Due to the number of injured combatants from both Iraq and Afghanistan wars and economic downturn, claims for Social Security Disability benefits have skyrocketed within the past decade. Thousands of claims are waiting to be heard as administrative law judges, or ALJs as they are known, get through the tremendous backlog of applications. The current waiting period for a claimant to receive a disability hearing is roughly 373 days.
However, corners are being cut as a result of the push to get through claims. Disability advocates are worried that ALJs are deciding cases unfairly without sufficient review to keep up. However, they aren't the only ones concerned about the affects of rushing through applications. Some ALJ's are just as concerned.
The Social Security Administration, or SSA, has put forth a "productivity goal" for ALJs. Each judge essentially must get through between 500-700 cases per year. If this quota is not met, they could face discipline in some form.
Some judges feel this quota is simply unattainable and filed suit.
ALJ file lawsuit for unfair quotas
Earlier this month, the judges' union instituted a lawsuit in federal court in Chicago against both the SSA and Carolyn Colvin, the Social Security Commissioner.
The lawsuit alleges that this SSA's "productivity goal" is an "illegal quota" that forces each judge to decide roughly two cases per day despite the complex nature of many cases. The judges argue that the goal leaves them inadequate time to review the facts of each case and render a reasoned and impartial decision. They further argue that it has lead to an unfair system and iniquitous hearing process for applicants.
However, Michael Astrue, former SS Commissioner disagrees and says that the lawsuit is just a way for the ALJs to sidestep accountability. He argues that some ALJs want to place political pressure on politicians and the SSA rather than "do their work."
Rise in claims
It remains to be seen what will become of the lawsuit. However, one fact is certain-Social Security Disability claims are rising. And they will likely continue as the U.S. population grows and more and more baby boomers age.
According to most recent estimates, there has been a 25 percent increase in disability applicants within the past decade. In 2012 alone, roughly 3.2 million individuals applied for disability benefits.
Today, over 10 million disabled individuals, spouses and or their children receive Social Security Disability benefits. Ten years ago, it 7.6 million received benefits.