Welcome! This site is written for Social Security disability claimants, for their legal representatives, and for the network of people involved in the Social Security disability claim process. I hope you find it helpful.
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Back in 2006 or so, the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals changed its name to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), as part of a reorganization at Social Security and new regulations. The name was widely panned at the time.

Now, a decade or so later, the Hearings office has been renamed the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). The new name makes sense.

Be sure to change your forms and letters to reflect the new name.

 

The first thing I want to know when I receive a hearing notice for a Social Security disability claim is the name of the administrative law judge (ALJ) who will hear the case and decide the claim. It probably shouldn't matter which judge hears your case, since they all interpret the same rules and would be looking at the same facts. But it really does matter.

Each judge approaches a claim a little bit differently, and it is very helpful to know how a particular judge tends to look at a case. Also, each judge conducts the hearing in a particular way, so I prepare for the hearing in a way tailored to the ALJ who will hear the case.

I handle disability and SSI cases in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, so I see the same judges again and again. They know what to expect from me, and I have learned what to expect from them.

Now, you do not get to pick the judge that decides your case. However, you do get to pick the lawyer who handles your case. It is important, in my opinion, to obtain the assistance of a Social Security disability lawyer who has experience with the judges in your area.

There are many benefits to being a Social Security disability lawyer. You are able to help people who really need the help, and it is very gratifying when a claimant receives disability benefits.

I recently received a Fully Favorable decision on a claim where, in addition to getting disability benefits for the client, I may have helped to save her life.

When I first met this client, she had not had medical treatment for several years. I said that I would not take the case unless she resumed medical treatment (ongoing medical treatment notes, and an opinion from treating doctors, are invaluable to support a disability claim).

The client complied, and during the initial work up the medical providers found a cancerous tumor in her kidney. They quickly operated and removed the tumor. She is now cancer free. Had the tumor been left untreated even for a few more months, the prognosis would have been very poor.

I am very pleased to get benefits for this deserving client. More important, I am pleased that since she resumed medical treatment, a malignant tumor was detected before it was too late.

 

 

I received this question from a reader:

What does it mean when an administrative judge requests a review of title and positions from a claimants work record by vocational expert?

It means that the administrative law judge (ALJ) is considering whether or not you can return to your past relevant work at step 4 of Social Security's sequential evaluation process. After the vocational expert (VE) characterizes your past jobs, the judge will ask the VE whether or not a person with your limitations could return to any of those previous jobs. If the VE answers yes, you have probably just lost your disability claim.

If the VE answers no, the judge will then proceed to step 5 of the sequential evaluation process. The judge may then ask the VE if there are other jobs available to a person with your impairments. Hopefully the answer to this question is also no.

Vocational expert testimony can be complicated, and it often a determines whether or not your claim for diability benefits is is granted. Please do not attend a disability hearing without a Social Security disability attorney.

If you qualify for Social Security disability benefits, your minor children are also awarded benefits. These benefits are in addition to your monthly disability payments, and are intended to help provide the necessities of life for your children. If you remain disabled, the children's benefits will continue until their 18th birthday (a child still in high school can receive benefits until age 19).

It is a significant amount of additional money. A child's benefit typically is 50% of the parent's disability benefit. However, there is a "family maximum" of monthly benefits allowed. You can read more about children's benefits here.

Be sure to tell Social Security about your minor children when you apply for disability benefits, and be sure to tell your Social Security disability lawyer about your minor children so that your lawyer can follow up with Social Security to make sure these benefits are paid once your disability is established.

Part of my practice involves obtaining Title XVI benefits for immigrants and refugees. Often, these clients also need legal help with our complicated immigration system, including issues such as asylum, getting a green card, and citizenship.

Now legal representation is available right in Portland, Maine for those seeking immigration-specific legal services. Check out Maine Immigration Attorneys. They can help!

The frequency of your medical treatment is an important factor in your Social Security disability claim. A diagnosis is a first step, but a judge must evaluate your functional limitations due to your medical condition. And when evaluating the seriousness of your functional limitations, regular doctor visits are helpful. Looking at the cases of mine that were not granted in the past year or so, the lack of medical treatment played a role in almost every one. 

There a lots of reasons not to go to the doctor. There are co-pays. Sometimes there is little the doctor can do for you. You do not want to complain to the doctor about your daily struggles. But without regular doctor visits, you may have an uphill battle for disability benefits.

Also, the more the doctor sees you and is familiar with your condition, the more likely that the doctor will provide an opinion regarding your functional limitations. Those opinions are often the most persuasive medical evidence available to a person seeking disability benefits.

So please, go to the doctor.

The Social Security Administration has published ruling 16-03p, entitled "Title II and Title XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims." Here is a link to Ruling 16-03p in the Federal Register. It is effective immediately.

The new ruling supercedes Ruling 96-7p, which was entitled Title II and Title XVI: Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the Credibility of an Individual's Statements." With the new ruling, the claimant's credibility is not considered when evaluating symptoms. That is a remarkable change in policy. I have written before that a claimant's credibility is central to the claim.

This new ruling will have large consequences. The standard ALJ decision denying a disability claim almost always rests on the credibility of the claimant.The new ruling requires much more reasoning, much more connecting the dots between symptoms and a claimant's medical record and disability claim record. 

On the other hand, the claimant with an excellent work record and high credibility may not get the benefit of the doubt as before. Particularly hurt will be people with sparse medical treatment supporting their claim. 

Each year, the Social Security Administration releases statistics about the disability and SSI programs in an easy-to-understand format, called the "waterfall" chart. The waterfall chart shows the percentage of claims approved and denied at the various levels of review.

Here is the latest chart, for FY 2015: 

The chart shows what claimants can expect, statistically, for their claim for Social Security disability benefits. I like this chart, and have posted an annual waterfall chart dating back several years.

However, much has changed since the baseline years 2008 & 2009, when ALJ allowance rates at the hearing level were 63% of claims.

From the 2009 baselineallowance rates are down at every level of review. In particular, ALJ allowance rates have declined significantly during the intervening years (62% in FY 2010, 58% in 2011, 53% in 2012, 48% in 2013, 45% for 2014). Hopefully this second year at 45% represents the end of the free fall in ALJ allowance rates.

It is tax time, and each year I hear from clients who won their cases the previous year and are wondering about the tax consequences of their disability benefits. This topic is particularly important for those who received a significant payment of past-due benefits.

The answer is part of your disability benefits may be taxable. Here is a video from the IRS on the topic of taxation of Social Security benefits. Also here is a link to IRS Publication 915

As you can see from the video and the publication, it's complicated. If you received a large lump sum payment of past due disability benefits last year, this is the time to get in touch with a tax accountant.