The Social Security Administration’s inspector general has announced a forthcoming report which shows that nearly 25,000 people received benefits when they should not have, amounting to about $2 billion in disability benefits costs the government should not have paid. The report focuses on certain judges in the claims process who are more apt to say “yes” to claims that may not be substantiated.
Many of those individuals benefitting from the wrongly-given disability claims are still receiving benefits from Social Security, the inspector says, and the cost of the administrative law judges’ decisions could rise by another $300 million next year. These are on top of another report on triple-dipping veterans.
The report will be released officially on Monday, but several press outlets have received preliminary copies, including the Associated Press, The Hill, and the Wall Street Journal.
WSJ reports that the Social Security inspector general found 44 administrative law judges over the past seven years met two criteria: they decided an unusually large number of cases and awarded an unusually high number of benefits. The judges represent about 4 percent of the total of the judicial corps in the Social Security Administration.
The investigation, which was conducted at the behest of Representative Darrell Issa (R-California), outgoing chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, examined 275 random instances of benefit award. Investigators found only 31 of those cases were properly processed, while 216 had quality issues and 28 were missing information and could not be reviewed. Of the 275 cases, the WSJ reports, 38 of the claims should have been denied. This was extrapolated over the 44 judges’ decisions over seven years to return the 24,900 incorrect cases and $2 billion in benefits wrongly paid.
The Social Security Administration spokeswoman noted that the judges are independent of the agency, and that case loads have been increasing over time as more Americans reach retirement, says The Hill. The cases which go through the federal process are claims which have most likely already been denied at the state level, sometimes more than once.
According to Newsmax, an Associated Press outlet, the 44 judges were originally singled out because they were “outliers” who had approved 85 percent of the claims heard in at least two of the past seven years. The AP also quotes Rep. Issa as saying that the Social Security Administration’s “failure to conduct timely medical eligibility reviews has resulted in rubber-stamped decisions that have and will continue to cost taxpayers billions in improper awards.” Issa’s statements about the Social Security scandal were echoed by Representative James Lankford (R-Oklahoma).
“SSA has allowed ALJs to carry large case loads and has encouraged quantity over quality.”
The Social Security spokeswoman countered this by saying that the administrative law judges (ALJs) have no incentive to reach particular results, as they are independent of Social Security and “issue decisions consistent with the law and agency policy,” rather than being influenced with pressure to reach specific results.
An administrative law judge in California points out to Newsmax that most judges are expected to fill a two case-a-day quota. A case file averages about 500 pages.
“If you consider the fact that a judge is under extraordinary pressure from the agency to do numbers, then you can understand how some errors get made,” he said.