We have a problem in this country when 191 of the most lenient
administrative law judges have approved more than 85 percent of Social
Security disability claims they heard from 2005 to 2013 at a cost to
taxpayers of $153 billion.
Most of those claims had been denied
one or two times previously by SS workers in state offices. This act of
rubber-stamping claims results in lifetime payments to many people and
has led to a recent hearing by the U.S. House Oversight Committee
chaired by Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Keep in mind, lifetime benefits
average $300,000. Average monthly payments are $1,150, according to the
Social Security Administration. This column is based on coverage of the
congressional hearing by AP reporter Stephen Ohlemacher.
most lenient administrative judges called to testify were Tennessee
Judge Gerald Krafsur and Pennsylvania Judge Charles Bridges. They have
held their positions a long time and were arrogant when called to the
Krafsur approved 99 percent of the cases
he heard from 2005 to 2013. As a result, Social Security is on the hook
for an estimated $1.8 billion. Bridges has approved 95 percent of his
cases. Both judges hear 3 to 4 times the number of cases as other
administrative law judges. There are a total of 1,400 judges.
skeptical Chairman Issa asked Bridges “Are the people working below you
always wrong (when denying disability claims)? Should every physical
ailment qualify a person for a lifetime disability payout?”
would say they are not legally trained,” Bridges responded. “I don’t pay
attention to those figures. All I do is concentrate on each case, one
at a time.”
Is there any wonder the American people have lost
confidence in government agencies? Many of these well-intentioned
programs have become targets of dubious gamers and corrupt officials.
Liberal judges find it hard to say no to spending taxpayer money.
unemployed workers, and aging baby boomers, run out of government
benefits, they have suddenly discovered disability benefits are pretty
easy to get. Part of the blame can be put on to the effects of the Great
Some of the administrative judges say they are
rubber-stamping the claims because the SS disability program has 937,000
cases pending. And, like the current situation with the Veterans
Affairs Administration, there is pressure to reduce the backlog.
officials warn that the disability trust fund is projected to run out
of money in 2016 if nothing is done. This could trigger an automatic 20
percent cut in benefits. You can bet that Congress won’t let that
happen, especially during an election year.
How bad is this
problem? Well, 11 million disabled workers, spouses and children get
benefits. That is a 45 percent increase in just the last decade. An
additional 8.4 million get supplemental security income which is for low
While there are 200 judges who cast suspicion on
the program by playing Santa Claus with disability claims, the other
1,200 take a responsible approach. The approval rate for all claims
dropped in 2013 to 56 percent from 72 percent in 2005.
former colleague shared this story with me many years ago. It reminds
us to be good employees and to value personal responsibility.
elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his employer-contractor
of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more
leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. He would miss
the paycheck but he needed to retire.
The contractor was sorry to
see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house
as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to
see that his heart was not in his work.
He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end a dedicated career.
the carpenter finished his work the employer came to inspect the house.
He handed the front door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he
said, “My gift to you!”
The carpenter was shocked. What a shame!
If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done
it all so differently.
So it is with us. We build our lives, a day
at a time, often putting less than our best into the building. Then
with a shock we realize we have to live in the house we have built (or
the life we’ve built).
If we could do it over, we’d do it much differently. But we cannot go back.
are the carpenter. Each day you hammer a nail, place a board or erect a
wall. Your attitudes and the choices you make today build the house
(life) you’ll live in tomorrow.
Build wisely with eternity in view.