Oct 23, 2017

Why So Little Attention To Retiree Fraud?

     I don't bother to post about it since the stories are repetitive and boring but Social Security prosecutes a number of people each year for disability benefits fraud. It's usually recipients who failed to report under the table earnings. In comparison to the number of people drawing benefits it's a small number.
     I never hear anything about another similar type of Social Security fraud, one that I'm pretty sure happens regularly. It may even happen at the same rate as that of disability recipients hiding earnings. That's early retiree fraud. We don't have a retirement earnings test for those over full retirement age, currently 66, but we do for those between 62 and 66. Retirement benefits for people in this age group are subject to reduction due to earnings. There are many, many retirees between 62 and 66. Surely, some of them are working under the table and drawing retirement benefits they're not entitled to.
     Is Social Security making any effort to root out retiree benefit fraud?  The only retirement benefit fraud I ever hear about is concealing a death and continuing to collect the decedent's benefits. That can't be the only fraud going on.
    Why all the attention to disability recipients and little or no attention to retiree benefit fraud? Why single out disability recipients?

Oct 22, 2017

Do Media Pieces On The Hearing Backlog At Social Security Even Matter?

 Another day, another media piece on the hearing backlog at Social Security, this one with an interview of former Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue.

Oct 21, 2017


     From WAFF in Huntsville, AL:
Bed bugs inside Huntsville's Social Security office on Research Dr. have forced it to shut down for the second time in two weeks.
Regional communications director Patti Patterson [said] a pest control company first confirmed signs of bed bugs on Oct. 11. She said it was in an isolated area in the reception area in the 13,000 square foot building.
Patterson also said that area was tested and treated, but a pest control company again confirmed signs of bed bugs in the same area on Thursday. The area is being treated and tested again. ...

Oct 20, 2017

Starving Social Security

     From Michael Hiltzik writing for the Los Angeles Times:
Since they’ve been unsuccessful (thus far) at cutting Social Security benefits, congressional Republicans are continuing to resort to the backdoor assault on the program by starving its administrative budget. In the latest versions of the agency’s budget under consideration in Washington, the House is planning to keep the budget at the same inadequate funding level as the current year. The ever more ambitious Senate is trying to cut it by $400 million, or nearly 4%.
To retirees, near-retirees, and disability applicants the effects aren’t invisible. They show up in deteriorating customer service at every level. ...
The sole area of long-term growth in the budget has been a separate appropriation for “integrity funding,” which essentially means ferreting out waste, fraud, and abuse in the disability program, a favorite Congressional hobby horse. That line item has grown to about $1.7 billion (in the budget proposals of President Trump, the House, and the Senate) from an inflation-adjusted $871 million in fiscal 2010 ...
Whether that search for fraud is worth the money is hard to gauge, since the level of improper payment in Social Security disability has been estimated at less than 1%, with underpayment a bigger problem than overpayment. A far greater impact on disability applicants is the record backlog. The Social Security Administration has been struggling with that issue for nearly two decades, but has been unable to get a handle on it consistently because of Congressional budget cuts. The backlog came down sharply from fiscal 2008 through fiscal 2012, a period in which the average wait time for a disability decision fell from more than 500 days to 350 days, the first time the wait had been less than a year since 2003.
Since 2012, wait times have again climbed steeply, as a surge of applicants during the recession combined with an inability to hire disability judges and support staff. The average wait time is back up to 626 days. ...

Oct 19, 2017

I Hate This Kind Of Story

     From ABC News:
Dean Otto of Charlotte, North Carolina, was riding his bike one humid morning in September 2016 when the unimaginable occurred: The husband, father and marathoner was struck by a truck.
His spine was fractured. His pelvis, tailbone and ribs were broken. And he could not feel his legs.
After surgery, Otto's surgeon Dr. Matt McGirt gave him a 1 percent to 2 percent chance of ever walking on his own again. 
But, after months of grueling physical therapy, Otto was taking his first steps with the help of a walker. Slowly, he picked up speed, eventually climbing stairs and then running.  ...
During Otto's rehabilitation, he was also visited in the hospital by Will Huffman, the driver of the truck. The two became friends.
Otto said today that forgiveness had been key to his recovery.
"To be able to forgive Will immediately after the accident has been paramount in my positive attitude, in my recovery from this terrible accident," he said. ...
Eventually, Otto invited Huffman and McGirt, with whom he'd formed a friendship as well, to run a half-marathon with him. Neither men had run in years but felt motivated by Otto's perseverance. 
On Sept. 24, a year to the day of the accident, the three completed the Napa Half Marathon in California. ...
     I'm glad that Mr. Otto recovered but I hate this kind of story. Mr. Otto's hard work and good attitude may have been some help in his recovery but mostly he just got lucky or, perhaps, his surgeon was a poor prognosticator. What about all the other people who suffer severe injuries and never recover? Is it because they didn't work as hard at recovery as Mr. Otto or because they weren't brave enough or because they lacked the grace that Mr. Otto showed in befriending the man responsible for his injury?
     We like hearing stories like Mr. Otto's because we want to believe that if we suffer some terrible injury that our courage and hard work and the grace of God will allow us to recover but we're wrong. Whether we recover mostly has to do with the nature of our injury rather than factors attributable to ourselves. We'd like to believe that we can control what happens but we can't.
     The instinct to believe that we can recover from injury or illness is a  real problem for those who suddenly become disabled. People think recovery is right around the corner despite strong signs that they're not recovering. They fail to take appropriate action to try to secure an income for themselves -- applying for Social Security disability benefits -- even as their financial situation rapidly deteriorates. They regard themselves as failures when they finally have to concede that they aren't recovering. Why can't they transcend their injuries like Mr. Otto did? What "right stuff" did he have that they lack? This sense of failure contributes to depression which compounds the disability they suffer. Mr. Otto's story may seem inspirational but it's a positive menace to many people who have suffered serious injury.
    Stories like Mr. Otto's also lead many people to believe that most who receive Social Security disability benefits aren't truly disabled, that they're people who could have transcended their injuries or illnesses and continued working if they really wanted to. If Mr. Otto could do it, why can't anyone? Disability isn't a real thing; it's just a lack of courage and hard work. If we have any type of disability benefits, it should only be for the most severely disabled because we don't want a bunch of lazy people abusing the system. Stories like Mr. Otto's are part of the reason why we got to the incredibly harsh system of disability benefits we have now.
     By the way, in case Mr. Otto or some member of his family happens to read this, I'm not blaming you, for goodness sake. You're not the problem. The problem is everyone's very human but still pathetic urge to believe that we can overcome all injuries and illnesses when that's just not true.

Oct 18, 2017

Be Careful What You Ask For

     I just uploaded a 500+ page medical report on one of my clients. This isn't unusual these days. Electronic medical records have led to explosive growth in the quantity of medical records. The hearing offices are drowning in medical records. Why do I have a feeling that Social Security's next Ruling will urgently demand that I not submit lengthy medical reports, that I somehow cull out what's not really important?

Oct 17, 2017

Acting Commissioner's Broadcast Message On Disasters

From: ^Commissioner Broadcast
Sent: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 10:18 AM
Subject: Hurricane Maria and California Wildfires Update

A Message to All SSA Employees

Subject: Hurricane Maria and California Wildfires Update

Last Sunday, October 8, wildfires started in the Napa and Sonoma counties of California, quickly spreading to surrounding counties due to high winds.  Firefighters battled 17 separate and active wildfires.  At last count, these wildfires burned more than 221,000 acres and destroyed more than 3,500 homes and businesses, affecting thousands of individuals.  

Thankfully, all of the region’s employees are safe and accounted for.  Twenty-six employees are under mandatory evacuation and the fires destroyed one employee’s home.  Currently, two offices in the Napa and Sonoma areas remain closed; the fires have directly affected three other offices, resulting in short-term or intermittent closures.  There have been no reports of damage to any of the field offices in the impacted area.  This is a very fluid situation.  Please keep our colleagues in your prayers. 

In Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, some improvements have occurred.  Power continues to fluctuate, with 17 percent of the population now with power.  We opened the San Juan, San Patricio, and Caguas field offices to employees yesterday, for limited hours.  We anticipate opening these offices to the public today.  

We also opened the Mayaguez and San Juan hearing offices to employees as well yesterday.  We are working to begin rescheduling hearings in those offices.

A special thanks to personnel from the New York Regional office and the Office of the Inspector General, who are on site and have been helping employees in recovery efforts.

I will continue to keep you updated on the status of our employees and offices affected by these natural disasters as we try to restore our services to help those in need.

Nancy A. Berryhill
Acting Commissioner

Indictments In Conn Flight

      From the Lexington, KY Herald-Leader:
Disgraced former disability lawyer Eric C. Conn plotted his escape for a year before absconding from home detention weeks before he was to be sentenced in a massive fraud case, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday.
The indictment levels new charges against Conn and Curtis Lee Wyatt, who worked for Conn at his law office in Stanville and allegedly tested security at the U.S. border with Mexico on Conn’s behalf. ...
The indictment charged that Wyatt, of Raccoon in Pike County, took a number of steps to help Conn escape, including opening a bank account in Wyatt’s name that Conn used to transfer money out of the country. ...
Wyatt also allegedly bought a 2002 Dodge Ram pickup truck from an unnamed seller in Somerset in May for $3,425, then delivered it to Conn in Lexington on June 1 for him to use in the escape. Wyatt had the truck registered under the name Disability Services LLC. ...
In the weeks leading up to the escape, Conn also had Wyatt use pedestrian entrances to Mexico at Nogales, Ariz., and Columbus, N.M., in order to test security procedures for people crossing into Mexico from the U.S., the indictment said.
The FBI found the truck in New Mexico. ...
The indictment also mentions an unindicted co-conspirator. That can refer to someone who is cooperating with authorities in a case. ...
Wyatt also allegedly played a role in trying to discredit an employee at the Social Security Administration who had tried to bring attention to potential improprieties by Conn and David B. Daugherty, an administrative law judge who rubber-stamped disability claims for Conn. Conn came up with a scheme to have his employees follow the woman, Sarah Carver, to try to discredit her by catching her not working from home on days when she was supposed to, according to sworn statements from other former Conn employees to U.S. Senate investigators. ...
     I've never crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Don't the Mexican authorities ask to see a passport?