Over the years, current and former government administrations have transformed the process of claiming your disability and social security benefits into what could best be described as an obstacle course for the average person. What makes things more critical, is that as a population the disabled are more likely than others to have limitations which reduce their ability to meet the demands of this ever-changing system.
The burden placed on the claimant by the Social Security Administration has increased over the years, as the number of applicants has risen. Few would doubt that claimants for Disability Benefits are in need of qualified professional help at every step of the process.
This may be the reason that Social Security developed a program of certification for non-attorneys to be able to represent claimants for a fee. These certified professionals charge the same as an attorney would, and may be qualified to help in the early stages of a case, but they are not qualified to challenge the Administration in the courts.
Sadly more and more people are being denied, especially at the Hearing level. Approval rates have plummeted in recent years. These Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) decisions can be challenged for legal errors. But the process is drawn out. An appeal to Federal Court is not within the competency of a non-attorney.
Social Security is investing enormous amounts of resources to modernize and handle the increase in claims by implementing broad changes in the process of awarding disability benefits. We have new regulations and procedures coming into effect in waves over the next few years– online filing, electronic case files and document storage and other innovations which are intended to speed up the enormous backlog of appeals pending at every level. However these systems require a high level of technology and knowledge of how to use a computer and internet applications. Many people lack the access, training or ability. Yet the expectations are higher than before.
Even the most experienced attorneys may be challenged to meet the demands of working with the new electronic filing interfaces. The “streamlining” and digitizing of the claims process; from application to approval (or denial), is achieved in large part by requiring even more meticulous attention to the ways in which documents are filed.
Certain rights to appeal could be further compromised by new regulations and practices coming into effect gradually. The Social Security Administration has come under fire recently from national advocate groups such as N.O.S.S.C.R. (www.nosscr.org) and the American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclu.org). These groups are trying to insure that the Social Security Administration, in attempting to “streamline’ the procedure, does not compromise some of our most important basic rights to appeal. There are concerns that these changes may be generating new ways of denying otherwise qualifying cases.
Video Hearings have also been promoted by the Social Security Administration to substitute for real in-person Hearings. They are intended to speed up your chances of getting a Hearing, however it has not been proven. At Marder, Bernard & Associates we do not refuse them, however we help the claimant to determine if it would be advantageous to his claim and leave the decision to the claimant.