Social Security Disability Process Can Be Daunting

The purpose of Social Security Disability benefits is to provide aid to those people who are unable to work due to a medical condition.  Unfortunately, many disabled people who meet the requirements are often turned down the first time they apply.  In fact, 65% of all initial claims for disability benefits are denied.

While there is an appeals process, it is very time-consuming, sometimes taking years to resolve.  Enlisting the assistance of an attorney at the beginning of the process can cut down on the amount of time spent waiting for a decision.

Even if an attorney is not retained during the initial phase,  seeking legal counsel during the appeals process  may decrease the overall amount of time it will take to obtain a decision and start receiving benefits.  In addition to the use of a lawyer, a basic knowledge of the disability determination process may also help shorten the wait.

Disability Process

An applicant’s file is reviewed by the Disability Determination Service in the applicant’s state. This group is composed of doctors and disability specialists who evaluate the application and then contact the applicant’s doctors to determine:

–        Status of the applicant’s medical condition

–        Date of onset of medical condition

–        Limitations resulting from medical condition

–        Results of medical tests

–        Treatment received

This group will review several other factors, including the severity of the medical condition, whether the applicant is currently working, and whether the applicant can perform any other type of employment.

In order to manage the system’s backlog, Compassionate Allowances (CAL) are granted for some terminal diseases that qualify from a list of 165 medical conditions (includes many types of cancer).   This system is meant to promptly provide a determination for benefits to obviously disabled applicants; however, even these applicants have been known to wait up to six months for benefits.

After the Social Security Administration has reviewed the application, they will issue a letter explaining whether an applicant has been found eligible for benefits or not. If benefits are denied, the decision can be appealed but it must be requested in writing within 60 days after the initial letter is received.

There are three levels of appeal for denied disability claims:

1.      Hearing by an administrative law judge

2.      Review by Appeals Council

3.      Federal court review

An applicant must begin with the hearing before moving to the next stages. If a hearing is granted, the applicant is allowed to attend, review the file used to make the decision and provide additional information. The administrative law judge may question the applicant and any witnesses the applicant chooses to bring along. After the hearing, the applicant will receive a letter and copy of the judge’s decision.

If another denial is issued, the applicant can appeal by requesting a review by the Social Security’s Appeals Council.  The council will review the information, but may deny the appeal without a hearing if it agrees with the administrative law judge’s determination.

The last step requires the applicant to file a lawsuit in federal district court.

In 2009, the initial determination took an average of four months. If appeals were required, they could take several years. Having the counsel of an experienced Social Security Disability attorney as early in the process as possible greatly increases the chance of receiving an accurate, timely decision, by helping to create an effective initial application and gathering the evidence needed for a successful appeal if needed.

The Lawyer Referral Service of the New Hampshire Bar Association can refer you to a competent attorney who specifically handles Social Security Disability claims and appeals.  Call 603-229-0002 or request and online referral.



SSA Adds New Compassionate Allowances Conditions

For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Social Security Announces New Conditions for

Compassionate Allowances Program

(Printer friendly version)

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced 52 new Compassionate Allowances conditions, primarily involving neurological disorders, cancers and rare diseases. The Compassionate Allowances program fast-tracks disability decisions to ensure that Americans with the most serious disabilities receive their benefit decisions within days instead of months or years. Commissioner Astrue made the announcement during his remarks at the World Orphan Drug Congress near Washington, D.C.

“Social Security will continue to work with the medical community and patient organizations to add more conditions,” Commissioner Astrue said. “With our Compassionate Allowances program, we quickly approved disability benefits for nearly 61,000 people with severe disabilities in the past fiscal year, and nearly 173,000 applications since the program began.”

The Compassionate Allowances initiative identifies claims where the nature of the applicant’s disease or condition clearly meets the statutory standard for disability. With the help of sophisticated new information technology, the agency can quickly identify potential Compassionate Allowances and then quickly make decisions.

Social Security launched the Compassionate Allowances program in 2008 with a list of 50 diseases and conditions. The announcement of 52 new conditions, effective in August, will increase the total number of Compassionate Allowances conditions to 165. The conditions include certain cancers, adult brain disorders, a number of rare genetic disorders of children, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, immune system conditions, and other disorders. In his speech that opened the Congress, Commissioner Astrue thanked the National Institutes of Health for research they conducted which helped identify many of the conditions added to the list.

The agency also is improving its online disability application process, which is already substantially shorter than the standard paper application. Starting April 21, 2012, adults who file for benefits online will have the option to electronically sign and submit their Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration (Form SSA-827). This improvement allows applicants to complete disability applications in a streamlined online session, rather than printing, signing, and mailing paper authorization forms to Social Security offices.

In March, Social Security approved eight research projects through its Disability Determination Process Small Grant Program. This new program aims to improve the disability process through innovative research by graduate students focusing on topics such as the Compassionate Allowances program, Wounded Warriors initiative, homelessness and SSI, and disability enrollment issues.

For a list of the new conditions and more information on the Compassionate Allowances initiative.

If you have been denied for social security disability, the Lawyer Referral Service of the NH Bar Association can refer you to competent and experienced attorneys who handle social security appeals on a regular basis.   There is no cost to you for the referral.  Call LRS at 603-229-0002 or request an online referral.