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Are Social Security Disability Claims Going to be Made Even More Difficult?

A recent pronouncement from the Trump Administration’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) may be a warning sign that changes are in store for the Social Security Disability program. If that proves to be true, it is likely that those changes are going to make it even more difficult than it is now for disabled workers to obtain Social Security benefits.  A long, tough road could be made even longer and tougher, creating a serious hardship for many people who find themselves unable to work because of a serious and disabling medical condition.

On March 19, 2007, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation”, described the Social Security Disability (SSDI) program as the “fastest growing program” and a “very wasteful program.” As reported and analyzed in the Washington Post’s April 7, 2017 “Fast Checker” on-line column, these claims are overly-simplified and largely inaccurate.  Nonetheless, if these are the assumptions of the Trump Administration, they may well provide the rationale to limit the availability of SSDI benefits even more than is currently the case. From this writer’s perspective, that would inflict a harsh and unnecessary hardship on many people, including a large number of aging baby-boomers.

SSDI benefits are difficult enough to obtain at present. Most claimants have to hire an experienced attorney or other advocate in order to ultimately prevail in what is often a very lengthy and difficult struggle to establish eligibility. The vast majority of claimants are denied at the initial application stage and have to file at least one appeal.  It can easily take 18 months from initial application until reaching a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, the stage where claimants have the greatest chance of succeeding. After hearing, it can easily be another 3 to 6 months before a successful claimant can expect to see any money. And the length of the process is only the first problem facing claimants. The other problem is the height of the bar that must be cleared to establish “disability,” as that term is defined by the Social Security Administration. That bar is very daunting , requiring that a claimant prove that he or she is unable to engage in any “substantial gainful employment”.  Although a detailed discussion of the disability standard is beyond the scope of this article, it is currently the Social Security Administration’s policy that the ability to earn $1,170.00 per month constitutes the ability to be substantially gainfully employed. That, obviously, is a very tough standard...

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