Monday, April 25, 2016

Social Security Will No Longer Provide CD's at Disability Hearings

Over past years, the Social Security Administration has provided attorneys with CD's with copies of their client's files.  Just a few days ago, the SSA announced that commencing August 18th it will stop this practice.  From now on, all attorneys must access their client's files electronically using the "Appointed Representative Service" (ARS).  I urge all lawyers who have not registered in the ARS to register as soon as possible.

Beginning August 18th, all Social Security Disability lawyers are going to have to download their clients' files into their own CD's or, download the files into their own laptops and bring the computers into the hearing room.  I'm looking forward to this change.  The current system used by the SSA is not working very well for me.  I find that very frequently the CD's provided to lawyers are not up to date or are broken.  Moreover, the desktop computers available at hearing rooms are awfully slow or freeze in the middle of the hearing.  I have been registered in the ARS for several years and really don't know why I have continued to rely of the CD's provided on the day of the hearing.  I should have started bringing my own laptop to the hearing rooms a long time ago.

I must confess that the only reason why I have not been bringing my own laptop into Social Security Disability hearings is that I don't like having to pass too many items through the metal detectors at Federal Buildings. Social Security hearings are held in Federal Buildings with very tight security and going through this airport type of routine is a real hassle.  

Practice Tip:

For those lawyers who are new to the ARS or are not very skilled using it, here is a great practice tip that I learned from the tech savvy staff at RamosLaw:  Download the client's file into a PDF document.  Use a PDF program that allows you to make bookmarks and comments on the file.  Take notes on the PDF document and flag important exhibits that you can easily refer to during the hearing.  This will enable you make quick references to Exhibits and medical records during your presentation without loosing your train of thought or getting sidetracked by the inability to find an exhibit. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

New Social Security Ruling Eliminates "Credibility" Findings - SSR 16-3p

On March 16, 2016, the SSA issued a new ruling that significantly changes the way that the agency makes disability determinations.  Social Security disability lawyers and their clients should take notice of this considerable change. SSR-16-3p, Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims, supersedes SSR- 96-7p.  For a copy of  SSR 16-3p click here.  This ruling is effective immediately.
SSR 16-3p completely eliminates credibility findings from the adjudication process. Determining whether a claimant was credible or not used to be a central part of the decision process followed by administrative law judges (ALJ's).  Now, credibility cannot be a factor used by the ALJ to decide a case.  At this point, it is too early to tell exactly what effect this ruling will have.  One positive aspect of  SSR 16-3p is that, from now on, ALJ's can no longer put the claimant's character on trial.  Up until this ruling was issued, "character assassination" was frequently used to justify a denial of benefits.  For example, supposed prior bad acts by a claimant, such as a period of incarceration or getting fired from a job, was frequently cited as a reason for denying benefits.
Instead of making a credibility determination, the new ruling requires the ALJ to find out whether the claimant's allegations are "consistent" with the medical evidence and with the statements contained on the record.  If the ALJ finds that the claimant's allegations are not consistent, then the ALJ must explain the specific reasons why the allegations are not consistent.  General statements regarding the consistency of the allegations are not enough.  
One negative aspect of SSR 16-3p is that, from now on, ALJ's cannot make credibility findings based on a claimant's good work record.  On many occasions, I have successfully argued that the allegations of a claimant who has been a good worker, should be given full credibility.  Due to this new ruling, it is uncertain what, if any, importance will a claimant's work record have in the disability determination process.