I Missed My Social Security Disability Hearing – What Happens Next?

I have been practicing Social Security Disability law for over 35 years and I sometimes run into this scenario. A disabled person has a hearing scheduled in front of an administrative law judge. The judge will decide whether or not the person is awarded disability benefits. The person misses the hearing or shows up for the hearing late. The judge will normally “dismiss” the person’s case. This can be the end of the road for the applicant unless the applicant had a good reason for missing the hearing. Typically, judges will not dismiss the case until the individual is more than 15 minutes late.

THE CASE OF JOHN DOE: In a recent case, Mr. John Doe could not make it to the courtroom because of a snowstorm. His case was dismissed. We appealed and the Appeals Council reversed the judge and found the snow storm was “good cause” for his failure to appear.

THE CASE OF JANE DOE: In a more recent case, Ms. Jane Doe went to the wrong building and did not show up until 30 minutes after the scheduled time for the hearing. When Ms. Jane Doe got her dismissal she contacted us and we appealed. The Appeals Council which hears appeals of judge’s decided send it back to the judge for a hearing regarding whether she had “good cause” to miss the hearing.

THE CASE OF RICHARD ROE: . Richard had his case set for a hearing six months ahead of time. Unfortunately, Richard had an automobile accident the day before his hearing. This caused him to be hospitalized at a local hospital. he was released the day of the hearing but he was in no shape to come to the hearing. he did call the hearing office but they failed to register his call. His case was dismissed but when we appealed his case the Appeals Council ruled his hospitalization was “good cause” for him to miss the hearing.

THE CASE OF JANE ROE: Jane had a hearing scheduled three months before her incarceration. At the time of the hearing she was in jail and could not attend the hearing. When she failed to show, her disability case was dismissed. Her appeal to the Appeals Council is pending.

In summary, even though you miss the hearing, that omission is not fatal to your case as long as you can establish “good cause” for your failure to appear. Generally, it should be a cause outside your control.

Disability Claim Denials, Is This the Wrong Time to Be Disabled in America?

14 million Social Security disability applications were denied in a single decade, between 2000 and 2010, while the percentage of denials escalated from 34 percent to 65 percent. Is this the wrong time to be disabled in America?

Note the following headlines:

Federal Disability Traffic Jam The Washington Times

Soldiers risk ruin while awaiting benefit checks Associated Press

Disability Claims can be tough to collect Wall Street Journal

It’s time to stop billions of dollars of disability benefits from being denied, unnecessarily.

Does the Disability Safety Net have holes in it? If more than 60 percent of Social Security disability claims are denied initially, then why are 63 percent approved at the hearing stage? What causes the turn around? Unfortunately 39 percent of claimants give up before determining if they would be successful going through the appeal process!!

1.2 million Social Security Disability applications were filed in 1999 (48 percent of 579,000 were declined). In 2009, ten years later, 2.8 million Social Security Disability applications were filed (and 65 percent or 1,830,530 were declined). The number of disability applications more than doubled while denials more than tripled. In one year, more than $23 TRILLION dollars of annualized benefits were lost. That’s 1.8 million Americans who won’t collect benefits they thought they were entitled to.

Based on the 2010 average payment to those who qualify, that represents more than $19.5 million of monthly benefits that won’t be paid. Annualized, $23+ trillion dollars per year is an overwhelming amount of disappointment.

Many initial disability claims are denied for simple mistakes and omissions which have absolutely nothing to do with the claimant’s disability status. Think about what it is like to wait 17 months to hear you didn’t answer one question. Then you can wait another 17 months after you’ve added one simple answer. There must be a better way. Those facing claim denials are filing an unprecedented number of appeals burdening the already damaged system even more. With an average of nearly 17 months waiting for a judge to hear their appeal, what’s happening in the meantime?

Currently there’s three-quarters of a million Americans stuck in the Social Security disability backlog. Not being able to pay their bills causes the man of the house enormous mental anguish. The state of marital relationships in these situations deteriorates rapidly. Soon our divorce courts will be experiencing the same type of backlog the Social Security Administration is now facing.

Is this the wrong time to be disabled in America? Tens of millions of dollars in disability benefits go unpaid by private insurers. Over 40 states jointly investigated how one insurer handles their disability claims. Another state set up a system to scrutinize the handling of every rejected claim. What led to the dramatic change in the handling of disability claims? Or has anything changed at all and there’s just more adverse publicity?

As reported in USA Today… 22,500 Veteran’s PTDS disability claims denied as personality disorders. How is it possible that a personality disorder, assuming it existed prior to military service, is diagnosed when psychological evaluations aren’t done prior to induction?

According to the data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, more than 25 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets seeking care at the VA have PTSD. And this statistic doesn’t include the mentally ill vets who haven’t had treatment at the VA due to the stigma associated with PTSD. In the meantime, families go on welfare and food stamps. Homes are being foreclosed. Drugs and alcohol disrupts any hope for family harmony. Homelessness occurs! Suicides begin to take lives that the battlefield didn’t.

One very simple yet insurmountable obstacle is the application process itself. The VA has a long history of bureaucracy. The disability claim form itself is a 23 page document. How many vets are accustomed to 23 pages of paperwork? The word “intimidation” comes to mind as a reason many veterans will never file a claim. A claim for benefits they were eligible for.

Each year TRILLONS of dollars in Insurer, Social Security and Veterans Administration disability claims WILL continue to be denied. It’s imperative the claimants understand how to correctly file a Long Term Disability claim, “doing it right” the first time and dramatically improving the likelihood of collecting benefits.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently projected a 75 percent increase in the age 65+ population by 2030. That will increase the number of age 65+ Americans to 69 million, more than 20 percent of the entire population. An aging population brings with it an automatic growth in the disability “TSUNAMI”. Since the Americans with Disability Act forces disability insurers to continue disability coverage to those over age 65, an older workforce guarantees more claims.

We haven’t seen any valid creditable source that has identified any reason for the escalating rate of claim denials or what we’ll call disability claim “deterioration”. Hence, I can offer what I believe is happening in the backrooms of the insurers claims departments.

Americans currently face the highest unemployment level we’ve experienced over the last three decades. The current state of the economy has impacted our American workforce in disastrous proportions. There’s a natural escalation of disability claims incidence with increasing unemployment.

Mortgages are being foreclosed at an unprecedented rate. Several states have begun to deny previously valid claims as Medicaid budgets have become overwhelmed. Is it any wonder that the cost of medical care, and not being able to pay for it, is the largest cause of mortgage foreclosures?

To continue, we now have causes of disability that didn’t exist two decades ago. Carpel tunnel and chronic fatigue syndrome are being diagnosed more than at any other time in our history. When we add fibromyalgia to the new list, we have an evolving problem that’s creating a nightmare for the disability insurers. These are known as “self reported” disabilities in that there’s no specific medical testing that can diagnose these conditions. It’s easy to understand how disability claim examiners can mistrust “self reported” symptoms. This makes it an onerous process for those who are truly adversely effective by one of these conditions from collecting benefits they’re entitled to.

In summary, we now face a dramatic increase in the 20 percent of the population in an older age group. They’re still working with an increasing incidence of disability. Unemployment compounds the problem even more. And adding new causes of disability and our litigious society results in more PROMISES UNKEPT.

Allan Checkoway

Copyright 2011

The Process of Selecting a Disability Lawyer

If you are someone that has been denied social security benefits or had a supplemental security income claim denied, choosing to hire an attorney might be the next option. This decision will require thought and research in order to connect with a disability attorney that best fits both you and your case. While this may not be necessary for all situations, sometimes legal help is the best route to getting the income you need to survive. When you have a disability lawyer by your side, it adds a certain level of credibility. These individuals are experts in the subject area and are familiar with the different state laws. If you have been denied benefits, they may also know loopholes or other routes to take that will lead you to a successful outcome.

Prior to hiring a lawyer, you will need to do adequate research. Using the Internet, search for lawyers specializing in helping individuals receive social security disability benefits in your area. Review their websites, read reviews online and checkout testimonials from other people that have worked with them. Look for a lawyer who already has several years of experience in the field and is familiar with laws in the state where you live. Choose several different possibilities and then call each lawyer to schedule a consultation.

Consultations are often free, but you must be prepared for them in order to take as much away as possible. This is an important step that will lead you to your final decision. Be sure to write down any questions that you would like to ask prior to the consultation. Ask questions in regards to cost, the lawyer’s experience, how they would approach your case and whether or not they think you can have a successful outcome. During the consultation, be sure to only briefly describe your situation and then proceed through your list of questions. This time is about you and how you can connect with this person.

After meeting with several different social security disability lawyers, evaluate what each had to say. In addition to choosing an attorney with a proven track record and experience, you also want one that you connect with. Ask yourself questions, such as; did this person make me feel comfortable? Do I like their personality? Did they communicate efficiently? Then, once you have fully analyzed the options, you are ready to make a decision.

Sometimes the battle to earn social security disability benefits or supplemental security income can be grueling. If you have been denied and want to appeal this ruling, consider hiring and social security disability lawyer to help you win your case.

Disability Insurance Claims Law – How to Handle the Details

If you are filing a long term disability claim when you have been injured or become ill and cannot work, it is helpful to know that disability insurance is more complicated than most insurance. There are very strict rules that must be followed.

Be careful about time limitations and deadlines. In the policy it will say when a claim must be filed. Most policies have a 60 day filing window. Be sure to file paperwork ahead of deadlines, and sending all documents and records by overnight registered mail.

Keep your disability claim information private. Do not post details or comments or complaints on Facebook, LinkedIn, or any disability-related forums, bulletin boards, chat rooms, social networking sites, or other online places. It does not matter if you have just filed a claim or the insurance company has been paying your benefits for ten years – putting this information on the web could lead to your losing the benefits.

Insurance companies monitor social media for their claimants very carefully and more than one person has lost their benefits or had a judge render a different decision based on their online comments. If you are filing for a disability claim and post vacation photos that show you hiking in the mountains, the insurance companies will consider the photos evidence against your claim.

Once a claim is received by the disability insurance company, they will send you forms that are required to process the claim. Among them will be a claimant statement, attending physician statement, and authorization forms permitting access to health, financial and occupational materials from third parties.

Financial records are used to evaluate income, assets and earnings. This feels intrusive and prying but providing the information correctly is important. For salaried employees, tax returns and W2 earnings statements will be simple enough to provide. If you own a business or are a partner in a professional practice or another complex earnings situation, the request for financial records can be overwhelming. It is important to check the specific language of the policy to learn what the disability insurance company is entitled to – and what is none of their business. The policy is the contract that governs the entire process. If you are asked to provide something that is not included in the policy, contact the insurance company to clarify and explain the request. Carefully document questions to minimize non-compliance issues.

Most disability policies require you to undergo an IME – Independent Medical Exam. Keep in mind that the doctor performing the examination is being paid by the insurance company. Disability insurance company doctors are not independent. Be careful! Disability claimants who believe they are speaking with a sympathetic doctor are always shocked when the doctor who seemed so nice reports that they are perfectly able to go to work. Many recent court decisions, including several in our own practice, have found it very clear that the medical exams paid for by the insurance companies are not independent. This inherent conflict of interest is something the courts are watching carefully.

The insurance company may NOT ask that a disability claimant undergo an invasive test or require claimants to travel a far distance to have an examination performed. The insurance company is obligated to schedule an IME within a reasonable distance from your home.

If you are ordered to take a Functional Capacity Evaluation (FCE), be careful. Read your policy closely to determine whether or not it specifically requires you to take this test. If the FCE is not in the policy, the law does not require that you take it. The FCE is used to test maximum effort. If you do go for an FCE and are asked to do anything that you know you cannot do without pain or discomfort, say no and do not perform the action. There is controversy surrounding this test and it can be dangerous. Document how you feel after the test and if you can, go to the doctor to make sure to document what injuries you might have suffered from taking the test.