I had the opportunity to attend a video hearing last month with one of my clients. SSA uses the platform Teams (which is also the platform that Duval County Schools are using). My client and I had no difficulty other than a few audio issues that were solved by the hearing office assistant. I had my client next to me in the office (although the platform would certainly allow her to have been at her own home, similar to several people on a Zoom call). Because it was my first video hearing (and the judge’s!), I had her in my office with me. The judge could not “see” both of us at the same time, so I shifted the computer to face whichever one of us was interacting with the judge.

Overall, I thought it went very well. It was much easier to speak with the judge with the visual cues about when to stop talking and when to start talking, which can be tricky with telephone hearings. The judge also deemed it a success.

While I think that telephone hearings work well for most individuals, the video hearings are a very good option.

SSA Replacement Cards

May 5, 2021

One of the SSA’s major workloads is the issuance of new and replacement Social Security cards. The agency allows most people to request replacement cards through the mySSA system and in Fiscal Year 2019, SSA issued 1.3 million replacement cards in this way. However, this mySSA function is not available to people living in four states, any territories, or outside of the United States, and in some situations the person must have a driver’s license in order to use mySSA to get a replacement Social Security card.

SSA requires people who are unable to make or use a mySSA account, or for whom the mySSA system will not allow them to request a replacement card online, to submit an application for a replacement card and supply original proof documents forhands-on verification. Before the pandemic, this often happened by people visiting their local Social Security office. However, during the pandemic, field offices are closed for most of the public: SSA will not accept walk-ins from the public, and will only schedule in-person appointments for people who meet SSA’s definition of “dire need,” people whose green cards need to be reviewed (because Homeland Security rules prohibit people from mailing their green cards or otherwise being separated from them), people over age 12 who are receiving their first Social Security cards, and those who need to update or correct personal information with Social Security in order “to obtain income, resources, or medical care or coverage, or other services or benefits (for example filing a tax return, applying for housing, or seeking an Economic Impact Payment).”

Everyone else—which includes most people who are seeking replacement of their Social Security cards— must mail their application for a replacement card and original proof documents to their local Social Security field office during the pandemic. However, SSA has temporarily expanded the list of documents that can be submitted to prove identity, because they realized how challenging it is for people to be without their drivers licenses, passports or other identification for the weeks or months it takes SSA to process replacement cards and mail the identity proofs back, especially with the recent decreases in performance at the US Postal Service.

Newly acceptable proof includes:

• U.S. diplomatic passport
• Military identification card
• Certificate of Naturalization
• Certificate of Citizenship
• U.S. Indian Tribal ID card
• Final adoption decree
• Certified copy of medical record
• Health Insurance or U.S. Medicaid card with biographical information such as DOB, age, etc.
• School identity card or certified copy of school record with biographical information such as DOB, age, etc.
• Life insurance policy with biographical information
• Marriage document

Exercise is often touted as the best way to stay healthy. It prevents disease, keeps weight off and eases mobility as we age. New studies now show it can preserve important part of the neural system which can slow the progression of MS. Read this recent article the National MS Society’s Momentum Magazine:

https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Resources-Support/Library-Education-Programs/Momentum-Magazine

From the MS magazine, Momentum is a great article about the disparities in health care affecting people of color. Three Black women living with MS share their experiences in this article:

SSA Scam Calls

April 14, 2021

The Social Security Administration and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) are trying to raise public awareness about Social Security imposter scams. Social Security scams – in which fraudsters mislead victims into making cash or gift card payments to fix purported Social Security number problems or to avoid arrest – are the #1 type of government imposter fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission and Social Security. The agency has made concerted efforts to address this issue, including partnering with other Federal and State agencies to identify and pursue scammers, increasing employee and public outreach and education, raising awareness through marketing in post offices nationwide, and maintaining a Social Security/OIG workgroup to maximize resources and ensure a cohesive response.

“I am deeply troubled that crooks are deceiving Americans and using fear tactics to trick people into providing personal information or money,” said Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul. “I urge everyone to remain vigilant, hang up on these fraudsters, and go to oig.ssa.gov. to report any attempted scam.”

Criminals are sophisticated and there are many variations of this fraud scheme. For example, scammers may call or email saying they are from Social Security and that the person’s Social Security number is suspended or was used in a crime. The caller identification may be spoofed to appear as a legitimate government number. They may text or email fake documents in attempts to coerce people to comply with their demands. In recent twists, thieves even use real Social Security and OIG official’s names and send pictures of fabricated government ID badges. 

Social Security will *NEVER* tell you that your Social Security number is suspended, contact you to demand an immediate payment, threaten you with arrest, ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone, ask for gift cards or cash, or promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information or money.

“We are working with the Department of Justice and law enforcement agencies across the United States to combat Social Security imposter scams—but our best weapon in this fight will always be awareness,” said Inspector General Gail S. Ennis. “I want to thank the many agencies and organizations that have joined us in our effort this year to alert Americans to hang up on suspicious calls, and talk to their family and friends about phone scams.”

Social Security employees do occasionally contact the public by telephone for business purposes. Ordinarily, the agency calls people who have recently applied for a Social Security benefit, someone who is already receiving payments and requires an update to their record, or a person who has requested a phone call from the agency. If there is a problem with a person’s Social Security number or record, Social Security will typically mail a letter.

For more information, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/antifraudfacts/

9.9 Percent of disabled worker beneficiaries with representative payees

20.4 Minutes average hold time on the SSA 800 number

51.9 Average age for male disabled worker beneficiaries

51.2 Average age for female disabled worker beneficiaries

99 Percent of OASDI beneficiaries receiving direct deposit

169 Hearing offices (including 5 national hearing centers)

1,241 Field offices (including resident stations and card centers) 

$1,257.65 Average monthly disabled worker benefit

1,420 Number of Administrative Law Judges

171,978 Appeals Council requests for review received

8,378,374 People receiving disabled worker benefits

86.6 million Calls made to the SSA 800 number

Excellent article in the New York Times discussing the virtual collapse of the SSI program in the wake of the pandemic.

Video Hearings

March 24, 2021

After a year of telephone hearings, SSA has finally figured out how to have video hearings. Claimant who have been scheduled for telephone hearings now have the option to switch to a video hearing that will be conducted on the platform Microsoft Teams. Tiffany and I recently were in a SSA training session and learned the following things:

  • OHO nationwide are at the lowest number of cases pending in last 20 years – about 379,000 (was about 1.3 million in 2017)
  • Nationally – about 313 day processing time – flat out said OHO doesn’t have enough cases for the Judges to hear
  • Can convert currently scheduled phone hearings to video – need to give notice about 2 weeks out from hearing date
  • Link to information about video hearings: https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/hearing_video.html
  • Client will need to download Microsoft teams on whatever device they are using and have a valid email
  • Client should be able to attend hearing even if using data only to access internet
  • Cannot have a hearing with representative by video and claimant by phone – unless at the time of the hearing there are technical difficulties and only way to reach client is by phone
  • The email link for the hearing will come at the time of the scheduling and then a reminder email will go out two days before the hearing

Great article about the long term financial effects that Covid may have on the benefit programs and Medicare.

Speech Impairments

March 10, 2021

I’ve handled a few cases over the years where an individual has a speech impairment. SSA’s rule look to whether speech can be reliably heard, understood and sustained over a work day or work week. Spasmodic dysphonia, aftereffects from cancer or the head and neck and apraxia are known sources of speech impairment. If you have issues with this or any other type of medical problem preventing you from working, call our office at 904-981-9812 or email us at ssdlawyer@bellsouth.net.

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