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Should SSD become more adversarial?

One criticism of the Social Security disability process is the assertion that the Social Security Administration's determination of benefits for the claimant is one sided. While an applicant may obtain the services of an attorney to help their navigating through the process, it is said SSA has no similar advocate skeptically reviewing claims and looking to uncover fraudulent applications.

The current system is "inquisitorial" meaning the application for SSD benefits is examined by those working for SSA from the perspective of gathering information on each claimant and determining if they met the criteria for those benefits.

It has been suggested that by adding attorneys, whose job it would be to take the government's side and "defend" SSD benefits from potential fraudulent claims, would help reduce fraud.

The problem with this argument is twofold. First, the government is well represented at the initial stages of the SSD process, as the disability determinations are made by those working for SSA and even when a claim reaches an administrative hearing, it is heard by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) employed by the SSA. While they are independent, their paycheck still is issued by the federal government and they are subject to pressure from the agency management.

Second, the change to an adversarial process would greatly increase the cost of the process. In addition to the ALJs, the government would need to hire attorneys to represent the agency at every hearing. SSA already has the largest adjudicatory system in the federal government and such a change would greatly increase the number of attorneys needed.

This increase in cost and complexity would not be justified by any savings that would be obtained. Most SSA ALJs diligently perform their job of examining claims and work to ensure that claimants are eligible to receive benefits before approving their applications.

Source:, "The Real Social Security Disability Fraud(s)," Steven Berenson, 9 DePaul Journal for Social Justice 93, March 2016

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