Judges argue law followed when awarding Social Security benefits

Understanding the process and requirements for Social Security disability benefits is important for everyone involved in the process. One Tennessee judge who approved ninety-nine percent of the Social Security disability claims that came before him recently commented to the House Oversight Committee during his testimony that, of the cases he had approved for disability benefits, he had “[s]een their ailments, I’ve seen their pain, right in front of me.” During what was described as a combative hearing, judges defended what was described as “rubber stamping” of benefits by noting that they followed the law. At the same time, many have recently voiced complaints concerning long waits for benefits. Concerns have also come recently been voiced about the solvency of the disability program.

At the point claims reach the administrative judge level they have often already been rejected once or, sometimes, twice. The Oversight Committee’s report found that 191 of the 1,400 administrative law judges employed by the Social Security administration approved over eighty-five percent of cases from 2005 to 2013. A new cap limits judges to hearing 840 cases a year. One judge noted that he does not pay attention to rates of approval but instead approaches each case on a case-by-case basis and that the outcomes he reaches may differ from the outcomes reached by those below him because they are not trained in the law.

To qualify for disability benefits, individuals must have disabilities that prevent them from working that are also expected to last at least a year or result in death. Because denials are subject to appeal, judges are required to painstakingly document a case that is denied. An approval of benefits generally ends the judge’s role in the case. Currently there are 937,600 claims for benefits pending before administrative law judges. In 2007, processing time for a hearing was 512 days. Though processing time was reduced to under a year in 2012, it has increased to 400 days currently. Budget cuts have been blamed by the Social Security Administration for the delays. Almost 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children receive Social Security disability benefits and 8.4 million receive Supplemental Security Income.

Oftentimes, families and those that have worked hard wait and rely on Social Security disability benefits. Because of this, it is important that disabled individuals understand both the claims and appeals processes to ensure the best chance of receiving benefits.

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