It is no secret that approval and denial rates vary from one administrative law judge to another in the Social Security Administration (SSA). Not too long ago there was commotion involving an administrative law judge who had a recent approval rate of nearly 100 percent. There are, however, situations in which an administrative law judge leans towards the other end of the spectrum with extremely high denial rates, as is the case with one administrative law judge hearing Social Security Disability cases in Richmond, Virginia.
Drew A. Swank, an administrative law judge who works for the SSA and hears claims in Richmond, Virginia, heard more than 1,100 disability cases last year alone. According to recent reports, the ALJ denied nearly 80 percent of the cases he heard. That does not, however, mean that he awarded benefits in 20 percent of the cases heard. In fact, in all 1,100+ cases that Drew A. Swank heard, only 6 percent of them received a fully favorable decision for the disability applicant.
According to individuals who have had to encounter hearings with Administrative Law Judge Swank, the ALJ is anything but fair. Some have reported that he refuses to allow vocational experts to testify in support of the disability applicants while others say he ignores the rules of the SSA hearing guidelines entirely.
Apparently Judge Swank is “distrustful” of disability applicants, hence his high denial rating, and seems to think he is above the laws of the SSA. The question is, why has there been no investigation into Swank’s approval ratios when the SSA is quick to investigate any ALJ who seems to have approval ratios that are too high?
The SSA must realize that judges who lean too far on either side of the disability hearing fence are a detriment to the SSA and must be dealt with equally. Just because denials do not result in the payment of unnecessary disability benefits does not make it okay to deny benefits to applicants who rightfully deserve them.
If the SSA is to treat all applicants fairly and ensure that all administrative law judges adhere to the SSA’s rules and guidelines, then the SSA should be just as quick to investigate why Judge Swank is denying so many disability claims as they would be if he were to be deciding an unusually high number of cases in favor of disability applicants.
It is situations such as these that lead many people to believe that the Social Security system is biased against applicants and that the agency makes it harder for applicants who rightfully deserve disability benefits to get the benefits they are entitled to. In order to send a different message, ALJs such as Judge Swank should be dealt with appropriately, just as the judges who award “too many” benefits are.