Saturday, February 12, 2011

Expediting Disability Benefits

When a person becomes disabled and can no longer work the loss of income can result in severe financial hardship. For many claimants, it is critical not only to obtain disability benefits, but to do so quickly. When seeking Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits, having a thorough understanding of the medical and vocational evidence, and their interplay with the rules and regulations, can lead to an expedited approval.

I represent a 51 year old former jewelry sales representative who was approved for SSD today without a hearing after I submitted an on-the-record (“OTR”) request for a fully favorable decision. An Attorney Advisor can approve an OTR when the evidence in the file shows that a hearing is unnecessary. While the clerks at the State agency who make the initial disability decisions may not fully comprehend the applicable rules and regulations, Attorney Advisors do.

The claimant’s primary problem was neck and back spine problems. The evidence I submitted to the State agency included MRIs and EMGs with positive findings, and a report from the claimant’s neurologist that specified why the claimant could not perform sedentary work. No new evidence was submitted to the hearing office, where the OTR was reviewed by the Attorney Advisor.

Under applicable rules, when a claimant’s relevant past work is non-sedentary, and the claimant is over 50 years old, that person must be found disabled even if capable of sedentary work if there are no transferable work skills. Although I did not proffer a report from a vocational expert, I was able to aver in the OTR that no reported case had ever found that a jewelry sales representative has transferable skills. Therefore, I argued that a regulation known as Medical-Vocational Rule 201.14 required finding the claimant disabled. The Attorney Advisor assigned to the OTR agreed, and the claimant’s SSD application was approved.

The argument for applying Rule 201.14 was probably critical. Without the argument, it is likely that the Attorney Advisor could have decided that whether the medical evidence supported the inability to perform sedentary work was a close question, which an Administrative Law Judge would need to resolve.

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