Federal administrative law judges who hear Social Security Disability appeals have widely ranging records that may indicate unfairness in the appeals process.
The Social Security Administration is commissioning a review of the entire disability system to make sure it is not awarding benefits to those who do not deserve it and to make sure the agency is not denying benefits to those who do deserve them.
The SSA will review the work of about 1,500 disability appeals judges across the country whose rates vary significantly from the norm. Some judges award benefits less than 20 percent of the time while others award benefits almost 100 percent of the time, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.
The Administration has already decided to stop notifying applicants who their judge will be in their appeal to discourage shopping an appeal to a more lenient judge.
The Administrative Conference of the United States will take on the review. The independent government study organization hopes to make recommendations for updating the appeals process in 2012.
The Social Security Disability Insurance program provides financial assistance to Americans who cannot work. The Wall Street Journal reported that the program paid $130 billion in 2011 to 10.6 million people.
If a case comes before a federal Social Security judge, it has already been denied twice at the state level. There is a tremendous backlog of cases at the federal level.
In September 2011, there were more than 771,000 people waiting for their appeal to be heard. The SSA has been working to address the backlog issues and it has cut down on the number of people who die while they wait for their appeal to be judged, according to the WSJ.
The hearings usually last about an hour. Some critics have said judges pushing cases through much more quickly than that are cutting corners and not doing thorough reviews. The conference plans to factor how much time judges look at cases into its review.
The SSA’s commissioner told Congress in the summer of 2011 that judges awarding disability benefits more than 85 percent of the time cost the agency another $1 billion a year. The WSJ reports that there are more than 100 judges whose award percentages are that high.
Overall, the federal court system is finding errors or overturning about half of the decisions made by Social Security judges. The independent study will review how the federal courts are looking at the cases to make sure it is interpreting the SSA’s rules consistently, according to the WSJ. A qualified Social Security Disability attorney can help clients file appeals with the agency.