Are all federal agency field offices alike? Or are there discrepancies in policies and procedures between regions of the country? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘Yes’, there are considerable differences in how field offices process transactions depending upon the location of the office.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is a large bureaucratic federal agency that is in serious need of reform. However, the problem extends beyond slow paperwork and lax standards. The approval rate for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) varies widely throughout the nation, but there is one region of the country that notoriously suffers the absolute worst rate from anywhere else in the nation. Which region is that?
Answer- Central California, and principally the Fresno area (DisabilityJudges.com, 2013). All claims filed in Fresno and surrounding cities are adjudicated in Stockton, California, a city that is plagued with crime and filed for bankruptcy in 2012 (Rudolf, 2012). Could there be a connection between the exceedingly high crime rate, lack of municipal funding, and the highest denial rate of SSDI claims in the country? Have you ever wondered what happens when a claim is appealed to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and the ALJ denies the claim? What happens to the pool of money that would have been awarded to the claimant?
So you don’t believe that Region 3 (Fresno – Stockton) has a serious problem with disability claimants? You don’t have to take my word for it. Consider these excerpts from Attorney Lawrence Rohlfing (2012) of The Law Offices of Lawrence D. Rohlfing:
“The question is whether the Court will place its stamp of approval on a decision that the public knows is palpably and unmistakeably wrong. When the Court rushes in to affirm the wrong decision because what the ALJ did falls within the range of wrong but reasonable, the Court degrades the public confidence in both the SSA and the Court.
“The Court should get out of the business of excusing bad decisions by the SSA under the guise of permitting a wide range of discretion. The Court should get into the business of narrowing the range of discretion so that claimants like Chaudhry have their cases determined based on the facts of the case instead of the lottery of the identity of the individual ALJ.
“…[M]y experience informs me that the Fresno District Court changed in the last 10 years. It has become more apt to affirm bad decisions of the Commissioner of Social Security. Perhaps this arises from a cultural shift, perhaps from an incredible case overload in cases of all types, or some other reason that escapes my narrow view. The message in the past 5 years from the Fresno Division has been clear, it is not a claimant friendly forum.
“The Social Security disability program already has the appearance of a lottery with benefits dependent on the identity of the decision-maker rather than the facts of the case….Administrative discretion cannot replace the public expectation of evenhanded administration of justice.” (pp. 1-100)
So, then, what is a claimant to do, especially if not represented by counsel? Answer: Find an advocate who can help, who is experienced in disability law and the Social Security and Federal Judicial Systems. Without professional assistance, a lay claimant is bound to be denied the benefits that he or she is otherwise entitled to receive through legal trickery, deception, and collusion between aforementioned stakeholders in your money.
If you are in need of help with your SSI/SSDI or other federal insurance benefit, know that you are not alone.
The California Office Of Federal Insurance Advocacy stands ready to assist you.
Zabian R Crosby, DHEd, MHCM, MEd, BSc, USN (Ret.) E-3/I.T.
DisabilityJudges.com. (2013). Stockton, California ODAR Office. Retrieved from http://www.disabilityjudges.com/state/california/stockton/
Rohlfing, L. (2012). California Social Security Disability Attorney. Retrieved from http://californiasocialsecurityattorney.blogspot.com/
Rudolf, J. (2012). Stockton bankruptcy may force ‘mass exodus’ of police during crime wave. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/23/stockton-bankruptcy-police-crime_n_1826100.html