Are SSDI Judges Approving Claims to Clear Backlog?

April 28, 2013

A federal lawsuit, filed by a number of Social Security Disability Insurance administrative law judges, claims that they are being forced to approve claims they might otherwise deny because they are under pressure to clear the backlog and keep pace with the influx of claims.
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if this is happening here in California, it's news to Los Angeles Social Security Disability Insurance Attorney Vincent Howard of HOWARD LAW. The reality is that here and throughout the country, the Social Security Administration continues to report that the vast majority of claims are denied during the first round of reviews.

Having a claim approved that soon usually involves a clear, very serious and well-documented medical condition that substantially limits a person's ability to carry out basic functions. Sometimes, disability claims are no less legitimate than those, but the claimant has a tougher time proving it. In almost all situations, having an experienced attorney advocating for you is going to boost your chances.

But regardless, judges should be deciding claims on the basis of merit. If a few are acting outside of what the law or ethics would permit, it seems they are the ones who should be held accountable.

However, the judges say they have little choice. They know they may be erring, but are having a tendency to err in favor of the claimant, rather than risk denying a claim of someone who may really need it.

According to The Associated Press, the judges say they are expected to make a ruling on between 500 and 700 disability cases annually. On average, that essentially breaks down to about two each day.

The judges claim this directive, handed down by the Social Security Administration, is illegal and unreasonable. The president of the Administrative Law Judges was quoted by the reporter as saying that judges too often feel pressure to simply "pay the case."

Part of that also has to do with the fact that approval of a case requires a roughly three-page response. On the other hand, denial of a case is more in-depth, sometimes requiring a response that stretches 15 to 20 pages.

The lawsuit does raise significant questions as to the program's integrity.

The suit, which names the administration's acting commissioner, was filed by the judge's union.

Previous Commissioner Michael Astrue, who recently finished a six-year term, said the union's claims are off-base. He said the truth of the matter is that the unions don't want member accountability. He went on to further state that this same story has been spun by the union before, but it's false and he believes the agency will be vindicated in federal court.

He said this case is about a small number of "malcontents" who want to take their bosses to court rather than do the work they are paid to do.

Although the judges are hired by the administration and are on its payroll, they are supposed to act impartially during proceedings. There are about 1,500 administrative law judges throughout the country, with the union representing about 1,400 of them.

In 2012, more than 3 million people applied for disability benefits, which was about 25 percent more than what we saw 10 years ago. However, what critics often fail to take into account is that we've got an aging baby boomer generation - more prone to disabling injuries and medical conditions - as well as an increase of female workers and a continued lack of government oversight in the realm of workplace safety.

The administration reports that the average length of time for an administrative law judge review - the second phase after an initial rejection - is more than 370 days.

Los Angeles Disability Benefits Attorney VINCENT HOWARD at HOWARD LAW can help. Call toll-free at 1-800-872-5925 or send us a message online.

Additional Resources:
Lawsuit: Judges sometimes award disability benefits to clear cases faster to meet quotas, April 19, 2013, Associated Press

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