Mental health conditions can be just as disabling as physical ones

May 2023 is Mental Health Awareness Month across the country, as it has been for 74 years. It is an appropriate time to recognize and honor our clients who face with dignity and grace challenging symptoms from mental impairments.

Mental impairment may provide SSDI or SSI eligibility

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews the medical evidence supporting a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, it has long been required that the decisionmaker consider the entire record as a whole.

When SSA fails to meaningfully weigh all the evidence, it may deny a claim based on carefully extracted evidence that is less reliable or supportive of the disability, while ignoring without explanation more weighty medical findings that indicate significant limitations or severe symptoms.


The Social Security Administration (SSA) for decades has been notoriously slow in its processing of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) applications. Ill and injured claimants who cannot work may languish for months and even years without cash assistance, placing them in perilous financial conditions.

Sadly, some cannot win this waiting game, losing homes or even passing away before SSA decides their claims or appeals. Most initial applications are denied, kicking off a long journey through levels of further review or appeal.

Attorney involvement

It does not seem like the question of whether someone is disabled from working and eligible for monthly Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits should be a complex one. But the Social Security Administration (SSA) has its own definition of disability for purposes of SSDI (and Supplemental Security Income or SSI). The agency has a five-step process it utilizes to get to yes or no on the question of disability.

Definition of disability

SSA’s definition of disability is different from those used in other kinds of disability support programs like workers’ compensation, or short- or long-term disability insurance policies. For SSDI (or SSI) purposes, the definition of disability follows:

COVID-19 has only been with us a couple of years, but it has had a devastating impact on our collective health and psyche. For some individuals, it has turned into something more than a week of being extremely sick. A person may develop a condition called long COVID-19 in which a wide variety of symptoms – many severe and disabling even alone – can stretch out weeks, months or years.

When long COVID prevents a person from working, they should consider filing an application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), an income supplement for those without adequate work histories to qualify for SSDI. But proving disability may be difficult for this condition that presents differently in each person.

Long COVID may prevent the ability to work


First, a little history.  Before 2003, the Social Security Administration (SSA) conducted hearings largely in person.  For an in-person hearing, the Claimant and the attorney meet at the Office of Hearings Operations (hearings office) and appeared before a judge who was in the same room as the Claimant and the attorney.  This was the preferred method of holding a disability hearing. Continue reading


Ask anyone who has applied for Social Security Disability benefits (either disability insurance benefits or supplemental security income). They may tell you about a lengthy and frustrating process that required completing an in-depth application, filling out information forms for the Disability Determination Bureau (DDB), attending one or more examinations by a physician or psychologist hired by the Social Security Administration (SSA), keeping the DDB updated about new treatment appointments, emergency department visits and hospitalizations and then just waiting on a determination. Across the county, initial applications are approved about 30% of the time.

The processing times for initial applications increased significantly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, SSA offices were closed to the public (starting in March 2020).  SSA and DDB staff were working from remote locations.  Beginning around March 2022, SSA offices started to reopen.  Now processing times are much improved.  Depending on the medical complexity of the case, it normally takes, at a minimum, 90 to 120 days for SSA to reach a determination on an initial application.  (Of course, this is an estimate.  The processing time varies in each case.) Applications which are denied will have an opportunity to appeal the denial.

The importance of being thorough and on time

 Fotolia_110866435_XS1o-300x165This weekend, our family followed our Nation’s custom of decorating the graves of family members who gave their lives while fighting for our country during their service in the military.  The decoration of the graves included not only family members who died in battle but also those who, during their lives, served in the military.  In the cemetery where our loved ones are buried, I noted hundreds of graves which had an American flag planted next to the grave’s tombstone.   The Cemetary’s electronic chime system alternated tunes including patriotic songs.

The American tradition of decorating the graves of fallen American soldiers began shortly after the close of the Civil War in the Spring of 1865.  With the war’s end, citizens across the country began to decorate the graves of soliders who gave their lives defending the Union in the Civil War.   The decoration of the graves consisted of placing flags and flowers on their graves.

With the advent of the first World War, the nascent national tradition of remembrance extended to those soliders who died in the World War I.  Remembrance was later expanded to included soliders who made the ultimate sacrifice in all of our Nation’s wars and conflicts including, Word War II, the Koren War, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

Yes, it is true!  After nearly two years of being closed to the public, the Social Security Administration has announced that our Nation’s Social Security offices are reopening.  The hope is that by March 30 the over 1,200 local Social Security offices will be reopened to the public for appointments and walk-in business.  The exact details of how a reopening will work is still up in the air.  That is because the Social Security Administration is negotiating those details with three labor unions which represent many of the workers in the local Social Security offices.

The reason that it is not 100% certain that the offices will reopen on March 30 is mostly because no one knows how the pandemic will play out in the months to come.  If levels of transmission, COVID related deaths and hospitalizations are high, it is likely that the reopening will be delayed.

What will a reopening look like?  We anticipate that the reopening will be phased in rather than happen all at one time.  As of this time, the final details are still being worked out, however, what we do know is that visitors are likely to be required to wear masks to protect other visitors and the Social Security staff.  The Social Security staff will be given more telework privileges, meaning that Social Security staff will be allowed to work from home (just like they are doing now).

On March 17, 2020, the Social Security Administration, like many of our country’s businesses, closed its offices in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  The closing of the Social Security offices included not just the 1,230 field offices in the nation, but also the 169 hearing offices.   The motivation behind the closing was to protect the people who Social Security serves and the Social Security employees.  Even though the offices remain closed, Social Security employees are working remotely (from their homes).  With the use of phones and the internet, Social Security continues to provide services to the public.  Without the daily “people traffic” the Social Security offices are beginning to catch up with the daily backlog.  It is still difficult for some who interact with Social Security, particularly the disabled, to use the internet.

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