SSD System Struggles to Keep up With Increase in Claims

Social Security disability (SSD) cases are supposed to involve an orderly process. Someone who has become unable to work due to a disability becomes eligible for benefits. He or she gathers evidence of the disabling conditions and includes that evidence in an application to the Social Security Administration. The SSA, if the system works right, proceeds to approve the application and award the benefits.

In Southeast Michigan and throughout the nation, however, there is a growing sense that the SSD process is not as orderly as it should be. Indeed, it may be verging on chaos. The chaos comes, in part, from a lack of funding for the judges who oversee the system.

Earlier this month, the SSA’s administrative law judges took the unusual step of filing a lawsuit against the SSA challenging the excessive number of cases they say they are required to handle each day.

The president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges says that the SSA’s quota for the number of cases judges must handle compromises the integrity of the claims process. Without enough time to really review the merits of cases, judges are apt to make arbitrary decisions. They could decide an application for SSDI not on the merits of the case, but on what seems easiest to make it go away.

Sometimes, that could mean approving SSD benefits even when a claim is doubtful. The problem with such rulings, however, is that they undermine the integrity of the entire system. Approving claims too quickly also runs the risk of further eroding the Social Security disability system’s financial viability.

Clearly the sheer volume of cases that must be handled is a major challenge for the system. Nationally, the number of people who applied for SSD last year was well over 3 million. The 3.2 million applications were up 25 percent from the number only 10 years ago. And the number of claims continues to increase as baby boomers age and a broader definition by Congress of what qualifies as a disability.

Source: “Judges’ lawsuit: Social Security disability system ‘in crisis’,” Detroit News, Stephen Ohlemacher, 4-19-13

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