Can the Social Security Office give you Bad Advice on a Disability Claim?

Continued from: Social Security Disability Advice from the Wrong Sources

The answer to this question is, unfortunately, absolutely Yes. But, first, let's recap what was previously mentioned.

As mentioned on the page preceding this one, a person who was thinking about applying for disability was told by his psychiatrist that he was not disabled and that he should consider looking for a new type of employment.

This advice, of course, was entirely faulty. The majority of physicians and psychiatrists (conservatively speaking, 99.9999 percent) have no clue as to how disability cases are determined. More specifically, they are completely unaware of the fact that the decision on an

The Social security administration oversees a disability claim system which accepts the supposition that it will be more difficult for some individuals to find some new type of employment. And this is a very reasonable position to take since some jobs that might utilize a person's inventory of work skills might not exist in their region (they may exist many states away, or may be in the process of becoming less available due to outsourcing abroad).

Additionally, for someone who is an older individual, there will always be the spectre of an employer preferring to hire a younger individual who can be paid less and who might be many years away from a higher frequency of filing health insurance claims.

In short, most doctors have no understanding of how the Social Security Disability and SSI process works. And, therefore, they are completely unqualified when it comes to being able to discern whether or not a claimant qualifies for disability benefits.

Now, what happened when this same individual when he contacted the social security administration? He asked the social security employee whether or not he
would qualify for disability. The employee asked him "Can you work?". He responded "I've been a computer programmer for most of my career, but I guess I could flip burgers". She responded "Then you're not disabled".

This was an inferior answer to the question for many reasons. However, let's start with the fact that the individuals who answer the phones within social security offices are not the people who determine eligibility on disability claims. That function is performed by disability examiners who work at a completely separate agency known as DDs, or disability determination services. The only individuals within a social security field office who "might" be qualified to even address the question "Will I qualify for disability?" are the claims representative who actually do the intake for both retirement and disability claims.

However, even these individuals are not qualified to answer the question. Why? Because they do not work on disability claims either. They only take them...and then send them on to DDS where they can be assigned to a disability examiner who will obtain the necessary evidence and then consult with medical and psychological experts in order to arrive at a decision.

To the point, social security employees who work at social security offices are not qualified to answer such questions because this is not actually part of their job, despite the fact that social security offices are where disability applications get taken. If this particular social security employee had known anything about how disability cases are determined, she would have realized that being eligible for disability benefits involves a medical and vocational decision that involves assessing the following:

1. Whether or not a person's mental or physical condition is severe.

2. Whether or not the condition, or conditions, will last at least one full year.

3. Whether or not the condition will be severe enough, with regard to the limitations that it causes, to prevent a return to one's past work.

4. Whether or not the condition will be severe enough, with regard to the limitations that is causes, to prevent the individual from being being able to switch to some type of work, given consideration of the individual's age, education, and training.

5. Whether or not the individual, assuming they could work, would be able to work (given their limitations) at a level that would earn them a substantial and gainful wage.

The social security employee who responded with "Then you're not disabled" surely did not understand the various concepts that underlie the social security definition of disability. She did not know a claimant's residual functional capacity or RFC is rated, and what determines whether or not a person can be considered able to do some type of new work, based on ther age and other factors. She most likely also did not understand the concept of substantial gainful activity which allows a person to work and be considered disabled if they lack the ability to earn more than a certain minimum amout (which is entirely fair: if a person can only work and earn $300 per month, should they really be considered fully functional and able to support themselves?).

The social security employee was unaware of all these things. And for that reason she should never have responded to the question in that manner. A better, more helpful response would have been "If you feel you are disabled, a disability application can be taken in this office, but the decision will be made by a disability examiner at a state agency that will review your medical and work history information".

So...can you receive bad advice and information from the social security office? You certainly can.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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