SSA report examines decisions of 44 disability judges

There has been a rigorous debate on Capitol Hill over the several years as to whether the administrative law judges employed by the Social Security Administration to hear disability cases are now under too great of pressure to reduce the agency's enormous backlog of appeals.

In particular, some of this debate has centered on whether some disability judges are perhaps approving more cases than they should be just to keep things moving.

While this notion of "rubber-stamping" among disability judges is perhaps aggrandized by critics, there are several arbiters who have been reprimanded or removed for this type of conduct over the years.

Interestingly, the SSA's inspector general recently published its own report on this issue and the results are interesting to say the least.

As part of the report, the agency inspectors examined 275 cases in which benefits were awarded by 44 disability judges over a seven-year period. Here, these disability judges met two specific criteria: they decided an exceptionally large volume of cases and awarded an exceptionally high number of benefits.

Breaking the numbers down, the agency inspectors found the following about these judges and the 275 cases:

  • 31 were processed properly.
  • 28 had missing information that precluded review.
  • 216 had "quality issues."
  • 38 should have seen benefits denied.

Using these numbers as a basis, the agency inspectors estimated that disability benefits were "improperly allowed" in 24,900 cases over the seven year period at a cost of $2 billion.

While these findings are concerning, it is worth pointing out that the $2 billion, while certainly not insubstantial, amounted to just 0.4 percent of the total amount of disability benefits awarded during the seven years under study. Similarly, the 44 judges under study represented just 4 percent of the SSA's total judicial corps.

What this means is that it can still prove to be incredibly challenging to secure disability benefits. Accordingly, those seeking disability benefits may want to give serious consideration to speaking with a skilled legal professional who can provide much-needed guidance and dedicated advocacy.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "New report could increase scrutiny of Social Security disability judges," Damian Paletta, Nov. 14, 2014