Thursday, March 27, 2014

SSA Staff Attorneys

Just as Administrative Law Judges are now required to have more evidence supporting their decisions when approving Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits, so too do the staff attorneys.

I represent a claimant with severe back problems. The medical evidence included a report from the treating neurologist, who explained that the claimant’s lumbar neuropathy resulted in restrictions and limitations that precluded full time work. The neurologist had been treating the claimant well before the claimant said he became disabled. Diagnostic testing confirmed compression of both the L4 and L5 nerve roots. Up until recently, the aforementioned reports would have been sufficient to receive an approval. 

Prior to a hearing, I was advised by a staff attorney that additional evidence would be needed to more clearly establish the onset of the claimant’s disability. The neurologist had no problem providing a relatively short narrative report explaining the onset of the claimant’s disability. After the narrative was submitted, the claimant did in fact receive a fully favorable decision. 

It is unclear if the elevated burden of proof for SSD applications, which according to SSA employees has been in place for about two years, is intended to be permanent. If it is, a study should be done to determine if the extra work resources used to evaluate applications now is costing more than the money saved on denied applications that would have been approved. Perhaps more importantly, what are the demographics of those additional applicants who are now being denied? For example, are those new denials mostly comprised of unrepresented claimants, or claimants who cannot afford treatment?

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