The Social Security Administration (SSA) is changing the way it determines eligibility for disability benefits. Several of the changes are already in progress.
1. SSA determines if an applicant can do any job in his or her local region. Vocational specialists try to match an applicant’s background with available occupations, but the agency has been using a list of more than 10,000 jobs that hasn’t been updated since 1991. It still includes “show girl” and “chick sexer” (a job determining the gender of a chicken). It doesn’t, however, include the scores of newly-created opportunities in the technology sector; many such jobs are perfect for those who can’t stand on their feet for hours at a stretch. However, the update may not be complete until 2016 or beyond.
2. Social Security administrative law judges use what they call “the grid” to determine if some applicants qualify for benefits. The grid coordinates age with education, experience, and the purported disability. For example, if you’re over 60, a grade-school dropout, and suffer from a heart condition, you’ll probably be awarded benefits. If you are 42 with an accounting degree and mild depression, you probably won’t. Like the jobs list, the grid hasn’t been updated in years.
3. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported on a law firm that routinely withheld client medical records from the SSA – records that could have damaged disability claims. A top official says the SSA will soon propose a new rule mandating full disclosure of any information related to a purported disability.
4. Being an SSA administrative law judge used to be a cushy gig, and it was virtually impossible for a judge to be removed from the post. Now the SSA is amending the job description so that judges are more accountable and more easily removable.
As it becomes tougher to qualify for disability benefits, applicants need the help of an experienced disability attorney now more than ever. Hiring a good disability lawyer dramatically increases the likelihood that you will be awarded disability benefits. A good disability lawyer will also work diligently to expedite the process so that you can start receiving benefits promptly. If you are applying to receive Social Security disability benefits, or even if you are only wondering if you qualify, speak as quickly as possible to an experienced Social Security disability attorney.