Another Presidential race year is upon us. Not only is it upon us, but it seems like news about the aspiring Presidential candidates is being ingrained in our pores. If the strategy of politicians and the media is to annoy us, exhaust us, shock us, and nearly destroy our faith in the democratic process, they have accomplished these things this year.
I will not discuss individual Presidential candidates or their views, or my candidate preferences, but I want to discuss the state of our local, state and federal government agenciesfrom the perspective of our attorneys, who deal with these agencies on a regular basis. Due to our interaction with these agencies I fear for the state of our government. I was going to title this blog “We Need a Revolution”, but I thought the CIA might visit me if I did. But clearly, some action has to be taken to shake up the stagnant agencies we interact with.
Our taxes support government agencies and pay for their staff. Yet nearly in every instance in which we deal with government agencies, we are forced to deal with incompetent and unconcerned staff who apparently lack the skills, knowledge, intelligence, common sense, and training, that they should possess in order to do their jobs. Not only is dealing with these staffers frustrating, anger provoking, and time consuming, but it is often expensive for our clients, who are paying us for the time to straighten out what these staffers have usually messed up.
The bottom line, however, is that the action or inaction of these staffers seriously and adversely affects the lives of our clients, many of whom have no choice but to deal with government agencies because they have become disabled and are no longer able to work.
Although I can provide many examples of the incompetence of we regularly deal with, today I will limit my examples to the Social security Administration (“SSA”). Nearly any interaction we have with the SSA makes us want to run screaming from the room. For example:
- The SSA disability process has gone electronic for the most part. That is good. But, that does not mean that the SSA age-old practice of losing, misplacing, and/or saying they never received documents from attorneys has ceased. In nearly all of our cases, despite sending in the required forms notifying the SSA of our representation, SSA staff act as if they have never heard from us, and often we have to send out the same forms three or four times.
- The SSA has a good trick to collect money. They frequently tell people who have been approved for and who are receiving disability payments that they have been overpaid. It is scary for a disabled person who relies on SSA benefits for their livelihood to receive a letter they perceive as threatening from a federal agency.
My experience with these overpayment demands and requests is that they are often bogus, based on faulty calculations, and based on faulty presumptions. Regardless, the SSA terminates the benefits of recipients during the pendency of a years-long appeal process. While the SSA may be ultimately be proven wrong, recipients are stranded without income for years due to these mistaken overpayment demands. The SSA likes to play “gotcha” and claim the recipient failed to comply with a particular obligation or duty. This is often laughable. No SSA employee knows everything about the myriad of SSA regulations, laws and guidelines, as they are “trained” in only a small and particular aspect of the law. To blame a disabled recipient for not doing something to comply with often obtuse requirements is totally inequitable and ridiculous. Yet, I venture to say that most recipients repay SSA the alleged overpayment because they are in fear of the SSA.
- SSA files at SSA offices, either in electronic format, or paper format, if they are older files, are frequently incomplete and do not match up to the files maintained by attorneys. In a recent case a judge said he did not appreciate our sending medical paperwork a day prior to the hearing. We stated that we did so because the prior paperwork we sent was not on the record, so we resent it. He stated that the records we sent previously were in his file, but had not been entered on a record we could review online. Ok, this theory is like Alice in Wonderland encountering strange things in the rose garden. Lawyers are frequently criticized by administrative law judges for not creating a complete record, which is often very difficult as we have to rely on receiving records from medical providers who are busy themselves. But we are then criticized for making certain the record is complete.
Aside from the SSA, I recently had arguments with staffers at two government agencies, one state and one federal, because they insisted on dealing directly with our clients. Our clients engaged us because they are ill and need professional guidance in maneuvering the procedural obstacles between their illness and relief. So what is the point of eliminating the attorneys from this process? There is rational answer to this question.
So, my recommendation is let’s all spend less time arguing about politics and more time determining how we can fix our very broken government agencies.