Professionals Abuse Social Security Programs

October 14, 2013

In 1993, Eric Christopher Conn opened a legal practice in a small trailer in rural Eastern Kentucky. Mr. Conn would go on to build one of the largest and most lucrative disability practices in the nation. A two-year investigation of his actions representing claimants applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits uncovered a raft of improper practices by the Conn law firm to obtain disability benefits, inappropriate collusion between Mr. Conn and a Social Security Administrative Law Judge, and inept agency oversight that enabled the misconduct to continue for years, says a recent report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs.

Since at least 2006, Judge David B. Daugherty had a practice of coordinating with Mr. Conn to create what was referred to as a "DB List," which was a list of Mr. Conn's clients that the judge planned to approve for benefits that month. After deciding which claimants would be on the month's DB List, Judge Daugherty personally telephoned Mr. Conn's office, provided the claimant list to one of Mr. Conn's employees, and indicated whether the claimants needed to provide additional medical evidence of a "mental" or "physical" ailment. Within days, Mr. Conn scheduled the listed claimants to see one of the several doctors he paid to provide medical assessments. These doctors almost invariably concluded that the claimant was disabled. In most cases, the doctors simply signed and dated a medical form that had been filled out ahead of time by Mr. Conn's office.

  • Inside the Social Security Administration's Huntington Office of Disability Adjudication and Review ("Huntington ODAR"), some noticed how Judge Daugherty gave Mr. Conn's cases special treatment.
  • Whereas most judges held 15 to 20 randomly assigned hearings in a week, each lasting an hour or more, Judge Daugherty scheduled as many as 20 hearings for Mr. Conn's clients in a single day.
  • The evidence indicates that the entire process, from the time a Conn claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge on a denied claim to the issuing of a favorable decision by Judge Daugherty, took as little as 30 days. During the same period, waiting times for claimants nationally, as well as others with cases before the Huntington ODAR, averaged well over one year.
  • At the height of his success in 2010, Mr. Conn employed nearly 40 people and obtained more than $3.9 million in legal fees from the Social Security Administration (SSA), making him the agency's third highest paid disability lawyer that year.

While the events that unfolded at SSA's Huntington ODAR paint an unappealing picture of corruption, fraud and favoritism in that office, they also call attention to the need for specific steps to be taken by the Social Security disability programs to prevent this type of wrongdoing from recurring.

Source: "How Some Legal, Medical, and Judicial Professionals Abused Social Security Disability Programs for the Country's Most Vulnerable: A Case Study of the Conn Law Firm," U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, October 7, 2013.

 

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