Rooting out disability fraud a cultural change for W.Va.
MARTINSBURG – Every hand in the room shot up when West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey asked if anyone knew of someone who was getting disability benefits, but shouldn’t be.
“We’ve heard a lot about disability fraud in the Eastern Panhandle,” Morrisey said. “We want to pursue fraud before the money goes out the door. If you have a legitimate disability, you have nothing to worry about. If you don’t, you have something to worry about.”
He was talking with a small, but attentive audience Tuesday evening during his end-of-year consumer protection update at the attorney general’s regional office in Martinsburg. A range of subjects were discussed during the town hall meeting.
Morrisey recently announced a partnership of his office with the Social Security Administration and its Office of Inspector General to form a Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit in Charleston to identify and prevent Social Security disability fraud throughout West Virginia.
He said that according to 2011 statistics, 9 percent of West Virginia residents are on disability, which is nearly twice the national average of 4.6 percent. He did not have a dollar amount for how much fraud is suspected in West Virginia.
“It’s significant,” Morrisey said after the town hall-style meeting. “West Virginia has needed to go after fraud. We need to change the culture. Disability fraud is a generational issue. By forming this CDI Unit, we’re sending the message that disability fraud will not be tolerated in West Virginia.”
Since the CDI program was established in 1997, 37 units have been created in 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to information provided by Morrisey’s office. CDI’s efforts have contributed to $3.3 billion in projected savings to Social Security programs and $2.2 billion in projected savings to related non-Social Security programs, according to the information.
The West Virginia unit will consist of six members, he said. The unit will have two investigators and one research analyst from the attorney general’s office; one Disability Determination Services staff member from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources; one staff member from the Social Security Administration; and one staff member from the SSA’s Office of Inspector General.
The estimated cost of the attorney general’s staff is $250,000 to $325,000, Morrisey said. His office will be reimbursed by the Social Security Administration for those costs, he said.
When someone applies for disability benefits, the CDI Unit will investigate the claim and report to the DHHR’s Disability Determination Services, he said. Morrisey’s office will not recommend nor decide who qualifies for disability benefits, he said.
The additional investigative operation will hopefully weed out those who do not deserve disability benefits before they are approved.
Morrisey’s office will not be involved in the prosecution of civil or criminal actions resulting from its investigation, he said. Cases that need to be prosecuted would be referred to the U.S. attorney’s office by SSA, he said.
However, the West Virginia unit’s investigations could lead to civil or criminal charges, he said.
“We will not delay benefits for those who qualify,” Morrisey said. “We don’t want to deny benefits to those who qualify. One of our goals is to preserve the resources for those who deserve it. This is an important cultural change for West Virginia. It’s not going to change overnight, but we need to get the system locked in now.”
Morrisey also held a town hall meeting in Ranson on Tuesday evening.