A recent article in National Review Online highlighted an important issue affecting not only the integrity of the Social Security disability program, but also the well-being of seriously disabled Americans. That issue is the ethical integrity of the administrative law judges that handle Social Security disability decisions.
The problem is known to lawmakers, with the House Oversight Committee keeping tabs on judges who engage in a variety of unethical behaviors and who blindly approve disability claims, putting the program at continued risk of bankruptcy. While the extent of the problem is not exactly clear, most would agree there is a need for increased oversight and reform among these judges.
Administrative law judges, as some readers may know, have an important role in the SSDI application process. Applicants don’t deal with these judges until they get to the second level of appeal within the Social Security disability system. After a reconsideration, an applicant may choose to have their claim considered in a hearing with a judge.
In a hearing, the applicant is able to present their case in person and present any new information the judge may need to see to consider the claim. It is critical, in a hearing, that the judge take time to carefully consider the claim and make an accurate decision. Outright rejection and rubber-stamping are both wrong ways for a judge to approach the hearing process. This is why it is concerning that judges would make decisions without adequately considering the evidence. In this approach, the difference between rejection and approval depends not on the strength of the evidence but on the whim of the judge handling the case.
It is important for applicants to work with an experienced attorney to assist in the appeals process. A bad decision at the hearing level can be appealed, and a skilled attorney can help ensure one’s interests are strongly represented.
Source: National Review, “Dysfunctional Disability Judges,” Jillian Kay Melchior, October 28, 2014.