Don’t Tolerate Benefits Fraud

Too many Americans stereotype West Virginians as welfare bums eager to live off the public dole rather than work for a living. Every anecdote about a Mountain State resident collecting benefits fraudulently reinforces that vastly unfair, inaccurate attitude.

Now, because the national news media are paying attention to a case that outrages the vast majority of West Virginians, too, there is new fodder for the stereotype mill. Never mind that, in a way, Mountain State whistleblowers may have attempted to stop the abuse themselves. And never mind that the federal government seems to be excusing it.

A retired Social Security hearing examiner from Huntington, David B. Daugherty, for a few years approved virtually every disability benefits claim that appeared on his desk. In 2010, he allowed more than 1,200 claims, while rejecting only four. During the same period of time, 31 other hearing examiners handling similar cases in West Virginia rejected nearly half the claims.

Published reports have stated hundreds of claimants whose benefits were approved by Daugherty were handled by a

Kentucky lawyer linked to him. The attorney earned about $4.5 million in fees for handling the cases. Taxpayers paid the bill for that.

Daugherty testified before a congressional hearing – but refused to explain the source of tens of thousands of dollars of income.

The situation stinks to the high heavens.

That is precisely what two Social Security clerks working in the Huntington office thought. In 2011, they used the federal False Claims Act to file a whistleblower lawsuit against Daugherty and the Kentucky lawyer.

Now, one might have expected the Social Security Administration to come down hard on Daugherty, to send a message to other agency officials, crooked lawyers and people filing fraudulent claims for benefits. But that is not what happened.

Daugherty was allowed to retire.

Clearly, the matter should not end there. Federal investigators should look into the judge and the Kentucky attorney. If they were involved in a criminal scheme – and something fishy certainly seems to have occurred – they should be prosecuted and punished severely.