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Overly high approval rate for SSD applications: fact or fiction?

Here comes that story again, which seems to routinely resurface every couple of years when select congressional members wish it to do so.

Its gist: Judges working for the Social Security Administration to resolve Social Security Disability claims on appeal have run amok, routinely approving many thousands of applications without sufficiently vetting them.

The alleged result: High levels of scam claims are approved, coupled with billions of dollars taken from taxpayers and subsequently misspent. The system is flawed and in danger of imploding

The latest resurrection of the tale has many media articles using the words “rubber stamp” in headlines referring to high approval rates.

Is it true?

Indeed, and as evidenced by the testimony of a few judges who recently testified before a congressional committee, some so-called ALJs (administrative law judges) do approve claims at a rate higher than is the norm for their fellow judges collectively.

And they don’t apologize for it, as was clear from their sharp responses to legislators querying their motives and professionalism.

“I see their medical records and their testimony,” said one ALJ, referring to claimants. He added that, “I am confident that I make the right decision.

What stands out as a glaring rejoinder to SSD critics who point to excessively high approval rates is, well, the truth.

The reality with the SSD program is this: Approval rates nationally are actually waning. They stood at 72 percent in 2005. Last year, they had fallen to 56 percent.

It would seem to be hard for anybody -- even critics trying to sound balanced and evenhanded -- to argue that a 56 percent approval rate is a national crisis.

Indeed, it might be more plausibly argued that, without the strong assistance of highly experienced disability attorneys working with claimants, more than half of all applicants with qualifying and well-documented medical injuries and illness might be denied benefits that they have worked for.

That seems to be the real headline.

Source: ABC News, "Report: Social Security judges rubber-stamp clailms," Stephen Ohlemacher (Associated Press), June 10, 2014

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