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Social Security Disability Misconceptions

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By Scott B. Elkind, Esq.

The purpose of this article is to remove several misconceptions concerning the Social Security Disability from many of our clients’ minds so as to allow them to focus their concerns on the actual issues presented by their denial of benefits.

1. The Social Security System Denies Everyone’s Claims. Well, given the experience of nearly all of our clients, it certainly feels that way. The Social Security Administration (SSA) actually boasts a nearly 30% initial application approval rate. It certainly is not reflective our clients’ experience with the Administration who are made to feel as if all claims are initially denied with an overwhelming majority again denied again upon reconsideration.

2. The Social Security Administration Denies Certain Types of Persons’ Claims More Than Others. This has been an especially amusing misconception that our firm has heard time and again. Should the applicant be Caucasian, then a prospective client will claim a preference for African-Americans. The reverse is also heard. Then, there is a third camp which likes to espouse that it is all the “foreigners” who are getting paid. None of these charges are true. SSA is truly an equal opportunity denier when it comes to claims. There just is no “other guy” who gets the benefits instead of you.

3. The Social Security Administration Has Your Money and Just Does Not Want to Give It Away. Again, it certainly feels that way, but it is not true. The truth is far scarier. The United States Congress for years has been raiding the Social Security Trust Fund and spending the money received for funding on-going government programs. In return, the U.S. Government has issued Debt Notes to the Trust Fund (Basically, I.O.Us). For this reason, Social Security Benefits are being funded by incoming monies only. Given the increasing number of applicants who will becoming beneficiaries in the system as the Baby Boomers age, there will not be enough current workers to fund the system. This is why you hear the dire predictions about Medicare and Social Security running out of money in the no so distant future.

4. If Denied, the Best Thing to Do Is File a New Application. This is completely wrong in most cases. The appeals process provides plenty of opportunity for a skilled representative to cure any defects in the initial application and win benefits for a claimant. If you are denied, you need to contact an attorney immediately. We always suggest acquiring counsel in advance in order to get your case off on the best footing. Applying time and again with the same defective information will only cause your case to suffer repeated denials and not obtain the resolution you want. Our firm has been successful in remanding many cases from federal court after claimants have been denied following hearings and by the Appeals Council. So, do not quit on your claim for any reason. Less skilled representatives will tell you to file a new claim. For this reason, you should contact us to see if you can keep your claim alive and get all the benefits to which you are entitled.

5. SSA Conducts Surveillance on Your Activities. A limited trial program of surveillance was undertaken by SSA years ago which is no longer done. Your daily life is your own business and there are no private investigators employed by SSA to disprove your claim.

6. Certain Medical Conditions Result in Automatic Approval of Benefits. Absolutely untrue. There are no automatic approvals even in the seemingly most dire diagnoses such as cancer, stroke, heart attack, seizures, etc. There is a certain list of conditions which merit closer consideration, but are subject to very detailed requirements to qualify for a presumption of disability. The requirements tend to be quite severe and will exclude most persons with the listed diagnosis. Even then, a presumption of disability by qualifying for a certain level of impairment can be overturned by SSA. For this reason, it is important to hire a skilled practitioner who will work with your treatment providers to acquire the necessary information to win your case.

7. If I Hire An Attorney Early for My Case I Am Just Giving My Money Away for No Good Reason. Actually, it is the opposite. By hiring an attorney early on in the process, you may be able to get your claim approved earlier. As the attorney may only collect a fee from past benefits, the amount to be paid will be less in this case. If the case drags on to a hearing much later, the attorney fee is capped and cannot be exorbitant.

8. Use of Drugs or Alcohol Will Prevent Me from Getting Benefits. This is only true if the addiction itself is being claimed as the disability. In most cases, the effects of past drug or alcohol are irreversible and may be disabling all on their own. Although SSA will try to deny claims on past drug use, we are successful in appealing many of these claims. To this end, it is important for claimants to cease use of drugs and alcohol during the claims process and seek help, if necessary, for this purpose in order to demonstrate continued disability despite ceasing use of these substances.

9. Social Security Delays Payment of Claims to Save Money. This is only partially true. Admittedly, by delaying payment, some claimants will give up on their claims and return to work. If you are truly disabled, you have no choice but to stay in the system to receive benefits as “there is no other game in town.” The fact is that the Social Security Administration is chronically understaffed and underfunded. This has been made worse by many retiring, experienced workers who are leaving a profound “brain drain” at a time when fewer new employees are being hired.

10. I Have a Better Chance for Success with a National Law Firm. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, many national law firms use “advocates” and not attorneys. These advocates usually have very limited training and do not have familiarity with the Administrative Law Judges at remote offices. Each ALJ has his or her own expectations for a hearing. For this reason, a local, experienced practitioner has a greater chance of winning your case. Just like anything else you see advertised on television, it always looks better on the tube and not in real life.
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