Social Security disability judges cite pressure to resolve cases

At House hearing held by Rep. James Lankford, current and former judges say the Social Security Administration is focused on reducing backlog rather than proper evaluations.
by Chris Casteel Modified: June 27, 2013 at 10:14 pm •  Published: June 28, 2013

Current and former judges in the Social Security disability system told a House subcommittee on Thursday that they were pushed to resolve cases as fast as they could rather than examine the evidence thoroughly.

J.E. Sullivan, who spent three years as an administrative law judge for Social Security disability cases, said she was told to hold hearings on cases without medical evidence and look for reasons to award disability payments. There was “tremendous pressure” to meet quotas for resolving cases in the system, which has been plagued by backlogs, Sullivan said.

Larry J. Butler, a Social Security administrative law judge in Florida, said the Social Security Administration has focused exclusively in the past six years on reducing the backlog, to the exclusion of all other considerations, including correctly applying the law and following up on whether people collecting the benefits are still too disabled to work.

Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, chairman of the Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements subcommittee, said the disability program's growth has exploded in recent years and is predicted to be insolvent in three years.

About 11 million people, including disabled workers, spouses and children, receive Social Security disability benefits, up from about 8 million only a decade ago. One former judge said Thursday that the program for some has become a substitute for unemployment benefits.

The Social Security Administration has failed to recognize the problems, Lankford said, both with the process for awarding benefits and then determining whether people should continue getting benefits.

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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