Social Security disability claim judges have been told by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that they can no longer go online to search for information or verification when deciding a case. The ban includes all websites and social media sites like Facebook.
The reason given was that the online information available to reviewers was not reliable and that simply typing in the query could possibly compromise the privacy of protected information.
Some judges had started to follow applicants' online trail in a bid to decide whether they were hyping up the physical limitations caused by their disability in the application.
US Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said that the SSA was giving up a valuable tool to prevent fraud. He added that if an individual claims to be disabled and then posts a picture on a social media site that shows the same individual participating in sports or other physical activities, then this information should be used to decline the claim.
But SSA officials said that they do not want the main decision makers who approve or reject a Social Security disability benefits application to go around looking for online verification of the information provided. That, they say, is a job best left as a follow-up for fraud investigators.
The initial application for disability benefits is decided by a Disability Determination Services (DDS) team, which comes under the state and not the SSA. If an application is rejected by the DDS team, the applicant ahs the option of asking for a review.
This is where a judge in the SSA Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) comes into the picture. The odds of an appeal being approved by an ODAR judge are better than even, but some judges are known to be very lenient.
One former judge, David B. Daugherty, had a 99.7 percent approval rate for all claims that came before him in Fiscal Year 2011. After the Wall Street Journal published a story about his record, Daugherty resigned his position as a Social Security disability benefits judge.
Did you know?
ODAR has 1,300 administrative law judges and 7,000 support staff.
The 1,300 judges hold hearings in 169 offices, in addition to 10 regional offices and 5 national hearing centers. They can also travel to local Social Security offices to conduct hearings on-site, if required.