Monday, July 24, 2017

New Regulations Make it Harder for Disabled Veterans to Win Social Security Disability Benefits

Veterans in the United States, especially disabled veterans, frequently have trouble receiving the government benefits that they deserve after surviving the physical and psychological injuries they might have experienced while serving their Country. In light of some new changes to the Social Security regulations, Disability benefits are becoming increasingly difficult for veterans to win.

Though the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Social Security Administration have different criteria for determining disability, in the past, Social Security judges were required to take VA disability ratings into account when making an SSD ruling. Though the SSA was not required to agree with the VA, judges had to provide an explanation for their rulings either way, and they had to specifically explain why they disagreed with the disability determination made by the VA. As of March 27, 2017, SSA judges no longer are required to give any special weight to medical opinions from the VA or from other governmental agencies. This means that VA disability ratings and opinions from VA medical professionals do not hold any special legal weight in SSA hearings.

VA disability ratings can still be considered as evidence, but technically, judges are now legally allowed to completely ignore VA disability ratings. Furthermore, SSA judges are no longer required to provide explanations for their rulings. A judge can overlook evidence provided by the VA without being required to provide a reasonable explanation.

​Many Americans are questioning why the two government agencies have such a “disconnect”. Why do the VA and the SSA have different criteria for determining disability? Why is the SSA allowed to overlook VA findings, when VA medical professionals are presumably more familiar with their disabled veteran patients’ cases than the SSA is?

​Our current Commander in Chief promised to protect veterans. However in light of these recent changes benefits for veterans are only becoming more difficult to attain. A recent article by Andy Pierrotti for WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee reports on the specific struggle of Daniel Norfleat, a disabled veteran who recently had his Social Security Disability benefits terminated. Norfleat was already receiving SSD benefits when his attorney advised him to apply for additional back payments for a time period before he won benefits. Shockingly, the SSA then denied his request for back payments and also revoked his SSD altogether, claiming he was employable, and completely ignoring the opinions of VA professionals.
Here is a video of Mr. Norfleat’s story:

Unfortunately, Norfleat’s case is an example of what can happen to veterans who need SSD but are facing great legal challenges under the new SSA regulations. Trump promised to protect veterans, but here is a clear example how government resources are only becoming more difficult for veterans to access under his administration.