With the advent of the automated iClaims system, Commissioner Astrue issued new instructions to SSA employees – Social Security workers must stop assisting claimants as they had in the past. As of November 2008, claims representatives must follow these instructions, lifted directly from SSA manuals:
- Do not suggest a month of election for the claimant (month when benefits begin).
- Do not advise the claimant about the best time to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits.
- Do not calculate or discuss breakeven points and the 8 and 20 year rules to determine if a claimant is making an advantageous or disadvantageous decision on his/her month of election.
- Do not attempt to persuade the claimant about benefit decisions.
These instructions amount to a gag order on employees that prohibits them from providing useful assistance to the American public they are sworn to serve. As a result of this gag order, Social Security employees now fear that claimants are being denied essential information at the most critical stage in the benefit application process.
In addition, many disabled persons could decide not to file for benefits that they are legally entitled to as a result of the gag order, because the iClaims question about disability is worded in a way that suggests that benefits are only payable if an individual can do no work at all.
And as the baby boomer generation begins to retire in large numbers, Commissioner Astrue’s instructions to refrain from providing service and information undermine the very mission of the Social Security Administration at a critical time. Many beneficiaries will become frustrated and make incorrect applications that will cost them benefits to which they are legally entitled. Clearly, Commissioner Astrue’s policies are not in keeping with the mission of SSA.