Mr. Social Security: Part 3
Despite Conn and his cohorts being the true culprits of an elaborate fraud conspiracy, hundreds of his incognizant clients were the first to experience the brunt of SSA’s initial response. In May of 2015, roughly a year before Conn was rightfully charged, around 900 of his clients received letters from SSA informing them of changes to their social security benefits. Sadly, these 900 individuals had their benefits ceased without a redetermination hearing, which was a clear breach of procedural due process expressed in the U.S. Constitution. Following their blatant infringement of the 5th Amendment, SSA had a class action suit filed against them, prompting them to meet with U.S. Representative Rogers to address their decision to suspend Conn’s clients’ benefits. The SSA was then influenced to reverse the benefit suspension of those 900 individuals. Though these 900 clients were fortunately aided by the Constitution, the group of 1600 individuals chosen for redetermination was not as lucky.
As a direct consequence of Conn systematically destroying dozens of his computer files and shredding a large warehouse worth of forged documents to keep SSA off his trail, claimants had zero medical evidence to reference during their redetermination hearings. Conn’s clients were only allotted ten days to acquire genuine and convincing evidence relating to their initial disability claims. As an alternative, clients could’ve obtained their records from hospitals for $1 per page. Needless to say, a majority of the 1600 individuals relied heavily on their social security benefits, but without them they did not have the finances required to take advantage of this substitute source of evidence. With no hope or options left, these individuals were forced to testify about their health themselves, in a desperate attempt to resume their benefits. Upon exhortation from Representative Rogers, SSA later increased the window from ten to thirty days but this still wasn’t enough time to recover their evidence without legal aid.
If a claimant was deemed unsuitable to receive social security awards, they subsequently were liable for overpayments of the benefits already received. Of the 1600 Conn clients selected for redetermination, 50% of them lost their benefits and were legally accountable for overpayments. Even though these unfortunate individuals could have been truly disabled, they were without the evidence to prove it. Families who were accustomed to having monthly funds as source of survival now had to adapt to the negative turns their lives would take after being deprived of them.
Tim Dye, former benefits recipient and coal miner, and his family were forced to sell all their furniture and personal belongs to prevent the foreclosure of their home. Without his monthly awards and savings, his family was also unable to pay their water bill and now had to rely on “a system of runoff hoses and barrels to collect” water. Many of the clients who lost benefits faced similar situations as the Dye family and some experienced even worse. Unlike Tim Dye, some clients were unsuccessful in saving their homes, and resorted to sleeping in their vehicles and camping in the woods. In the most tragic scenarios following unfavorable redetermination hearings, those completely overwhelmed by the sudden change in their life preferred suicide to a life of scrambling to afford the most basic requirements of living.
In an effort to rectify and cease the effects of Conn’s and his cronies’ elaborate fraud conspiracy, the SSA carelessly incited a humanitarian crisis in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. It has been stated that the SSA had knowledge of ALJ Daugherty’s conduct for years, but chose to overlook them. The SSA could have easily started their hunt with Daugherty’s suspicious behavior, and would have successfully unraveled Conn’s scheme, but instead they penalized the very people they were designed to help for the crimes of their attorney. In the words of Ned Pillersdorf, attorney and early advocate for Conn clients, the SSA’s plan was “to punish the most vulnerable folks in the most economically distressed area of our nation.” Adding insult to injury, the struggles of those punished by the SSA has had little to no media coverage as if to hide the faults of the agency. The SSA is a government device and their stated goal is to benefit the American people, but given the circumstances and evidence created by their actions, one could strongly argue otherwise.