Overview of Disability

Disability Back Pay

Disability Requirements

Disability Applications

Disability Advice Tips

How long do cases take?

How to win Disability

SSD Mistakes to avoid

Disability for Mental

What if you get denied?

How to file Appeals

Disability through SSA

SSI Disability Benefits

Disability for Children

How do I qualify for it?

Working and Disability

Disability Award Notice

Disability Lawyer Q&A

Disability Conditions List

What is a disability?

Your Medical Evidence

Filing for your Disability

Disability Eligibility

SSD SSI Definitions

Recent Questions

SSDRC Disability Blog

Invisible Disabilities and decisions on claims for disability

Disability is an interesting concept in the sense that some physical and mental conditions are, in a relative sense, overt and visible, while other conditions, those that functionally limit individuals to the extent that they could be termed "disabled" and unable to work, are less visible. Sometimes, these conditions are referred to as invisible disabilities, simply because their effects and the limitations they impose are not so easily seen.

Unfortunately, a large segment of the nation seems burdened with the notion that, for an individual to be actually be disabled, they must, if they possess a physical impairment, be wheelchair bound; if they possess a mental impairment, they must be psychotic, have down syndrome, or have an intelligence quotient so low that they are incapable of living alone or engaing in a normal range of daily living activities.

This attitude, unfortunately, affects even disability examiners, the individuals who render decisions on social security disability and SSI cases. As an examiner, I found it fairly common for fellow examiners to openly scoff at allegations (conditions that are listed on a disability application) such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, and fibromyalgia.

With attitudes like this, held by the individuals who actually review disability claims, is it always possible to receive a fair and impartial evaluation on a disability application? In my own opinion, the system is much more subjective than most people are aware. For example, if you were to send a case profile through several different units of a state disability processing agency, you might find, depending on the particulars of the case, that you received as many approvals as denials.

A more obvious example, of course, of the subjective nature of disability claim adjudication is the great difference in decisional outcomes between the lower levels (the initial claim and reconsideration levels) and the disability hearing level. In the disability application pool, seventy percent will be denied. In the pool of cases for which the first appeal (the reconsideration) has been filed, roughly eighty-five percent will be denied. Yet, from this combined pool of cases, for those claimants who choose to have a case decided by an administrative law judge, the chances of ultimately winning hover in the 50 percent range.

Without a doubt, outcomes change dramatically at different levels of the appeal system. But why is this? Do some claimants see a worsening of their medical condition? Yes, in some cases. And, in some instances, claimants simply age into an allowance (i.e. become old enough, while their claim is pending, to benefit from more favorable age-based vocational rules).

However, in most cases, neither factor is likely to account much for the huge difference in approval rates between the lower levels and the hearing level. Subjectivity is more likely the answer. Subjectivity and a system whose inherent qualities pave the way for individual unit supervisors (of a state disability processing agency) to impose their own subjective standards on the individual claims examiners who are attached to their units.

None of which would be a problem were it not for the fact that disability unit supervisors have a built-in resistance to issuing approvals in the form of quality assurance returns (cases that have been screened by QA units and returned to their originating units for errors---these cases typically tend to be cases that were marked for "approval" versus cases that were marked for "denial").

Return to:  Social Security Disability Resource Center, or read answers to Questions

Related pages:

Decisions on Social Security Disability
How are decisions on disability claims made
Who Makes The Social Security Disability Decision, A Judge Or a Caseworker?
How long does the administrative law judge take to make a decision on a disability claim?
What kind of Final Decision can I receive on my Disability Application?
How do you file a Social Security reconsideration appeal?
How long for a Social Security reconsideration appeal decision?

Information on the following topics can be found here: Social Security Disability Questions and in these subsections:

Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits | FAQ on Disability Claim Representation | Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved | FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions | The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration | Disability hearings before Judges | Medical exams for disability claims | Applying for Disability in various states | Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers | Applying for Disability in North Carolina | Recent articles and answers to questions about SSD and SSI

These pages provide answers to basic questions about pursuing disability benefits

Disability qualifications - Who will qualify is based on functional limitations
What do you Need to Prove to Qualify for Disability Benefits?
How to file for disability and the information needed by Social Security
What conditions do they Award Disability Benefits for?
How does back pay for Social Security disability work?
What makes you eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI? Part I
To get a Social Security Disability or SSI Award do you have to have a Permanent Disability?
Social Security Disability Status - when should I call to check
Do Lawyers Improve The Chances of Winning Social Security Disability or SSI?
What is qualifying for disability based on?
How to qualify for disability - The Process of Qualifying for Benefits
Receiving a Social Security Disability Award Letter
How long does it take to get disability?
Filing and applying for disability in Texas