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St Louis Social Secuirty Disability Law Blog

How would Social Security disability be reformed?

The current administration's budget director commented over the weekend that Social Security Disability is a "very wasteful program," that it is "the fastest growing" and that the disability component is not something most people think of when they think of Social Security. That SSD is characterized as "very" wasteful is usually the cue to make an argument that the program needs "reform" or, as he put, "fixed."

The trouble is always in what is meant by reform or fix. It is usually code for reducing the size of the program, which is why critics often try to make it seem that SSD is wasteful and many individuals obtained their benefits by fraud. Because, absent that line of thought, it is very difficult to see any circumstance where benefits to SSD recipients could be reasonably reduced.

Could more SSD beneficiaries work?

One criticism of Social Security Disability Insurance is that the program could do more to help individuals within the system to return to work. SSD does have a program that does allow those whose health has improved enough that they may try to return to the workforce.

Ticket to Work program can provide assistance to those who believe it may be possible for them to return to work without an immediate loss of their SSD benefits. The benefits gradually phase out over a period of months, preventing an immediate cutoff of the SSD checks that could deter those fearful of a sudden end of their benefits.

Could you afford private disability insurance?

Many people are have life insurance. They buy it to protect their family from their premature death. Given all of the recurring expenses most people face, having life insurance seems like a good idea, as it would permit a family to pay off a home or cover other major expenses, at least for some period of time.

Private disability insurance is less common. This is somewhat surprising, as some actuarial tables suggest that for the average group of 20-year-olds, there is a 25 percent chance of them become disabled before they reach age 65. It's surprising, that is, until the average perosn discovers the price of one of these policies. Given how tight expenses are for most working people, the prospect of paying for a couple of multiple-thousand dollar disability insurance policies is simply unthinkable. This is why the Social Security Disability Insurance program remains important.

Some severe medical conditions may result in quick SSD approval

For many applicants applying for Social Security Disability benefits, the process is often slow. It typically takes at least five months for a claim to be processed and for benefits to begin. For many, it may take years, if they must appeal a denial.

But if you have been diagnosed with a severe or rare medical condition, that time frame can be considerably reduced. In most cases, a doctor's diagnosis does not lead to approval of disability benefits because the disability determination is more complex and involves numerous factors. However, when the disability is predicated upon some severe disease or medical condition, that diagnosis can lead to a quick approval of benefits.

Getting started with Social Security Disability

There is a great deal of information required on your application for Social Security Disability. You may be somewhat intimidated by the process. In looking over the requirements for the application, even if you were in good health with no physical or mental issues, it could be difficult. If you are ill, have a chronic  medical condition or mental impairments that have worsened to the point where you can no longer work, the prospect of putting together all of the necessary information can be especially challenging.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) attempts to be helpful. They have much information on their website that explains the various parts of the process, from the initial application to the appeals process. But if you are not familiar with bureaucratic processes like that of SSA, much of disability benefits process can be confusing.

The subtle advance of a disability

For some, a disability strikes as a catastrophic injury or illness that leaves them no longer able to work. A paralyzing car accident or massive stroke. But for many, their disability creeps up on them, in small, seemingly unrelated incidents. While in your 20s, you injure your back, or break a bone in your leg or arm. That heals, but perhaps that healing is incomplete due to lack of healthcare coverage, or because you do not believe it to be very serious.

A few years later, you suffer a similar, but unrelated injury. By the time you are in your late 40s or early 50s, you have a broad array of symptoms, stemming from multiple injuries received during the years of your working life. You never planned for this, and it certainly was not expected, but now you find yourself attempting to apply for Social Security Disability.

Don't miss a deadline for your SSD application

While most people are familiar with the concept of dates and deadlines, when it comes to legal proceedings, you need to be certain you understand their importance. When you apply for Social Security Disability benefits, your initial filing date can be important. While you can file anytime after you have become disabled, usually the sooner you file, the better.

This is because sometimes your benefit payment will be based on your filing date. For Disability Insurance Benefits, people who don't file for a long time after they become disbled can get a maximum of 12 months back pay before the application dats. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits only start the month after you file. Even if you are forced to wait for months or years for a hearing, your benefits are sometimes calculated based on the date of your application. Other dates within the process are equally important.

Unintended consequences?

The federal government is a large organization. It employees more than 2.6 million workers, and more than 4.1 million if you include the military. Many of those jobs demand advanced degrees, including doctors, scientists and lawyers. This means federal payroll makes up a significant part of the federal budget. And this makes it an attractive target when it comes to attempting to save money from that budget.

Congress has occasionally mandated hiring freezes as a way of preventing increases in spending for the federal payroll, and the Trump Administration has imposed a blanket freeze on hiring, which included employees of the Social Security Administration. This hiring freeze will likely have negative consequences for disabled workers who are applying for Social Security Disability benefits, as this will mean fewer employees to process their applications and fewer Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) to handle their appeals from denials.

What happens during a hearing for SSD with an ALJ?

Once your application is filed with the Social Security Administration for benefits from the Disability Insurance program, you wait. Within a few months, you will receive notice of whether you have been approved, or like the majority of applications, been denied.

While a denial is never good news, you can appeal your ruling. In most states, like Illinois, you would request a reconsideration, where your application would be reviewed by a different claims' examiner from the one who initially reviewed your disability application. In Missouri, SSA is experimenting with sending denials directly to an appeals hearing with a Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).

VA program could help veteran's with SSD benefits

One of the difficulties many applicants for SSD run into is the need for their medical records. Because the application is designed to demonstrate to the disability claims examiner that they suffer from physical or mental impairments that make it impossible for them to continue to work, medical records are important. These records provide the most compelling, objective evidence related to their health and ability to function.

For many individuals applying for Social Security Disability benefits, this can be a challenge. If they have suffered medical problems during a period of years, a record of their diagnosis and treatment can help to show the severity of the impairing medical conditions. For instance, it can show that the condition is chronic, lasting for years or that its effect may be increasing, as with a back injury, where the ability to stand, walk, lift or carry weight deteriorates over time.