Crowe & Shanahan
Serving Clients Throughout Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois
If you can't work because of a disability, call
1-877-213-7793 | 314-231-6660

St Louis Social Secuirty Disability Law Blog

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.

SSA changes weight of treating physician rule

In a recent rule change, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has changed the way in which it will view statements from an applicant's treating physician. Previously, statements of the treating physician had been according "significant weight" as evidence of disability in an application for Social Security Disability benefits.

While not controlling, it made sense to consider the statements of an individual's treating doctor, as they have had the best opportunity to observe the person and examine their impairing conditions.

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.