Social Security Judges File Lawsuit Alleging They are Held to Quotas

Claims for Social Security Disability Insurance take a long time to be processed and decided these days. An increase in the number of claims in recent years has caused wait times for some applicants to stretch into the hundreds of days. It is in everyone’s best interest for this backlog to be eliminated so that every new application can be decided in a timely manner.

To that end, the Social Security Administration (SSA) encourages its administrative law judges (ALJs) to hear between 500 and 700 claims each year – they call the numbers a “goal.” But some judges claim that the numbers constitute an unlawful “quota.” And now the judges are taking the SSA to court.

The Association of Administrative Law Judges (AALJ) recently filed suit on behalf of 1400 of its members, claiming that the SSA’s expectations cause them to have to improperly rush evaluations. It also creates an incentive to approve cases because approvals are faster than denials. This leads to the potential approval of claims that should be denied, which results in greater fraud, abuse, waste, and expense to taxpayers, the judges say. Their specific legal allegation is that the agency’s directive violates the Administrative Procedure Act and the Social Security Act. They also claim, contrary to the agency’s statements, that judges who do not hear enough cases are subject to reprimands, “counseling,” and “threats and intimidation,” according to the lawsuit.

SSA Commissioner Michael J. Astrue, who was appointed by President Bush, stepped down in February, 2013. President Obama has not yet named a successor – the agency is currently headed by acting commissioner Carolyn Colvin, a former secretary of the Maryland Department of Human Resources. Judge Randall Frye, president of the AALJ, says a lack of permanent leadership may be contributing to the problem.

“One way to protect the treasury and help deserving claimants is to end the quota system,” Frye said. “However, an acting commissioner may not feel that she has the authority to make the necessary changes and correct problems.”

Meanwhile, the Disability Insurance Trust Fund, from which disability benefits are paid, is currently paying out more than it is taking in. It is projected to reach zero in 2016. If that were to happen, it would result in an immediate 21 percent cut in benefits to nearly 11 million Americans with disabilities.

Disability insurance, like most government programs these days, faces intense budgetary pressures. Even in good economic times, ALJs will scrutinize disability claims to make sure taxpayer money is not wasted. If you are disabled, it pays to have an experienced Social Security Disability attorney on your side to get you the benefits you deserve in a timely manner.

Posted on Wednesday, June 12th, 2013. Filed under Social Security Disability.

Social Security Disability Adds 13 Conditions to Compassionate Allowances Program

The Social Security Administration recently added 13 new conditions to the Compassionate Allowances program that fast-tracks disability decisions within the agency.

The new conditions were introduced in December as part of an ongoing effort to innovate and streamline the agency’s work, according to Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue.

The conditions that were added to the list mostly are immune system, mental and neurological disorders, according to a press release from the agency. They include the following:

• Malignant Multiple Sclerosis

• ALS or Parkinsonism Dementia Complex

• Pulmonary Kaposi Sarcoma

• Angelman Syndrome

• Paraneoplastic Pemphigus

• Multicentric Castleman Disease

• Progressive Supranuclear Palsy

• Lewy Body Dementia

• Primary Effusion Lymphoma

• Corticobasal Degeneration

• Lowe Syndrome

• Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma

• Multiple System Atrophy

The SSA’s Compassionate Allowances program spots conditions that always meet the standard of disability for the purpose of Social Security Disability Insurance. This way, once an individual is diagnosed with the specific condition, their case can be moved more quickly through the system.

“We need to keep innovating and making our work more efficient,” Astrue said in a press release. “With our Compassionate Allowances program, we quickly approved disability benefits for more than 60,000 people with severe disabilities in the past fiscal year. We have made significant improvements, but we can always do more.”

The Compassionate Allowances program began in 2008 with only 50 conditions. The original list included cancers, rare genetic disorders, adult brain disorders and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. With the addition of 13 in December, the program now lists 113 conditions that can be moved through the agency with less stress for the individual, according to the release.

New technologies made available to the agency allow for faster identification of individuals with Compassionate Allowances so that quick decisions can be made.

The agency is committed to the relatively young program as an efficient upgrade of protocol. In the fall, the Social Security Administration launched a grant program available to graduate students to help the agency improve its list. The agency already awarded a grant worth $1.5 million over the course of five years to a group called Policy Research Inc.

The Disability Determination Process Small Grant Program is designed to improve the disability process. The program is actively looking for graduate students to apply for grant stipends for relevant research that is innovative in the field of disabilities.

The agency also recently upgraded the disability application online for individuals with conditions on the Compassionate Allowances list.

Posted on Friday, March 16th, 2012. Filed under News & Press, Serious Injury.

Social Security Administration Commissions Independent Study of Judges Deciding Appeals

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 of 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 Wall Street Journal 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.

Posted on Monday, January 9th, 2012. Filed under News & Press, Social Security Disability.

Social Security Disability Benefits Help Children with Debilitating Conditions

Most people think of disability benefits if they are unable to work. But for parents of children with disabilities, Social Security can pay money to assist with medical bills and treatments. A knowledgeable Tampa Social Security disability attorney can help a family with the extensive paperwork and proceedings.

The following is a partial list of disabilities that may entitle a child to payments: autism, Down’s syndrome, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, HIV, blindness and deafness, and other cardiovascular and brain diseases. The disability must limit the child’s daily life and functioning and last more than one year. Each case is different and presents unique challenges, with some conditions resulting in an automatic award. In addition, parents must have limited income and resources to qualify.

Children’s disability benefits are difficult to be awarded, so it is important to have an aggressive law firm when applying or appealing a disability decision. An estimated 791,954 children receive Social Security benefits, with an average of 51.5 percent dealing with extremely severe medical conditions. A good attorney will help their client collect the child’s medical and school records. Social Security will also want information from the child’s doctors, therapists, or any other professionals who are aware of his or her condition. Sometimes, even other family members and daycare providers are interviewed by Social Security.

Depending upon the child’s age and the parent’s work history, there are two possible Social Security programs that a child may qualify for. Supplemental Security Income is for children under the age of 18 who meet the disability requirements and live with parents who have limited income and resources. The second is Social Security Disability Insurance for children over the age of 18 who have a severe disability that began before the age of 22.

Posted on Tuesday, March 15th, 2011. Filed under Social Security Disability.

SSDI Claims Up During Economic Downturn

We are living in tough times, to be sure.

The number of Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, claims is reaching new heights these days thanks to an aging population and a sagging economy. As a result, the time it takes an applicant to receive a hearing is becoming longer and longer.

Many people with ailments were among the first to be let go by employers when the economy tanked and are having problems finding another job in which special accommodations might be made. This means more people are looking for benefits.

According to a recent report in the St. Petersburg Times, SSDI claims in Florida grew from 149,044 in 2007 to 197,960 in 2009 – a spike of 33%.

SSDI is a federal benefits program for those who are disabled and have earned enough income credits to qualify. More than half of applicants are denied on their first attempt, and it can sometimes take years to become qualified, according to reports.

Given today’s backlog, it is urgent that candidates apply as soon as possible. If you or someone you know is having difficulty obtaining disability benefits that you are entitled to, contact an experienced attorney who can handle your case.

Posted on Saturday, October 9th, 2010. Filed under News & Press, Social Security Disability.