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Judicial SSD controversy could affect the system's operation

Last month, Congress began hearings on a controversy concerning the Social Security Administration. Essentially, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has become concerned by inconsistent rates of approval granted to those seeking Social Security Disability benefits, or SSD, by various judges. The committee wishes to know why some judges approve SSD applications at much higher rates than others.

The investigation has revealed that some judges feel pressured by the SSA to award benefits to a high number of applicants. In particular, judges are feeling pressured to award benefits to individuals who have already been rejected more than once by state agencies or field offices. Some allege that this pressure is being placed upon them in response to the large SSD application backlog controversy that has become a high-profile issue in the media over the last few years.

Between 10 and 11 million disabled Americans receive SSD benefits currently. Because so many Americans qualify for benefits, there is a push within Congress to reign in the system. However, responding too zealously to the information that some judges feel pressured to approve potentially unfit candidates may harm those who truly need and deserve these benefits.

The application process for SSD benefits can be uniquely challenging. The fact that most applications are denied initially was confirmed during recent Congressional hearings. Making the process even more challenging simply because some judges are feeling pressured could potentially harm millions of current recipients seeking to remain on benefits and millions of future applicants.

Though the pressure some judges may be under is a serious allegation and should be dealt with appropriately, Congress must react cautiously to this controversy. Failure to do so could harm millions of disabled Americans who are already under extraordinary pressures themselves.

Source: Washington Post, “Judges tell lawmakers they are pressured to approve Social Security disability claims,” Stephen Ohlemacher, June 27, 2013

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