May 22, 2019

Should I Be Concerned About the Judge’s Delay in Issuing my Hearing Decision


I frequently get emails from blog readers all over the country who appeared at a disability hearing several weeks or months previously and they are concerned that they are hearing nothing from the judge.  Sometimes these folks will call the hearing office and the receptionist will tell them that their decision is “in writing.”

Obviously, if you have been waiting 12, 18 or more months, it can be very frustrating to finally get your hearing, then find yourself waiting weeks or months for a decision with no way to get a status update.

Unfortunately, there is no much you can do about this state of affairs.  Social Security personnel – and especially the judges – are overworked and their offices are understaffed.  In most cases the judges rely on “writers” to actually produce the written decisions and if the writers are backlogged, the decisions will be backlogged as well.

Even your attorney probably won’t be able to do much.  When we call the ODAR offices, the front desk receptionist tells us the same thing he tells you – “the decision is in writing – we don’t know when it will be issued.”

In my office I will email the judge if the decision is not released after five months or so.  Sometimes that gets results and sometimes it does not.

A Disturbing Trend in Social Security Disability Hearings

Over the past few months, I have noticed a disturbing trend in many of the Social Security hearing offices where I appear.   Many of the case files do not contain comprehensive medical records or forms that translate medical problems into specific work limitations.  Why?  Many of the free and low cost medical and mental health clinics that used to service disability claimants have closed up shop.  It seems to me that some of the judges that hear disability cases are turning down deserving cases on the basis of a thin medical file when the reason for lack of treatment is financial, not a function of the claimant’s motivation.

Episode 27 – Why Does Social Security Have a Problem with Part Time Work?

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I have previously related my opinion that part time work can hurt your chances at getting approved for disability benefits.  A couple of recent cases confirms my reservations.  In one case, I represented a woman with a long standing diagnosis of fibromyalgia.  Her medical record was extremely comprehensive, and included reports from numerous doctors attesting to the myofascial pain and debilitating fatigue that is typical of this chronic pain condition.  I had functional capacity forms from 2 of her treating doctors that strongly supported my contention that she did not have the capacity for competitive work at any level.  In my opinion, this claimant was as deserving as any fibromyalgia patient that I have ever represented, yet the judge denied the claim because my client had published a web site about her ordeal, and used the web site to as a forum to support her fellow fibromyalgia patients.

I have seen several instances where web sites like the one I have described created problems for claimants.  I have also seen situations where a claimant was denied for “riding along” with his son in a landscaping business, and for accompanying her son to his job at a video store.

Although I think that in most of these cases, the claimants were simply bored and wanted to get out of the house, judges get very uncomfortable with activities that look like work.

In this video, I talk about part time work and my thoughts about why and how it can negatively affect your case.

Episode 22: Can Social Security Force Me to Take a Less Demanding Job?

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Here is a question I received from a woman named Phyllis who sent me the following email:

IF YOU HAVE WORKED AS A PROFESSIONAL NURSE FOR PAST 25 YEARS AND CAN NO LONGER DO THE JOB AS A NURSE DUE TO DISABILITY, CAN SOCIAL SECURITY REQUIRE YOU TO WORK AS A  NON-PROFESSIONAL WITH ALOT LESS PAY  DOING SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOUR WERE TRAINED TO DO ? IF THE ANSWER IS YES,  DO THEY  ASSIST YOU IN FINDING ADEQUATE EMPLOYMENT  IN YOUR COMMUNITY WHERE YOU LIVE.

In the podcast, I make note of the following:

  1. In evaluating your case, Social Security is asking whether there is work out there that you could do, within Social Security’s regulatory framework.  If you are successful in proving that you cannot work, you win; if the judge concludes that you can work, you lose.
  2. Social Security cannot force you to take a job.  Similarly, Social Security will not find you a job – they are not an employment agency.
  3. Social Security will ask whether you have transferrable skills from past work.  If so, they will ask whether skills you may have obtained working could transfer to an easier job
  4. Generally, I approach most cases with the mindset that I need to prove that my client would not be a reliable, dependable worker in any job setting.
  5. You can read more at my Social Security disability blog about how Social Security classifies jobs based on exertional capacity and based on skill level.