When you pursue disability benefits, you will be asked to fill out numerous forms by Social Security. You will find that many of these forms are repetitive – they seem to ask for the same information over and over.
Having spent a good deal of time with SSA’s forms (I wrote a book about how to fill them out properly), my guess is that this redundancy arises from the overall dysfunction at the Social Security Administration. Someone, in some far away office somewhere in the country, was given the assignment of heading up a team to update SSA’s disability forms. Government agencies rarely simplify anything so this nameless bureaucrat and his/her comrades no doubt spent months changing the format and the fonts, and adding questions to the forms.
Since there are only so many ways to ask you for an explanation why you believe you are disabled, the new forms ask for the same information 5 or 6 different ways.
With a few exceptions discussed below, I am not convinced that anyone with any decision making power actually reads your responses to these forms but you have to fill them out. Continue reading →
I want to explain why you need an “elevator speech” for your Social Security disability case.
If you are not familiar with the term elevator speech, it comes from the world of job search. Imagine that you are in need of a job and you find yourself in an elevator with the CEO of a company that would be a perfect fit for your skills and education. You have a 45 second elevator ride to introduce yourself to the CEO, tell him (or her) who you are, and how you would be the ideal candidate for a job at his company.
45 seconds is not a lot of time – you need to cut out the fluff and convince this busy CEO why you would be a benefit to his company.
You should use this same approach when you are communicating with Social Security and especially when you are testifying to a judge. They have something you want – the power to award you life changing disability benefits. So it stands to reason that you need to make the claims adjudicator or the judge’s life easy by demonstrating how you fit SSA’s definition of disability.
Focus on Social Security’s Definition of Disability
Fortunately, you don’t have to guess about what they need – Social Security tells us in clear terms that in order to qualify for disability you have to prove that you are unable to reliably perform the duties of even a simple, entry-level job because of a medically determinable condition. You also have to prove that your job limiting condition has lasted or is expected to law at least 12 consecutive months or result in death. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
When 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. Continue reading →
With approval rates on the decline at hearing offices throughout the country, disability lawyers and their clients have to find creative and compelling evidence to make their cases stand out.
In my practice I regularly look for evidence beyond medical records and medical source statements. Often times you can find very convincing evidence in the form of employee files, school records, statements from former co-workers and supervisors and claimant maintained pain diaries.
Now, to be sure, judges are most concerned about your medical record and how your medical issues impact your capacity to work. However your doctor’s main concern when keeping medical records tends to focus on medical issues alone – rarely will medical records contain the specific vocational capacity observations or opinions that judges rely upon.
We can ask your doctor complete a functional capacity evaluation or narrative report (often at a cost of several hundred dollars) but some doctors do not wish to get involved in disability matters and others don’t feel equipped to make vocational capacity conclusions.
This is where unconventional evidence comes in. Continue reading →
You have probably heard that the Social Security disability trust fund will run out of money in 2016 and that all beneficiaries will face an across the board cut if Congress does not act. There are a number of relatively painless accounting moves Congress can make to shore up the system and the inability of our elected representatives to take action arises more from political grandstanding than concern about the numbers or concern about the truly interested parties – disabled people who have worked and paid money into the system but who are now unable to work.
One thing that everyone can agree upon is that the system needs help.
- Social Security recently announced that the $300 million computer system they purchased to run its massive bureaucracy does not work so that will have to be redone.
- The disability system uses a labor market analysis resource called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles to help judges understand if you have the capacity to function in the working world. Unfortunately the D.O.T. was last updated in 1991 and includes such occupations as typewriter repairperson, telegram messenger and horse-and-wagon driver.
- The approval rate among judges within the same hearing office can vary wildly. For example in the Atlanta downtown hearing office, there is one judge who approves 3% of cases assigned to him while another judge two doors over approves 66% of his cases. How would you like to see Judge 3% on your hearing notice?
Unfortunately with all the political grandstanding, the academics are coming out of the woodwork with their observations and solutions. This past week Professor Mark Warshawsky and economics grad student Ross Marchand published an editorial in the Wall Street Journal basically asserting that disability claimants can easily game a fraud riddled system.
While The Warshawsky/Marchand piece fits a certain narrative it is so riddle with factual errors that one questions what research standards now apply in academia. Continue reading →
This is the video segment about Social Security disability delays, hosted by investigative reporter Randy Travis of Atlanta’s Fox 5 TV. Travis highlights what most Social Security disability lawyers already know – that the judge assigned to your case could mean more than the medical records in terms of whether or not you receive benefits.
In the Atlanta downtown hearing office, there are judges who approve less than 20% of cases, and judges who approve more than 70%. So two identical claimants – each with the exact same medical issues – would likely get different results based solely on the luck of the draw.
And you are going to wait – often two years or longer – before you even get the chance to appear before that judge.
While there are other problems with the SSD process, Mr. Travis’ report highlights two of the biggest issues – the wildly divergent approval rates by judges within the same hearing office and the outrageous delays.
Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5
Greg writes: “I have seen many if not all of your YouTube videos and have to say you probably are the best disability lawyer on there. My case is rather unusual in the sense that I do not have one injury, I have three. I have a bad back, one herniated disk that causes a lot of pain for me and three bulging disks that are bad in their own right. My right hip is bad and needs replacement, I am on year 6 since it’s discovery. I also have two feet that have chronic pain from bad plantar fasciitis that have both been operated on with little to no success.”
“How on earth do I and my lawyers tackle this in a manner in which I can get approved ??? Should I have my primary doctor do a functional test on me for all three injuries or have each specialist do a functional test on each injury? Secondly is an MRI going to sway a judge more than an X-ray when these days X-ray specialists write their findings and send it to the treating doctors themselves.”
“Any advice would be much appreciated, and keep up your great work with helping us needy and injured.”
Greg, here are my thoughts. First, thanks for the kind words about my YouTube channel. I do put a lot of effort into creating these videos and I appreciate your positive feedback.
As far as your medical issues are concerned, I would defer to your lawyer who obviously can review and assess your medical problems. Speaking generally, however, my experience has been that it would likely be an uphill battle to base your disability case on planar faciitis since that condition is usually not totally disabling. It can eliminate categories of jobs that require more than minimal standing and walking but probably not sitting jobs. Continue reading →