CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While a former Huntington Social Security judge has been accused of running a guaranteed benefits assembly line, records show West Virginia's 31 current appeals judges have rejected benefits more often than their counterparts nationwide.
On Monday, retired administrative law Judge David B. Daugherty was accused by Congressional investigators of scheming with a Kentucky lawyer to approve more than 1,800 cases from 2006 to 2010.
The lawyer, Eric Conn, received more than $4.5 million in attorney fees over that time, making him the third highest-paid disability lawyer in the country. Investigators also found about $96,000 in unexplained cash deposits in Daugherty's bank accounts over that time.
The investigation followed a 2011 Wall Street Journal report that called out Daugherty for approving all but about a half-dozen of the appeals that came before his court in the prior year. Daugherty stepped down from the bench shortly after the report was published.
A follow-up story highlighted West Virginia's top ranking for the greatest percentage — 8.8 percent — of its 18-to-64-year-old population receiving disability benefits.
While Daugherty approved all but a slim percentage of his cases, the state's 31 other administrative law judges have recently been denying cases at higher-than-average rates over the last year.
According to the latest data from the Social Security Administration's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, West Virginia's administrative law judges have denied benefits in more than 48 percent of the cases they have decided during the last fiscal year.
Since Oct. 1, 2012, the 31 judges in Huntington, Charleston and Morgantown have issued 9,274 decisions. Of those, 4,777 were decisions awarding benefits while 4,497 were denials.
Of the approvals, 4,386 were full benefit approvals, while 391 only partially approved some benefits.
The 52 percent of cases approved fell less than the national approval rate, which is about 56 percent, according to agency data. West Virginia's 48-percent denial rate compares to a national average of 44 percent.
According to Social Security data, there were 96,310 disabled workers collecting Social Security disability insurance benefits in 2012. About 24,000 spouses and children also received benefits through the program.
Those 120,000 recipients collected about $119 million in monthly benefits last year, according to Social Security data.
The separate Supplemental Security Income program paid a total of $42.9 million a month in benefits to 80,091 low-income West Virginians last year, according to agency data. Among those recipients, 25,711 also collected some other form of Social Security retiree, survivors or disability benefits on a monthly basis.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at busin...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.