What is the state disability agency (DDS, Disability Determination Services)?

DDS is where claims that are filed for disability are processed. This includes claims that have been filed under the title II program known as SSDI (Social Security Disability insurance) and claims that have been filed under the title 16 program known as SSI (supplemental security income). It also includes, of course, concurrent claims which are claims that involve both programs simultaneously.

DDS, or disability determination services, is what the state disability agency is known as in most states. In some states, however, it is known by similar but slightly different names such as the Bureau of Disability Determination and the Division of Disability Determination.

Regardless of the name used in a particular state, each state has been authorized to provide a disability determination services agency by the federal social security act. Therefore, each state has a DDS. Some states have only one centralized DDS (such as North Carolina), while other states have a decentralized DDS system that involves multiple DDS locations (such as the state of South Carolina).

How does a claim make it to DDS? After a disability application has been taken in a social security field office, it is transferred to the state agency. At the state agency it is assigned to case processing specialist. In some states, this individual may be referred to as a disability specialist but usually the designation is disability examiner.

The disability examiner is responsible for evaluating all the various evidence that may pertain to a disability claim. This will include medical evidence, vocational evidence, and subjective assessments.

The very first objective that is typically carried out by a disability examiner is to request the claimant's medical records. Usually on the first day after the examiner has been assigned the case, he or she will send out medical record request letters to every medical treatment source listed on the disability application (or appeal).

After this has been done, the case will ordinarily be put to the side, until at least some of the records have come in. Obviously, the wait for medical records is a large factor in determining how long it may take to receive a decision from disability determination services. Without the records and the information they contain, there is nothing to evaluate the claim with.

After the records have been received, however, the examiner will review them, looking for signs of functional limitations that result from the claimant's various physical and/or mental conditions. The more limitations that can be noted, the higher the likelihood that the examiner will conclude that A) the claimant cannot return to their past work and B) the claimant cannot be expected to do some type of other work.

For child disability claims, of course, the medical records (and school records) will have no bearing on the ability to work. For children who are filing for disability benefits, the examiner will also look for signs of functional limitations, but these will regard the ability of the child to engage in age-appropriate activities (such as performing on the same academically with school peers).

Continued at: The Decision on the Social Security Disability Claim or SSI Claim

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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