Contact: Linda Fisk
Company: Disability Group, Inc.
Ron Miller, Founder and Managing Director of Disability Group, Inc. Notes the Critical Problems; Echoes Senator Carl Levin’s Concerns
(September 26, 2012 – Los Angeles, CA) – Ron Miller, the Founder and Managing Director of Disability Group, Inc., the nation’s premier disability advocacy group, noted that the September 12th report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations illustrates that social security disability cases were both denied and awarded without sufficient evidence, but the report does not support the conclusion that administrative law judges are incompetently reviewing disability cases.
According to the Associated Press, in the article entitled “Report: Social Security Lax on Disability Claims,” 300 awarded claims were randomly selected and reviewed in 3 southern states. The report concluded that in more than 25% of the cases reviewed, decisions to award benefits “failed to properly address insufficient, contradictory, or incomplete evidence.” The report also indicated that, in many cases, the administrative law judges were unable to review all the evidence because of the tremendous backlog of cases now flooding the Social Security Disability program.
No doubt, opponents of the Social Security Disability program will use this report to try and undermine its long-term viability. It is clear, however, that errors in Social Security awards are not simply the result of incompetent judges. The Associated Press article notes that many laid-off workers and aging boomers applied in unprecedented numbers for Social Security Disability benefits after the 2008 financial crisis. This extraordinary increase in applications has strained the judges who are working hard to process claims quickly, and has further exacerbated the program’s financial difficulties.
Ron Miller emphasized that many of the financial issues confronting Social Security are the result of congressional inaction and intransigence. In fact, the Associated Press article explained that, without some form of congressional action, the Social Security Trust Fund will become insolvent in 2016. Clearly, Congress has itself to blame for many of the difficulties faced by Social Security and its claimants.
Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, approved of the report, but disagreed with some of the report’s recommendations. In his opening statement at the hearing dealing with the report, Senator Levin noted that while 25% of the cases contained errors or were insufficiently justified, the errors went in both directions, awarding and denying benefits. Furthermore, he explained that the errors and inadequacies did not mean that those 25% of cases were wrongly decided – rather, the decisions simply did not provide enough analysis to support those decisions.
The report issued several recommendations with which Senator Levin agreed, including expanding the Social Security quality control process, closing the evidentiary record within a reasonable time before the hearing so that the judge has time to review all the evidence, updating the Department of Labor list of occupations to reflect current trends, and providing additional training to judges.
Senator Levin disagreed with one recommendation, however. That recommendation would mandate that a “government representative” be present at all disability hearings. Senator Levin expressed concern that such a rule would result in an adversarial process at the hearing, an outcome specifically rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, which has determined that Social Security is to act as “an adjudicator, and not as an advocate or adversary.”
Ron Miller and Disability Group, Inc. express alarming concern over this particular recommendation and echo Senator Levin’s concerns. Disability Group, Inc. does not believe that the presence of an unnamed “government representative” is necessary to the fair adjudication of disability claims, nor is it a compassionate and dignified manner to treat disabled individuals.
In summary, while the report issued by Social Security identifies problems that need to be addressed, it is important to remember that many of the problems are the result of the continuing repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis and the chronic inability of Congress to fashion long-term solutions to these new economic realities.
About Disability Group, Inc.:
Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, Disability Group, Inc. (www.disabilitygroup.com) is dedicated to serving the needs of the disabled as the second largest nationwide advocacy group. With locations nationwide, Disability Group, Inc. serves clients’ Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income needs in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and all U.S. territories.
For more information, visit www.disabilitygroup.com or call Linda Fisk at 424-243-8337.