New Report Bashes Social Security Disability Determinations

The venerable news program 60 Minutes has been investigating the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSD) and aired its report on October 6, 2013.  Reporter Steve Kroft reported on the increase in individuals who receive SSD benefits and the looming 2016 estimate of when the SSD trust fund will run out of money. He notes that SSD “serves nearly 12 million people — up 20 percent in the last six years — and has a budget of $135 billion.”

The 60 Minutes report

Steve Kroft interviewed a number of individuals, starting with Senator Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, the Ranking Minority Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation.  Senator Coburn states the statute says “If there’s any job in the economy you can perform, you are not eligible for disability. That’s pretty clear.”  A physician by training, Coburn had his staff review a couple hundred of SSD files to determine if any should not have been approved for benefits.  They determined “that 25 percent of them should never have been approved — another 20 percent, he said, were highly questionable.”

Does Coburn have an idea of who is responsible for the huge increase in disability applications?  He points towards disability attorneys.

Kroft spoke with two Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) about the number of SSD cases they deal with.  The ALJs said they were “each expected to read, hear, and decide up to 700 appeals a year to clear a backlog of nearly a million cases.  … In 1971, fewer than 20 percent of claimants were represented. Now, over 80 percent of claimants are represented by attorneys or representatives.”

One area in the country that has a high percentage of the population receiving disability payments is the border area of Kentucky and West Virginia.  “More than a quarter of a million people in this area are on disability — 10 to 15 percent of the population — about three times the national average.”

The 60 Minutes report insinuates that many individuals are applying for SSD benefits once their unemployment insurance runs out.  Considering the state of the economy, many individuals cannot find jobs in their communities.  So they use minor ailments or impairments to apply for SSD benefits.  Coburn’s subcommittee report states that “more Americans than ever are turning to the disability programs to make ends meet and more work is needed to ensure scarce benefits go only to the disabled.”

The Subcommittee report

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation requested SSD files from three counties in Virginia, Alabama, and Oklahoma in March 2011.  The Social Security Administration removed identifying information from the files.  “The cases provided a cross-section of applicants who were awarded disability benefits at different stages of review within SSA: initial application, reconsideration, appeal before an administrative law judge (ALJ), or appeal before the Social Security Appeals Council.”

“The files were reviewed for medical evidence used to approve benefits at all levels.  How were decisions made and what rationale was used to grant benefits.  Besides looking at the SSD files, the Subcommittee consulted with SSA, disability experts, SSA Administrative Law Judges, and others.”

The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation report and the 60 Minutes report both have negative reviews of the SSD program and disability attorneys in particular.  These reports are biased considering that the Senate Subcommittee report looked at three specific counties out of the entire country and is using that information to make generalizations about the national SSD program as a whole.

SSD benefits will not be immediately suspended to all individuals who receive them.  If you have been denied benefits or want to apply for benefits, speak with our experienced attorneys to assist you with the process.

The attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, PA. will provide a free, no obligation consultation at our South Florida offices located in Dade, Broward and Monroe Counties. If you are unable to travel, we can see you at your home, hospital, or other location which is convenient for you. Call us at (305) 653-5555 or contact us to schedule your free consultation today.