During the Great Depression, when Congress was first considering a federal insurance program for the disabled (the law didn’t pass until almost 20 years later), a Social Security Advisory Council actuary warned of costs beyond “anything that can be forecast.”

The fear was that well-intentioned assistance for any person with impairments of mind or body that would keep him from being gainfully employed for their rest of his life would devolve into a version of unemployment.

That warning has proven prophetic as this country’s Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program has spun out of control and is now on course to run out of money by 2016.

Sunday night, CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment entitled “Disability USA,” which probed the abuse of SSDI.  Steve Kroft reported that SSDI rolls have risen 20 percent just in the last six years to 12 million people, with a budget of $135 billion.

West Virginia, despite a small population, is a big contributor to the SSDI rolls.  The AP reports that “West Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of adults receiving government assistance for disabilities.”

A big reason for the surge in SSDI is that people who have had their claims denied are hiring law firms that specialize in winning appeals.

According to 60 Minutes, “Last year, the Social Security Administration paid a billion dollars to claimants’ lawyers out of its cash-strapped disability trust fund.  The biggest chunk–$70 million—went to Binder & Binder, the largest disability firm in the country.”

Jenna Fliszar, a lawyer who used to work for Binder & Binder and represent clients from West Virginia and other states, told CBS, “I call it a legal factory because that’s all it is.  They have figured out the system and they’ve made it into a huge national firm that makes millions of dollars a year on Social Security Disability.”

In 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s Damian Paletta reported on one Huntington-based disability judge who nearly always sided with the claimant.  Judge David B. “D.B.” Daugherty awarded benefits in all but four of 1,284 cases during one fiscal year.  The national average is 60 percent approval.

A report by the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs estimates that Daugherty awarded more than $2.5 billion in benefits in the last 7 years of his career.

The Journal reported that Daugherty worked closely with lawyer Eric Conn, who advertises heavily in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, looking for potential clients. Daugherty resigned after the Journal’s reports. Conn, who continues a thriving practice in SSDI cases, was evasive in a brief interview with 60 Minutes about his relationship with the former judge.

The abuse of the SSDI system has caught the attention of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. It held a hearing Monday and issued a report finding “a raft of improper practices by the Conn law firm to obtain disability benefits, inappropriate collusion between Mr. Conn and a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (Daugherty), and inept agency oversight which enabled the misconduct to continue for years.”

The Committee report says Daugherty’s bank records show $96,000 in cash deposits from 2003 to 2011, for which Daugherty refused to explain the origin or source of the funds.

As one of the SSDI administrative judges said, “If the American public knew what was going on in our system, half would be outraged and the other half would apply for benefits.”

Frankly, it’s predictable that Americans hit by hard economic times are tempted to latch on to any government help they can, especially when there is an alliance of lawyers, doctors and judges willing to shepherd them through the system.

In doing so, however, they are squandering taxpayer dollars and bankrupting a legitimate program.



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  • Chris Clement

    They should be required to do something to earn it. I personally know many who walk, talk, drink, smoke, party, fish, drive, and do other things that indicate they could give back in some way according to their abilities.

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  • tony

    in the face of the baby boomers going thru the needle, what a load of bull. if you want to deal with reality instead of sensationalism, look up "alj dispostion data" on google. you will see EXACTLY what decisions SS judges make. I resent the portrayal of an easy system when I have been wrestling with judges with sub 30 percent approval rates for years. there are a large growing number of judges THAT DENY almost every claim. look it up. but that's ok??? in hops world it would be. to me, its a pretty dangerous place.
    I don't see the people walking in and getting ssd around here. its damn near impossible. that's the reality in this part of WV. I'm sick and tired of this misguided broad brush. Lawyers around here ARE NOT making millions anywhere around here. the atty fees on ss cases are mostly very limited by statute (the most possible on any case is 6k) and very very small compare to other comparable cases and the time involved (and expenses fronted on cases you may never get back) in handling the cases.
    I know one thing, no one is giving it away in Charlottesville or Morgantown ALJ offices, that's for damned sure. for all the readers, stop the lies and go look at ALJ disposition data. that is the real (not-right wing political BS) stats of every SS judge in the US. the actual stats, yes..the real decisions

    its funny that everyone has a story about someone getting it that shouldn't. funny when you look into it, its never that way. why are we like this people? that seems to be the biggest revelation of this whole deal. why do we want to always believe that? really, i wonder why?

  • DWM

    We all say what a travesty this is while we harangue the Republicans for trying to stop a new government program that will dwarf SSDI.

    We are losing our republic to people that don't want to work, want something for nothing, have no interest in fending for themselves, and have no qualms with taking something from someone else that has earned it.

    That's our United States of America. We won't survive as a country the 30 or so years I have left to live.

  • Jim

    Hoppy, I was with you right up until you called Social Security disability payments a legitimate program.

    The constitution does not give Congress the authority to make welfare payments. Medicare, Medicaid, AFDC, Social Security, Unemployment, and Obamacare are all outside the enumerated powers of the federal government, and they should all be shut down.

    • Debra

      John Roberts begs to differ with you. You can do all those things using the ability to tax!

      • Jim

        If the ACA is a tax, it is an unconstitutional tax. Article 1 of the constitution clearly states that all bills for raising revenues must originate in the House of Representatives. The ACA originated in the Senate. The House had to use the Senate bill, because Robert Byrd had died, and democrats didn't have the filibuster-proof majority in the Senate they would need to pass a House-originated bill. John Roberts blew the call.

      • Joe

        So..........Congress exempted themselves and their staffs from paying taxes by exemping themselves from the ACA law?!

        • Debra

          Congress is in fact using the ACA. A republican senator was just on TV today stating that they must use the exchanges. The argument was weather or not they could get subsidies to purchase the insurance since their employer provides the insurance. Apparently they will. But they are using OBAMACARE.

  • Metzger

    Look at the bright side , unemployment is going down ........hmmm