Monthly Archives: February 2014

Poor customer service from the SSA?

If you have become disabled and you believe you may qualify for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, you may think it would be a good idea to visit their office and obtain some help and advice on filing out the application.

You may have heard or read that the SSDI application is somewhat long and involved, and that it would be helpful to sit down with a live person, so you can ask questions and seek clarification when you are unsure about a topic.

According to one woman, that may not work out so well. She relates her experience of visiting a local Social Security Administration office and what she thought of their customer service. Turns out, not a great deal. She explains that the SSA violated “at least four cardinal rules of customer service.”

She found the local SSA office “depressing.” Her experience deteriorated after she entered the building, noting that the “metal chairs” were not designed to be sat in for 30 minutes, let alone the multiple hour waits that seem standard.

Customer service should put the customer first in an attractive setting. Does this fail to occur at SSA offices because no one in the office one cares? Probably not, remember, the employees of the SSA have to be there 40 hours or more a week.

The offices and the customer service offered often are lacking because the system has seen substantial growth, without a commensurate increase in funding for facilities and staff.

This means it is more important than ever when you apply for SSDI benefits to see to it that your application is complete and is not missing any important medical records or other documentation.

The process can already be uncomfortably slow, so the fewer mistakes and missing documents, the more likely your application is to receive faster treatment.

Source: The Huffington Post, “Social Security Administration’s Cautionary Tale of Customer Service,” Liz Wainger, February 5, 2014

SSDI is not being inundated with unemployed workers

After the collapse of the financial markets caused by the reckless use of mortgage-backed securities and the concomitant collapse of the real estate markets, workers every where were severely affected. From the loss of value in their homes to the loss of their jobs, the great recession left many workers in desperate financial positions.

Many, after a job loss, were forced to use unemployment insurance as they looked for new jobs. Against this backdrop, the Social Security Administration saw increases in applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. This increase has been ongoing over the last few decades, but some critics of the SSDI program used these two occurrences as an excuse to attack SSDI.

They claimed the program is full of fraud, and that millions of unemployed workers were flooding the program with applications for SSDI benefits after their unemployment insurance had run out.

A study by a team of university researchers from Columbia and Berkeley has found that there is no significant statistical connection between worker’s expiration of the unemployment benefits and the increase in SSDI applications.

The lead author of the study said, “[T]here is no convincing evidence that workers whose unemployment benefits have expired apply for disability insurance on a large scale.”

We have always thought it highly unlikely that workers who had exhausted their unemployment insurance could successfully apply for SSDI benefits, since a great majority of them would not have the necessary medical impairment that would allow them to qualify for SSDI.

The study found that less than 2 percent of workers who had exhausted their unemployment insurance even applied for SSDI.

Source: Sacramento Bee, “Study Reveals New Insight About Social Security Disability Benefits Amid Agency’s Influx Of Problems,” PRNewswire, February 10, 2014

Social Security to update job descriptions

The Social Security Administration (SSA) and its disability program have been under attack on many fronts in the last few years. The program is underfunded. Congress has expanded the qualifying medical conditions and broadened the eligibility for the program, but failed to provide the extra sources of funding for the program.

As a result, the trust fund that supports Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) is practically exhausted and benefits could be cut if Congress fails to act. The program has also been accused of being too generous with its interpretations of what qualifies for disability benefits.

In reaction to some of these problems, the SSA is updating various aspect of how SSDI is administered. One important change for many applicants is revision being made to the “dictionary” of job listings.

To speed processing of applications for benefits, the SSA uses a reference document that identifies potential jobs and their qualifications.

Because the disability determination requires that the SSA look to see if your training or education would allow you to find other employment, it is important for the job listings to accurately reflect the job market as it exists today.

The listing has not been updated for 23 years, and includes jobs like “blacksmith” but does not cover many new tech related jobs that exist. This may mean that some people who would qualify as disabled under the old listing may no longer qualify when the list is revised.

We won’t know the full extent of the changes for a few years, as the listing contains 10,000 jobs that will need to be reviewed.

The real problem with SSDI? Congress

We expect the critics of the Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program will be coming out of the woodwork over the revelations of a “fraud bust” involving more than 100 people last week. The Wall Street Journal notes that Congress is pressuring the Social Security Administration (SSA) to “rework the system” for determining how beneficiaries are awarded.

The justification for that pressure, however, is often suspect. While the most recent fraud case is rather ostentatious, in the big picture of the SSDI program’s total payout, which in 2012 approached $140 billion, this incident is hardly the reason the program is facing a shortfall of money in the near future.

Congress, which contains many of the programs harshest critics, carries virtually all of the responsibility for that shortfall. They increased eligibility for the program, and rightfully so, over the last two decades.

The SSDI program provides a very necessary benefit for many disabled workers, and for many is far from generous. Nevertheless, the growth of the number of beneficiaries is a necessary outcome of such expansions.

While the administrative law judges are often blamed for being too lax in restricting SSDI benefits, again Congress bears much of the culpability. As the program grew, the SSA had difficulty handling the volume, and because of many hiring freezes and other congressionally imposed budget limits, ALJs saw their workloads grow until some were unmanageable.

Certainly, some ALJs probably approved some cases with minimal review. They may not have had much choice, as they were pressured to push through as many decisions as possible to reduce the backlog.

Given the current climate in Congress, we fear this latest incident will merely provoke more outcries for cuts to SSDI; adequately funding the agency would be the best means of reducing fraud.