Social Security Employee

Social Security Employee

Government Peon

Metropolis, US

Female, 45

Sorry about that hiatus - I got sidetracked in life, but I'm back!
I work in the largest Social Security office in my area, working primarily with disabled individuals, but I have my hands in all aspects of what our agency does. Retirement, disability, survivors, SSN cards, the whole shebang.
I love what I do, and do my best to juggle the work which is far too much for one person to complete. I work with other hard workers, and some who are just taking up space.

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Last Answer on May 25, 2013

Best Rated

One more - you say above that you like your job, but it sounds like there's a fair amount of frustration there, too. What DO you like about the job, and what's kept you from going into a non-govt field?

Asked by J.M.D. almost 12 years ago

When I first went into public service, I imagined government employees much like many people probably do - cold, bureaucratic, unyielding, difficult to talk to. Most of the people who make contact with our agency expect to get exactly that, and depending on who they talk to, sometime they will get EXACTLY that. And who wants to deal with Social Security anyways? If you're calling us and you DON'T need a Social Security card, chances are you're dealing with a medical issue that has you out of work, and you've had to swallow your pride and admit you need help, you're getting on in years and are now being tossed into the retirement and Medicare gauntlet, or you've lost a loved one. Do you really think these people need to hear some mindless automaton barking policies and laws at them? I am not that. I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister. I have experiences and I am human. I try to speak to every single person on that level - human to human. I take time to put them at ease and explain things, rather than just repeating a script. There is no bigger reward to me than to have someone finish their business and say, "Wow that was a LOT easier than I thought it would be,” or “I was really nervous about doing this, but you made the whole process very pleasant." I can make or break their day, simply with my attitude. I can give them hope or make them feel worthless. I can leave them enlightened or confused. I can improve the bureaucracy for someone, simply by going to work. But yes, sometimes the frustration is too much to bear! With under-staffing there is far too much work for the number of employees. Every call I don't return, every piece of mail which sits unopened, everything on my to-do list that sits unfinished on my desk haunts me. Each one represents a human being who is (at least in their own mind, if not literally) depending on me for the only money they get. To them, the fact that I may have only 5 hours per week allocated to do 4 times that much work is meaningless. The fact that I have 45 days of backlogged mail doesn’t mean anything – they turned theirs in a week ago, and that should be PLENTY of time for me to have processed it. I know many of my clients by name, and I can’t apologize enough for not being able to devote the amount of time to their case that they deserve. We are constantly at the mercy of the budget and there is just nothing that I can do about it. I can only pray that our office will be given an overtime allotment so I can work on weekends to try to keep the backlog from drowning me. Why don’t I work in the private sector? I’ve been there. I was stuck in a $25k/yr job with no medical benefits and no hope for advancement. After 6 years in the agency I now make $65k/yr with excellent health benefits, working Monday through Friday (with the occasional Saturday), 8am to 4:30pm. I stay because the joy I get from my job USUALLY outweighs the drudgery.

How do you check to see whether someone claiming disability is actually disabled?

Asked by J.D. almost 12 years ago

First of all... I am taking my break, not answering on your (the taxpayers) dime. When someone files an application for disability, they go through a fairly lengthy interview - usually about 1 1/2 hours - gathering information from them about their work history, medical providers and treatments and finances to determine whether or not they meet non-medical rules. For instance, someone may be living with a very serious medical condition, however is able to hold down a decent job in spite of their health; this person may be denied without ever examining their medical decision. That's not what you asked though. Once we determine that "the claimant" meets the non-medical rules, we send their case to another office - this the state disability determination office in whatever area the claimant lives. That office is responsible for gathering the medical records from the doctors/hospitals/clinics which the claimant told us about during the interview. They then use the medical information, in conjunction with the claimants age, job history and educational background and to determine whether the claimant meets the criteria for disability or not. What is the criteria? That they have a physical or mental condition that prevents them from engaging in "substantial gainful activity" that is expected to last for 12 months or longer or result in death. Forgive me for any ignorant looking typos or other errors - I am also not typing this on govt. equipment, but on my phone.

Well, since you mentioned it ... why DOESN'T anyone answer the phone?

Asked by slowgrind almost 12 years ago

Ahhh, a brief afternoon break before I abandon my desk (and my phone, my mail and all of the other work waiting for me) to go work at the "front counter" to serve the walk-in public. It's all about the budget This particular office generally has 2 people answering the general information line, for a service population of 700,000+. If you're lucky enough to have someone's direct extension, they likely won't answer because they are busy filling in doing the job of someone who left and whose position was never filled. In the last 12 months we've lost (quit, transferred or promoted out of position) at least 8 employees whose vacant positions will not be filled.

Do you and your co-workers talk politics frequently? And would you say that the majority of social security employees generally align with the right or the left?

Asked by Seatack almost 12 years ago

I think it’s probably a pretty even split, as the demographics in the office vary greatly. It’s hard to say for certain though, as being Federal employees, we have to be careful about our political discussions in the office. We tend to stick together and talk politics only amongst our own ‘clique.’ I run with the conservative crowd. In the lunchroom, we talk about government waste in our own programs, policies we wish we could change and how we're frustrated by the entitlement mentality.

What kind of perks and benefits do you get? How much vacation time?

Asked by Cassie almost 12 years ago

Health benefits are good, but vision & dental cost an arm and a leg. Thrift Savings Plan w/ 5% agency matching, FERS retirement system, Health Savings Account.. the basics. 4 hours of sick leave per pay period (2 wks), 3 tier annual leave - 4 hours per PP until you've been there for 3 years, then you get 6 hours per PP until 15 years, then you get a full 8 hours per PP. There are more things that I'm not well acquainted with because I haven't needed them, so I can't really say. I think it's a pretty basic federal benefit package.

What's your opinion about how well the US unemployment and disability system incentivizes people to provide for themselves versus merely being a free lunch that discourages personal responsibility?

Asked by burnerturner almost 12 years ago

I can’t say much about Unemployment since I don’t know much about it. I’m fortunate to have never gotten up close and personal with that system. Those of us on the front lines within the agency definitely have ideas of how to trim the fat from our programs, and frequently discuss it passionately while out to lunch. That’s not exactly what you asked, though. The answer depends on which program we’re discussing. There is a lot of rules most people don’t know about the programs, and to fully explain my answer, I have to explain some terminology. Social Security covers two different programs: 1) Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance aka Social Security: Look at your paystubs. This is the line that says OASDI tax. This comes out of earned income only and goes into the Social Security trust fund. You cannot draw out of this trust fund if you have not paid enough into it. A person on this program is paid based on the average lifetime earnings covered under Social Security. This means until retirement age, or until they become medically disabled. We call this DIB (Disability Insurance Benefits) or RIB (Retirement Insurance Benefits). 2) Supplemental Security Income aka SSI: This money comes out of the general taxpayer funds. You need not ever have worked to draw out of this program. This is a “needs-based” program; essentially Federal Welfare, and the most a person can receive on this program in 2012 is $698/mo. We call this SSI. In an earlier post, we discussed the process used to determine whether or not a person qualifies as medically disabled. “A physical or mental condition that prevents them from engaging in ‘substantial gainful activity’ that is expected to last for 12 months or longer or result in death.” Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) is a set limit each year set by Congress. In 2012, this is $1010/mo or more. What that means we are deciding whether a person has the ability to earn that much or more per month – NOT whether or not they can still make the amount they used to. If a person is 30 years old and has never done anything but heavy construction, they may very well be able to start a new career in a more sedentary environment. A 50-year old may not be able to start over so easily. These things are taken into account. Both programs have return-to-work incentives built in. These incentives are designed to help those who truly want to return to work and to eventually wean themselves off of the system. I have worked with people who are shining examples of this. On the other hand, they can both be easily abused. I have seen plenty of this, as well. The incentives are there – people have to choose to use them.

Did the US economic collapse cause a surge in disability applicants? And has the lousy economy made your department scrutinize disability applicants more or less closely than before the economy tanked?

Asked by greenspandex almost 12 years ago

My apologies to everyone for taking so long to respond - last week was nightmarish in so many ways! I'm starting with this question because it is the easiest - YES - we are seeing more people applying than ever before! I still take my share of claims from people who seem to have very legitimate disabilities, but a lot more people are filing because "I may as well try" when they lose their job. The rules for eligibility haven't changed at all, so it's the same.

My neighbor's an ex-cop on disability. He spends his days drag-racing cars and doing very physical yardwork. He's anything but disabled. Should I report this? It's not really my business but we work hard & my taxes are funding his permanent vacation.

Asked by Argh almost 12 years ago

First of all, how old is he? If he's 66 or over, we don't consider them disabled anymore - at this age it has converted to a retirement benefit. If he's a younger guy, try to gather as much info as you can about him through conversation - birthday (or at least age), place of birth, parents names, etc. and use the Social Security Fraud resources listed on our website: http://ssa-custhelp.ssa.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/48/~/reporting-social-security-fraud

Why is it so hard to get fired from a federal job? If someone's simply not getting the job done or doing it way too slowly, why on earth would they be kept on staff?

Asked by D Schrute almost 12 years ago

Can't exactly answer this, since I've never been in management outside of the private business, but my strong educated guess is that it's highly political. Since I've been with the agency I've only seen a few, but at least 3 people come immediately to mind who were a complete waste of office space.

It sounds like you're really trying to put yourself out there for the clients. What has been the most satisfying result of you going above and beyond the call of duty?

Asked by Mary W over 11 years ago

Sorry for the hiatus, I hope you stop back in someday to get this answer. 

There have been several instances - usually it is with disabled individuals who are trying to go back to work. I love knowing that I am helping them to regain their sense of purpose in life! 

That, and when you can help a little old lady... that's just the best :)

What was the most heartbreaking situation where you had to deny someone disability or some other entitlement even though you personally thought they deserved it?

Asked by nocando almost 12 years ago

That's a loaded question, because why does anyone DESERVE it? When you come right down to it, a person gets denied for only two reasons: 1) The person didn't pay the taxes required to be insured for benefits. 2) The person doesn't meet some other factor of entitlement, whether it be age, citizenship or lawful alien status, they weren't married long enough, they don't meet the medical rules for disability, etc. Yeah, I'm in the wrong line of work - I don't believe a person deserves to have the taxpayers support them simply by virtue of being poor. No, I don't think the system needs to be abolished, but if you don't meet all the rules, you don't "deserve" it. That said, one of the saddest things I see time and time again is people who are terminally ill, diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, 4 months to live, and they are denied because of their earnings. We don't even make a medical determination because they are still working SGA (see above for definition). Then when they quit, there is a 5 month waiting period and they're dead before they're ever due a payment.

What do you think is the easiest or most cost-effective way to remove fraud from the system?

Asked by Ron_Washington almost 12 years ago

Mandatory truth serum at each interview. Seriously, it's all in the people. Interfaces to verify information with other agencies are all well and good, but there comes a point where we are going to become Big Brother. So, I guess my honest answer is this: TRAINING to produce skilled claim interviewers who know what to look for and how to probe out the truth. And slowgrind - I'm not ignoring your question, I want to think on it a while longer. I'll get to you, I promise!

How many of your co-workers are "chair-fillers" as you call them, doing the bare minimum every day? Why do you think so many government workers are so unmotivated like that?

Asked by Snowcaps almost 12 years ago

You made me think pretty seriously about this one - I don't want to be unfair to the people I work with who seem, like myself, to really care about what they do. I would say about 20% off the people in my office do the bare minimum to get by, with another 15% just waiting for the next promotion, with no concern about anything or anyone except getting there. On a positive note, while considering all of this, I concluded that about 25% of us are really knocking ourselves out trying to keep our heads above the enormous piles of backlog because we truly give a damn. We work weekends desperately trying to catch up and we are constantly frustrated about the poor level of service we’re forced to give. That leaves about 40% who are average workers, who aren't slacking off, but they aren't particularly trying to excel at their jobs, either. Why? Why not? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get fired from a federal job? Neither do I, because I've never seen it happen.

What are the most common ways you see people trying to beat the system?

Asked by Samson almost 12 years ago

I don't think I've ever worked with anyone who was outright committing fraud - usually they just try to underestimate their earnings, or 'fib' about receiving a non-covered pension (pension based on work that paid into a private pension plan INSTEAD of paying SS taxes - their benefits are computed differently). Bummer is, yes, we'll pay them, but then later when they aren't working anymore, guess what? Whoops, we found out, and now they owe us money back, and our first line of recoup is to withhold payments.

How does social security get notified when someone dies?

Asked by Garcia over 11 years ago

Again, sorry for the long wait for an answer!

In my office, all of the area funeral homes fax over a form called an SSA-721 Funeral Director's Notification of Death on everyone who comes through their doors. 
Other times, people call in and let us know that their family members have died - if they were receiving benefits, we suspend them until we have actual proof. 

Will social security even exist when I'm old? (I'm 28 now.)

Asked by J.M.D. almost 12 years ago

I honestly cannot answer that. It all depends on the choices our elected officials make between now and then. Err on the side of caution and assume not. Start saving for retirement NOW. Even if it's alive and kicking, it is only meant to supplement retirement, few can actually live comfortably on it. I'll get to the other pending questions when I can spend a few minutes at my home computer - typing the answers is really tedious on this little phone Thanks for the questions!

Let's say I'm a construction worker and I break my arm so severely that I'll never be able to work construction again. Am I entitled to disability for life, or is there a time limit?

Asked by shane over 11 years ago

First of all, you're not necessarily entitled to disability at all; this is one of the biggest misunderstandings in my opinion. Assuming you've been paying SS taxes and are eligible by non-medical standards, they will then evaluate your case by looking at multiple factors: age, education, and work history. 

You may never be able to work construction again, but based on your background, you may reasonably be expected to work a desk job. Another person may not have that same history, and their case may be decided differently. 

Example - I took a claim from a 26 year old hairdresser who had to have one of her hands amputated - pretty difficult to style hair one-handed! She was denied based on the fact that she had a basic college education and it was reasonably plausible for her to 'start over' at her age. 

 

Is there a process to revoke SSI entitlements handed out to charlatans, criminals and other dregs abusing the system? If so, how does it work?

Asked by Local cop almost 12 years ago

In a word, yes. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you how the whole process works. If we become aware of a potentially fraudulent situation, it is not something that is dealt with in the local Field Office. We make a referral to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) whenever we suspect fraud. They have detectives who investigate the allegations and pursue criminal charges when appropriate!

What was the most egregious attempt at disability fraud you ever saw? Like, someone who was just in no way disabled but tried to get away with it anyway.

Asked by slowgrind almost 12 years ago

I thought and thought and thought about this, then forgot about Jobstr and just now spent 15 minutes trying to remember my login, which email address I used, etc. 

I still don't have an answer. I find all of it fairly appalling - people stealing from their fellow man is reprehensible! 

One I recently heard about a woman who receives disability, her kids receive SSI (kid's welfare disability), she was working part time, getting paid by the State for being her mother's PCA - it turns out that she wasn't even living in the same state as her mother. They were both charged with multiple counts of fraud against not only SSA but the individual states as well as Medicaid fraud.

Did you see this article about Hale County, AL, where literally 1 in 4 working-age adults is on disability? Does this just make your blood boil?
http://apps.npr.org/unfit-for-work/

Asked by yikes about 11 years ago

I hadn't seen it, but I'm not surprised! This is why we're going to be bankrupt eventually! Some days it seems like I PERSONALLY have taken a disability claim from every adult in the area at least 3 times!

The one that bugs me the most is the young adults filing for depression other (usually) very manageable mental illnesses.

Don't you find it hypocritical for Republicans to decry Obama's "socialist" agenda when things like social security, Medicare, ER treatment, and public schools are ALL basically socialized. I consider myself an independent, but that really annoys me.

Asked by Brynn over 11 years ago

I hear you - I'm pretty heavily conservative myself... if you think about it, most of todays Republicans are more liberal than the Dems of old!!

I appreciate the *idea* of disability, and agree there should be some compensation for getting hurt on the job. But short of being completely paralyzed, couldn't most injured people still work SOME kind of job after the fact?

Asked by Larkin J. about 11 years ago

Sometimes I think so too, but I don't make the medical decisions so my opinion doesn't count to the big guys upstairs.

do many SS Employees wish to be ALJ(disability judges) someday.

Asked by draino about 10 years ago