Law Tips: Social Security

ICLEF Law Tips #35

What ARE the Best Practices?

DIB, DDB, CDB, SGA, oh my!   Social Security has grown and transformed since the Social Security Act passed in 1935.  I don’t think anyone will argue that the list of possible issues relative to a SS case isn’t long.  So, what are the best SS practices for lawyers today?

Our current Social Security CLE panel includes several experts who provide the latest techniques to give you an advantage when acting as a claimant representative.  From that faculty, I am pleased to include two Law Tips contributors this week, Debra Bice, Chief Administrative Law Judge for the SSA and Tim Vrana, a Social Security-focused lawyer in Columbus, Indiana since 1982.

During the Social Security CLE, Judge Bice discusses her insights for “Best Practices for Claimants’ Representatives.”  Her number one piece of advice to the lawyer with a SS client is to obtain as much information as possible from the SSA website.  The more informed a representative is, the  more efficient the process.  Therefore, as the key to Judge Bice’s overall recommendations, she asks that I share the link to the brochure on the SSA website that offers thorough advice for acting as a claimant’s representative.  SSA Best Practices brochure

Tim Vrana, who by-the-way got his feet wet as a SSA claims representative for seven years before practicing law, provides practical tips that can save you some time and effort. First, he too points to the SSA website, including emphasis on the online registration for “Appointed Representative Services,” which he stresses is “no longer an option.”

Overall, Tim comments that: “With a few exceptions, I have always found SSA employees to be courteous and helpful.  Unfortunately, it is not always easy to reach these courteous, helpful people. This is especially true at the field office level.”  His advice continues:

— SSA has a toll-free number which it encourages people to use. However, the information received from this number is not always accurate.  If you get a direct phone number from someone in your local field office, don’t lose it. Don’t give it out, but don’t lose it. The field office employees can be extremely helpful in providing information about the law and about the status of cases, back pay, and fees. If you don’t have such a number, using a FAX is probably your best bet.  Of course, you can always go to the field office and sit, but you may be there a few hours. A letter will eventually get a response. For whatever reason, SSA seems unwilling to communicate by e-mail.

With regard to statutes, regulations, and rulings, Mr. Vrana says:

– The Social Security Act is the Foundation for Social Security disability law, but the practitioner will find daily guidance in the regulations and rulings. You can buy a book of regulations.  They are also easily available on SSA’ s website at no charge. The rulings are also available there at no charge.  To access the regulations and rulings, go to the homepage. In the right column, entitled “About Our Agency,” click the drop-down box labeled “-More-.”  Click “Our Program Rules” and you’ll be at the “Social Security Program Rules Home Page.”   The regulations have the force of law, of course, and are invaluable. The rulings are also binding on SSA.  Some of them have little relevance,  but others can be quite helpful.

The Program Operations Manual System, commonly known as POMS, and the Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law (HALLEX) manual are not as important, although they can help you understand why something is happening procedurally. For the most part, they are procedural instructions to SSA employees.

Lastly, Tim’s expertise with the SSA, provides this comment on “The Secret ALJ Policy:”

– As of December 2011, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review is not allowed to tell you ahead of time who the ALJ will be for your hearing.   This is an over-reaction by SSA to a problem that could be handled otherwise, but it is the current policy. Most ALJs, experts, ODAR employees, and attorneys don’t like this policy, although the sky has not yet fallen. With the appointment of a new Commissioner in January 2013 (regardless of who wins the Presidential election), I am confident that this will not be a topic at our seminar two years from now.

ICLEF is appreciative of these faculty members’ willingness to share their expertise here on Law Tips.  You have several opportunities to get the full impact of their Social Security guidance by  viewing the upcoming Video Replays, the Online/On Demand Video or purchase the e-Publication of ICLEF CLE Seminar, “Social Security”Click Here.

About our ICLEF Law Tips faculty members:
In June 2011, Judge Debra Bice was appointed Chief Administrative Law Judge overseeing the national hearing operation for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Judge Bice has over 30 years of work in the disability field in both the public and private sector. She has extensive experience with electronic disability initiatives and has trained numerous judges and attorneys on the electronic business process.

Tim Vrana worked for seven years as a Claims Representative for the Social Security Administration before being admitted to the bar in 1982.  After 22 years with the Sharpnack Bigley firm in Columbus, Indiana, he opened a solo practice on January 1, 2005.  Tim focuses his practice on Social Security cases, long-term disability cases, and civil appeals.  He has been a member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) since 1982.

About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley, Law Tips blogger, has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We plan to utilize her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook page, Twittering and other places her legal experience lends itself.

Thank you for reading ICLEF’s Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page. Also, look for blog updates on Facebook and Twitter.  Your comments are welcome as Nancy continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our expert faculty to share with you on Law Tips.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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