Disability Severity Appears to Influence Return to Work

Do disability benefits discourage work?  That is the question that motivated a duo of researchers from the RAND Corporation. RAND stands for “Research and Development.” It is a nonprofit think tank that receives its funding from the federal government, academia and private individuals to perform public policy analyses.

The concern is not new, as members of Congress and other critics of Social Security disability benefits have expressed it as well, but RAND approaches the topic with a more numbers-based approach. The researchers looked at Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) applications in 2005 and 2006 and compared applicants with similar disabilities but who had different examiners who made the determination of whether they received benefits.

The RAND researchers drew two conclusions from the data they studied:

  • For applicants on the margin of receiving disability benefits, if their examiner did award them benefits, they were much less likely to return to work
  • Those who were the least disabled were the most likely to return to work if an examiner did not award them any benefits

The second conclusion seems straightforward. If applicants are able to work but cannot receive disability benefits, they will choose to work rather than go hungry and be unable to afford their bills. The first conclusions seems to point to a problem that we have seen repeatedly – examiners and administrative law judges may be the most important factor in deciding disability cases. Is it time for the Social Security Administration to institute some measure of consistency throughout the country for deciding disability cases?

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

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