With the current discussion surrounding the balance of the Social Security trust fund, it is no surprise that political pundits, lawmakers, financial professionals and many more in Missouri and nationwide have weighed in with their concerns. One issue that has been raised is the rate of benefit approval by administrative law judges in different jurisdictions.
In some jurisdictions, the percentage of cases that resulted in a grant of benefits was as high as 75 percent for some judges. In other jurisdictions, it could be lower than 25 percent of cases in which a specific judge awarded benefits. Of course, adding to the ripple effect, these statistics have brought criticisms of their own.
Like every other debate, there are critics on both sides of the spectrum. A first glance at these statistics makes it seem like the discrepancy is a major issue, but others say that these numbers can be quite deceiving.
First, one must understand the application process to see why the award rate is so misleading. A Social Security disability applicant first files a claim. If that claim is denied, they can seek reconsideration. Then, if it is denied again, the applicant can go before an administrative law judge. In many of the jurisdictions with high percentages of administration judge approvals, there are also very high percentages of initial denials.
There are a lot of factors that combine together in the application process such as the assistance of an attorney, which is why one should take a moment before jumping to the conclusion that disability beneficiaries are getting benefits that they “could live without.”
One beneficiary put it quite bluntly when asked for her opinion. “I’d like for [the critics] to live a day in my shoes…no way to pay for medicine and food,” she said with a pause. “They don’t have a clue what we go through.”
Source: Times Free Press, “Inside the world of disability claims,” Judy Walton, Sept. 16, 2013