Can a Congressional Inquiry Really Help Your Disability Case?

People often get confused about what a congressional inquiry is, what its purpose is, when it should be done, and what it can achieve. Let's start off immediately by stating what a congressional inquiry on a Social Security Disability or SSI disability case will not do. It will not, simply by itself, get you approved for benefits.

I say that because I have seen many statements from individuals who have been approved for SSD or SSI benefits who A) had had a inquiry done on their case by their district congressman or one of their senators and B) had later gotten a notice of approval.

Naturally, they connected those two things and assumed there was a causal relationship. However, speaking as a former disability examiner, I can state that inquiries do not cause cases to be approved. They can, of course, unblock logjams and get cases moving much faster on the road to approval, and this fact can certainly make them worth doing.

What is a congressional inquiry? The simplest way to define this is to say that if a claimant contacts the office of their congressman or senator when they have a pending claim for disability benefits, someone in that office will do a status check on the individual's case.

What is the nature of the status check? It may involve a phone call from the politician's office. When I was a disability examiner, it usually meant receiving a written notice from the politician's office asking for the status of the disability case.

How much effect did these inquiries have on an application for disability or a request for reconsideration appeal when it was received? NONE. Let me repeat: NONE.

Why? Because when an inquiry is done at those levels, there really isn't any impact that the inquiry can make?. It can't influence the outcome of the case because that is dependent on what the claimant's medical records have to say about the claimant's functional limitations. It can't influence how long a case takes because, most often, that is dependent on how long it takes the examiner to get the medical records gathered.

What usually happens to congressional inquiries when they are received when a case is at one of the first two levels? It usually just gets filed away.

At the social security hearing level, a congressional inquiry will also not have an effect on the outcome of the case. Judges for disability claims make their own decisions and they are not subject to having politicians influence them. But...a congressional inquiry can still have a tremendous impact on a case that is pending at the hearing level by getting the case moved much further up on the schedule.

I should explain by stating that after a request for hearing has been made, it can take many months, sometimes over a year and a half to get the hearing date scheduled. Obviously, for individuals who are unable to work and have no income, this is just another ridiculously long wait, particularly when their case has already been in the system for, perhaps, more than a year.

This, of course, is where a congressional inquiry can have a clear impact. When a hearing office receives such an inquiry, there is a favorable chance that the case will be scheduled sooner, especially if the claimant has a dire need situation and is danger of losing their residence or access to needed medications.

So, to sum up the answer to the question, yes, a congressional inquiry can help a case immensely. But it is far more likely to have that effect at the hearing level. And by this time, most claimants will have disability representation (it is generally unwise to appear before an administrative law judge without proper case preparation and good representation in the form of a disability attorney or non-attorney claimant's representative), so the request for the inquiry can be made by their disability representative.

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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