Are SSDI Benefits Decisions Too Arbitrary?

Last week, the Congressional subcommittee that controls Social Security spending – the House Ways and Means Social Security subcommittee – held an important hearing on improving the Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) process. The hearing was a part of a series that aims to improve the process both for applicants and the Social Security Administration (“SSA”).

Some of the more popular complaints we hear from SSDI applicants were the subject of the hearing. For example, the variation in SSDI examiners’ rulings has been problematic – several studies and media reports have shown that whether you receive SSDI benefits can depend a great deal on what judge hears your case. At the hearing, a policy analyst discussed how the standard deviation of approval rates is six percentage points. This is a relatively large number, meaning that it is highly likely that SSDI applicants would receive a different result if their case appears before a different judge. The same analyst said that, at the initial application level, the percentage of applicants who would get a different result with a different examiner could be as high as 60 percent.

The variation in decisions is bad for both sides of the SSDI process. From the applicant perspective, it means that for applicants with similar disabilities some may end up receiving SSDI benefits and some may not for no reason other than the examiner who reviewed their case. From the SSA’s perspective, this randomness is not good for the program’s image. It makes decisions appear arbitrary, and it harms disabled Americans who need the money to support themselves and their families.

Despite the problems, the SSA’s commissioner claims that the SSDI initial claim accuracy is 95.5 percent. Have you received SSDI benefits at one point? How would you rate your experience with the application and evaluation process?

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability attorneys

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