Friday, June 1, 2012

My Job: Writer

I've been meaning to write this post for a while. As you've probably noticed (if you're still reading) that I've significantly decreased my output of bloggings lately. It's not just because I graduated from college, or because I moved in with my girlfriend, and not even because I've been zonked out of my mind playing Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty and Diablo III by Blizzard Entertainment™. Nope, I've been dialing back because I've been working this job I mentioned a while ago.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I want to blog about what I do from 8:45 AM to 5:30 PM.

I work as a writer and advocate at a prominent firm in the Bay Area which handles cases for individuals attempting to obtain lawful benefits under the Social Security Act (SSA), specifically Title II and XVI. Also known as Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The former is an entitlement program which pays out based on your work history and whether or not you have a medical disability under SSA regulations. It's like a form of insurance the government provides because you pay taxes. The latter is a welfare program which pays out solely based on need and whether or not you have a medical disability under SSA regulations. It's solely needs based and is intended to be a program of "last resort".

My job is primarily as a legal writer. I compose briefs, case summaries, letters, but most of all Appeals Council comments. I spend the majority of time looking at unfavorable decisions handed to our clients by Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) from Social Security and argue the fine points of relevant law as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) parts 400-499. I also incorporate U.S. circuit court law on a regular basis, depending on the applicability. The Appeals Council is the final step in administrative process to obtain benefits under the Title II and XVI (aside from filing a civil action in federal court) and they only deal with case appeals after an individual has had a hearing with an ALJ.

Essentially I spend all day writing complex legal arguments to a highly knowledgeable body of lawyers and judges explaining why other duly appointed judges are wrong.

It's not as difficult as it sounds.

Administrative law is notoriously interpretive. It all depends on your skills at advocating, at presenting a cogent argument. This is something which I have been uniquely groomed for, actually, between working unpaid at my Dad's old law office to arguing minute, essay-long points of logic with cyberspace trolls, and even my educational background in writing and anthropology. I'm just able to apply ass to chair and write on demand with nary a typo and full incorporation of years worth of medical, legal, and confidential information from our client's personal lives.

So for obvious reasons I can't get too specific about actual cases or reveal any incriminating information about my employer. In fact...

Any information contained herein is solely the view of the blogger and is not representative of the blogger's employer, who shall remain nameless. Any resemblance to entities, real or imagined, is purely coincidental. This post is the sole property of the blogger and has been published in accordance with all applicable law and due diligence to protecting the reputation of any involved herein. 

Now that we got that outta the way. Let me continue.

After a scant 3 month "probationary period" I was approved for promotion from legal writer to advocate. I'm fairly stoked about it, since this is my first job job, and it comes with a HEFTY pay-bump as well as salaried employment. (No more clocking in and out. No more shortening on the pay check for taking an unpaid sick day.) As advocate I will represent the clients at SSA hearings before ALJs, providing guidance and assistance in ensuring they receive adequate due process -- as well as hopefully winning a few cases, y'know!

How is this possible though? I'm not a lawyer. I'm just the son of one. Well, it was always legal for anyone to represent an individual in SSA hearings, but in 2005 the Social Security Administration passed a non-attorney representative act which allowed non-attorney reps to get paid for their work, as if they were a lawyer. All you need to do is take a test of your knowledge of the relevant regulations and ethics. If you pass, boom! You can get paid to rep clients.

However, I'll still spend the majority of my time writing. They like my work. I'm fast, concise, and I eviscerate the BS contained within most ALJ's letters of decisions.

See, over 90% of SSA cases are dismissed or denied at the initial and reconsideration levels of the administrative process. The national average of ALJ approvals stands at 49% but that is somewhat skewed mostly because of the few good judges with high approval rates. Most judges are extremely conservative and tend not to grant, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that an individual is disabled.

No joke. It's easier to win the lottery than to win a disability case before the SSA. And it takes YEARS for these things to happen. As I said 90% are denied initially and upon reconsideration. This process alone takes 2-4 years. After that, getting a hearing takes another year, at least, and after the hearing the decision takes 6 months to a year, depending on the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review you're located at. If you're denied, expect anywhere from 18 to 36 months of a wait if you decide to appeal your case. It's not uncommon for it to be even longer if you have complications with evidence, comments, etc.

And again, it's almost insane how many legitimately disabled people are denied lawful benefits. Judges will look at people in wheelchairs and decide they can walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday working a competitive job 9-5 on a regular basis. Judges will see MRIs with findings of extremely degenerative changes in an individual's body and decide they don't have a severe enough impairment. Judges will discriminate against individuals based on if they washed a dish at some point during their case, what they look like at the hearing, who their rep is, and even just because their doctor says they're disabled!

This job, if it has taught me anything, has taught me that "when facts are reported, they deny the value of evidence; when the evidence is produced, they declare it inconclusive." Even incredibly smart, educated, authoritative people can and are completely fucking wrong on a regular basis.

Which is probably why I'm so good at my job. Because I take no stock in any of that bullshit. I am for only the truth -- the wisdom to find it, the compassion to accept it, and the courage to fight for it.


2 footnotes:

Maxam said...

you seemed very good at your job and you are serving in important role as an advocate.

I was fortunate enough to only be denied once when I applied for SSI.

Zek J. Evets said...

Thanks Shawn, I really appreciate that!

Once is pretty standard for most claimants, but SSI is generally more difficult to get primarily because it's supposed to be a last resort for assistance. Most people simply don't have the money to get medical records to show they're disabled.