California disability lawyer Geri Kahn recently wrote a thoughtful blog post entitled The top four reasons why Social Security Disability cases are denied at the initial and reconsideration stages of review. Geri is referring to Disability Determination Services (DDS), the agency funded by the SSA in every state to make the initial and reconsideration determinations on disability claims. Please read her post.
Here are Geri Kahn's top four reasons:
- The claimant has had little or no medical or mental health treatment
- Social Security did not obtain the records prior to making a decision
- The claimant is under the age of 50
- The Social Security Administration works in a culture of “no”
I agree with all four of Geri's reasons, but want to comment further on reason #4. Based upon the denied claims that we see as disability attorneys, it really does seem that there is a "culture of no" at DDS.
I have addressed aspects of this problem at DDS before, including these posts:
- Different results between DDS and the ALJs
- DDS and Examining/Treating Physicians' Opinions
- Judges say too many claims are denied initially, sometimes for no logical reason
- DDS and Claims Involving Chronic Pain
But Geri's phrase, a culture of "no," nicely summarizes the overall problem at DDS.
We disability lawyers appeal claims denied at DDS all the time. After a hearing with an administrative law judge, more often than not we win an award of disability benefits for our client. Sometimes the fully favorable decision from the judge is based on the same evidence considered by DDS. Why the different result?
Of course, the judge has the benefit of the claimant's testimony at the hearing. But the judges are also lawyers, and they tend to follow the SSA's regulations and rulings much more closely when evaluating evidence. And of course, there are problems at DDS: too many claims, too little pay, too much turnover. But there is another, overarching reason for a different result at the hearing level: there is a "culture of no" at DDS.
Administrative Law Judges who are granting disability applications have been under fire lately. Before criticizing the ALJs for reversing the decisions of the DDS agency, there should be a thorough discussion and a better understanding of the culture at DDS, which has resulted in countless flawed denials of claims for Social Security disability benefits.