Just as local Social Security Disability offices were starting to open back up and work through the COVID-19 pandemic backlog, further national budget cuts forced further staff cuts. Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm, serving clients throughout the Memphis Metro area, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, does not like to be the bearer of bad news. In fact, being critical of the Social Security Administration is the last thing we want to do. But unfortunately, the staff cuts in the Volunteer State were among some of the highest in the country.
Nationally, staff levels are down 15 percent since 2010, even though the number of claims has increased significantly over that same period, and the SSA fields over thirty million calls a year. Alaska has been the hardest-hit state. Today, the nation’s largest state has only thirty-eight Social Security Administration staffers. That’s half as many as there were in 2010.
“The agency, because it’s been so hamstrung by budget cuts, isn’t able to really plan effectively,” remarked Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and disability policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Grace Kim, deputy commissioner for operations at the Social Security Administration, echoed those concerns. “Without an adequate level of funding, we will not be able to continue our level of service or improve service to the level that really I would want to see us be able to deliver to the public,” she offered.
Fortunately, Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm picks up the ball and keeps it rolling for individuals who need their physical and mental conditions evaluated by the Social Security Administration for disability benefits. Our FREE Disability Evaluation gives adults and children throughout the greater mid-south region an opportunity to have our staff attorney let you know if Heermans can represent you in your claim.
CEs (Consultative Exam) in Tennessee
Staffing issues in the Volunteer State could affect a disability claim in several different ways. Generally, when disability victims file claims, the SSA sets up a Consultative Examination, which is Legalese for a medical review.
Because of staff cuts at the SSA, many claimants see contract physicians instead of experienced CE physicians. The SSA doesn’t control contractors in terms of things like doctor qualifications or experience. Usually, if the claimant sees a contractor, this physician is appointed according to the contracted payment schedule. Utilizing a contracted fee-based CE doctor who is scheduled to perform the evaluation exam, may not be the best fit for the claimant; as opposed to having the exam done by the best available doctor for the type of medical condition the claimant is experiencing.
On a related note, once again because of staff cuts, claimants might not see CE doctors who focus on the correct disability for their claim. If “Dr. Dre” sees applicants with repetitive stress knee disabilities most of the day, it could be a stretch for “Dr. Dre” to shift gears and evaluate a PTSD claimant.
These issues could affect one of the 3 main prongs of a Social Security Disability claim, which are:
- Unable to Work: SSD benefits are available if the claimant cannot perform SGA (substantial gainful employment) because of a covered disability. Some doctors may not accurately translate illness symptoms into disability symptoms. PTSD is a good example. If an applicant can’t sleep well, the applicant cannot function well the next day. Yet some inexperienced CE doctors view nighttime sleeplessness as almost irrelevant to daytime disability.
- Unable to Adjust: This element is partially a medical matter, but mostly a non-medical matter. For example; If we surf the web, getting a high-paying executive job seems easy. Just do this, do that, and there you go….but not everyone has the specific qualifications and experience for these kinds of jobs. Unfortunately, some inexperienced doctors give their opinions on one’s ability to adjust to life with the stress and limitations of a disabling condition, even though through their own life experience and education, they still may not be qualified to do so.
- Permanent Condition: Some doctors are confused about the effect medication has on a patient making a disability claim. A drug or treatment may be available which effectively cures a medical condition. But, that cure is theoretical. Not everyone can tolerate every medicine, and many people aren’t a candidate for a risky surgical procedure.
Some independent doctors can also be very experienced in certain kinds of disability claims and usually there is no question about their credentials. Additionally, these doctors know how to tailor reports for DDS officers that need specific information for medical reviews . Review officers expect to see certain findings and need them for evaluation purposes.
Vocational experts take the theoretical aspect of a disability and make it practical. These individuals submit reports which clearly show an applicant’s ability or inability to get a certain kind of job, given the applicant’s skill sets and credentials and the overall market environment.
Disability Determination Services
Most of us have worked for an understaffed employer before. Typically, the remaining employees must do multiple jobs to pick up the slack. Usually, the Social Security Administration doesn’t use DDS contractors to do extra work. The remaining DDS officers must process the cases themselves.
Staff levels have been dropping at Social Security offices for over a decade. Understaffed DDS officers may consolidate hearings. Instead of considering one case at a time, they consider three or four at a time. The more files you examone at once, the greater the possibility becomes that you’ll miss something.
DDS case assignment changes as well. In good times, when there are plenty of workers, office administrators can assign certain cases to certain DDS officers. But in times of stressed capacity, like today, administrators may assign cases indiscriminately, even if you know very little about the disability and other issues involved in the claim.
Heermans SSA law firm has an answer to these concerns. As mentioned, we know what evidence a DDS officer needs to see in order to properly evaluate a claim. In other words, we make sure our clients present claims applications that properly present their disability. We are well aware that SSA denial rates are high. When claimants represent themselves and go it alone they are even higher. But, with the help of a Heermans attorney, our clients have told us they have had a positive, respectful, and stress-free disability claim experience.
For more information about the SSD claims process or if your claim has been denied, contact the SSI disability lawyers in Memphis at the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm. Help and information is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via our disability text line at (901) 244-0057
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