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Social Security Administration Proposes Tightening Rules for Disability Benefits

Social Security Administration Proposes Tightening Rules for Disability Benefits

March 13, 2014

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has proposed changes that would require those applying for Social Security disability benefits to submit all relevant medical information to the government, even if that information indicates they are able to work.

A recent article on the matter in The Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire states that the SSA is facing increased pressure from Congress to cut down on the number of applicants who deliberately withhold evidence that may be unfavorable to their claims. The proposal would require Social Security disability applicants to “submit all evidence known to you that relates to whether or not you are blind or disabled. This would include evidence that may be either favorable or unfavorable to your claim.”

The proposal can be read in its entirety in the Feb. 20, 2014, edition of the Federal Register. Comments on the proposed changes are accepted through April 21, 2014; instructions for submitting comments are available with the Federal Register proposal summary.

While federal law regarding Social Security disability benefits suggests that all relevant medical information is required, the SSA and Congress in 2004 eased rules regarding legal representation for disability applicants to help alleviate a mounting backlog of claims. The thinking was that disability claims would move through the process more efficiently if applicants worked with attorneys who understood disability law and the processes for filing initial applications and appealing denied Social Security disability claims.

The new SSA proposal would shift much of the legal burden to the person applying for benefits rather than an applicant’s legal representative. According to The Wall Street Journal Washington Wire article, the proposal may be a method for avoiding challenges based on attorney-client privileges; the suggested changes follow previous reporting by The Wall Street Journal that a few unscrupulous lawyers were withholding information that may have been detrimental to their clients’ ability to recover benefits and hiring individuals who were not attorneys to process their clients’ applications.

Although it is not necessary to have legal representation to apply for Social Security disability benefits, many applicants choose to work with an attorney due to the complexity of the process and the fact that a high number of initial applications are rejected. In 2012, the last full year for which complete figures are available, the SSA received 3.2 million applications for disability benefits.