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Former Atlanta judge finds fault with SSA in new book

The subject of a new book by a former Administrative Law Judge for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta criticizes the workings of a government program, which the 87-year-old former senior judge calls frustrating. The published book comes at a time when a new study accuses SSA of "faltering" in the wait time for disability benefits.

The Chamblee judge, who wrote "Upholding the Rule of Law in the Social Security Administration," said it was his job to settle disputes in appeals over denied claims until just two years ago. He had worked as an SSA appeals judge starting in the late 1960s.

The book's release coincides with recent independent research that suggests SSA is struggling to keep up with the tide of disability applicants. According to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), more than 725,000 disability claims are pending, and applicants average more than a one-year wait to have appeals heard.

The ex-SSA judge wrote he had seen cases where appeals lasted so long that claimants went broke and, in some cases, lost homes to foreclosure. The former judge says, even when appeals eventually ended up favorable to a claimant, many times the disability benefits came too late to be of much help.

Bureaucracy in disability decisions is one knotted area the former SSA judge said needs to be streamlined. States make the call about which claimants are disabled, but the judge asserts that states do that based on an interpretation of federal rules. He says states use a manual to help them understand who qualifies for disability benefits. However, he argued that the manual has no legal backing and cannot be used during a hearing.

The official SSA response to the TRAC report and the ex-judge's book was dismissive. In a written statement, the SSA commissioner claimed the TRAC study did not acknowledge the program's recent improvements and came to inaccurate conclusions. The SSA did not comment on the judge's book.

Source: Dunwoody Crier, "Judge writes book about Social Security snafu," Fran Memberg, 29 June 2011

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