Home  >  Wisconsin  >  Social Security Administration fires whistleblower

Social Security Administration fires whistleblower

By   /   August 19, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 30 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – The first whistleblower who went public with allegations of misconduct in the Social Security Administration disability review system has been fired.

Ronald Klym, a 16-year employee with the Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, received a written dismissal Wednesday from the Social Security Administration Region 5 headquarters in Chicago.

The letter and the decision to fire Klym came from Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge Sherry Thompson. Klym’s dismissal letter arrived two days after U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson warned the federal agency that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee would not tolerate retaliation against SSA whistleblowers. Johnson is chairman of the committee, which has opened an inquiry into allegations of corruption and cover-up in the Milwaukee and Madison ODAR offices.

Klym’s dismal occurred two days before U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin sent a sternly worded letter to SSA Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin noting “serious allegations of whistleblower retaliation in the agency.”

“I will not tolerate retaliation or intimidation against whistleblowers who have come forward with information related to an ongoing investigation into ODAR operations and ask for your assurance that the Social Security Administration will take appropriate action putting an immediate stop to any such retaliation,” the Madison Democrat said.

RELATED: Baldwin warns Social Security Administration not to retaliate

Watchdog.org file photo

SILENCED BY FIRING: The first whistleblower to go public with allegations of misconduct at the Milwaukee ODAR facility has been fired. Ron Klym said it’s the Social Security Administration’s final abusive act in its campaign to silence a whistleblower.

Still, Klym, who spent 24 years working for the federal government, is gone.

“They are the judge and jury making determinations without any reference to legality or proper procedure,” he said of SSA’s administrative staff.

Klym, a long-time senior case technician at the Milwaukee office, had been on administrative leave since late May after being notified that the agency was effectively preparing to fire him.

The proposal to terminate came a few weeks after Klym was featured in a Wisconsin Watchdog investigative story in which he alleged widespread misconduct in the Milwaukee office.

In that first story in Wisconsin Watchdog’s multi-part series Deadly Delays, Klym said things got rough for him at the office after he alerted senior officials and, later, lawmakers about a litany of conduct and due process issues at ODAR

“Absolutely. I am being punished because I am a whistleblower,” said Klym, who alleged harassment, additional work assignments and unreasonable deadlines.

Klym compiled records showing a massive backlog of disability claims cases in Milwaukee.

Records show cases from Green Bay, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and other smaller communities in the Milwaukee ODAR coverage area had waiting times longer than 650 days.

On July 11, 2011, 305 of the oldest 600 cases were in Green Bay; 203 of them were in Marquette, Mich., and 62 of the cases came from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

Dozens of cases on appeal took more than 700 days to complete. One Green Bay case clocked in at 862 days to dispose of. A Marquette request for benefits hit 1,064 days, and another was completed in 1,126 days.

In 2011, the inventory for the Milwaukee region’s disability claims appeal office was at approximately 2,200 cases; today it’s running at about 12,000, Klym said.

And Klym alleges a kind of “shell game” was being played with cases.

The Milwaukee office’s case disposition numbers have at times drastically improved because managers in the chain have dumped off scores of cases to other regional offices, he said.

“They are wholesale shipping cases out,” the senior legal assistant said. The impression is that the offices are performing at a better rate than they actually are. “When you ship 1,000 cases to somewhere else, then you do an audit, it looks better.”

Doug Nguyen, communications director for the Social Security Administration Chicago region, a six-state region that includes Milwaukee, 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.”

“The Social Security disability program is an important resource for people with disabilities, and we work tirelessly every day to provide the best service possible,” he said.

‘Interference’

Klym said SSA has worked tirelessly to target whistleblowers who have brought complaints calling out waste, fraud and abuse in the federal agency.

He said he has been denied due process as he raised due process concerns.

“I have always maintained that the retaliation aspect of my whistleblowing would be resolved once the report of the delayed cases, were investigated,” Klym said. “However, there has been no investigatory body inquiring at any time regarding that report provided to Deputy Chief Judge Allen over six months ago.”

“This is interference. They haven’t even started the investigation and they have interfered with this by my termination,” Klym said.

In his letter last week, Johnson reminded the SSA’s commissioner that federal law protects the right of all federal employees to provide information to Congress.

“Specifically, the law states that ‘the right of employees, individually or collectively, to petition Congress or a member of Congress, or to furnish information to either house of Congress, or to a committee or member thereof, may not be interfered with or denied,’” he wrote.

“SSA employees have the right to talk to Congress and to provide Congress with information without fear of retaliation or questions about their communications,” Johnson added.

Klym was an official whistleblower, like his fellow SSA employee Deborah Holland, a manager at the Madison ODAR facility.

Holland was placed on administrative leave just hours after going public with more allegations of misconduct and retaliation in the SSA system.

The group manager was walked out of her office by two armed security guards, at the request of the local ODAR’s chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum.

Meachum told the long-time SSA employee she is being removed from her management position and stripped of all supervisory duties.

‘Blatant attempt’

ODAR employees have taken their complaints of sexual harassment, corruption, and intimidation to SSA’s Office of the Inspector General and the Senate committee. In doing so, they have been officially designated government whistleblowers and afforded all of the protections therein.

“Since then, it appears that the leadership in the Madison office has attempted to prevent further disclosures and identify employees who may be sharing information with Congress or the Office of the Inspector General,” Johnson wrote to the acting commissioner.

Klym, Holland and others say they have been rewarded for fulfilling their oath to report misconduct with disciplinary action. Klym said three other whistleblowers in Milwaukee have been placed on performance monitoring. At least one other employee who complained about harassment and retaliation was placed on administrative leave.

Celia Machelle Keller, another Madison ODAR employee who was asked to testify in a harassment complaint, expressed her frustration with the process.

“The Senate is good at writing letters, but if there is no consequence then why care about the letters?” she said. “This agency is disgusting!”

It’s not clear what happens next beyond the warnings from the senators. OIG continues its investigation, sources say. The office does not talk about ongoing investigations.

“My dismissal is a blatant attempt by the agency to interfere with my efforts to bring ODAR issues to light, and now without any investigation into the due process delays identified … the agency has denied me my rights as an employee,” Klym said.

Part of 61 in the series Deadly Delays
  1. Deadly Delay: Whistleblower alleges misconduct, incompetence in Social Security office
  2. Johnson seeks answers to Social Security whistleblower’s charges
  3. Social Security disability program has plenty of problems elsewhere
  4. Social Security whistleblower placed on administrative leave
  5. Social Security disability agency has history of punishing whistleblowers
  6. Senator to Social Security Administration official: ‘I would say the system is rigged’
  7. Whistleblower: ‘I want to do my work without fear of retaliation’
  8. Social Security whistleblowers ‘coming out of the woodwork’
  9. Social Security whistleblower suspended after going public with complaints
  10. Social Security whistleblower questioned by investigators after going public
  11. Social Security whistleblower now faces firing
  12. Social Security officials not answering questions about whistleblower retaliation
  13. ‘Culture of corruption and cover-up’ alleged in Madison Social Security office
  14. Ron Johnson: We’re tracking down abuse allegations in Social Security agency
  15. Senate committee presses for answers from troubled Social Security Administration
  16. Sources: Social Security judge suspended in wake of Madison scandal
  17. Attorney seeks appeal of decisions by Social Security judge accused of ‘sexy’ comments
  18. Social Security appeals judge pleads guilty to retaliation charge
  19. More retaliation despite investigation, Social Security office sources say
  20. Openly gay whistleblower at Social Security office claims intimidation, retaliation
  21. Wheels of justice turn frustratingly slow for Social Security whistleblowers
  22. Baldwin joins Johnson in calling for ‘immediate action’ on Social Security misconduct claims
  23. Documents: Social Security judge wrote claimant was ‘rode hard and put away wet’
  24. Social Security judge investigated for harassment heading back to hearings
  25. Social Security judge accused of misconduct refuses to step aside, sources say
  26. Whistleblower at scandal-plagued Social Security office seeks restraining order against manager
  27. Whistleblower report alleges widespread waste, fraud, abuse at Social Security office
  28. Sen. Johnson to Social Security commissioner: Retaliation will not be tolerated
  29. Baldwin warns Social Security Administration not to retaliate
  30. Social Security Administration fires whistleblower
  31. Who is protecting Social Security whistleblowers?
  32. Sources: Social Security judge accused of racial, sexual remarks removed from hearings
  33. Social Security office director removed from Madison facility, sources say
  34. Senate committee probe into Social Security whistleblower retaliation continues
  35. Madison Social Security office like ‘giant dysfunctional family,’ source says
  36. Damage spreads at scandal-plagued Social Security office
  37. Fired Social Security whistleblower gets no help from federal whistleblower protector
  38. One month later, Social Security whistleblower still without job, pay, answers
  39. Federal agents stepping up investigation into troubled Social Security offices
  40. Investigation into troubled Social Security offices in a ‘holding pattern’
  41. Recent weeks bring shake-up at scandal-plagued Social Security offices
  42. Top judges resign at troubled Social Security Chicago headquarters
  43. Social Security chief judge retiring amid cloud of scandal
  44. Troubled Social Security disability claims agency promotes ‘positive organization culture’
  45. Senate inquiry into scandal-plagued Social Security offices plods along
  46. Social Security whistleblower: ‘Everything has been compromised’
  47. Sources: Social Security judge accused of sexual harassment removed from Madison office
  48. Fired Social Security whistleblower won’t be taking whistleblower protection training
  49. Letter: Social Security judge under fire granted power to decide
  50. Sources: Social Security judge accused of deciding cases on sex appeal retires
  51. Johnson seeks GAO review of alleged Social Security ‘shell game’
  52. Social Security judge demanded $65,000 expanded bathrooms
  53. Investigation finds abuse, law-breaking, no retaliation at Madison Social Security office
  54. Report: Social Security managers gambled, watched Packers at Lambeau on taxpayer dime
  55. Inspector General releases major findings of probe into troubled Social Security office
  56. Social Security whistleblower waiting for answers in privacy breach case
  57. A whistleblower’s story: Paying the price for shining a light
  58. Fired SSA employee featured in Watchdog investigation is ‘Whistleblower of the Year’
  59. Social Security whistleblower calls out agency, media in receiving award from journalists
  60. SSA whistleblowers ask, where’s the justice?
  61. Probes into troubled Social Security offices crawling along

Click here to LEARN HOW TO STEAL OUR STUFF!

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.