July 1, 2016

Social Security Disability Claims for Applicants Under Age 50: is there Hope for Approval?

 

There is no question that Social Security has made it much more difficult to qualify for disability benefits. Statistically, hearing approval rates have dropped from 62% in 2010 to 45% in 2015, which is a significant drop. There is one hopeful sign: approval rates by judges nationally in 2014 were also 45% which suggests that the trend is not getting worse.

No doubt our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. have been putting pressure on Social Security officials to keep approval rates down. The disability trust fund came close to running out of money in 2016, but at the last minute was shored up when Congress transferred funds into the disability funds from other accounts.  There is also a widespread perception that judges have been too lenient in approving claims, and there have been a few high profile cases of outright fraud (although these cases capture a lot of attention they represent only a tiny fraction of awards).

In my practice I definitely sense that administrative law judges give much more scrutiny to claims of younger individuals – Social Security defines “younger individual” as anyone under the age of 50. No doubt, SSA administrators regularly remind judges that a 30 year old approved claimant will be drawing on the trust fund for another 30 years, whereas a 55 year old claimant will likely draw on the fund for only 7 or 8 years.

So, if you are under the age of 50, you will have more of an uphill battle. However, disability judges regularly approve younger claimants if the medical and other evidence directs a finding of disability. Here the most important factors that I consider when evaluating a claim by a younger individual: [Read More…]

Musculoskeletal Injuries: How Severely Impaired Must I Be?

spine injury

Intentionally or not, the Social Security Administration has done a good job selling the idea that winning disability benefits is extremely hard. Bloggers (including me) write about the long delays and the arbitrary nature of decisions and the possibility of drawing a judge who would not approve a deathbed claimant.

Clearly, claimants without compelling medical evidence are having an increasingly difficult time winning. Ten years ago, judges were much more likely to accept your testimony about your work activity limitations – now, judges are looking for extensive medical evidence.

I often hear from, or end up representing disability claimants who have been denied at the administrative (initial application or reconsideration) and who are about ready to give up. Ironically, many of these claimants have cases that are likely to be approved because the medical evidence is so compelling.

Recently, I received an email from a gentleman named Kevin who was turned down at reconsideration, and wants to know what I think about his chances. I don’t have access to his specific medical records but, after reading his case summary, I would be shocked if he was denied. I would guess that 95% + of judges that I might see would approve this case after submission of a brief or after a brief hearing.

As I have discussed before in writing and on video, the state agency adjudicators are not judges and they do not have the experience or authority to make value judgments. Adjudicators are looking for listing level impairments without any reservations. [Read More…]

How Your Hearing Testimony Can Help Win Your Disability Benefits Case

Social Security disability hearings generally last less than an hour, but the agency’s hearing backlog currently averages over 18 months in many locations. When you add the 8 to 12 months it takes for SSA to conduct its administrative review, most disability claimants won’t see the inside of a courtroom for over 2 years from the date they apply for benefits.

If you are waiting 2 to 3 years for your chance to spend an hour with a judge, you cannot afford to waste time or come to your hearing unprepared. Nevertheless, far too many disability claimants waste or misuse the precious time they have with the judge by testifying ineffectually. [Read More…]

Should You be Concerned About “Trick Questions” from the Social Security Disability Judge?

Back in May, 2014 I released a video about trick questions from Social Security disability judges and I continue to receive a great deal of feedback and comments on that video. In the 2014 video I talked about one type of trick questions but there are many examples you should know about – thus this new video.

My experience has been that disability judges are not trying to treat you unfairly with their questions, but instead, use their experience and knowledge to ask probing and incisive questions. More specifically they want to assess your credibility by asking questions to which they already know the answer so they can see how you respond.

Many of these questions relate to your medical record – comments you may have made to your doctor about work attempts, stopping bad habits like smoking or marijuana use, or even about how you are feeling on a particular day.  You may have forgotten about that quick conversation you had with your doctor 2 years ago, but there is a good possibility that your doctor wrote down the substance of what you said. [Read More…]

Peyton Manning and Your Social Security Disability Hearing

peyton manning and your social security disability hearingWhen your Social Security disability hearing is scheduled, you can help your cause by thinking about Peyton Manning while you prepare for your hearing date.

Manning, as you probably know, recently retired from the National Football league after 18 seasons, capped off by a league championship this past February.

But Peyton’s greatness and success on the football field is not especially relevant to your disability case. Instead, his focus and drive in coming back from a serious neck injury and four (4) neck surgeries, including a disc fusion, are worthy of review.

Peyton could have retired after his September, 2011 surgery. Following this surgery and continuing to this day, he has no feeling in the fingertips of his throwing hand. When he first started rehabbing, he could barely throw a football 10 yards and was in constant pain.

Had Peyton retired in 2011 or 2012 no one would have questioned his decision, nor would his status as a hall of famer been challenged. [Read More…]

How to Choose the Right Onset Date for Your Disability Claim

alleged onset dateWhen you apply for disability benefits, one of the first questions that Social Security will ask you is “when did you become disabled?” or “what onset date do you want to use?”  Social Security calls this date your alleged onset date and it will be used throughout the course of your disability claim.

Interestingly, many of my clients tell me that this question caught them off guard – what date should they choose? Sometimes, as we approach a hearing date I may discover that we have to change, or amend, the onset date. But, as you will see, it is much better to choose the right onset date early on as opposed to changing it later.

What is the “Best” Onset Date for Your Disability Claim?

Social Security will find that you are disabled if the symptoms arising from your medical problems make it impossible for you to work. Thus, your onset date ought to be the day when you could no longer perform the duties of any type of work even a simple, entry-level job. [Read More…]