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Administrative judge approvals under scrutiny

Many people who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits will learn that their initial application has been denied. Unfortunately, this is very common. Some people argue that many of the initial rejections stem from untrained state agency workers. Others believe that the trend in denying initial claims developed as a way of quickly dealing with an enormous backlog in SSDI applications. But no matter why an initial claim is denied, it can be appealed and heard by an administrative judge.

However, some of these judges are now coming under fire for their approval rates. Overall, reports suggest that the 191 of about 1,400 employed administrative judges have approved 85 percent of the cases they heard between 2005 and 2013. Critics question this high approval rate and worry about how it will impact the shrinking pool of resources set aside for the disability program.

Reports are referring to the process of approving so many denied claims as "rubber stamping," suggesting that judges are simply approving so many claims because it is easier and faster than to deny a claim. If a judge does deny a claim, he or she must provide detailed information as to why the claim was denied and this can be time-consuming.

However, one judge argues that there are much more credible reasons that he personally has approved so many claims. He says that when he hears his cases, he is often more familiar with the applicant and has more knowledge about his or her condition. By the time he reviews a case, a claimant may have more medical evidence to support his or her request for disability benefits. It is also more likely that he or she will have expert testimony also to support a claim.

The process of approving or denying disability claims is a complicated and seemingly arbitrary one. And no matter how many applications are denied or approved, there will always be critics of a broken or needlessly complex system. However, it is important to remember that every case is unique and every individual has different circumstances that must be considered. In order to pursue a successful outcome, either for an initial application or an appeal, it can be very beneficial to seek the guidance and support of an attorney.

Source: Boston Herald, "Report: Social Security judges rubber-stamp claims," June 10, 2014

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