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SSA proposal would mean real changes for disability appeals

Published on March 7th, 2014

If a person’s application for Social Security Disability benefits is initially denied by the state agency tasked with making such decisions (i.e., the Illinois Department of Human Services), they still have several options available. First, they can reapply with the state agency and, if that fails to produce the desired result, they may request a hearing before a Social Security judge.

Once the applicant’s case reaches this level, the Social Security judge will proceed to “develop the record,” meaning they gather and review medical evidence to determine whether SSD benefits should be awarded.

While Social Security judges have the option of securing additional medical evidence from physicians or hospitals via subpoena, they typically do not do so due to the administrative concerns and time restraints, meaning they will rely solely on the medical records presented by the applicant.

Interestingly, the issue of what medical evidence to submit to a presiding Social Security judge has proven to be somewhat controversial among attorneys.

Specifically, the issue under debate is whether attorneys must submit all medical evidence to the Social Security judge, including that which might work against their client, or just the medical evidence that aids their clients’ pursuit of benefits.

Here, the argument supporting the latter point is that attorneys have an ethical obligation to help clients win their case and this strategy is in keeping with this idea.

While the Social Security Administration has shied away from requiring the submission of all medical evidence over the several years, a recently published proposal in the Federal Register shows the agency may actually be backtracking from this position.

Under the new SSA proposal, applicants would be required to submit “all evidence known to you that relates to whether or not you are … disabled. This would include evidence that may be either favorable or unfavorable to your claim.”

Experts point out that the proposal, for which the SSA is currently seeking feedback, places the legal onus of submitting evidence on the applicant, not their legal representative, a move which may have been undertaken to forestall potential legal challenges based on attorney-client privilege.

It remains to be seen whether the SSA makes changes to the proposal based on the feedback it receives over the coming months. If ultimately adopted, however, the proposal would undoubtedly spell real changes in the application process.

Stay tuned for updates …

If you would like to learn more about your rights and your options for securing SSD benefits, consider contacting an experienced and dedicated attorney who can help guide you through the complex process.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, “Social Security proposes to tighten rules on disability appeals,” Damian Paletta, March 6, 2014

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