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
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.
Social Security offices are closed on Monday, January throughout the country. The reason for the one day closure is the observance of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (sometimes referred to as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day or MLK day).
This federal holiday recognizes the legacy of Dr. King and the contributions he made to the advancement of civil rights (outlawing racial discrimination) in the United States. Dr. King devoted his life to the cause of civil rights until his life ended by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968. A day earlier, on April 3, 1968, Dr. King had flown to Memphis, Tennessee to speak at a rally to support of the Memphis garbage workers strike. He was 39 years old when he was murdered. On April 11, 1968, only a few days after Dr. King’s death, the U.S. Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 is a broad law which includes protection for persons of color and protection for Native Americans. The Act also outlaws discrimination in housing (The Fair Housing Act). In 1988 Congress expanded the Civil Rights Act to protect, among other people, people with disabilities. Continue reading
Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) issued a warning. The warning concerned the manner in which patients take certain drugs. The drugs are two commonly prescribed drugs: gabapentin and pregabalin. The FDA found after extensive study that these drugs may cause serious, even life threatening, breathing issues.
The FDA found that these breathing issues may occur when a patient takes either gabapentin or pregabalin in combination with drugs known as CNS depressants. Gabapentin and pregabalin may also cause the same problems if taken by patients who are elderly or who already have respiratory issues. The breathing problems are found to happen even if the gabapentin or pregablin are not taken in combination with a CNS depressant. Continue reading
Starting January 8, 2020, all Social Security field offices will open on Wednesdays from 9 am to 4 pm.
On January 1, 2013, the Social Security Administration reduced its Wednesday hours for the over 1,220 filed offices in the United States. The offices, as of that date, closed on Wednesday at noon to the public. The reduction of hours were caused by budget cuts. The business model allowed the Social Security employees to work on Wednesday afternoon but without having to see walk-ins. In that way, Social Security employees could process claim work, uninterrupted, and reduce the need to pay overtime. At the same time, the Social Security Administration began to emphasize its on-line options to obtain basic Social Security services at www.ssa.gov. Within the Social Security Administration’s web site, a person could apply for disability. That person could also appeal an unfavorable decision regarding an application for disability benefits. (Social Security’s web site also allows for a number of other things to be accomplished without the need of going into a local office. These things include: applying for retirement benefits or Medicare benefits. A person could also notify the Social Security Administration of a change of address, or establish direct deposit.) Continue reading
I am excited to have been asked to teach at a NBI Social Security Disability Seminar “Social Security Claims from A to Z” A Practical Walkthrough of the Claim Process, in Indianapolis on December 16, 2019 at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station, 123 West Louisiana Street, Indianapolis, IN. (The seminar offers 6 hours of CLE for Indiana attorneys.) My topics include “Evidentiary Issues in Disability Claims” and “Writing the Brief and Preparing for the Hearing.”
Does the need for a cane, walkers or wheelchair impact te decision in a Social Security disability case? Maybe. Cane, walkers and wheelchairs are known as assistive devices. At bottom, they are needed to help a person walk. Assistive devices come in all shapes, types and sizes. For example, a cane may be a single point cane (cane with one point at the bottom) or a “quad” cane (a cane with 4 points at the bottom). Sometimes a person may need a cane in each hand. More often, a person only needs to use a cane in one hand. Continue reading
On December 17, 2018, the Social Security Administration published an advanced notice of proposed rule making in the Federal Register [83 Fed. Reg. 64493] asking for public input about whether the way in which Social Security considers pain in connection with its determination of disability is consistent with current trends in medicine and medical practices. The public has until February 15, 2019 in which to submit comments. Continue reading