The Social Security Administration (SSA) is changing how it determines who qualifies for disability benefits. Here are several of the changes already in progress:
1. The List: When you apply for disability benefits, the SSA considers whether you can perform any job in your local area. SSA vocational experts try to match your education and experience with various jobs. But the vocational experts use a list of over 10,000 jobs that hasn’t been updated in more than two decades and doesn’t include scores of new jobs in the technology sector. Revising the list is expected to take at least two years.
2. The Grid: Social Security administrative law judges use what is called “the grid” to determine if some people are eligible for benefits. For instance, if you’re over 60 and a high-school dropout suffering from depression and a heart condition, the chances you will receive benefits are high. If you are 42, mildly depressed, and have a graduate degree in engineering, you probably will not obtain benefits. SSA hasn’t updated “the grid” in years, but life spans are somewhat longer now and many people are active and productive into their 70s.
3. Full Disclosure: Applicants have been accused of withholding from the SSA medical records that might damage their disability claims. The agency is about to propose a new rule regarding full disclosure, but no details are yet available.
4. Caseloads: SSA administrative law judges handle tremendous caseloads; some have heard more than a thousand cases a year. The SSA has currently capped the number of cases a judge can hear annually at 800; the eventual goal is to have judges hear no more than 500 to 700 cases a year.
5. Judges: Being an SSA administrative law judge used to be cushy work, but SSA is changing the job description to make judges more accountable, and it’s increasing scrutiny of judges who approve or deny too many claims.
Obviously, the system needs fixing. Now more than ever, if you are applying (or considering applying) for Social Security disability benefits, you need the help of an experienced Social Security disability attorney. A good disability lawyer knows the system and its flaws, so you’ll get sound legal advice to guide you through the application procedure. If you are unable to work, you are probably eligible to receive disability benefits; speak to an experienced Social Security disability attorney right away.