Saturday, January 11, 2014

Social Security in the News

By Susan Golden

There have been numerous stories in the news recently regarding people who are "scamming" the Social Security Disability system by being approved for benefits even though they are not disabled. The most recent such story involved retired policeman and fireman who were coached to fake mental illness. Unfortunately, these are the stories that make it to the news because they are sensational and unusual. On the other hand, stories do not get written about the hundreds of thousands of people who would give anything to continue working, but for various health reasons cannot. These are the people no one ever hears about, the people who can no longer work, who are struggling to make ends meet, but who are wrongly denied benefits by Social Security, because it happens all the time. 

In reality, it is extremely difficult to get approved for Social Security Disability benefits. A claimant must have strong support from current treating doctors; without which it is almost impossible to get approved. Even with strong medical support, hundreds of thousands of people are denied benefits due to Social Security's incompetent and dishonest practices, which deprives thousands of deserving people out of benefits. Social Security inundates claimants with complicated paperwork, sends threatening letters to try to intimidate people, while making it virtually impossible to reach any representative by phone. They take months and months to process cases, normally with the excuse of being overworked and understaffed. Applications are lost, faxes are never received, phone calls never returned; that is if you can even get through at all. The excuses are endless. 

Most people get denied at the initial application because the State Agency that reviews the applications usually use civil service clerks, not doctors or lawyers, to make the decisions. They constantly deny people wrongly for various reasons ranging from ignorance to downright stupidity. Once they deny the initial application, the claim has to be appealed and sent to the local hearing office, which wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax payer money. Once at the hearing office, the application is reviewed and eventually a hearing is scheduled after a judge is assigned to the claim. It can take 6 months to a year before the application even gets reviewed, which is actually an improvement over the recent past. The outcome of the hearing depends largely on who the judge is. 

In October of 2013, a class action law suit brought against 5 judges from the Queens hearing office accused of bias was "settled," supposedly in favor of the claimants. Some claimants’ cases have been tied up in court for over 5 years. These are people who are legitimately disabled, who cannot work and have been unable to collect disability, from a system that they paid into their entire lives. You don’t see anyone covering that story on the news? The settlement means nothing. It didn't get the claimants benefits, it didn't get them money, it didn't them anything except the promise of a new hearing with a different judge. The point of the class action law suit was to help and protect these claimants’ rights. It was supposed to guarantee them new hearings, with different judges than they had originally had, judges that were not biased against them. Instead, Social Security is still playing games with these people, stating they had 60 days from the receipt of notice of settlement, to request a change of judge rather than just assigning a new judge to them. Not surprisingly, many of these people never received the notice and didn't know about this 60 day rule. Why in the world would anyone want the same judge to decide their fate, a judge that humiliated and embarrassed them, a judge that was so rude and mean to them they felt ashamed of themselves? For every one person who tries to cheat the system, there are hundreds that deserve to be approved, and are wrongfully denied.These are the people that deserve to be in the news.  The thousands of people that were denied benefits they deserved by old, biased judges who should have retired years ago, and because of another government system that doesn't work.

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