A few years ago, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) created the Division of Quality (“DQ”) and Quality Review Branch (“QRB”), which has increased the number of Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) decisions that the Appeals Council reviews on its “own motion.” The ostensible purpose of the DQ was to ensure greater consistency among ALJ decisions. However, as more time progresses, it has become apparent that the true purpose is to try to reduce the number of ALJ decisions that get approved.
My experience and that of my colleagues has been that the DQ has only reviewed clients’ ALJ decisions that have approved disability benefits. Several ALJs have told me that since the DQ was formed, the SSA has been demanding greater justification for approving disability claims, and statistics corroborate that ALJs have been pressured into significantly decreasing their approval rates during the same time period.
The problem is that the SSA is supposed to be a neutral and non-adversarial agency. The DQ should be checking to see that ALJ decisions denying disability benefits are supportable with the same frequency that it checks ALJ decisions approving disability benefits. This lack of mutuality simply amplifies the cynicism about a claimant’s increasing difficulty of receiving a full and fair hearing process.