A criminal investigation into disability benefits in Puerto Rico highlights several concerns that we have posted about in the past. First is the issue of disparities between Social Security offices. The approval rates vary widely throughout the United States, and some articles have delved into the disparities between local offices. New York City residents, for example, have multiple options of where to file for disability benefits, and they usually avoid particular offices known for unusually high rejection rates. On the other hand, there is the West Virginia office, which came to light for one of its judges approving nearly 100 percent of disability applicants.
Puerto Rico has developed a similar reputation for being perhaps too applicant friendly. Last year, Social Security Administration (“SSA”) offices on the island approved nearly two-thirds of initial applicants, a much higher rate than most offices. In fact, nine of the top ten zip codes in the US for Social Security Disability beneficiaries come from Puerto Rico.
The investigation into one particular office came about when a pharmaceutical plant closed down, and all of its employees lost their jobs. 290 of the 300 employees applied for disability benefits, and perhaps not coincidentally, they all went to the same doctor for their disability diagnosis. The SSA’s inspector general is investigating the potential fraud in this case.
The investigation stems from the same Wall Street Journal article that uncovered the troubles at the West Virginia office. The article looked at approval rates all over the country. It is good to hear the SSA being responsive to allegations of fraud. It often lacks the resources to carry out investigations, but more efforts to do so would be a step in the right direction, as that would free up money to provide better financial support to disabled workers truly in need.