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Social Security Administration Examines Disparity in Disability Awards Across the Nation

February 29th, 2012

The Social Security Administration has recently authorized an independent review of its disability benefit awards. The Administrative Conference of the United States will conduct a study of approximately 1,500 administrative law judges who hear appeals after an applicant is denied disability benefits. Across the nation, there is reportedly a significant variation in disability benefit award rates by judge and region. Study results will be part of a pending overhaul to the disability appeals process.

The Social Security Disability Insurance program was established in 1950. Last year, the program assisted 10.6 million people in the United States by paying out approximately $130 billion in financial and health benefits. The Social Security Administration’s administrative law judges preside over disability benefit hearings that were previously denied twice at the state level. The judges are appointed and generally have wide discretion regarding whether to award a claimant disability benefits. Some complain disability hearings are over too quickly despite that there is currently a significant backlog of pending appeals. The amount of time a judge spends in each hearing will also be examined during the independent review.

Some are concerned judges too often deny disability benefits to those who deserve them and award benefits to those who do not. In 2011, The Wall Street Journal published a series of articles that pointed out an alleged inconsistency in disability awards based on both geographic location and which judge decided a particular case. On average, disability benefits are approved in approximately 60 percent of appeals. That number varies widely across the country, however. For example, one judge in Houston awarded social security disability benefits in only 13 percent of the cases assigned to his docket while a judge in Kingsport, Tennessee approved benefits in 99 percent of his cases.

The independent study will also examine why federal courts frequently overturn an administrative law judge’s decision to deny disability benefits. More than 50 percent of the approximately 12,000 disability appeals brought before federal courts were overturned in 2010. Although any recommendations made will not be binding, an initial draft of the study will be submitted to the Social Security Administration in August.

Federal Social Security Disability Insurance was established to provide financial support for individuals whose disability or recovery from an injury prohibits them from returning to work for at least one year. On average, social security disability benefits provide Americans who are unable to work with about $1,000 per month. Equally important, social security disability recipients are provided with health care benefits. The application process can be cumbersome and requires disability claimants to follow detailed procedures. It can feel like a maze of both state and federal bureaucracy. If you would like to file a social security disability claim, an experienced Massachusetts social security disability attorney can assist you.

At Pulgini & Norton, LLP, our knowledgeable Boston social security disability lawyers are available to help you navigate the complex social security disability application process. Our diligent lawyers will work with you to file your initial claim, gather required medical documentation, and attend hearings. If you were denied disability benefits in the past, we can also assist you in filing your appeal. Our firm represents clients throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. If you seek assistance with your social security disability claim, contact Pulgini & Norton through our website or call us today at 781-843-2200.

Additional Resources:

Disability-Benefits System Faces Review , by Damian Paletta, The Wall Street Journal