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St Louis Social Secuirty Disability Law Blog

Complex illnesses make for complex SSD cases

The human body is marvelously complex. Some doctors might characterize it slightly differently, as terrifyingly complex. With so much going on, there is a great deal to go wrong. Sometimes, it goes wrong in a clearly obvious fashion, as with cancer, which can devastate organs, and whose treatment can be as disabling as the disease itself.

Other conditions, like lupus, can be no less devastating, but because medical science has yet to understand exactly how they function, and the degree to which a person may be disabled by the disease, explaining to Social Security's disability determination examiners how you have been affected by the disease can be difficult.

Can we afford to cut the SSD program?

Cuts have been proposed by the administration for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. The reasons for the cuts appear poor. There are allegations that the program is growing, is out-of-control, that there is fraud, that the program is too easy to grant benefits and that it encourages individuals to quit working.

None of this holds up to scrutiny. And young, healthy workers should all be concerned. Because, despite the fact that few people ever believe they will become disabled during their working career, statistics show that a worker in their 20s has a one in three chance of becoming disabled.

SSD for claims of mental impairment

Social Security Disability claims depend on evidence. This makes some claims easier to to be approved. For instance, an individual suffering from heart disease may have a well-documented medical record, complete with tests, treatments and other evidence detailing the observable physical toll the disease has taken on the individual's heart.

Similarly,  someone suffering from cancer may produce a significant record of X-rays, biopsies, and other tests, as well as a treatment regimen of chemotherapy that produces undisputable evidence of the disease and the condition in which it has left the individual. As unfortunate as these medical conditions are, because their manifestations are physical, they sometimes allow for a relatively rapid approval of the claim.

SSA working on the update to the occupational info system

A very important part of a disability determination in the Social Security Disability Insurance program is Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT). This large dictionary was a compilation of job descriptions and what each job entails. It is used for a disability determination, as it is one of the tools used by SSA to decide if an applicant is able to do any other type of work given their impairments or limitations.

Unfortunately, the last revision to the DOT was back in 1991. Twenty-six years is a long time, and at that time, much of the internet economy did not exist. The internet itself was still a proprietary communication system for research universities. Most computers still operated on DOS, there were no cell phones, no smart phones, no Amazon, Facebook or Google.

It's different when it happens to you

Healthcare is always a personal experience. You may read of the experience of others, but it is never quite the same thing, as when you experience yourself. For some medical conditions, like heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer's, you can imagine the stress and the fear that someone else may feel after being diagnosed, but nothing can fully prepare you to deal with it when it becomes all too real.

With many of these conditions, the severity of their effects often makes dealing with virtually anything else in your life impossible. Your shortness of breath brings fears of a heart attack, the drugs during chemotherapy make doing anything beyond feeling miserable and nauseated impossible and with a dementia-type condition, you may find increasingly much of the world is missing, including your paycheck.

SSA terminology can be confusing

One of the reasons that many people look to an attorney for help in applying for Social Security Disability benefits is that the language and terminology of the disability process are not only complex but also confusing. You may read a question and think that you understand the question and how to answer it, only to find out later that your answer is incorrect and that you need to change it in order to be accurate.

For instance, the disability onset date is a very important date on your application. It can be misleading, however, as you may think this is the date on which you developed your condition that has caused your disability. Some conditions, like Multiple Sclerosis, may be diagnosed long before they become debilitating to the point where you can no longer work.

Is SSD really a form of unemployment?

If you ask anyone who has successfully obtained Social Security Disability benefits, they will likely tell you that it is definitely not like unemployment. The process of applying for benefits and then, if necessary, appealing the initial denial, waiting for a hearing, and eventually being approved is substantially more demanding and difficult.

A recent news article discusses the "disability belt" that stretches across some of the eastern part of the nation. One characteristic is that much of the area described is rural. As with the article that focused on the south earlier this month, this report found that many people in these areas have difficulty finding work. This leads many to believe that SSD is simply where these people turn when their unemployment benefits run out.

Changes in how SSA evaluates HIV infections

Disability claims for Social Security Disability are complex. This is due to many factors, but especially because the standard that SSA uses is fluid. There is no single factor, such as a medical condition or your work experience that is determinative. The test for disability is the inability to engage in "substantial gainful activity" and that that condition has lasted at least 12 months or is terminal.

Last month, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a notice of rescission of a Social Security Ruling (SSR) pertaining to how the agency evaluated "duration" for individuals suffering from a  human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The SSR dated back to 1993. At that time, survival for anyone diagnosed with HIV was considered unlikely.

For SSD, you have to be more than desperate

The Washington Post published a story recently that examined a family in Alabama and highlighted the growth of Social Security Disability recipients in rural counties across America. They included a map that shows rural southeastern Missouri also has concentrations of SSD beneficiaries.

Another writer commented on this story, suggesting it is misleading as an indicator of problems with the program. She reminds us that SSD is difficult to obtain and the growth was long forecast. The Post story appears to show that the receipt of SSD as a discretionary activity. A person who is out of work applies after they fail to find a job. Of course, to apply, you need to have been out of work or working so little that you avoid the threshold of "significant gainful activity," which is the cutoff for benefits.