From – watchdog.org – By M.D. Kittle
MILWAUKEE – In the wake of Wisconsin Watchdog’s investigation into allegations of incompetence, misconduct, and retaliation in Social Security disability appeals offices, several employees have taken their complaints to a Senate committee led by Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson.
An official with knowledge of the complaints said the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by the Oshkosh Republican, has received emails and other contacts from “certain people” inside the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.
The initial complaints came from an employee inside the Milwaukee office following Wisconsin Watchdog’s opening investigative report that found some claimants waiting more than 1,000 days for an appeals decision on their disability benefits claim.
Following Wednesday’s story of a whistleblower in the Madison ODAR office, the committee has received more specific complaints about retaliation against employees, the source said.
Committee staff members sent the latest Watchdog piece to SSA administrators hoping they will “cooperate,” the source said. To date, the agency has been less than cooperative.
“This is an ongoing process, and they are not always as forthcoming as we’d like them to be,” the source said. “Hopefully with your continued reporting, this is an issue they can’t duck.”
A Senate committee member said officials there are working with the Office of Special Counsel on “multiple whistleblower retaliation claims.” The committee continues to request information from the SSA.
The whistleblower in the Madison office claims management retaliated against her after she was called to testify in a misconduct case. The incident involved “inappropriate behavior” by an administrative law judge, she said.
“They are so corrupt. It’s absolutely horrible,” said the woman, a lead case technician in the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.
She spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing more retribution from her supervisors. While she said recounting her particular experiences will more than likely betray her identity anyway, the ODAR case worker insisted she has had enough.
“I’m at point where they don’t care about me, I don’t see why I’m protecting them. This is my last resort,” she said. “I want to do my work without fear of retaliation.”
She said she has contacted the Senate committee.
“I forwarded my information to them and I got an email back from them. They said people are coming out of the woodwork with their complaints (about ODAR) following your story,” the whistleblower said.
Ronald Klym, a long-time senior legal assistant in the Milwaukee ODAR office, alleges he has been retaliated against by supervisors for going public with his charges of incompetence and misconduct in the agency.
The federal employee, who has worked for SSA for 16 years, provided Wisconsin Watchdog with documents showing extremely long wait times for claimants appealing their denied applications for benefits.
Doug Nguyen, SSA regional spokesman, in a previous story said the agency acknowledges that Milwaukee ODAR has a “high average processing time for disability appeal hearings, and we are working to address the issue.”
Beyond the delays is what Klym calls the “shell game,” the wholesale transferring of cases to other parts of the country by administrators to make the Milwaukee office’s numbers look better than they are.
The Madison office whistleblower confirmed Klym’s allegations, saying at one point she saw 2,000 cases from the Milwaukee office handed off to the Oak Brook operation.
Nguyen has said he cannot comment on internal personnel matters.