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One month later, Social Security whistleblower still without job, pay, answers

By   /   September 19, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Part 38 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – A federal investigator was sent to the embattled Milwaukee Office of Disability Adjudication and Review last week, sources tell Wisconsin Watchdog.

An agent from the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General has been conducting interviews on site, insiders said.

Managers and staff members at the ODAR operation, which oversees review of Social Security benefits claims, are accused of incompetence, misconduct and retaliation. Managers there and at the Social Security Administration’s Region 5 headquarters in Chicago are accused of retaliating against whistleblowers.

Over one month ago, the SSA fired Klym, a 16-year employee at the Milwaukee ODAR. 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.

“It is over a month after termination; my pay, leave, personal possessions are all in limbo,” Klym wrote in an email. “No answers, just that my harassment continues after being removed. And, the documentation can be provided regarding what could be deemed as continued incompetence, or plain contempt.”

Contributed photo

SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS: Social Security Administration whistleblower Ron Klym still is seeking answers and the compensation owed to him by the agency a month after he was fired. Discipline against the 16-year SSA employee picked up after he went public with allegations of misconduct, Klym said.

Klym, a senior case technician, 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.

RELATED: Damage spreads at scandal-plagued Social Security office

Klym compiled records showing a massive backlog of disability claims cases at the Milwaukee ODAR.

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.

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; as of this spring, it was 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.

OIG agents have been investigating the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review for the past several weeks. Whistleblowers allege the office is a hive of corruption and cover-up, a hostile workplace boiling over with harassment, intimidation, bribery, nepotism, and retaliation.

The most salacious allegations involve Administrative Law Judge John Pleuss, accused of sexually harassing staff and writing grossly inappropriate comments about Social Security benefits claimants. More so, Pleuss is accused of awarding benefits – or not awarding them – based on claimants’ appearance.

Pleuss has been removed from the hearing schedule, but remains in the office, according to multiple sources. Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz was removed from the office, as was group supervisor Wayne Gentz, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Whistleblower Deborah Holland, a manager at the Madison ODAR, was walked out of her office on Aug. 12 by two armed security guards, at the request of the local ODAR’s chief Administrative Law Judge Debra Meachum.

Holland was removed from her management position and stripped of all supervisory duties. She was reassigned to the Chicago Region 5 office, working from her home while the investigation continues.

Doug Nguyen, SSA Region 5 communications director, has repeatedly said the agency cannot comment on employment issues. But SSA, according to the spokesman, “takes seriously its responsibility to abide by federal law, including that which protects whistleblowers from retaliation and all employees from discrimination.”

Yet, one whistleblower has been fired and another has lost her management position.

Sources from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee told Wisconsin Watchdog that they received an update from SSA last week. They said the OIG investigation is ongoing and they do not know when it will end. While the staff members say the SSA is cooperating, the agency is nearly three months late on filling the request for records sought by Johnson and the Senate committee.

“The impression we get is they are taking it seriously, that they are trying to figure out what is happening there,” once committee source 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

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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.