Advocates for Californians seeking Social Security disability insurance benefits for which they believe they are eligible know well that the process is not easy. Qualifying for SSDI requires that the condition a person is suffering from is expected to last for more than one year or that it will result in the sufferer's death.
Still, even when the circumstances of a case seem obvious, denials happen. Appeals may follow. Enlisting the help of an attorney is always advisable, but even that can't assure a claim won't face challenges from what appear to be arbitrary administrative decisions. The following story is a case in point.
It involves a 39-year-old man out of Pennsylvania, but the case could be from anywhere. The claimant is a victim of Huntington's disease -- a degenerative neurological condition that has no cure. The Social Security Administration acknowledges that it is always fatal. As of the end of 2012, it's been on the list of conditions in adults that warrant fast-track consideration under the SSAs Compassionate Allowance program.
It's not clear from the media story when the case played out, but the attorney involved says it's one that has always left him frustrated. At the time he submitted the claim, the client had his diagnosis and had symptoms that included uncontrollable hand tremors, balance issues and dementia.
The attorney thought it was a clear case for approval of benefits, but the initial claim was denied. The denial was then upheld by an administrative law judge. Only when it reached federal court on appeal did it get reversed. The attorney says resolution took far longer than it should have.
The news story reveals that the case is not unique. Denials are on the increase in the jurisdiction where this happened, as they are elsewhere. Officials with the SSA suggest more claims are being filed because of the tough economy and aging baby boomers, and that the volume means more are being denied.
But legal observers worry that the administrative judges, who are supposed to be independent, are allowing themselves to be swayed by media stories about alleged SSDI abuses and by complaints from critics who say some judges are too quick to approve claims.
The fear is that, while most judges do their jobs to the best of their abilities, many legitimate claims get derailed, especially for those who don't have legal representation.
Source: CitizensVoice.com, "Social Security disability approvals decline," Terrie Morgan-Besecker, Dec. 2, 2013