Over the last year and a half, I have frequently used this column to write about what I like to think of as COVID blessings. For all the challenges we have endured and conquered brought on by the pandemic, there have been so many opportunities to improve our practice and engage our clients in new ways that will serve us for years and generations to come. Increased calendar efficiency, improved phone and video conferencing, the introduction of electronic client signatures, and the expansion of our education marketing efforts to wider audiences are all things triggered by COVID.
I am now asking the Social Security Administration to do the same thing. Step up to the plate. Join the 21st century and use the best available technology so we can help our clients who need the disability benefits you are tasked with awarding to eligible Americans. While the rest of the world had adapted to Zoom, Google Meet, and FaceTime meetings within a week or two of COVID rearing its ugly head last March, SSA didn’t start to roll out video hearings for claimant’s en masse–and with poor results–until April 2021 and on the little-used Microsoft Teams platform. At the beginning of a recent ALJ hearing, one judge said to me, “obviously my employer bought video technology from the lowest bidder.” We, speaking as tax-paying Americans, can do better than this for our disabled peers.
When a client signs representation forms with my office, we have to fax our representation forms to the client’s local SSA field office so that a worker in the office can manually assign us as the client’s attorney in their internal system. A little known fact (other than to frustrated attorneys offices) is that we often have to fax our representation forms six or seven times for a single client, and call the field office six or seven times to follow up to see if they have done the processing work on their end before we are actually attached to the client’s files. This is HOURS of time wasted by my staff to accomplish the simplest of tasks, which takes away from our ability to do the actual work of helping our clients. SSA, you can do better than this.
One positive change by SSA (which hopefully sticks) that came in response to COVID-19 was allowing clients to sign paperwork electronically and not requiring “wet” signatures on representation forms as has been historically required. To my knowledge, up until this implementation, SSA was the only “court” or government agency to not recognize electronic signatures by signing parties. However, SSA then decided to spend its limited resources having employees do the arduous work of calling claimants who signed paperwork electronically to confirm that they indeed had actually signed the forms. What a waste of time!
Similarly, in the early part of this year, several of my clients reported receiving template letters from SSA stating the following: “We received written notice that you appointed Michael Liner to represent you for your claim(s) before the Social Security Administration. Therefore, we will work directly with Michael Liner on matters that concern your claim(s), unless you tell us that you did not intend to appoint this individual by calling 1 (800) 772–1212 or by signing and faxing this notice to us.”
Several of my clients, for no reason other than misunderstanding the letter’s purpose (and having no desire to terminate me as their lawyer), signed the letter and sent it back to SSA – not realizing they were effectively firing me. SSA, are these really the best uses of your resources? While our clients wait years for money to pay for basic essentials, your employees are mailing out letters asking if disability applicants want to fire their lawyers and if their signatures are genuine. The time to make positive change is now.
-Michael LinerDisability Attorney Michael Liner is the founder of Liner Legal, your #1 choice to get Cleveland OH disability benefits. He leads our team of disability warriors all around Ohio. If you are looking for Medina disability attorneys, Warren OH disability lawyers, and the Best Akron Disability Lawyers, call Liner Legal today! You can also contact us by clicking here.