Social Security disability benefits are generally designed to help people who are unable to work because of a disability. All government agencies that review disability claims consult with physicians to assess the medical fitness of claimants.
Concerns have been raised about:
- SSA’s oversight of state advisers, and
- Whether paying contract consultants per claim affects the quality of their work.
SSA cannot be sure that government agency advisers are qualified and trained to make appropriate decisions about disability claims.
SSA policy requires government agencies to screen their advisors by comparing them to a database of individuals barred from participating in federal programs. Also, SSA policy sets requirements for government agencies to provide initial and continuing education. However, government agencies told us they don’t always do that.
Out of 52 agencies:
- 14 said they did not perform the required checks on consultants consistently, either upon hiring or annually, and
- Nine said they had not provided consultants with any element of the required initial or refresher training.
We also looked at whether paying consultants on a per-claim basis rather than an hourly or salary rate – which 19 agencies do – affects the quality of their work. Our analysis of SSA data found no conclusive evidence of a relationship between how a state pays counselors and the quality of disability decisions in each state.
State Employment of Disability Counselors
We researched disability claims assessment agencies in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. We also analyzed state-by-state SSA quality assurance data, reviewed SSA policies and relevant federal laws and regulations, and interviewed SSA and agency officials in several states.