Social Security disability judges are increasingly reluctant to award benefits to fibromyalgia claimants unless these claims meet a certain profile. Let me tell you about this profile – what is currently working for me in disability hearings I try here in the Atlanta area hearing offices. [Read more...]
This past Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a segment called Disability USA, in which correspondent Steve Kroft reported on the “alarming state of the federal disability program” which has exploded in size and is about to run out of money. Kroft interviewed Senator Tom Coburn (who is also a medical doctor), several current and former Social Security employees and former associate attorneys for a national law firm that advertises heavily 1.
The gist of the story is that hundreds of thousands of able-bodied people have been approved for disability and are costing taxpayers millions of dollars. Further, the story suggested that disability lawyers are culpable in the outsize growth of the disability program because they advertise heavily. Further, there was an implication that at least some disability lawyers game the system with inappropriate and/or illegal relationships with doctors and judges. Several of the judges and SSA employees interviewed opined that the disability program has devolved into a last resort unemployment program rather than one focused on people with serious disabilities.
I have no doubt that fair minded American taxpayers who have no experience with the disability program were and are appalled at a system which appears to be out of control and rife with fraud and manipulation. [Read more...]
I have been told I should qualify for disability because of my permanent restrictions set by my FCE. I was put in a light category. What do you think?
Here is my response:
First, let’s clarify what a functional capacity evaluation is and why it is important to Social Security. Functional capacity evaluations (abbreviated FCE) are a set of tests and evalautions designed to objectively determine your capacity to perform the physical demands of work 1. A physical FCE will categorize you as:
- able to perform heavy work
- able to perform medium work
- able to perform light work
- able to perform sedentary work
- unable to perform sedentary work
Social Security has defined each of these terms – click here for the definitions.
An FCE can be preformed by a rehabilitation supplier, a physical therapist or a physician. A formal FCE may involve one or two days of testing along with interpretation by a trained health care provider. An informal FCE may involve a checklist form completed by your doctor. [Read more...]
CBS News reports this morning that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will begin hearings on Thursday, June 27 about the role of administrative law judges in awarding benefits.
Critics of the current disability system point to SSA’s own statistics which show that judges currently approve slightly more than half of the claims brought before them (this is down from a 60% approval rate in 2010). Claims approved at hearings were previously rejected twice by state employees called adjudicators.
Critics also claim that too many judges are approving undeserving cases simply to clear out growing backlogs – the judges complain of quotas – which may delay a hearing date for longer than 12 months.
Over the past several months, I have noted that my SSDI clients are regularly being asked by judges if they have filed for unemployment benefits. This question used to come up occasionally in the past, but now my clients are almost always asked if they have filed or are receiving unemployment.
The issue is this: when you file for state unemployment, you must assert that you are ready, willing and able to work. In the past, I would counsel my client to answer the judge’s question by stating that “I am willing and anxious to try to work and I would put forward my best effort to perform any job. I don’t know if my medical condition would allow me to perform reliably but I would certainly try.”
Given that Social Security’s stated policy is to encourage people with disabilities to return to work, I do not see a huge inconsistency in a claimant who is applying for both unemployment and SSDI.
However, as is the case with part time work, Social Security tends to view things in an “either-or” fashion. You are disabled or you are not, and there seems to be no middle ground. [Read more...]
This year, I have represented three clients who use a cane either all of the time or most of the time but whose use of this assistive device was discounted by the judge because the cane was not prescribed by a physician.
The issue in your Social Security disability case is whether you can perform even a simple, entry-level type of job. Our goal, therefore, involves identifying specific limitations that would impact your ability to perform work.
If you cannot walk without a cane or walker, it stands to reason that you would not be able to perform jobs requiring:
- more than very occasional standing
- more than occasional walking
- climbing ladders, ropes or scaffolds
- kneeling, bending and stooping
- crouching and crawling
Further your need for a walking cane would support allegations of pain and other activity limitations (such as lifting and carrying) associated with back or knee injuries.
In short, if the judge accepts that you need a cane to walk, he will eliminate from consideration all jobs except sedentary (sit down) types of jobs.