Administrative Law Judges and SSD Irrationally Under Fire

In the past few years, the media has been quick to question the value of the Social Security Disability (SSD) program. They have called attention to administrative law judges who award SSD in "too many cases;" have said that there has been an improper rise in SSD claims during the recession; and have criticized the SSD eligibility standards for illnesses and disorders recently defined by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Yet, as we all know, the media does not always have all of the facts. Or, as an article by Jon C. Dubin and Robert E. Rains in the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy states, "the problem is misinterpreted."

Let's first consider the role of the administrative law judge.

One Professor, Richard Pierce, has written an article for the Cato Institute where he states that SSA administrative law judges are approving more SSD cases because the standards are more subjective. He makes this assertion based on the new mental impairments and pain-related impairments. According to Pierce, not only are undeserving claimants receiving benefits, but the SSD system has become unconstitutional because the ALJs now have the authority to create policies.

Yet, most SSD decisions in favor of applicants are made during the initial application and following reconsideration stages. These decisions are made by the SSA and, more often, state agencies - not by administrative law judges. In other words, ALJs represent fewer than 25 percent of the favorable decisions granted to SSD applicants.

Furthermore, the average SSD approval rating at the administrative hearing level is only 58 percent, a far cry from the 99 percent approval rating of the one judge who made news. In fact, many ALJs have approval ratings below 25 percent.

More on this next week, when we will speak about the difference between the impact of state agencies and the impact of ALJs on the SSD program.

Source: American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, v. 34, No. 3, "Scapegoating Social Security Disability Claimants," Jon C. Dubin & Robert E. Rains, Mar. 2012.

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