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Are judges "rubber-stamping" SSDI and SSI claims?

In an ironic twist, given that the average wait time for a Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income applicant's claim to be fully reviewed is well over a year, a Congressional committee inquiry now accuses many administrative law judges tasked with handling appealed claims of "rubber-stamping" benefit applications to speed up the process. The House Oversight Committee, led by Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif), interviewed several of the nearly 200 judges being accused of granting benefits on appeal to thousands of previously denied applicants to the tune of more than $150 billion dollars in disability payments.

The judges who stand accused by the Committee of summarily awarding benefits on appeal have a collective benefit approval rate of more than 85 percent. By comparison, the overall rate of approval following appeal is only 56 percent. The judges defended their methods, assuring the Committee that they handle each claimant on a case-by-case basis, carefully interpreting the facts and evidence before making an informed decision about requested disability benefits.

 

There are around 1,400 administrative law judges handling SSDI and SSI cases at any given time, and there are currently nearly one million disability benefit applications pending before those same judges. The Committee alleges "wholesale" overturning of denials issued by lower-level staffers in an attempt to close cases faster and handle less paperwork; approving a claim only requires a judge's order, but a denial must be meticulously documented in case a claimant wants to appeal.

With there now being a cap of 840 SSDI or SSI appeals cases each judge can handle in a given year, it would actually make sense if these judges were "rubber-stamping" to move things along. Of course, that isn't fair to the thousands of people with legitimate claims that have been denied, nor is it good for the financial solvency of disability benefit programs. In addition to the already tedious and time-consuming benefit applicant process, applicants run the risk of having valid claims denied because judges feel they must deny a certain percentage of claims to prevent backlash from lawmakers who have fixated upon an arbitrary "mandatory" denial rate. 

Source: Boston Herald, "Report: Social Security judges rubber-stamp claims," June 10, 2014. 

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