SECURITY CHIEF AGREES SYSTEM HAS FLAWS
Houston Chronicle ^ | May 30, 2002 | ALAN BERNSTEIN
Posted on 05/30/2002 7:37
AM PDT by MeneMeneTekelUpharsin
The new chief of the Social Security Administration
criticized the way her agency's disability benefits program
works after hearing tearful horror stories Wednesday from sick
Houston-area residents who battled the system. One woman told
Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart it took eight years and
congressional intervention for her husband, a Vietnam War
veteran with multiple sclerosis, to get approval for
disability benefits. Another local woman, a former department
store executive, said Social Security administrative law
judges have denied her benefits request for the last three
years despite medical evidence that a rare liver disease robs
her of the energy to work. "It's heartless,
heartless," Brent Bowers of Pipefitters Local Union 211
called out from the back of the crowded room as the witnesses
told their tales. Several injured union members have sought
Barnhart, who took over the federal agency in November with
promises of reform, said the testimony showed she has several
problems to tackle. "The kind of stories we heard today
... is not what was intended by Congress and certainly not
what was intended by the vast majority of people in the Social
Security Administration," Barnhart said. Barnhart, joined
at a downtown Houston hearing by five area congressmen and
other officials, said she will make sure the judges follow the
law. "I intend to make sure that everybody throughout the
agency is doing the job the way they are supposed to, in a
manner we can all be proud of," she said.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, of the House
Subcommittee on Social Security, invited Barnhart to Houston
after the Chronicle reported on problems with the disability
system in Texas last year. The Texas Rehabilitation
Commission, which makes the first ruling on each disability
application in the state, approved the requests by the lowest
rate in the nation, 31 percent, in 2000. The rate rose to 40
percent in 2001, placing Texas ahead of nine other states.
The Chronicle reported that when sick or injured people in
the Houston area appealed their denial to Social Security
judges, their odds of winning were lower than elsewhere in the
state and nation, and the one-year wait for a hearing was also
longer than the national average. Vernon "Max"
Arrell, Rehabilitation Commission chief since 1981,
acknowledged at the hearing that his agency had the lowest
approval rate because of a regional "conservative-type
attitude" against giving out government benefits.
Last year, some of Arrell's top aides said the low rates
were due to a variety of other reasons -- such as Texas having
a relatively young work force. Only the state agency's
critics, such as advocates for the disabled, said it was due
to a politically conservative approach to government.
Regardless, Arrell told Barnhart his agency is open to
improvements, such as better training of the state's 340 or so
examiners who decide whether people are eligible for
About 6 million U.S. residents get disability benefits,
averaging about $750 a month. The witnesses at the hearing
sold some of the congressmen on the idea that Social Security
judges don't apply the law evenly. "Too many of these
cases are handled with no consistency," said U.S. Rep.
John Culberson, R-Houston. Democratic U.S. Reps. Gene Green,
Ken Bentsen and Sheila Jackson Lee also attended.
Gisela Montano of Houston testified that the judges
originally rejected the disability claim from her husband,
Michael, who is afflicted by MS. "The judge refused to
look at all the facts," she said, explaining that a
second judge reversed the rulings with the same evidence.
Donna Brown, the former department store executive, tearfully
told Barnhart that without disability benefits, she had to
borrow money for her cancer surgery scheduled for Friday.
"I don't know what you can do about a judge ignoring
medical evidence, (but) that has to be a reform," she
Social Security judges in Houston -- the number recently
grew to 18 -- have refused to discuss their approval rates.
Judge Ron Bernoski of Wisconsin, president of the Association
of Administrative Law Judges, said in a telephone interview
Wednesday that his colleagues follow the law and rule only on
the evidence they hear. "They are all trained lawyers and
they certainly are trying to provide justice to the American
people," he said.
But Jackson Lee, a member of the House Judiciary Committee,
which oversees judges, said she will conduct research to see
if Congress needs to change the way the judges handle
disability cases. Kenneth Smith of Spring testified that
denials and delays prevented his brother, Arthur
"Mike" Smith, from getting disability benefits for
two years. When the approval came in February 2001, his
brother, who suffered from hepatitis C, had been dead for
seven months. "There is something wrong with this picture
here," Kenneth Smith said. "I'm just here to help
out the others."
The Social Security system has unbelievable
internal problems. Many of the employees are totally
incompetent and are not accountable. Sometimes, there are
several layers of management, but the present system does not
allow for elimination of the duplication. It is an
unbelieveable, horrific mess. SSI recipients are fawned over
and basically given what they want (i.e. future Democrat
votes). If the public knew how big the mess was, a revolution
of sorts would occur as people began to realize the degree to
which they are going to be shafted upon retirement.
Worst of all, the retirement age has been raised for many
younger workers which will mean a reduction in benefits if
they retire early at 62 (which most people do because they
can't take it anymore). The media NEVER takes the time to look
and see what is actually happening and seems to always take
the Democrat position.