February 2008


I have read horror stories about how difficult it is to call various local Social Security offices throughout the country. Long waits, busy signals, no one answering. The usual excuse is not enough staff, too much work to do, no rewards for answering phone calls.

Fortunately, some of the local offices in Central Illinois are responsive and provide good customer service. I have had some troubles getting through to Springfield, Champaign and Peru but with some persistence you can actually talk with a real person. The staff is responsive and helpful also.

The best local office is Bloomington, Illinois. A real person is always available and knows what to do and gives helpful responses. From stories circulating throughout the country we are very lucky to have such a responsive office.

The best tip I can give is to stay on the line and not listen to the recorded instructions. If you punch a number you usually get routed into a recording instead of having the chance to talk with a real person.

One of the important benefits of Social Security Disability is that it also provides you with access to medical coverage.

Once Social Security determines you are disabled, approximately 24 months after your initial payment date you are eligible for Medicare coverage. Onset date simply means the date Social Security says you became disabled. In some states, depending on the amount of your benefits, the state will pay your Medicare premium for you.

While you are waiting for your Medicare to kick in, the State of Illinois will cover your medical needs through Medicaid.

This is another reason that Social Security Disability is so important for people with serious health conditions.

Congress is attempting to institute reforms that will require Social Security Disability Judges to increase the number of hearing decisions they produce each year.

This will probably not result in cases moving any faster. Lets face it, most of the problem is that cases cannot be prepared fast enough for the judges to schedule the hearing. The lack of office staff slows the cases down.

The other problem is that the earlier stages of decision making- initial review and reconsideration- do not have the proper authority or decision making ability to sort out the truly worthy cases in which a person is disabled. There may be some small number of judges who are not doing their job, but this does not explain or account for the massive backlogs Social Security experiences in disability cases.

Therefore, while it may make for good political theatre do not expect this idea to move your case any faster.

We do not like to talk about bad things. But sometimes it happens. The Administrative Law Judge rules against you, and says you are not disabled.

It is emotionally devastating. However, you still have options.

First, you can appeal the decision to the Appeals Council. This a paper review that takes place in Washington D.C. This means there is no additional testimony. The Appeals Council reviews all your file from the hearing, and a transcript of the hearing testimony. This typically takes anywhere from 2 months to one year to receive a decision. The decision can range from another denial, to a reversal with a finding of disability, or a remand to the judge with instructions to develop more evidence regarding specific areas.

Second, you can also reapply at the same time as you appeal. The advantage to reapplying is that your case may be given to a different judge and it is usually processed faster the second time since the file has already been prepared for hearing.

The Social Security Disability process is long and has many twists at times so you must be prepared for the long haul.

A major part of Social Security Disability is medical evidence. This includes medical records and reports from your doctors.

To have the best evidence available you should inform your doctor that you have applied for Social Security Disability and are in the process of having a hearing schedule. Explain that the Social Security Judge will be reading your medical records trying to determine what conditions you have and how your conditions limit your daily activities such as lifting, range of motion, sitting, standing, walking, endurance, use of hands and arms, concentration and fatigue. The doctor should also know the administrative law judge is interested in your medications and any side-effects such as fatigue and loss of concentration.

You should also ask your doctor if she is willing to write a letter to support your claim which details the above information.

This type of evidence will be very helpful in your Social Security case.