If you have been approved for Social Security disability benefits during the past year, you may have noticed that your favorable decision contains a statement from the judge directing Social Security to conduct a case review in either one year or three years from the date of the decision.
These orders for short term reviews are something of a new phenomenon. Prior to 2012 I think I saw this type of directive only once or twice. Now these orders are in almost every decision.
Social Security disability is running out of money. SSA administrators are addressing this shortfall by:
- encouraging judges to only approve cases where there is objective evidence of disability
- carefully reviewing the approval/denial statistics of judges
- moving to terminate the contracts of judges with extremely high approval rates
- informally encouraging judges to keep approval rates to a 30 to 40% range
- increasing funding for continuing disability reviews
Social Security has done a very poor job at reviewing approved claimants for medical improvement. I expect that we will see a significant increase in benefit termination proceedings.
From a claimant’s perspective, it will be difficult to retain counsel for help in an benefit termination case. Unlike benefit applications where there are past due benefits that can fund a contingency fee, there are no past due benefits involved in a termination case. Most disability claimants are not going to have $3,000 or more to pay a lawyer out of pocket to represent them at hearings.
I tell my approved claimants to prepare for the possibility of a continuing disability review and to take the following steps to avoid getting cut off:
- continue to meet with your treating doctors
- fill your prescriptions and do what the doctor says to do
- keep a pain or symptom diary
- if you feel that you can work try to work – you’ll earn more money and feel more fulfilled; however as a general rule keep in mind that Social Security sees a work attempt lasting more than 3 months as a “successful” work attempt while a work attempt lasting less than 3 months is seen as unsuccessful. If you work 6 months at Job “A” and 5 months at Job “B” you will have to explain why these work attempts should not be considered evidence that you have the capacity to function in a work environment.
- if you start hearing reports on the news or on blogs like this one that deserving claimants are being cut off, consider saving up funds to pay a lawyer to represent you at a continuing disability review hearing
Extensive and consistent documentation can help a deserving claimant win disability benefits and extensive and consistent documentation can help an approved claimant keep his or her benefits.