Incompetence at the Social Security Administration (SSA) has cost taxpayers millions, according to a new report that highlights cases of easily identifiable fraud in the program.
The report, released Tuesday by the nonprofit advocacy organization Our Generation, documented 10 examples of fraud in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, totaling $8,321,190.
"All too often, the Social Security Administration fails to weed out legitimate disability claimants from those who are capable of working and are attempting to defraud the system by receiving regular income without having to get a job," the report said. "As a result, countless Americans are scamming SSDI by collecting taxpayer-funded disability benefits improperly."
Ronnie George of Kent, Wash., received disability for 21 years after pretending to be mentally disabled.
George fooled SSA workers by writing on his application that he liked to "watch Sesame Street" and play with "my cars and cowboys and G.I. Joes."
His common law wife, Nancy Stone, played the role of his caregiver, and they collected $139,000 after the SSA failed to verify the story.
Srinivas Samak, a doctor in Lakeland, Fla., also cheated the system by continuing to accept patients only three months after he said he could no longer work due to a medical condition. Individuals are only eligible for SSDI if they are unable to work, and earn less than $1,040 a month. Samak deceived the SSA out of $114,488.
"How difficult would it have been to uncover Samak’s fraud? Not very," the report said. "A simple call to Samak’s office would have revealed that he was seeing patients regularly. Apparently that was too tall of a task for the bureaucrats at the Social Security office."
"The laziness and incompetence of the SSA’s investigators cost law-abiding Americans more than $110,000," the report said.
Other examples include Raymond E. Salva, who was able to collect $58,917 in disability payments while serving as a Democrat in the Missouri state legislature, and James W. Smith, who faked suffering from dementia to collect $144,293 in Minnesota.
The report also documents a $6 million fraud ring in Puerto Rico that ended with the arrests of 75 people in August.
Roman Ceniceros-Mora used a "homemade" Purple Heart certificate to make the SSA believe he was a disabled Vietnam War hero, collecting $128,000 over the course of nearly two decades.
Ceniceros-Mora never served in the Marines and was actually an illegal immigrant who was deported in 1990. After sneaking back into the country just weeks later, he used at least three false identities to continue to live in the United States until 2010.
"SSDI is particularly susceptible to these types of defrauders, because the program provides a reliable income stream," the report said. "This story is proof that the Social Security Administration needs to take a closer look at everyone seeking disability benefits, even those who seem the most worthy."
"Social Security Disability Insurance is meant to provide assistance to Americans who are unable to work due to physical or mental disabilities," the report concluded. "Unfortunately, this well-intentioned program has ballooned into a $135 billion bureaucracy rife with waste, fraud and abuse."