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Lawmakers accuse disability judges of approving too many claims

This week on Capitol Hill, several Social Security Administration judges defended themselves against allegations that they are approving too many disability claims. Administration law judges decide appeals of disability claims that have been denied at least once in the past.

According to a report from a committee of Republicans in the House of Representatives, 191 of the roughly 1,400 judges employed by the SSA had an approval rate of more than 85 percent in the cases they decided between 2005 and 2013.

The four judges who were called to testify at a hearing before the committee denied the report’s claim that they “rubber stamp” disability applications. Instead, they said that they consider each case for its individual merits. One of the judges approved 99 percent of the claims before him between 2005 and 2013. He said he personally sees the pain that the applicants are in before approving the appeal claims.

Another judge who reportedly has an approval average of 95 percent said the reason he overturns so many denials is likely because he is trained in the law while the lower-level reviewers are not.

What isn’t exactly clear is what the administrative law judges would stand to gain from approving undeserving disability claims. The House committee’s report claims that some of the judges approved claims as a way to clear up the hefty backlog of cases that are in the system.

However, the judges also know first-hand that the disability funds are tight and could run out within the next decade if action isn’t taken, so it’s unlikely that the judges would be granted benefits too liberally.

Instead of attacking judges, it is perhaps a better idea to look at societal factors and other issues that could be affecting the increased number of disability beneficiaries.

For example, with the baby boomer generation aging, many workers have sustained illnesses or injuries making it impossible for them to work, but they can’t yet qualify for retirement.

Additionally, more women than ever are members of the workforce, which increases the potential pool of disability beneficiaries significantly.

Ultimately, as a law firm that helps individuals apply for disability benefits and appeal denials, we know that judges are not merely rubber-stamping claims. Instead, applicants must clearly meet the requirements to qualify for benefits.

Source: Associated Press, “Report: Social Security judges rubber-stamp claims," Stephen Ohlemacher, June 10, 2014

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