Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hostility to Disability Applicants from within the Disability System

I'd never heard of this particular site (linked below), but I came across a couple of posts from it yesterday. The first poster in this thread contends that the involvement of lawyers in the disability system is responsible for:

1. Mountains of bad decisions (in his opinion, disability approvals that should have been denials).

2. Drastic slowdowns in processing times, resulting in huge backlogs.

The poster claims to have worked in the social security disability program for over 3 decades.

Ok, let me tackle this one. First of all, the poster does not identify whether or not he was an SSA field office employee, such as a CR (claims rep) or a state-agency employee, such as a DDS disability examiner. If he was a field office employee, chances are didn't know much about disability adjudication. Practically none of them do. They simply take the disability application (in person or over the phone) and then forward the disability application to the state agency (which, in most states, is called DDS). My wife, of course, is an exception to the ranks of CRs. Like me, she is also a former examiner.

Ok, what if the poster was a disability examiner all that time? Well, its certainly possible. Believe it or not, there are many disability examiners in many of the state agencies that are hostile to disability claims (this tends to be fairly true of first appeal level, or reconsideration, examiners). And this, of course, puts them in good stead with their unit supervisors. Think about it---roughly 80-85 percent of reconsiderations get denied, depending on the individual state we're talking about. That type of disability-denial-culture flows from a institutionalized mindset.

Now, why would this "former cog of the disability system" have such views? Well, if he wasn't a disability examiner, he had little to no idea of how claims are actually processed. And even if was a disability examiner, as I said, a lot of them, like a certain percentage of administrative law judges, carry their biases to work with them every day.

What I'll say myself is that I strongly disagree with his statements. The facts as I see them are as such.

1. The social security disability system denies far too many claims and does not take into account the limiting effects of pain, which is way SSA has been sued on this issue before.

2. Backlogs in the disability application and appeal system (which are extreme) are not due to the fact that "so many lawyers" are involved in the system. They are due to the fact that the social security administration does not adquately staff. They don't have enough field office personnel and they don't require the states to properly staff either. And this is a serious problem. Currently, when field office SRs (service reps) and CRs (claims reps) quit or retire, they don't get replaced. Their work gets redistributed to remaining workers. In the various state agencies, the approach to staffing is at least as bad. Low pay and a hostile work environment (i.e if you don't deny enough cases, your supervisor will be all over you--I know what I'm talking about here) contribute equally to incredibly high turnover. At any one time, a fairly high percentage of the DDS workforce may be fairly new and inexperienced (but not for long since many of them quit fairly soon).

3. Backlogs in the system are further exacerbated by ridiculous, bureaucratic-think (replace this phrase with "stupid" or "moronic") programs like HPI which are designed to improve efficiency but, instead, have the opposite effect and torpedo efficiency (imagine a system in which hearing office personnel continually rotate jobs and assignments--does that make any sense and, in the end, who has responsibility for anything?).

In all fairness to the "system", I will say that, ultimately, SSA does not have control over staffing. Congress does in its allocation of budgetary resources. And, of course, these days, that's not looking so good, though the situation may possibly improve.

Do many people dislike lawyers? Sure. You never really find doctor joke books, or architect joke books, or account or engineer joke books. But you can find a lawyer joke book in any large retail bookstore.

That aside, however, lawyers (and non attorney representatives, as well, in this case) fulfill a vital function. Why?

1. Because so many social security disability and SSI claims that should have been approved are instead denied (forcing thousands of individuals--and families--on the road to financial ruin and sometimes bankruptcy).

2. Because disability judges sometimes fail to give claimants a "fair shake" and this is more likely for unrepresented claimants.

3. Because very very few claimants will know how to effectively present a rationale for approving a case at a hearing (an experienced disability lawyer, non attorney, or former examiner-turned-rep could do it---but not likely for the average unrepresented claimant).

Yeah, some of the joke books are funny, but you need lawyers and non attorneys to play a role in the system for one simple reason: a claimant's chances of winning at a hearing are higher with representation. So, obviously, I disagree with the poster in the following link----

Former cog speaks

Return to the Social Security Disability SSI Benefits Blog

Other Posts

Will your age affect whether or not you will be approved for disability benefits ?
Why anyone can be represented on a disability or ssi claim
What are you paying for when you get a disability lawyer


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