So I have been one Senator’s plan to restore fiscal balance to the government by finding exciting new ways to save the government money (I know, I know, I need a some more interesting things to do besides read a 600 page deficit reduction plan). One idea seems particularly troubling to social security recipients. That idea is to remove the provision which allows a person who is cut off from social security benefits to continue to receive monthly benefits until that person has a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. Some would argue that this provision that allows one to keep receiving benefits until they have a chance for a full and fair hearing prior to having benefits taken away is constitutionally required.
Senator Tom Coburn released a 621 page report that, in his words “…provides a plan to put the U.S. back in black by identifying $9 trillion in very specific savings that can be achieved over the next decade.” The full report can be found here: Back In Black: A Deficit Reduction Plain, by Senator Tom Coburn.
Continuing Disability Reviews, also known as CDRs, occur periodically after one wins his or her disability case. This is a mechanism where Social Security reviews a person’s file to see if he or she is still disabled under the rules. Essentially, the Social Security Administration is looking to see if there has been a medial improvement. For instance, if a person was awarded disability due to chronic back pain, but heals enough after surgery and proper medical care to the extent he or she can work full time again, Social Security would want to know.
Page 541 of Senator Coburn’s plan says:
When a beneficiary no longer qualifies as disabled, benefits should cease immediately. If the beneficiary chooses to appeal the decision, awarding back-pay is a smarter approach than for SSA to overpay a beneficiary and have to chase dollars already paid.
On its face, seems like a nice way to save money – don’t pay people who don’t deserve benefits. The problem with this stance is that Senator Coburn assumes that CDRs cessations are accurate. Let me give you an example. The last CDR appeal I had was where a young man suddenly stopped receiving benefits. When he went to the Social Security office, he was told a CDR was completed, and that due to his refusal to cooperate he was deemed to have medically improved to the point where he was able to work. After I was hired by this young man, I requested a copy of his file. When I was finally provided the documents that were allegedly sent to my client, it turned out they were sent to an address that was over three years old. His monthly checks always ended up going to his current address, but when Social Security decided it was ready to review his case, they didn’t bother sending the documents to my client.
If I recall correctly, it took about a year from the time we filed the appeal until our hearing was scheduled. At the hearing we explained what happened to the Administrative Law Judge, and presented additional evidence showing that my client was clearly disabled under the rules – as Social Security had decided years prior.
If Senator Coburn had his way my, client’s meager disability income would have been been reduced to zero dollars per month for about a year while his case sat and waited for Social Security to schedule a hearing.
B. Thomas Golden is a Michigan attorney who practices Social Security disability and SSI law. For more information, please call his office directly at (616)897-2900.