Saturday, February 28, 2009

Six months later

Merry & I moved to St. Louis six months ago on Labor Day, 2008. I made a two year commitment to relocate here when I was hired, so one quarter of that commitment has now been fulfilled. The current arc of our lives started when the ALJ job was offered to me in late June. Then came the whirlwind of the move - selling my practice, finding someone to rent our house, finding and buying a new house in St. Louis, packing up the house in Syracuse (accomplished by Merry while I spent all of August in Baltimore being “trained”) and finally moving. I was required to go to work immediately, so Merry did most of the work getting our new home ready to live in. 2115 Ann had been “rehabbed” in the recent past, but once we took possession it became obvious that the conversion from two-family to one-family had been heavy on style and light on careful workmanship. The concept is good, the execution less so.

The new laundry room was unpainted and without a dryer vent. The electrical system was left incomplete in minor (we hope) ways. The two bathrooms were painted horrible colors (downstairs was dark blue with white stripes, upstairs dark green with a silver glaze). The master bedroom had been painted a dark chocolate brown. Merry applied her considerable painting skills and remedied the decorating faux pas. She also had the electrical system inspected and a dryer vent installed. She decorated the house with the art work we brought along and bought the necessary new furniture and fixtures needed to make it a home. She contracted for a new fence for the yard and had a gas fireplace installed in our upstairs sitting room. The place looks great. There are many things that still need to be done, but I feel that we are finally settled in. As spring approaches we are planning for a garden.

All through the turmoil of moving I've been amazed and blessed by all Merry accomplishes every day. In many ways she has the harder job. She retired from her long time mental health social work job in Syracuse and moved to a new place where she knew no one. Nonetheless she has engaged in an undaunted course of discovery that has led us from one joyful event to another. Thanks to her efforts we now belong to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the St. Louis Art Museum, the St. Louis Science Center and the Missouri Historical Society. We have walked in the major city parks and explored many nearby State parks. We spent a weekend in the Ozarks and a week in New Orleans. The list goes on and on.

For my part, I've spent most of my time learning how to decide Social Security cases. In my first six months I've held a total of 309 hearings. Of these I've issued decisions in 204 cases. I paid benefits in 118 of these cases and denied benefits in 86 (including those dismissed because the claimant failed to show up at their hearing). That means so far I've rendered favorable decisions 58% of the time. The national average is 60% favorable. I'm probably being a bit more careful granting benefits because of my lack of experience. I also had to adjourn 105 of my cases for various reasons. 28 were adjourned because of the January ice storm in Cape Girardeau. 30 claimants needed post trial development of the record. The other 47 were rescheduled for further hearings, usually because the claimant wanted to hire a lawyer. To my astonishment at this time I have 835 pending cases assigned to me, and the number keeps rising weekly. Even if I reach the informal goal of deciding 500 – 700 cases a year I will keep falling behind. The cases are just coming in faster than they can be fairly processed. Our office has been promised two additional judges from the hiring that is anticipated this coming summer. That will help; in the meantime all the Judges here are meeting and exceeding every goal set for us; yet we are still falling behind.

Today's blog is the 26th entry in the series. Frankly, I'm enjoying doing the writing. Every day I write for about an hour before heading off to work. Much of this ends up in the trash, but the process feels right to me. I hope the product will eventually improve. I worry, however, that I've overstepped the bounds of friendship with each of the people who receive this by sending what may be seen as junk mail. Perhaps the problem for me is that I don't know what most of the recipients think about being on my mailing list. A few people have responded to individual posts, so I'm pretty sure they want to keep getting my postings. The fact is that most people on the list have not ever replied, so I'm starting to feel uncomfortable.

I started this project as a way to keep in touch with friends, and as an incentive to keep me writing about something creative every day. This blog is working for my purposes, but I don't want to unnecessarily annoy my good friends in the process. Believe me, I won't be hurt if anyone doesn't want to stay on the list. I'd rather know than not know.

Accordingly, I ask those of you who have not responded in the recent past to please drop me a brief note to let me know if you still want to get these postings. Better yet, a little feedback on the writing or subject matter would also be nice. I'm sure many of you have questions about the midwest or St. Louis you are dying to have answered. Just let me know. Thanks.

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