The economy has suffered some serious blows in recent years, and while it may be coming back, the after-effects are still being felt across the nation. Millions of people are unemployed and many of them have used up all of their unemployment benefits. As a result, lawmakers are worried that the Social Security Disability program will be fraudulently used as an extension for expired unemployment payments. To support this theory, focus has been put on a single judge who has had a 100% award rate over the past six months. The resulting investigation has opened up a can of worms and quite a bit of controversy for the Social Security Administration.
Judge B. Daugherty, one of the administrative law judges who decides appeal cases for the Social Security Administration, has granted benefits to every single one of the 729 Social Security Disability claimants whose cases he heard this year. While this fact alone may not be cause for concern, when you begin to compare Daugherty's 100% award rate to the 60% average, it does raise some questions. This is especially true when you consider the fact that not only did Daugherty hear his own cases, but he also took Social Security Disability cases that had been assigned to other judges and cases that had yet to be assigned to any judge in particular.
While there are some judges who have award rates around 90%, there has never been a judge who awarded disability benefits to each and every case brought before him. Because many of the claimants were represented by one specific attorney, it brings the ethics of the decisions made by Daugherty into question.
Lawmakers had already been afraid that the Social Security Disability program would be used fraudulently as unemployment benefits begin to run their course, so they were certainly alarmed when informed of the practices of Judge Daugherty. As a federal probe was initiated, Judge Daugherty was put on indefinite administrative leave, although he admits to no wrongdoing.
Judge Daugherty, however, is not the only Social Security official who has been affected by this issue. The chief Social Security Administration judge in Huntington, West Virginia has decided to step down amidst the controversy. Judge Charlie Andrus, to whom Judge Daugherty reported, has left his position as chief, although he also admits to no wrongdoing. He states that he was indeed aware of the fact that Judge Daugherty was taking other judge's cases and that he addressed the issue in a written directive. However, he does not feel as though it is his job to ask other judges why they decide their Social Security Disability cases in a certain manner.
With his ability to manage the other administrative law judges properly being put under question in the public eye, Judge Andrus has stepped down from his position, although he will still be hearing cases for the Social Security Administration in an administrative law judge capacity. The question is, did Judge Daugherty really do anything wrong? As he states, he was trying to push backlogged cases through the Social Security system and perhaps each of the 729 people that he awarded benefits to were truly disabled.
While we may understand some of the actions taken in this situation, we certainly hope that this will not begin a trend of punishment for judges who have higher award rates. After all, many disabled workers are in honest need of Social Security Disability benefits and it is already difficult enough for applicants to obtain the disability benefits they need from the Social Security Administration. If judges become afraid to award benefits where benefits are due, it can lead to honest disability applicants being denied the Social Security Disability payments to which they are entitled.