Social Security lawyers throughout the country have been posting regularly about a trend we all see – that is, Social Security judges seem to be less inclined to award benefits. One rumor that is frequently discussed concerns a supposed memo that senior officials at SSA has circulated to the judges demanding that they reduce their approval rates from around 60% to 30%.
I have seen no evidence that such a memo exists, but there is no question that Administrative Law Judges are requiring more and better evidence to approve cases.
At the same time, Congress is very aware of the disability trust fund’s shortfalls, and one Senator, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, has put forth a specific plan to reduce Social Security’s costs by requiring SSA to conduct more Continuing Disability Reviews and by tightening the standards.
A senior staff attorney at one of the local hearing offices did tell me that judges who approve a higher than average number of cases are seeing their decisions scrutinized by the Appeals Council and several of these high approval judges are not being re-hired when their contracts come up for renewal.
In this brief audio, I summarize how I see the current environment for Social Security disability claims and how I have adjusted my new case evaluation procedures.