Successfully Applying for Disability Benefits in Arkansas

Applying for Disability in Arkansas

How to apply and qualify for SSD, SSI in Arkansas (AR)

Note: If you have already filed a claim and been denied for disability, or are wondering what to do in the event of a Social Security denial, proceed to the reconsideration and hearing appeal sections below.

Level I: Disability Application - Though statistics vary from year to year, an individual filing for disability in Arkansas will typically stand a 25 to 30 percent chance of approval on a disability application. This will mean that, in any given year, up to 70 percent of claimants who have been denied will be forced to consider utilizing the Social Security Appeal Process. That process begins with a request for reconsideration and, in most cases, ends with a hearing held by a federal administrative law judge.

Requirements for disability

To qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Disability or SSI Disability program, a claimant must prove that they have a disabling condition that satisifies the Social Security Administration definition of disability. That definition holds that the claimant must have a condition that is A) severe enough to have lasted (or eventually last) one full year, and B) prevent the claimant from engaging in substantial and gainful work activity.

Procedurally, qualifying for disability will mean that the claimant's medical records will show one of the following:

1. That the claimant has a condition listed in the Social Security Disability list of impairments and that their condition meets the severity requirements specified in the listing.

2. That the claimant has severe functional limitations (physical, mental, or both physical and mental) which interfere with basic daily activities and basic work activities to the extent that they cannot return to their past work or perform any other type of work for which their skills and education would ordinarily qualify them.

Applying for disability

Applying for disability should begin with contacting a local Social Security office. This will lead to an appointment being set for a disability application interview. At the interview, the claimant will be screened for their program eligibility and will be asked to provide all necessary and relevant information for the processing of their disability claim.

The interview is conducted by a CR, or claims representative. The CR is the individual who is responsible for the intake portion of the claim. The CR will gather information regarding non-medical criteria (for example, income and assets). However, their primary focus will be to obtain information that is used to make the decision on the claim: A) the medical treatment history and B) the vocational work history.

It is advisable for claimants to write down both their history of medical treatment as well as their work history information (for the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled - this is what Social Security refers to as the relevant period) prior to the disability interview to ensure that the information is both detailed and complete.

Note: Claims may be filed online using the SSA website; however, the SSA online process does offer filing for SSI disability. It also does not allow for a disability interview to be conducted, and, therefore, does not allow a claimant the opportunity to ask questions regarding the application and appeal pprocess. For these reasons, filing a claim with a local office may offer more advantages. For claimants with medical mobility or transportation issues, the disability interview may be conducted over the phone. This may also be requested for claimants who simply prefer a phone interview.

Meeting the qualifications for disability

Though most claimants may not be aware of the fact, applying for disability is, procedurally, a two-step process. Disability claims begin at Social Security field offices. But the actual processing of a case and the determination of whether the case will qualify by meeting disability requirements of SSD or SSI, occurs at a separate agency. This agency is usually referred to as DDS, or disability determination services.

At DDS, the claim is assigned to a specialist known as a disability examiner. The examiner will request the claimant's medical records and, after receiving this information will consider it alongside work history information (for an adult claim) or academic and school information (for a child claim) in order to render a disability determination.

In some cases, a decision may be made on the basis of just the medical evidence alone. This is known as meeting or equaling the requirements of a listing in the Social Security Disability list of impairments.

Most cases will not be approved on the basis of the listings, however. This is due to two facts: 1) the majority of medical conditions are not included in the listings and 2) the approval criteria for each listing is very specific and, in most cases, a claimant's medical records will not provide the necessary information required by the listing.

When a case cannot be approved through a listing, a disability examiner may be able to approve the case on the basis of both the medical treatment history and the information obtained from the claimant's work history. This type of decision is known as a medical vocational allowance.

When a medical vocational allowance is granted, the determination has been made that the claimant no longer possesses the ability to perform work activity at a level that would earn them a substantial and gainful income. This includes the performance of their past work as well as any other type of work that they might be qualified for.

As stated, the majority of disability claims will be denied at the disability application levels. Claimants who have been denied will be notified and given the opportunity to file their first appeal, a request for reconsideration.

  • Disability application denial rate: 69.7 percent.
  • Disability application approval rate: 30.3 percent.

    Level II: Request for Reconsideration - After a disability application in Arkansas is denied, the case moves to the first appeal level, the request for reconsideration. The criteria for a decision, and the qualifications for disability are the same at this appeal level.

    Meeting the Social Security Administration's disability qualifications will require demonstrating a claimant has significant functional limitations that may prevent basic work activity.

    Like all appeals, the reconsideration appeal must be requested within 60 days--plus an additional five days given for mailing time--from the date of the denial. The denial date is usually stamped in the upper right hand corner of the denial notice, or notice of disapproved claim.

    Note: To be considered timely, the appeal must actually be received by the 65th day from the date of denial, not simply postmarked by that date.

    The reconsideration appeal will usually result in a decision that is made faster than the disability application. This is because the reconsideration takes place only a few days or weeks following the denial of the disability application and, in the majority of cases, most of the case development has already been completed.

    While it is typical to be denied on a reconsideration appeal, it is still a necessary step for at least two reasons: 1) A small percentage of disability claims will be approved at the reconsideration appeal level; 2) A claimant cannot request a disability hearing in Arkansas without having passed through the reconsideration phase beforehand.

  • Reconsideration appeal denial rate: 91.3 percent.
  • Reconsideration appeal approval rate: 8.7 percent.

    Level III: Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge - The disability hearing in Arkansas is the third level of the Social Security Administration's disability evaluation system and it comprises the second appeal level that is available to claimants.

    Hearings are requested when a claimant or the disability attorney involved on a case submits a formal "Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge". As with the prior appeal level, the request is sent to the local Social Security office controlling the case.

    With the reconsideration, an appeal is then forwarded to disability determination services where it will be assigned to an examiner for a determination. In the case of a hearing request, the Social Security office will transfer the case to a Social Security Hearing office. Hearing offices are technically known as ODAR, the office of disability adjudication and review.

    At the ODAR, the case will eventually be assigned to an ALJ or administrative law judge who will hold a hearing in which the claimant's medical evidence and the other details of the case will be considered.

    A disability hearing in Arkansas will, as in most states, take of number of months to be scheduled. Claimants should know from the outset that the burden of supplying medical evidence at this level of the system will fall entirely on the claimant and/or their disability lawyer since all case development stops at the reconsideration stage. This makes hearing preparation vital for the success of the case.

  • Disability Hearing denial rate: 50.4 percent
  • Disability Hearing approval rate: 49.6 percent

    Note: There are currently two disability hearing offices in Arkansas and both offices, on average, issue disability award notices at a rate that is lower than the national average of 50 percent.

    The Fort Smith AR hearing office has a disability award rate of 47.1 percent and the Little Rock AR hearing office has a disability award rate of 50.6 percent.

    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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