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SSDI Judge’s Public Call for Change Overlooks Important Considerations

In a recent New York Times editorial piece, Social Security Administration administrative law judge D. Randall Frye laments what he considers holes in the system that allow claimants to perpetuate fraud. He calls for drastic changes to the system, such as allowing judges to tap into social media when making their considerations and limiting the amount of attorney involvement in these cases.
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We respectfully disagree with his stance. Our Boston SSDI attorneys have a great deal of admiration for the work that administrative law judges must do. It’s not an easy task to sort through hundreds of cases annually – sometimes two or three a day – and do their best to reach a fair conclusion in each case. We recognize that almost every one of these judges is working very hard to be fair to claimants, while also being good stewards of the public trust. It can be a tough balancing act.

That being said, there are very good reasons why, for example, judges shouldn’t be weighing social media posts in connection with their decision and why lawyers are necessary to help usher people through the process.

Frye’s opinion piece was published on the heels of a reportedly massive $400 million fraud perpetuated on the SSDI program by retired New York City firefighters and police officers who are accused of filing disability claims based on false statements in order to secure benefits for which they didn’t actually qualify. If these allegations are proven, it will be a disgrace and the largest fraud perpetuated on the program since its inception. Those who legitimately rely upon this program disdain this kind of action just as much as the judges who are charged with upholding its integrity.

But such fraud is atypical, and punishing those who need this program by further tightening the already strict controls on the program makes little sense.

Frye’s argument is based largely upon how these cases may have fallen through the cracks. For example, while these individuals stated they were too ill to work, they were simultaneously posting photographs of themselves on social media sites – fishing, playing sports and otherwise being very physically active. The judge laments that it is protocol within the administration that judges refrain from delving into social media sites when making a determination of benefits, pointing out that employers have no problem using these measure to screen potential applicants.

But there is a problem with that argument. Aside from the fact that the vast majority of applicants aren’t lying (and therefore have nothing to hide on social media or elsewhere), elements of a person’s online persona might be unfairly misconstrued in court proceedings. For example, a photograph may show a person playing hockey. While it may have been posted fairly recently, there is no guarantee it wasn’t taken several years ago.

These cases need to be decided on the facts: That involves looking at the examination and testing reports from physicians and other medical professionals who have closely weighed this information.

Frye goes on to characterize the fact that most applicants preparing for a hearing after an initial denial hire an attorney as, “It gets worse.” However, there is a great deal at stake in these cases. For most people, it’s an issue of survival. They cannot work, and these federal benefits represent a way for them and their families to scrape by – to afford the mortgage, food, a running vehicle, etc. Nobody is getting rich off of these benefits, but they are critically important.

Applicants also know that the process is notoriously difficult, and that more than half of all claimants are turned down during the first round of consideration. The process can be confusing, so it makes sense that a person seeking these benefits would want someone by their side who knows the law, has been down this road before and has a proven track record of success in these cases.

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

Additional Resources:
Fixing Disability Courts, OPINION, Jan. 19, 2014, By D. Randall Frye, The New York Times
More Blog Entries:
SSI Can Help You Get Insurance Required by the Affordable Care Act, Jan. 2, 2014, Boston Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog