TBA Law Blog

Posted by: Christy Gibson on Feb 1, 2013

Welcome to new members of the Tennessee Bar Association’s Disability Law Section. Your section membership provides a discount to attend our full day seminar offered 4/26.  Click here for more details. The seminar includes a hour of ethics credit, sections on Vocational Expert cross examination, new SS developments from NOSSCR President Debra Shifrin, as well as sessions by an Social Security ALJ and the director of the Disability Determination Section.

Regarding disability news, we are awaiting the nomination of a new Social Security Commissioner. The term of the present commissioner, Michael Astrue expired 1/19/13. He is still on the job as of 1/31/13 but has announced that he will return to Massachusetts sometime in February. The Commissioner Astrue administers a department which touches the lives of almost all Americans. His workforce exceeds 60,000 nationwide, a number that does not count contractors such as the disability examiners employed by state agencies who adjudicate the first levels of claims for disability insurance benefits in all fifty states.  Commissioner Astrue showed a willingness to use “brute force” (additional worker power and staff overtime) to reduce the backlog of hearing decisions early and midway through his term. Funding has strained the efforts recently.  Astrue also promoted the increased use of computer technology.  He lobbied for a new National Computing Center.  He also expanded an individual’s ability to file claims for retirement benefits and disability benefits online.  Citizens can also request earnings statements and estimate retirement income online.  Many attorneys can access their clients’ claim files and evidence online through a secure web site.  Under Astrue, SSA established a list of 200 extremely severe or life threatening health conditions called compassionate allowances which lead to quicker disability allowances for those suffering from those conditions.

Astrue has been criticized for among other things, refusing to release the names of Administrative Law Judges prior to the date of hearings and for closing SSA field offices earlier due to budget constraints. 

In other news, practitioners may sign up for disability updates from the White House by clicking here.The e-mails cover non SS issues and are not burdensome in volume.  As of yet, no indication of the next Social Security Commissioner.

Beth Bates