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SSDI Judges File Lawsuit Against Administration

Administrative law judges for the Social Security Disability Insurance program have filed a federal lawsuit against the administration, alleging that they have been essentially forced to approve disability claims they otherwise would not, due to unreasonable time constraints and allegedly illegal quotas.
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Our Boston Social Security Disability Insurance Attorneys can’t judge the validity of the these judge’s claims, but we can tell you with certainty that winning an SSDI claim here in Massachusetts hasn’t gotten any easier. The Social Security Administration applies a strict standard definition of disability. Failing to meet that in any capacity is going to make your claim an uphill battle – one made especially difficult if you don’t have experienced legal representation at your hearing.

Here’s what the judges are alleging:

They say that every year, they are required by the administration to oversee and decide a minimum of 500 to 700 disability claims. The agency calls this a goal, not a requirement. The judges however say that it amounts to an illegal quote that forces them to essentially decide the outcome of two or more claims each day.

They say this is an impossible benchmark when each case involves an enormous amount of complex, medical information – sometimes dating back decades.

The judges say that as a default, they’ve been deciding cases in favor of plaintiffs, mostly because doing so requires less paperwork. As the president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges was quoted as saying, approving the case in favor of the plaintiff requires a decision that is two to three pages long. However, a denial of benefits requires a more in-depth explanation, which is usually 15 to 20 pages long.

This makes sense because if you are denied benefits after investing a lot of time and energy into presenting your case, you deserve an explanation and I judge must be assured of sound reasoning.

But current and former officials with the administration have responded that this is clearly an issue of judges who simply don’t want to do their work. Michael Astrue, who served as commissioner of the agency for six years before he retired in February, said this is not the first time judges have tried to make this argument. He says they don’t want accountability, and therefore are trying to “sell this story to the media and to the Congress.”

We would argue that if the work load is in fact too high, the best solution would be to hire more judges. The only other way to pare it down would be to lessen the current per-judge goals. Without bringing on more judges to pick up that slack, we fear pending cases would take even longer to decide.

As it now stands, the administration reports the average wait time for an SSDI administrative review is more than a year. That’s 12 months of uncertainty, an inability to work and fear for what the future might bring.

Most people who apply for SSDI find themselves in this position, as the majority of initial claims are denied and must proceed through the appeals process before a judge.

Currently, the administration employs roughly 1,500 disability judges, who are spread out through all 50 states. That may seem like a fair amount, until you consider that last year alone, 3.2 million people applied for disability benefits, and that was a 25 percent increase in the number of applicants from 10 years earlier.

If you are considering filing for SSDI in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
Lawsuit: Judges sometimes award disability benefits to clear cases faster to meet quotas, April 19, 2013, Staff Report, Associated Press
More Blog Entries:
Report: Boston SSDI Office Among 19 Closed in FY2012, April 7, 2013, Boston Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog