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In September, a key advocacy group claimed the average wait time for a Social Security Administration disability initial hearing has increased 300 percent over the last ten years. Generally, the initial disability review is a denial, which means for most claimants, the process is just beginning at that point. The Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm understands that these statistics can mean the difference between life and death for their clients in the Memphis metro area and throughout the midsouth region of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. 

Today, the average disability claimant waits more than two years for a final decision, while more than 10,000 people die each year without an answer, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. Lack of operating funds being given to the Social Security Administration may be the primary problem. The Social Security Agency has been stretched almost to the breaking point. Since 2010, the agency’s budget shrank by 14 percent, while the number of beneficiaries climbed by 22 percent, to more than 70 million people being served by the SSA.

“The added burden occasioned by the pandemic did not help matters, but a steady erosion in SSA’s administrative funding over the past decade is the primary reason for the rapid decline in customer service,” wrote Nancy A. LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer at AARP.

Qualifying for SSDI

Once the big day finally arrives and applicants believe they’ll get a chance to present their disability applications, often they don’t even get a foot in the door. A state Disability Determination Services officer may conclude, based on a brief review, that the applicant doesn’t qualify for SSDI.  A Heermans Law Firm attorney is keenly aware of this kind of situation and makes sure that a client’s disability application is fully completed before submission. These basic qualifications are:

  • Credits: This first qualification doesn’t apply to disabled children and a few disabled adults. However, most SSDI applicants need forty work credits, twenty of which must be recent work credits. The maximum is four credits a year. In 2022, each $1,510 in self-employment or employment income was equal to one credit.
  • Unemployable: Because of their disabilities, many applicants must drastically reduce their hours or work light-duty jobs, for example: a Walmart greeter. Fortunately, there’s a difference between unemployed and below SGA. Working applicants are still eligible for SSDI benefits. Generally, individuals who earn less than $1300 per month are considered financially eligible for Social Security Disability purposes. 
  • Severe: According to the SSA, the applicant’s medical condition “must significantly limit your ability to do basic work-related activities, such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, or remembering – for at least 12 months.” The medical report must include the appropriate “qualifying words”. Things get complicated if available medical science, usually medication (pills), could alleviate the applicant’s symptoms if the applicant refuses or doesn’t want to take the medication.
  • Listed Condition: If your medical condition does not appear in the Blue Book list of impairments, the DDS officer will almost certainly deny your claim. Benefits may still be available, if a Heermans SSI lawyer near you proves their client’s condition is substantially similar to a listed condition. 
  • Unable to Work: There’s a difference between “unwilling” and “unable.” Frequently, DDS reviewers connect this qualification with the unemployed/unemployable factor. If the applicant is not working, the DDS officer often concludes that the applicant is simply unwilling to work. This area is one of the most important reasons to be represented by a Heermans attorney when applying for disability. Being unemployed and unemployable is a “gray” area, not clearly black or white and open to interpretation. Often during a person’s journey into becoming disabled and qualifying for disability, they have had several bouts of both employment and unemployment due to their disability. What they were able to do just 6 months ago, they may not be able to do today as their condition declines and disability increases. Having a Heermans attorney to demonstrate this to a DDS officer is very powerful while making your case, during a disability determination. 
  • Unable to Retrain: Memphis SSI disability lawyers often refer to this factor as the “old dogs / new tricks” factor. According to the SSA, “We consider your medical conditions, age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have.” Not surprisingly, DDS examiners almost always conclude that retraining is – at least theoretically – possible and if true, then the applicant is not qualified for disability income. This analysis only comes into play after age 50.

DDS officers deny about 65 percent of initial applications. Looking on the bright side, DDS officers do approve about 35 percent of the applications they review. So, you might be able to quickly obtain benefits without a disability lawyer near you. However, don’t bet on it, unless you have a compassionate allowance condition.

Obtaining a Favorable Early Decision

In the unlikely event that a DDS officer initially believes you’re eligible for SSA disability benefits, this usually means that you have a well-ordered file, a compelling backstory, and the proper physical appearance, this also means that you have greatly improved the chances of a final approval.

Much like the rest of us, DDS officers do not like to search through papers or documents for the information they want or need at that moment. Medical records should be at the officer’s fingertips, followed closely by employment records. As a rule of thumb, the less time the hearing lasts, the greater your chances are of approval. A Heermans attorney is not like your average disability applicant. They have gone to school and then onto many years of university education, perfecting their skill in properly presenting a client’s case for disability determination. 

As for the backstory, most DDS officers like to hear that the applicant tried and tried to work full time, but the applicant’s disability simply made that impossible. Remember that a disability is not just a medical term. As mentioned, the SSA also considers “age, education, past work experience, and any transferable skills you may have.” 

The final area, physical appearance, may seem a bit shallow…but it is not, it is a critical component. The fact is that most people expect disabled people to look and act disabled. But not all disabilities, like mental illness, necessarily involve a limiting physical condition.  If your disability does not involve a physical condition, it is very important to have a Heermans attorney represent your disability claim. Most likely, your natural behavior will act in accordance with your diagnosis. Regardless of whether or not your disability claim involves a limiting physical condition, having your Heermans attorney by your side or in the SSDI Zoom meeting room, will help set you at ease so that things go smoothly.

SSDI Appeals 

Unemployability, severity, and an unlisted condition are the most common SSDI appeals grounds in Tennessee.

Just like there’s a difference between unemployed and unemployable, there’s a difference between theoretically employable and pragmatically employable. That’s quite a mouthful, so let’s break it down.

Assume Brenda has a solid work record and educational background. A DDS officer might well conclude that Brenda is theoretically employable. However, largely due to the state of the economy at the time, Brenda might be pragmatically unemployable. Frequently, a disability lawyer partners with a vocational expert in these situations. These experts review not only the SSA listed factors, like age and education, but also economic factors (which are widespread since the Covid-19 pandemic). Then, the expert concludes whether or not the applicant is employable.

The unemployment prejudice may also come into play. Many employers unfortunatly assume that, if a person isn’t working full time, it’s because no one else wants to employ them.

Disability severity is also an issue as well. Medical records are often incomplete in this area. Lay witness statements from family, friends, and co-workers often help. For example, Brenda’s doctor might say she has a respiratory disease. Brenda’s former co-worker could testify that if Brenda walked from her desk to the conference room, she was huffing and puffing so badly that she couldn’t concentrate.  

We briefly mentioned taking medication (pills) above. Brenda might be able to take enough steroids / bronchial inhalers and other medications to function. However, taking multiple and/or powerful drugs usually have powerful side-effects. At some point, the cure can be more debilitating and worse than the disease.

DDS officers often deny claims because the applicant’s condition is not a Blue Book condition. As mentioned, in this situation, a Heermans attorney will work to prove that the applicant’s condition is substantially similar to a listed condition. These matters account for almost half of SSDI cases.

For more information about the SSDI appeals process, contact the Heermans Social Security Disability Law Firm. We offer a FREE Disability Claim Evaluation if you have been denied disability benefits or want to know if you might qualify for disability income. Call or text Heermans Law Firm 24/7 at (901) 244-0057. More value added FREE information can be found in our online article library.


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