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Over the last several years we have seen media stories on the growing number of Americans receiving social security disability benefits.  More conservative media sources such as The Wall Street Journal and Fox News have implied that the Obama Administration has actively sought looser qualifying standards for disability in order to “house” the unemployed in the social security disability system so that the unemployment rate is as low as possible.  This is, in my opinion, a mere “Grassy Knoll” conspiracy theory without any evidence to support it.

More recently National Public Radio (NPR), never considered a conservative media outlet, also highlighted Social Security Disability in a story entitled “Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America” (http://apps.npr.org/unfit-for-work/).  This story notes, among other things, areas of the country where the number of persons receiving social security disability is high, such as Hale County Alabama where 1 in 4 persons get disability benefits.

The common thread in all of these stories is a suggestion that in this depression/recession of some 4 years now, chronically unemployed persons are getting on disability because they simply cannot find a job.

The National Organization of Social Security Clamaint Representatives (NOSSCR), an organization I am proud be a Sustaining Member of, has come to the defense of the social security disability assessment system.  (see http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/readersrespond/bs-ed-social-security-ehrlich-letter-20130308,0,4614697.story),

NOSSCR’s position is that the rise of disability in America is more a function of the fact that our population is simply getting older.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle: a rise in disability is a logical function of an aging population, but it is likely that disability cases are being approved for persons with legitimate medical problems but who might otherwise be working in a better economy.

The purpose of this post is not to analyze the merits of what has been happening in the social security disability assessment system in the last few years, but rather to consider: what does this heightened media attention to and scrutiny of disability mean for qualified social security disability applicants?  My “negative” thoughts:

  • It is certain social security will tighten disability standards and approval rates in the coming months.
  • I am concerned it will “rain on the just as well as the unjust”:  i.e., any attempt to rid the system of unqualified applicants my harm qualified applicants.

I think there may be a hidden positive in any “crackdown” on disability approvals.  I believe the vast  majority of Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) want to be helpful to people, and truely want to approve legimitate claims.  It occurs to me that if ALJs are saying “no” more in the coming days, they will in my opinion welcome qualified strong disability claims that they can say “yes” to.

In my own practice, I am committed to building rock-solid disability claims through medical development, and securing strong medical opinions in support of the disability claim.  Now more than ever social security disability applicants need to steer clear of the national “throw-it-up-against-the-wall-and-see-if-it-will-stick” mega-firms and secure hands-on local representation from experienced attorneys who handle only social security disability claims.  In Dallas Fort Worth, that is going to be me!