Judges aren’t approving more disability claims

As an advocate who represents people with disabilities, I found the June 27 Associated Press article, “Judges: Social Security pushes approval of claims,” extremely misleading. The numbers simply do not support the contention that administrative law judges are approving more claims due to pressure from the Social Security Administration.

To explain, there are a number of legitimate reasons why judges reverse state agency disability determinations to approve a claim. Most claimants wait a year or longer for a hearing; in many cases their conditions have deteriorated with the passage of time. Judges are able to call expert medical and vocational witnesses to provide further explanation of the claimant’s impairments, treatment and functional limitations affecting work. Often at the hearing, previously missing records have been collected and the judge has a much more complete record before her to make a decision. Perhaps most importantly, the judge has the opportunity to meet with the claimant and obtain a full explanation of his condition directly. There is no face-to-face meeting at the application stage.

There are many reasons for the increase in the number of Americans receiving disability benefits, some of which are detailed in the article. However, it is simply not true that judges are becoming more lenient. In fact, the percentage of claims approved by administrative law judges has fallen significantly since 2007.

Kenneth Hiller