Even as its essential trust funds approach insolvency, the Social Security Administration (SSA) is too often awarding disability benefits without adequately or properly reviewing applications, according to a congressional investigation.
According to a report by the Republican staff of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, a "flood" of new applications for disability benefits is largely to blame for the lack of proper oversight and control of benefits awarded through the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.
The SSDI program pays monthly benefits to medically disabled workers who have not yet reached their Social Security retirement age. Currently, about 10.8 million Americans - over 19% of all Social Security recipients, are getting SSDI benefits.
In 2011, total payments in SSDI benefits grew to almost $129 billion and SSA estimates that benefit payments will exceed $134 billion in 2012.
New applications for SSDI disability benefits filed by persons ages 25 to 64 increased to 18 per 1,000 in 2011, up from 8 per 1,000 in 1990. As a result of the growing backlog of new applications, many disabled workers now must wait as long as two years before their applications are acted upon, according to the report.
"Amid all the statistics, one thing is clear," states the report, "more Americans than ever are turning to the disability programs to make ends meet and more work is needed to ensure scarce benefits go only to the disabled."
"Every person who is wrongfully added to the disability rolls by the agency takes money out of the pockets of the disabled," noted the report.
In its investigation of 300 actual cases in which disability benefits had been awarded, the congressional staff found that over 25% of the decisions had "failed to properly address insufficient, contradictory or incomplete evidence."
In many of the cases investigated, SSA officials approved disability benefits without citing adequate medical evidence supporting the decision or explaining the medical basis for the decision, according to the report.
In their report to the subcommittee, the Republican staff called on Congress to take specific steps to ensure the financial sustainability of the SSDI disability insurance program.
Should Congress fail to act, "everyone loses," warns the report. "Taxpayers will bear heavier costs; the Social Security Administration will have to do more with less; and most worrisome, there will be nothing left to give to those who need it most."