Monday, October 26, 2015

Bilateral Manual Dexterity

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) seems to be giving greater emphasis recently to that part of Ruling 96-8p, which concerns the use of hands. That Ruling states in relevant part, “Most unskilled sedentary jobs require good use of both hands and the fingers; i.e., bilateral manual dexterity;” and “Any significant manipulative limitation of an individual's ability to handle and work with small objects with both hands will result in a significant erosion of the unskilled sedentary occupational base.” 

Lately, I noticed that vocational experts (“VE”) at hearings have been testifying that claimants who lack bilateral manual dexterity are precluded from performing full time gainful activity. Today, I learned that the SSA approved disability benefits for one of my clients, who is a 55 year old former administrative assistant with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and cervical radiculopathy just a couple of months after the application was filed. 

The relatively rapid approval seems consistent with the recent VE testimony concerning bilateral manual dexterity. Applicants should take care to obtain reports that detail the functional limitations and restrictions in the use of their hands.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

SSD Waiting Times

For the last couple of decades, I would advise new social security disability clients to expect it to take about six to seven months to receive the initial decision in the application process. However, waiting times at all stages of the application process have been steadily increasing

I represent a 56 year old former cafeteria worker with orthopedic and emotional problems whose SSD benefits were approved today. It took almost nine months, a nearly 50% increase in time, to get the decision, even though there were no novel or unusual medical or vocational issues. 

There is no indication that the number of people processing SSD claims has been reduced, or that the number of applications has recently increased. To the contrary, the number of claim filed has been decreasing since the middle of 2010. The question is why is it taking longer to get decisions? 

It appears that the delays are intentional. The government’s own statistics, show that approval rates have decreased from 63% to 45%. There have been Congressional hearings to investigate fraudulent disability applicants. How about Congressional hearings to investigate the delays.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Good News?

Like the Seinfeld or Superman Bizarro World, sometimes good news is bad news and vice versa. For example, the big rise in today’s stock market was attributed to worsening economic news. Moreover, MetLife approved a disability income policy application today for one of my client’s; however, counterintuitively, the approval may not be good news. 

MetLife has agreed to pay my client benefits under the policy through December 23, 2015. When a disability policy application is approved, the insurer usually pays through the date of the current monthly period. MetLife neglected to say what happens as of December 24, 2015. 

Does MetLife’s ambiguous letter mean that it found the claimant is disabled, and will re-evaluate updated evidence in a couple of months? MetLife’s ambiguous letter could just as easily mean that it found the claimant will no longer be disabled as of December 24, 2015. As noted above, since insurers usually only pay benefits through the date of the approval, it appears that the more pessimistic alternative is likely. 

Rather than taking the wait and see approach, I have demanded that MetLife clarify the ambiguity. Because this application was under an individual disability policy, ERISA does not apply. Therefore, the claimant does not need to waste his time appealing the December 24, 2015 decision with MetLife, and can immediately file a complaint in State court.