Jun 27, 2013

Some ALJ Testimony

     Some excerpts from the written statements of witnesses at today's hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee:
  • Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Larry Butler (31% reversal rate): "The Social Security disability programs are bankrupt. ... Is SSA managing the disability system for the primary benefit of genuinely disabled individuals and taxpayers or has the disability system became a “cash cow” for other “stakeholders” (attorney and non-attorney representatives, medical providers paid through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, pharmaceutical companies, and others)?...  Did SSA management intentionally adopt or implicitly approve a policy now referred to as “paying-down-the-backlog” in order to reduce the backlog? 
  • ALJ Thomas Snook (30% reversal rate): I am a Judge in name – but no one works for me. Moreover, I am judge who, according to our Chief Judge, has no authority over the personnel in my courtroom. In fact, I cannot even set the time and place of a hearing. Former Commissioner Astrue took this authority away from me. ... An outstanding attorney who practices before me recently phrased it differently: “The disability system has turned into a cottage industry for certain claimants’representatives.” He was referring to large firms who use TV advertising and other methods to sign up clients. Claimants’ representatives collectively make $1.7 billion in fees annually. That is a large cottage industry. The largest claimants’ firm Binder and Binder was according to the Wall Street Journal was bought by a hedge fund. [Actually, a private equity firm. There is a difference. Hedge funds don't acquire businesses, just securities.] ... Social Security is an Agency that doesn’t listen to its judges. In fact, the line judges are union members because the Agency refused to talk to us. 
  • ALJ Drew Swank (16% reversal rate):  Social Security disability programs, however, were never designed to be a safety net for the jobless or a substitute for unemployment insurance compensation. Furthermore, there is an inherent inconsistency with the notion that a person can switch back and forth between working when the economy is good and coll ecting disability benefits when the economy is bad. ... Working or not, disabled or not, people are increasingly seeing Social Security disability benefits as a relatively easy means of earning a lifetime of government payments, and a gateway to a host of other government entitlement programs. ...  “Pay so they go away” has been an unsuccessful strategy in reducing the hearing backlog, and it will never work. For every individual improperly awarded disability benefits, there will be an incentive for others who likewise do not qualify to apply for them as well — adding to the backlog.


Anonymous said...

Let the personal attacks begin concerning this testimony. These witnesses recognize the need and responsibility to help the disabled and maintain the disability program, and explain how other interests (political and financial) weaken and corrupt those efforts. To ignore these issues is to accept the destruction of an essential program. Please explain the importance of including their reversal rate as an identifier for these ALJs. Is that an indicator of their honesty, integrity, or what? Perhaps knowing if they like their eggs scrambled or over easy would have as much importance in evaluating their testimony.

Anonymous said...

It was his passive-aggressive way of stating that they are biased...or something.

Anonymous said...

The low pay rates of these ALJs certainly show their anti-claimant bias and are relevant when presenting their outlandish testimony.

Anonymous said...

DDS pays a third of initial claims. Two of the cited ALJs (and the two who happen to still work for SSA) have pay rates of 30 or 31%, i.e. about a third of cases. Why is okay for DDS to pay a third of cases (which last year was around 1 million out of slightly more than 3 million), but it is somehow bias for an ALJ, hearing a claim that has already been reviewed by experts and denied at least once, usually twice, to find that only a third of those denied after two bites of the apple are now deserving?

Anonymous said...

Nice selective hearing Charles. I noticed you forgot to mention that the committee was very interested in seeing more CDRs done, was very interested in addressing issues of cases not being ready for hearing (often because reps were not submitting evidence in a timely manner), interested in considering closing the record, interested in updating the GRID and the vocational database, interested in why ALJs cannot report misconduct to the state bar (or even directly to the regional attorney or OIG, instead of having to filter it through management). And the Democrats on the Committee expressed as much concern as the Republicans about the need to improve the process

Anonymous said...

@ 2:40PM

Who says it's ok for DDS to only pay 1/3 of their cases?

Why would anyone think that a judge's payment and reversal rate are irrelevant to understanding their viewpoint?


Anonymous said...


Because I have met plenty of claimant sympathizer ALJs (I'm talking uber liberal with prior legal aid experience, etc.) who don't pay a lot (strict reading of the regs) and plenty of conservative ALJs (i.e. believe the rise in apps is solely due to feigners who can't find work) who have high pay rates.

Lots of factors have meaningful impact on an ALJs pay rate that have nothing to do with the ALJs feelings towards claimants generally.

Be very careful using pay rate as a way to determine who the friendly ALJs are. Many of those high-payers have crappy FFs that the AC is now reversing sua sponte.

Anonymous said...

I do think it is a problem that DDS only approves 33% of the cases. If the cases that were eventually approved by the ADJ were approved at the DDS level, there would be much less backlog. Why does it seem the DDS is using different criteria than the ALJ's?