Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has released a comprehensive deficit reduction plan for the United States called Back in Black. Included in this almost 600 page plan is a subsection related to Social Security disability called Social Security Disability Programs: Improving the Quality of Benefit Award Decisions. Senator Coburn notes that if current financial trends continue, the SSDI and SSI programs will run out of money in 2015 or 2016. While no one expects Congress to let this happen, the immediacy of the SSDI program's default has caught the attention of lawmakers in the House and Senate.
Senator Coburn argues that "significant stress on the [Social Security disability] trust fund is due in part to the fact that the number of individuals receiving disability benefits continues to rise at an unprecedented rate. " He quotes a study from the Center for American Progress which reports that the disability program "provides strong incentives to applicants and beneficiaries to remain permanently out of the labor force, and it provides no incentives to employers to implement cost-effective accommodations that enale employees with work limitations to remain on the job.” Further “too many work-capable individuals involuntarily exit the labor force and apply for and often receive” Social Security disability.
Over a two year period, Senator Coburn and his staff reviewed SSDI hearing decisions from Virginia, Alabama and Oklahoma. His report concludes that a significant number of the hearing decisions were flawed because of poor hearing practices, improper evaluation of evidence by hearing judges, outdated job lists (referring to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles), and inconsistent use of consultative examinations.
The Coburn Committee’s recommendations include:
- presence of government representatives at hearing to oppose claims
- increasing hearing decision reviews
- enhanced ALJ training
- “reform” of the grid rules
- revision of consultative evaluation processes
While Senator Coburn’s recommendations have not yet been formally adopted by the Social Security Administration, it seems likely that Congress and SSA officials will implement some of these changes to reduce the drain on the disability trust fund.
Jonathan Ginsberg represents clients in disability claims filed with the Social Security Administration.