WASHINGTON, D.C. — New leaders are making changes within the Social Security Administration, but Republican Congressman Jim Lankford (OK-5) said it will take years to fully implement the kinds of reforms the agency needs — especially when it comes to disability benefits.
“People lose track of the fact that Social Security disability is one of the trust funds that’s sitting out there. Everybody that’s working has a part of their paycheck pulled out to be able to set aside money in case they’re ever disabled permanently,” Lankford said on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“People that are getting this money when they’re not truly disabled are literally taking funds from the truly disabled.”
Lankford — who met with the new Social Security leadership this week — serves as chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements for the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In June, that committee released a report entitled “Systemic Waste and Abuse at the Social Security Administration.”
It found that, between 2005 and 2013, more than 1.3 million people were placed on a federal disability program at a total cost of nearly $400 billion by administrative law judges who granted appeals more than 75 percent of the time. By the time claims make it to AJLs, they’ve usually already been denied at least twice.
Some of the most prolific AJLs worked in West Virginia. D.B. Daugherty of Huntington, a former AJL, awarded benefits 99 percent of the time, approving $2.5 billion in lifetime benefits for 8,413 people from 2005 until 2011.
Harry Taylor is a current Social Security administrative law judge in Charleston. According to the U.S. House report, he ruled in favor of claimants 94 percent of the time from 2005 to 2011, awarding $2.5 billion in benefits to 8,227 people. In two out of every three cases, Taylor reached his decisions without holding hearings.
Many other complaints have been lodged against Taylor who is still on the bench. The process to dismiss an AJL takes up to three years. Lankford confirmed Taylor is the subject of scrutiny. “There are serious allegations and he’s going to have to defend himself through this process, both for policy decisions and for procedural issues,” he said.
Overall, Lankford said the definition of “disabled” has become subjective. “It should be a very clear cut thing. The definition of when you get Social Security disability is when you’re unable, due to medical reasons, unable to do any job in the economy. That’s a very clear definition — any job in the economy.”
Currently, more than six in 100 Americans receive Social Security disability benefits. As recently as 25 years ago, fewer than three were. Lankford said, at the current pace, the Social Security disability programs will be insolvent within 18 months.
“It’s accelerating towards insolvency because there’s so many people that are getting into the system that, basically, either can’t find a job or don’t want to get a job and so they’re trying to go through the disability system to just get lifetime benefits and try to use it as unemployment,” Lankford said.
“It was never designed to be unemployment, it was designed to be for the truly disabled.”