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SSA judge investigated over SSD approval rate

Back in June, we wrote about a Social Security Administration judge who resigned from his position after the SSA launched an investigation into his high approval rate for Social Security Disability appeals. Now, the state's U.S. attorney has begun to investigate whether the administrative law judge received any improper payments in exchange for awarding SSD benefits to applicants who should not have qualified for them.

There are approximately 1,500 SSA administrative law judges in California and across the country. On average, those judges approve about 60 percent of SSD appeals that are heard in their courtrooms. According to the Wall Street Journal report that first called attention to the issue, the judge had an almost 100 percent approval rate during the first six months of the 2011 fiscal year, as we discussed in our earlier SSD blog post. In addition, he heard more cases than most SSD judges, adding to the suspicion.

Following that report, the SSA inspector general launched a full-scale investigation into the judge, seizing documents and computers from the local SSA office. According to a new Wall Street Journal report, other employees in the office had been complaining about the judge's high approval rates.

In addition, they claim that he assigned himself several cases that had been filed by a specific Social Security Disability attorney. In 2010, that attorney was the third highest-paid SSD lawyer in the country, bringing in nearly $4 million dollars. Because disability attorneys generally only receive payments when their clients are awarded benefits, this has led many to believe that the judge was receiving kickbacks for approving the appeals of the lawyer's clients.

Now, that investigation has been passed on to the U.S. attorney. In addition, federal prosecutors have already begun to present some of the details of the case to a grand jury.

After being placed on indefinite administrative leave, the judge retired in July.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Ex-Judge's Disability Rulings Probed," Damian Paletta, Nov. 25, 2011

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