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St Louis Social Secuirty Disability Law Blog

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.

What not to do with your Social Security Disability application

Filling out the application for Social Security Disability benefits can be intimidating. It is relatively long and if you provide the proper documentation to support your claim for disability, it may take some time to get everything together. This may lead some people to make the mistake of delaying their application. Don't do this.

The reason you don't want to delay filing a claim once you realize you have a serious medical condition that is going to impair your ability to work is that, in some cases, your benefits will tied to the date when you first filed your application. Even if your initial application is denied and you have to request a reconsideration or hearing, if you obtain eventual approval of your benefits, there are limits to the start of back pay that are sometimes determined by the date you applied.

Social Security Disability would need a very large waiting room

Tax season is approaching. Most people file some type of a tax return. From the quite simple Form 1040EZ to much more complex returns involving Form 1040A, with many ancillary schedules. But many tax returns involve fairly simple information, such as how much you have earned in a year, how much your deductions are, and similar straightforward items.

When you need to file an application for Social Security Disability benefits, you will also have to fill out some forms, but these forms are not simple, and they are not looking for simple numbers. Instead, much of the information requested will be used to make a subjective determination of whether you are "disabled" within the meaning of that term as it is used by the Social Security laws.

Treasury places burden on the disabled with loans

Sometimes, systems are designed to be difficult. Consider most retail rebate programs. They require you send in various documentation, such as UPC labels and the correct form within a short time frame in order to receive the rebate payment. Most of this process is intentionally designed to be cumbersome and difficult, in an effort to cause many individuals to make mistakes, forget or simply abandon the process because it seems too difficult.

Programs like Social Security Disability sometimes seem to be set up on a similar plan. SSD benefits require a complex application, which is often denied on the first attempt, which then forces individuals to appeal their denial and may result in a hearing with an administrative law judge. Some can even work their way to federal court before the disabled worker is able to receive their benefits.

SSD growth is structural

A continuing concern for Congress next year will be the state of the Social Security Disability program. While they passed legislation last year that temporarily prevented a 20 percent cut to beneficiaries, Congress will have to deal with this issue by 2022, and it will be forced to do something with the overall Social Security system before 2034, or these cuts will be imposed on millions of retirees in addition to the disability beneficiaries.

One "solution" that is always misleading is the idea that stopping fraud within the system will fix the financial shortfall. However, even the agencies Office of Inspector General, which is responsible for investigating fraud allegations, only identified $416 million in fraud in 2015 out of $89 billion in payments, or 0.0045 percent. The projected 20 percent reduction, by comparison, would result in $18 billion in cuts.

Delays at SSA field offices grow worse

If you need to apply for Social Security Disability benefits, you will likely have varying degrees of frustration when dealing with the Social Security Administration. The agency is responsible for administering all aspects of the Social Security Act, including the Retirement program, the Disability program and the Supplemental Security Income program.

As the population of the nation ages, more people are eligible to begin receiving their retirement benefits as well as the increased number who develop impairments as they age, which force them out of their occupation and into the disability program. Unfortunately, this growth in the number of individuals who need the agency's assistance with questions and issues relating to their benefits has grown against the backdrop of a Congress that has imposed budget cuts and hiring freezes on the agency.