Monday, January 30, 2017

Now Non-Medical Appeals Can be Filed Online

Social Security Disability lawyers get swamped with calls from claimants who need help contesting non-medical decisions.  These non-medical decisions include overpayments and reduction of SSI benefit determinations.  Unfortunately, most private Social Security Disability law firms can't help claimant's with these type of appeals.  As general rule, we help claimants prove their cases from a medical perspective and can't provide assistance in overpayment or reduction of benefit cases.   

Until this past December, claimants had great difficulty filing non-medical appeals on their own. Many had to go to SSA field offices in person and wait in line to file their appeals.  Now, the SSA has added a feature in its website that allows claimants to file an electronic appeal on a non-medical issue.  

The website address used to start a non-medical appeal is:

The person affected by Social Security's decision or someone else on his or her behalf can use the website to file the non-medical appeal.  I am under the impression that in the past many non-medical appeals were lost through the cracks and claimants had great difficulty being heard.  The new electronic system should improve the process and make it easier for claimants to point out common errors such as miscalculations of benefits or correct the input or wrong information on a persons work record.     

Monday, January 23, 2017

New Rules Regarding Medical Evidence Issued (But Halted by Trump)

On January 18, 2017, the Social Security Administration issued new rules regarding the evaluation of medical evidence.  These new rules eliminate the "treating physician rule": a doctrine that for many years has been a cornerstone of the Social Security Disability evaluation process.  The new rules were supposed to become effective on March 27, 2017.  
However, on January 20, 2017 the Trump administration issued a memorandum ordering a freeze of all regulations issued within 60 days of the inauguration.   Furthermore, all agencies were ordered to postpone the effective date of the new regulations for at least 60 days from the date of the memorandum.  It is not clear whether the new rules will be subject to any changes under the new administration.

The new new rules make the following changes to the evaluation of medical evidence:
  • Adjudicators will give not special weight to opinions from treating sources.  Instead, adjudicators will evaluate these opinions based on persuasiveness, consistency and supportability.
  • Physicians Assistants (PA's) and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN's) will now be considered acceptable medical sources.
  • Adjudicators will no longer give special weight to decisions from other agencies, including the VA.
In general, these rules are bad news for claimants.  Veterans will be particularly affected by the provisions that allow adjudicators to disregard VA disability determinations, including unemployability ratings.  Trump promised over and over again during his campaign to take good care of veterans.  I wonder whether his administration will step in and help veterans by amending the part of the rule that adversely affects them.  There is still a lot to learn about these new regs.  I will keep my readers updated.  I also anticipate that these rules will be thoroughly discussed at the next NOSSCR conference this Spring in Washington D.C.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Social Security Commissioner Colvin Announces Resignation

Last Friday, Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin submitted a letter to President Obama stating that she will be leaving her position at the end of his term on Friday, January 20th. Commissioner Colvin's decision comes as no surprise.  She has been serving as acting commissioner since February 14, 2013.
Social Security Commissioners are appointed by the President to serve six year staggered terms. They must be confirmed by the Senate.  Colvin was never confirmed and was working on an acting capacity.  No one seems to know who will be appointed by Donald Trump or if he has any potential candidates under consideration.  In the meantime, I understand that Nancy Berryhill, who now serves as Deputy Commissioner for Operations, will be the new Acting Commissioner until the next Commissioner is appointed.
Although I have been very critical of Commissioner Colvin, I must clarify that many of the problems that her agency has had stem from the Republicans' refusal to give her the budget that she needed. Currently, there is an astronomical backlog of disability cases with 1.1 million claimants waiting for a hearing. 
Commissioner Colvin has always been a firm believer in Social Security's programs.  In her letter to President Obama she stated:
Social Security is the most important social program ever implemented in this country.  The agency distributes almost $1 trillion to 65,000,000 people each year.  Millions of our fellow Americans rely on these benefits and the services we provide.  Indeed, many of our seniors would be in poverty if they did not receive their Social Security benefits each month.  
Colvin's appreciation of the importance of Social Security stands in sharp contrast with the statements made by many Conservatives who constantly trash talk the program calling it a "Ponzi Scheme". Donald Trump promised during his campaign that he was the only Republican who would not change Social Security or medicare.  Now, he must keep his promise and appoint a new Commissioner who fully supports Social Security.   

Monday, January 9, 2017

What are "Non-Medical" or "Technical" Denials in Social Security Disability Applications

When a person files a Social Security Disability application, the SSA can take one of two actions: 1. ask the state agency to commence a medical evaluation of the claim or, 2. issue a "technical denial". Technical denials are also called "Non-Medical" denials.  

Technical denials occur when the SSA finds that the claimant does not have enough credits (the person has not worked long enough and recently enough), the person is working and making more than $1,170 a month or, the applicant failed to meet the necessary immigration requirements.  

Sometimes, the state agency (DDS) makes a favorable medical determination on a case but, later on, the SSA denies the claim when it realizes that the would be beneficiary fails to meet a technical requirement.  These specific type of technical denials are called "subsequent non-medical denials".

Lately there has been an increase in technical denials.  The reason why this is happening is not entirely clear.  It is very frustrating to handle an appeal of a technical denial.  As a general rule, my office does not handle these type of claims.  Moreover, such denials cannot be appealed electronically.  Claimants who have received technical denials must do a lot of homework on their own, gathering information such as records showing: accurate earning histories, payment of FICA taxes, wage information and proof of immigration status.  Once all this information is obtained, a paper appeal can be submitted, --in person or by mail at the local field office--, requesting a reconsideration of the technical denial.