Arkansas Launches Program To Prevent Disability Fraud

Federal investigator Robert Felt, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and state Sen. Missy Irvin at Tuesday's announcement at the Capitol.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced the creation of the Arkansas Cooperative Disability Investigations Program (CDI), a joint state-federal initiative to prevent fraud in disability programs administered by the federal Social Security Administration (SSA).

According to Rutledge, Arkansas is now the 29th CDI unit to take part in the federal initiative, which began in 1998 to investigate questionable statements and activities of Social Security claimants, medical providers and other parties to prevent potential fraud in the federal program.

Flanked by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Rep. Missy Irwin, R-Mountain View, and Robert Feldt, special agent in charge of the SSA Office of the Inspector General, at a State Capitol press conference, Rutledge said the program came out of the need to root out “cheaters” in the state’s SSA disability program.

“In visiting Arkansans across all 75 counties, I can assure that … we believe in helping those in needs and helping our neighbors in time of tragedy and heartache, and that people should receive help when they need,” she said. “But, Arkansans also don’t like cheaters – especially cheaters who take from programs that help people who need the assistance and threaten the program’s very existence for future generations.”

Rutledge continued: “Unfortunately. Some people try to cheat the system and lie about their ability to work and unfairly steal resources from those who need it.”

Arkansas’ top law enforcement official said the goal of the program is to bring Arkansas’ disability claims more in line with the national average. Nearly 11% percent of the state’s Social Security recipients received some type of disability, Rutledge said, almost double the national average of 6%.

The Arkansas Attorney General said the newly created state CDI program will be jointly run by the AG’s office, the SSA Dallas Regional Office, the SSA Office of the Inspector General, and the Arkansas Disability Determination for SSA.

In addition, the new program will be entirely funded by the Social Security Administration, which will pay for the salaries, benefits and vehicles for three Arkansas employees from the AG’s office to be a part of the CDI unit. Rutledge said the Arkansas participants from her office will include two law enforcement officials and one fraud analyst.

The team will be led by a special agent from the SSA Inspector General’s office, along with a SSA program specialist and an employee from the Arkansas Disability Determination staff. They will work together to evaluate and investigate suspicious disability claims, and also identify lawyers, doctors and other third parties who facilitate fraudulent activity, officials said.

Rutledge said the unit’s findings from future investigations may also result in criminal or civil prosecution, fines of $5,000 for each false statement made to receive benefits, and other SSA administrative sanctions, including withholding future federal aid.

Rep. Missy Irvin, who Rutledge credited with initiating the efforts to create a CDI program in Arkansas, also spoke at the press conference about the need for the program in Arkansas. She said that the new fraud unit is important to protecting the sustainability of the Social Security system.

“It is critical that we maintain this program,“ Irwin said, citing reports projecting a shortfall in the Social Security trust fund by 2016. “Not only is this unit important in detecting fraud … but it is really important that we take steps now for future generations and those how really need it.”

According to Feldt, the new CDI unit will be located at the federal building in Little Rock. He said the existing units in 28 states and Puerto Rico have contributed to more than $3.2 billion in projected savings to the Social Security disability program and $2.2 billion in project savings to non-SSA program, including state-funded Medicaid programs. Nationwide, the SSA doles out more than $185 billion annually to disability claimants, Irwin said.

Staying in the background, Gov. Hutchinson gave credit to Rutledge and Irwin for spearheading the joint state-federal partnership. “I am just here to say ‘Amen,’” he said jokingly.

The governor also said that he was excited about this new initiative, citing it as a positive example of the state and federal government working together to save taxpayers’ dollars and protect the integrity of Social Security system.

“I am excited about this initiative. “This is a partnership that is not in every state,” he said. “We are greatly pleased to have this partnership in Arkansas to reduce fraud. We’ve got to do better, and protect the integrity of the program.”