Over the past few months, lawyers in the Social Security disability legal community have been talking about a rumor that Social Security administrators in Washington have sent out a memo to judges working in hearing offices throughout the country instructing them to cut back on the number of approvals being issued in disability cases. Historically, about 60% of cases taken to hearing have been approved – but according to this rumor, Social Security wants the approval rate to be around 30%.
There is no question that the Social Security disability trust fund is running out of money and judges in the local hearing offices are aware of this issue.
I have found no evidence that a memo has been sent, but I do note that all of the judges before whom I appear are requiring more and better evidence. Specifically, I am looking for the following when I accept a case and from my discussions with colleagues throughout the country, they are doing likewise:
- on-going treatment records – ideally records documenting several years’ worth of treatment
- a definitive diagnosis – your doctor needs to be able to identify specifically the medical condition or conditions that impact your work capacity
- support from your treating doctor in the form of a functional capacity form or narrative report – if your doctor does not want to get involved, or otherwise won’t cooperate, your case will be more difficult to win
- efforts by my client to try to work – under Social Security’s definitions, an unsuccessful work attempt is one that lasts less than 3 months. If you try to work but cannot, I think you enhance your credibility by showing that you are fighting against the idea of being disabled, not embracing it
- older claimants – 45 or older