The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently released statistics regarding fiscal year 2016 dealing with Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determinations on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims. I recently have blogged about average processing time in hearing offices and some of these statistics tie into the processing time of claims. The numbers indicate that there were slightly over 50 ALJs that only produced 10 decisions during fiscal year 2016 and about 75 ALJs that produced more than 600 decisions. The bulk of the ALJs produced between 400 and 600 decisions per year, though there is a sizeable group deciding less than 300 claims.
Social Security Disability or SSI claimants often wonder whether they can receive unemployment and still apply for and be awarded Social Security Disability. A person receiving unemployment must have affirmed that he is able to work and, often, that he is actively seeking work. The question then becomes is whether the claimant's statement about his ability to work is an automatic bar to the receipt of disability benefits.
The Social Security Administration recently released information regarding Allowance Rates for Social Security Disability and SSI claims for Fiscal Year 2011. The Allowance Rates are a percentage of cases approved at the Application stage and Reconsideration. Consistent with recent years, the allowance rate in Tennessee is 24.5% at the application stage and only 8.9% at Reconsideration. Put in more proper perspective, three out of every four claimants are denied benefits on their application and nine out of ten are denied at Reconsideration.
Periodically I like to post some useful information for Social Security Disability and SSI claimants in Tennessee.
Eligibility for Social Security Disability and SSI benefits can still be obtained despite issues involving alcoholism and drug addiction. The Senior Citizens Right to Work Act of 1996 changed the way claimants with a history of drug or alcohol abuse are considered for benefits. Ever since 1996, the key question is whether the Social Security Administration (SSA) would still find the claimant disabled despite the cessation of drug or alcohol use. The SSA evaluates which physical or mental limitations would remain after cessation and then whether the limitations would be disabling. If the ALJ, for instance, finds that when alcohol is removed that a claimant's mental impairments are not severe then benefits can and will be denied. If, for example, a claimant had severe limitations arising from a back injury that was disabling, then the ALJ cold find the alcoholism was not a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.
Social Security Disability and SSI claimants (and their representatives) are going to be hamstrung and disadvantaged by a new policy instituted by the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) effective December 19, 2011 where the identity of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) assigned to a claimant's case will not be disclosed until the time of the hearing. Apparently, the rationale for this new policy is to stop the alleged practice of some advocates who, ODAR claims, "forum shop" to avoid particular ALJs in video hearings and as a reaction to recent attention about "outlier" ALJs with high allowance rates.
Social Security Disability and SSI claimants have another positive court ruling on a mental impairment case. The District Court in the Northern District of Florida reversed the Administration's decision denying benefits in Williams v. Astrue where a Claimant was alleging disability based on Listing 12.05 for Mental Retardation. The ALJ improperly rejected the plaintiff's full scale IQ score of 66.
In a positive case for Social Security Disability and SSI claimants, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded an unfavorable decision because the ALJ did not properly evaluate a treating physician's opinions. In Scott v. Astrue, 647 F.3d 734 (7th Cir. 2011) the Court found that the ALJ's analysis reveals an all-too-common misunderstanding of mental illness. "The very nature of bipolar disorder is that people with the disease experience fluctuations in their symptoms, so any single notation that a patient is feeling better or has had a 'good day' does not imply that the condition has been treated." The ALJ "was too quick to read inconsistencies" into the treating doctor's statements. It is not inconsistent for a patient to respond to treatment yet be markedly limited in her ability to work. Although the plaintiff had improved with treatment, she continued to experience manic depressive episodes. An ALJ may not pick and choose certain parts of a medical opinion.
The Social Security Administration has released disposition data for the Administrative Law Judges on their website for September 2010 through June of 2011.