Oklahomans react to Sen. Tom Coburn's report on social security disability fraud
OKLAHOMA CITY —
Billions of taxpayer dollars tied to bogus social security disability claims. Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is sounding the alarm. He says about $32 billion a year spent on SSDI pays bogus claims.
In Monday's 160 page report Sen. Coburn details how a group of doctors, a lawyer and a judge in Kentucky conspired to defraud the federal government out of millions of dollars. They had an elaborate system of getting people benefits even if they didn't deserve them.
Sen. Coburn made his call for reform within the social security disability department both at the capital and on CBS' 60 Minutes.
"This is one area where congress can find common ground on much needed reform," said Sen. Coburn at Monday's senate hearing.
For the last two years, a subcommittee in congress has investigated abuses surrounding the approval process of social security disability benefits. Given the enormous oversight at a law firm in Kentucky, Sen. Coburn believes reform is needed.
"I think what Sen. Coburn is doing is great. I'm proud of him for doing it," said Oklahoma City attorney Joey Chiaf.
Chiaf praised Sen. Coburn but highly doubts fraud, like the one that happened in Kentucky, is happening here.
"The system here in Oklahoma is working. It's working well," Chiaf said. The ALJ's are doing a good job."
ALJ's, or administrative law judges, hear social security disability benefit cases. But Oklahoma's ALJ's are not perfect. In a 2012 report Sen. Coburn called out Judge Howard O'Bryan Jr's record. He approved 90%-100% of his cases. Sen. Coburn said if it continued Judge O'Bryan may face disciplinary action, and it worked. According to the Oklahoma Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Judge O'Bryan's approval rate for this year is now 26%.
FOX25 went to the Federal Building to talk with Oklahoma's ALJ's, but because of the government shutdown no one was there.
"The ALJ's care about it and they're not going to let that slip through," said Chiaf.
Chiaf believes Oklahoma ALJ's look through the evidence very closely and he doesn't know of any attorneys making deals with judges. Sen. Coburn points out any abuse to the system, no matter where it is, will affect all American taxpayers.
On CBS' 60 Minutes Sen. Coburn said, "My investigation tells me and my common sense tells me that we have a system that is being gamed pretty big right now."
As part of his reform, Sen. Coburn wants to include professionals in the social security administration to represent the government in decisions made by ALJ's He believes it would bring balance to both hearings and decisions.
There is a local agency in Oklahoma that is trying to cut down on fraud. Within the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services is a multi-agency team called Cooperative Disability Investigation or CDI. Since CDI started in 2011 the group has rooted out fraud and saved Oklahoma taxpayers $21.9 million.
Rehabilitation Services communication director Jody Harlan says last year CDI found a man who was bull riding and working as a day laborer while receiving benefits for loss of movement in his arm and a bad back. After the investigation was complete the man's benefits ended and appropriate action was taken.
"This program is intended for people who need help," said Harlan. If someone's going to defraud the government, it hurts the taxpayers. It hurts the social security budget. It hurts people who really need the benefits in order to survive."
Additionally, Rehabilitative Services offers a social security reimbursement program. For every person the organization helps get off social security disability, the social security administration will reimburse those rehabilitation costs. So far the program has saved our country more than $47 million in benefits that will not need to be paid.
In the last three years the program has helped get 435 people off social security disability. Despite all of Oklahoma's efforts to improve the system, Sen. Coburn still believes reform is needed. He says in just two years the social security disability fund could be depleted.