Who are these people who work at "Social Security Disability"?

I usually refer to the state agency that handles disability determinations by its actual name: DDS or disability determination services (also known as the bureau of disability determination in some states). However, examiners who currently work there will refer to the place as "Social Security Disability". And, in fact, that's often how they answer the phones.

Who works at Social Security Disability? Those involved in the disability adjudication process include disability examiners who decide cases, case consultants, unit supervisors, DDS upper management, psychological consultants, and medical consultants.

Who exactly are these people? Well let's go down the list:

1. Disability Examiners aka Disability specialists - Individuals who take jobs as examiners tend to be younger individuals with diverse prior work backgrounds, though, in every training class, you will find new examiners who have changed job tracks (former military, former "whatever", and lots of former school teachers). The educational background of examiners?

Typically, an examiner will hold a baccaulaureate, though a few may have a masters. Generally speaking, an examiner will have no prior medical background or training, though a few may have some past work experience with benefit programs. Unfortunately, because so many examiners are younger individuals who have never experienced health problems, this tends to contribute to their inability to empathize with the medical conditions that disability claimants suffer from.

2. Case consultants - These individuals used to be known as assistant supervisors and, perhaps, in some states they still are. These individuals ride shotgun on the disability examiners in a DDS unit. They are the enforcers of the unit supervisors they work under and have only sold their souls a little less than the DDS unit supervisors they work under. Case consultants are typically DDS "lifers" who were lucky enough to get promoted a couple times. Some of them are very competent, and some of them are nice people, but few exercise any independent thought when it comes overseeing the case determinations that are made in their units.

3. DDS unit supervisors - DDS unit supervisors are, without a doubt, lifetime government employees. A DDS unit supervisor tends not to be a very good person and is, often, not even a very nice person even if he or she seems, outwardly, to be nice. Why? Let's look at how they are spawned. Individuals deemed suitable to supervise a DDS unit are extreme conformists, people who can be molded to do the bidding of DDS upper management. You see, DDS upper management only picks individuals to run units who will endeavor to make DDS upper management "look good".

How so? By making sure that disability examiners who approve and deny claims receive as few returns from external quality control units as possible. Returns, if you haven't guessed, are considered a bad thing, since they connote error and failure on the part of an examiner, his supervisor, and DDS upper management to make "the right decision" (i.e., it should have been a denial, not an approval).

The net result: People who become DDS unit supervisors tend to discourage disability approvals simply to make their numbers (and the numbers of DDS upper management) look good. DDS unit supervisors, in effect, would rather look good to their bosses than be fair to disability claimants who are suffering from disabling conditions and losing everything they own. In other words, DDS unit supervisors may as well be the minions of the devil.

4. DDS upper management- Who do the minions serve? These guys (And what would that make them?)

5. Psychological consultants - These are Ph.D. holders who provide input and consultation for mental allegations to disability examiners. Sometimes, they are excellent at what they do, and often they are quite horrible, denying benefits to individuals with IQ's in the 50's. Probably a good many of them were not able to cut it in a practice of their own.

6. Medical consultants - The DDS doctors. These are M.D.'s who provide input and consultation for physical allegations to disability examiners. They are sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes quite horrible, and, sadly, sometimes "somewhat questionable" as to their mental acuity and proficiency. Why is this? Well, a fair number of DDS doctors are older doctors who have since retired from practice.

Some, in fact, are so old that they spend a portion of each day sleeping in their offices. Some doctors at DDS are so old that their driving skills are impaired enough that they have become legendary for hitting the sign posts in DDS parking lots. You can't fault these doctors. They are retired from their practices and are trying to stay busy in some way, earning additional income. Unfortunately, disability claimants may suffer from their cognitive deficits and, in some cases, lack of work ethic (e.g. some DDS doctors will simply put their signature on any write-up you give them without once reading the claimant's file---these doctors are prized by DDS unit supervisors who want to quickly dispose of a case, particularly problem cases).

However, the older DDS doctors are not the only docs there. DDS also staffs younger physicians (and I use the term loosely). Why would a doctor choose not to practice in the medical arts and earn approximately 300k a year, instead choosing to earn remarkably less while sitting in an office all day reading examiner write-ups? Good question. And while I can't answer the question for every younger doctor working at a DDS, I can state that, at one particular DDS, at least two of the doctors were rumored to have suffered mental collapses that left them unable to continue a medical practice.

Even without further commentary on this, without a doubt, DDS doctors are probably not the doctors you would want to receive medical treatment from (if given a choice, I would rather be attended by an experienced veterinarian than a DDS doctor). And, given a choice, you would probably not them involved in making a decision on your disability claim.

These are the people who staff the halls of "Social Security Disability". And, if you've ever wondered why it is that DDS makes so many "squirrely" decisions, hopefully this post will have shed some light on that.

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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