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Q&A: Reports on Social Security disability can often be misleading

A report earlier this month by television newsmagazine 60 Minutes looked at the Social Security disability programs. Instead of portraying an even-keeled look at the modern system, the broadcast was biased and anecdote-based, relying on rare cases of judges and lawyers who try to defraud the system. Seemingly no attempt was made to get comment from the Social Security Administration and no recipients of SSD payments were interviewed.

Harold W. Conick, a Chicagoland attorney who works on disability cases across the country for the past three decades, saw the report and felt it warranted a response from someone who knows the system. Conick answered a few questions on the report and the subject of fraud in the Social Security disability field.

Why did you not like the 60 Minutes report?

That it was inaccurate. It portrayed the Social Security disability system is full of fraud when the reality is the great majority, say 99.8 percent of the parties, lawyers, judges and staff are honest and following the law.

How does this hurt the system?

It has the chilling effect of portraying the entire system in a bad light, thereby attempting to discourage people from applying for benefits they might be rightfully applying for. It also defames the judiciary system and attorneys in the process.

Has coverage of topics involving SSD been OK in general?

Not very good. There’s been a lot of pressure on the SSA and administrative law judges to tighten the benefit approval rate, I believe. It’s because of a combination of the economy plus people accusing the system of being full of fraud.

More politicized than it should be?

I think it’s more politicized than it should be. In a perfect world, administrative law judges should be an independent agency not tied to any bureaucratic body, except for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Is there much corruption in the system as it stands?

No I don’t think there is much or any corruption in the system itself, From the administrative side, the judges or staff. Or from the legal side; the lawyers that practice in the area. It’s overblown. They [60 Minutes] had to search the world over to find a corrupt judge and a corrupt lawyer out of thousands. They didn’t really talk to anybody else. They talked to some people from one of the large disability law factories and they talked to a couple of the judges. Why’d they only talk to a couple?

What do you think is needed to clear up misconceptions about SSD?

More media from the disability representative attorneys. My criticism of the Social Security system is that it is slow, but it’s actually fairly speedy compared to other agencies like the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It works pretty well, its just slow.

Do you think negative reports could lead to less funding of SSA in the future?

If it has an influence on certain legislators, whether they consider how they should vote on continued funding or not; that’s why it’s damaging to having a report like this unresponded to. Other places aren’t 60 Minutes. They can’t have a 10 minute national slam. They can’t have an equal response. It stands, unfortunately. It’s one sided journalism.