From The Hill, January 16, 2014:


"Today the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means is holding a hearing to examine disturbing allegations that a group of firefighters, police officers and others in New York City may have fraudulently obtained Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

As a long-time advocate for people with disabilities, I applaud the close scrutiny of these extremely troubling allegations by the Social Security Administration, New York City law enforcement, and the House of Representatives. Few things make me angrier than disability fraud, which jeopardizes the economic security of the millions of play-by-the rules Americans with disabilities. Any abuse of vital programs like Social Security Disability Insurance MUST be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

These stories of alleged abuse promote the false assumption that fraud is rampant in the SSDI program. Nothing could be farther from the truth. According to Social Security’s watchdogs, ”fraud” in Social Security Disability Insurance is extremely rare. Despite the media attention to allegations of fraud, it is absolutely critical for the public to know the circumstances of the people who rely on SSDI.

People like Kira, who lives with cerebral palsy, and whose Social Security Disability Insurance benefits mean the difference between eating and not eating. People like Carol, who worked as a rare documents archivist at the Library of Congress until she suffered a severe traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car while riding her bike to work. Thankfully, Social Security Disability Insurance has enabled Carol and her family to keep their home from foreclosure.

Our nation’s Social Security system – including Disability Insurance – keeps millions of hardworking Americans like Kira and Carolout of poverty. Benefits average just $1,130 per month. Modest as these amounts are, benefits provide vital support, making it possible to secure stable housing and purchase food, life-sustaining medications, and other basic necessities.

It takes a lot more than just being out of work to quality for SSDI. Workers must have paid into the Social Security system for long enough to be covered in case of disability. Additionally, an applicant must provide extensive medical evidence of a severe disability, illness or injury. The disability standard is so strict that fewer than four in ten applicants are approved for disability benefits, even after all stages of appeal. Many are terminally ill -- Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries are over three times more likely to die than others their age, and nearly one in five men and one in women die within five years of receiving benefits

During today’s hearing, you’ll likely hear rhetoric about the huge growth in the SSDI rolls. It’s true that SSDI is serving more people, but this growth is almost entirely due to changes in demographics. Anew study puts this in stark numbers: increases over the past four decades are almost entirely (90 percent) due to population growth, the aging of the baby boom generation into the high-disability years, and the entry of women in the workforce in greater numbers in the 1970s and 80s so that more are now insured based on their own contributions. Together, these three factors account for 94% of growth from 1990 – 2008. 

. . ."

Social Security disability fraud is rare  The Hill









Braxton Bragg, GeneralThere is something about this quote regarding General Bragg that reminds me of the disability adjudication system at the Social Security Administration, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.   Perhaps it has something to do with using a Dictionary of Occupational Titles last updated in 1991 to deny claims in 2014.



Ulysses S. Grant recalled in his memoirs a story about Bragg that seemed to suggest an essential need for proper procedure that bordered on mental instability. Once Bragg had been both a company commander as well as company quartermaster (the officer in charge of approving the disbursement of provisions). As company commander he made a request upon the company quartermaster--himself--for something he wanted. As quartermaster he denied the request and gave an official reason for doing so in writing. As company commander he argued back that he was justly entitled to what he requested. As quartermaster he stubbornly continued to persist in denying himself what he needed. Bragg requested the intervention of the post commander (perhaps to diffuse the impasse before it came to blows). His commander was incredulous and he declared, "My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself."


Braxton Bragg



From the Economist:

". . .
Until now the jobs most vulnerable to machines were those that involved routine, repetitive tasks. But thanks to the exponential rise in processing power and the ubiquity of digitised information (“big data”), computers are increasingly able to perform complicated tasks more cheaply and effectively than people. Clever industrial robots can quickly “learn” a set of human actions. Services may be even more vulnerable. Computers can already detect intruders in a closed-circuit camera picture more reliably than a human can. By comparing reams of financial or biometric data, they can often diagnose fraud or illness more accurately than any number of accountants or doctors. One recent study by academics at Oxford University suggests that 47% of today’s jobs could be automated in the next two decades.
. . ."

Technology and jobs: Coming to an office near you | The Economist



I adapted SSA data into a spreadsheet.  It is available for download in two formats.  The data are the same, only the formats differ:  Note that I have added percentage calculations that were not provided by SSA.  I revised the spreadsheet on 1/17/14 to add color and to show Awards/Denials rather than Denials/Awards.

Here is a sample of the spreadsheet, sorted to show Milwaukee ALJs:




"When people are injured doing high risk jobs and we find they are suffering from injuries sustained as a result of those jobs, we have a tendency to not have compassion for them because “it’s their own fault.” Furthermore, because of the invisible nature of their illness, we often do not believe them. If we do actually believe them, we either blame them causing them shame or dismiss their issues altogether.

Yet, if we know the apparent cause of illness and injury, do we show compassion and care? Or do we turn away and let these individuals fend for themselves? Most people do not take on risky jobs with the intent of becoming permanently injured and disabled. They use all kinds of safety measures and equipment to lessen the risk of injury.

What about the risk of driving a car? I think of those who were injured due to vehicle crashes, such as Dr. Margaret Ferrante and Hannah Andrusky, or from a rock climbing accident such as Angela Pierce. If they were at fault for causing the accident, would we look differently at them and dismiss their injuries just like those who participate in risky jobs and hobbies?

We may believe someone more if there appears to be an obvious reason for their illness or pain. Imagine the lack of belief when a cause of a person’s illness can’t be determined.

. . . 

This brings up a question in regards to the disability and illness community. Why do people who live with illness, pain and disability and whose symptoms are invisible tend to be looked upon as guilty of faking or lying about their situation? It seems that they are guilty until proven innocent. Although doctors have already determined their condition by spending time with the patient and putting them through tests, we still often believe we know better.

Sometimes our loved one who is suffering has yet to be diagnosed and, in this case, we think, “Well, if a doctor can’t figure it out, then maybe the person really is faking.” Yet, even doctors admit that many patients have complicated cases and a diagnosis may take years and even decades to determine. During this time, the person living with the pain and illness daily continues on in misery while having their symptoms dismissed by friends and family."

It’s Your Own Fault | Disability.Blog

Here is a more technical version of the same principle from Judge Posner:

As countless cases explain, the etiology of extreme pain often is unknown, and so one can't infer from the inability of a person's doctors to determine what is causing her pain that she is faking it. E.g., Villano v. Astrue, 556 F.3d 558, 562 (7th Cir. 2009) (per curiam); Moss v. Astrue, 555 F.3d 556, 561 (7th Cir. 2009) (per curiam); Johnson v. Barnhart, 449 F.3d 804, 806 (7th Cir. 2006); Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 834 (9th Cir. 1995). The administrative law judge followed up the passage we just quoted by saying "one would expect that the claimant's hysterectomy or oophorectomy [the surgical removal of the ovaries, or one of them] would have given her some relief but those procedures did not . . . . The claimant's alleged pain remains." The fact that a medical procedure fails is weak evidence that the patient is a malingerer; and since the judge said merely that she didn't find the plaintiff's testimony "entirely" credible, we can't tell whether she thought her a malingerer.

Parker v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 920, 922 (7th Cir. 2010)