The North Charleston, SC Office of Hearings Operations hears cases from parts of North Carolina as well.
Sick and injured workers face a brutal game of chance when they apply for federal disability benefits: their odds hinge as much on the judge they are assigned as on the facts of their case.
American workers give 6 percent of their paychecks to the Social Security Administration just in case they lose their jobs to injury or illness. But, in the end, it’s a government judge, not a doctor, who will decide whether a condition is serious enough to warrant benefits.
Allowed wide discretion with little oversight, judges come to wildly different decisions.
It’s a consequential game of roulette, and it can take years for the wheel to stop spinning. Draw one judge and you’re all but guaranteed access to life-saving benefits. Draw another and you may have little chance at all.
Thousands of Americans every year will face a judge who operates in extremes, a Post and Courier analysis shows. Nationwide, some judges approve just 9 percent of the cases that come before them; others, as much as 96 percent.
This raises the risk that thousands of dollars a year are sent to people who don’t deserve benefits, while others who do deserve them are languishing in a backlog of rejections.