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SSDI judges: how big a problem?

The Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program is large. There are millions of recipients of SSDI benefits and the system pays out billions of dollars every year. None of this is surprising. The appeals process for SSDI benefits is cumbersome and slow and as we discussed a few weeks ago, carries a massive backlog.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has attempted to deal with it, but it has been a struggle with the budget cutbacks, sequestration, and government shut down all adding to the delays and the backlog.

But the Inspector General for the agency has found a problem that is related to the other issues within the appeals process. Some judges approve SSDI benefits without “a well-supported rationale,” within the appeal.

Here’s the problem. The administrative judges have been pushed to process as many claims as possible. If a judge approves a claim, the benefit is paid and it is unlikely the disabled applicant is going to appeal to complain that the judge did not explicitly enunciate his or her rationale for awarding the benefits.

Some judges may have approved some cases too easily. But they fact that they approved the award of benefits does not mean that they should not have ruled in the applicant’s favor. All it means is they did not write out their “well-supported rationale” for that award.

The larger problem for the SSA is the more demanding they are of what the judge writes in a benefit award, the slower the award process will be and fewer appeals will be completed.

While the IG report implicates 4 percent of the SSA’s judges, the total potential problem claims is only 0.4 percent. And remember, of that 0.4 percent, we have no way of knowing how many of those lacked supporting evidence for the approval, we only know the judge failed to explain their rationale.

Hiring more judges and giving them more time to properly asses their cases would be the best solution to this problem.

The Wall Street Journal, “New Report Could Increase Scrutiny of Social Security Disability Judges,” Damian Paletta, November 14, 2014

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