneys previously worked for SSA, Mr. Stein said.

ALJs are supposed to issue rulings based solely on the evidence. Mr. Stein said he can’t help but question whether their experience with the agency may influence how they view cases.

“When you are a judge you must be independent. You follow SSA rules and have to make independent decisions,” he said. “The reality is, when you spent most of your life in the system, it will shape your views.”

Charles Hall, an attorney from North Carolina who writes a blog about Social Security issues, said there is also concern that the changing political climate toward entitlement programs and media stories that have focused on judges who have high approval ratings may be unduly influencing judges.

Sick or bums?

“There is a great deal of public sympathy for people who are sick or disabled.  On the other side here are people who say (recipients) are lazy bums who ought to get back to work,” Mr. Hall said. “Judges are human beings. The same things that affect the rest of us affects them.”

Mr. Hall said SSAy may have unintentionally influencedALJs by publicly posting data on the percentage of cases they approve. If a judge’s rulings are out of whack with others within his or her region, that could play on their minds, he said.

The data, which are available on SSA’s website, show approval rates vary significantly among judges. In Pennsylvania, Judge Craig De Bernardis in Wilkes-Barre and Judge Christopher Bridges in Harrisburg had some of the highest approval rates between 2010 and 2013, data show. Judge De Bernardis approved 97 percent of his cases in 2010 and 96 percent in 2011, the two years he served. Judge Bridges’ approval rating varied from 90 to 96 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Highest rate

The highest approval rating in the Wilkes-Barre office in 2013 belonged to Judge Eugene Brady, who approved 56 percent of cases. On the other end of the spectrum are Judge Michelle Wolfe, who approved 34 percent of the cases, and Judge Therese Hardiman, who approved 38 percent of her cases.

Several judges in Wilkes-Barre also saw significant drops in their approval percentages since 2010. The most notable change is Judge Hardiman. In 2010, she approved 73 percent of the cases she heard. That dropped to just 38 percent in 2013.

Mr. Rollins said he’s also concerned news media stories that focused on abuses within the system and judges who award a high percentage of cases may influence decisions.

He noted coverage of a recent Senate investigation that raised questions of whether a West Virginia judge had colluded with an attorney to approve an inordinate number of the attorney’s cases.

The investigation, led by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, revealed Judge David Daugherty, who no longer hears cases, approved 1,375 of cases filed by attorney Eric Conn, denying only four.

Judges are not immune to publicity,” Mr. Rollins said. “I suspect if I’m in their position, I’m looking over my shoulder if others are being investigated and I’m seeing stories about too many allowances.”

While they have concerns about the system, Mr. Rollins stressed he believes the majority of judges try to be fair. The cases they review are rarely clear cut, he said, and require analysis of hundreds of pages of medical records.

“I think, by and large, they do the right thing,” Mr. Rollins said.

Mr. Bednarz, the attorney for the Wilkes-Barre man with Huntington’s disease, said he also feels most judges do the best they can. He fears legitimate cases are being lost, however, because many claimants don’t have attorneys to represent them.

Attorneys are only paid in disability cases if they obtain benefits for their client. Because the cases are so difficult, attorneys have become increasingly selective about which cases they will take, he said. That means some marginal cases that may have merit fall by the wayside.

“It is much more difficult than it has ever been being a social security practitioner,” he said.

(Morgan-Besecker, T.; Times Tribune, Scranton,PA, Dec 1, 2013)

Categories: Social Security Cases | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.