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Social Security Disability under review

Michigan residents who are unable to work because of a disability may be eligible to apply for Social Security Disability (SSD). The program offers financial help and health-care benefits to those in need, and will reach more than 10 million Americans this year.

However, apparently not everyone who suffers from a disability in the end receives SSD benefits. This is because of the lack of consistency among the approximately 1,500 judges who hear Social Security Disability appeals.

Whether one receives benefits currently depends largely on where one lives and who reviews the file. This may be because the judges who hear SSD cases are allowed wide discretion to award or deny benefits based on their interpretation of each case.

While the average approval rate is 60 percent, it actually varies widely from as low as 13 percent and as high as 99 percent. As a result, it has been argued, in fact, that some people who do not deserve benefits are awarded SSD, while others who really need the help are being denied.

Is this really the case, and if so, why the discrepancy? This will be the subject of an independent review into the federal disability system. The lead researcher is hoping to see if the current system can be improved so that those individuals who desperately need help receive a fair and thorough hearing despite which judge may be assigned to their case.

With this review, it is hoped that Social Security Disability Benefits can be equalized and more consistent. It is not fair if someone is unable to get the help they need simply because they are assigned to a judge who routinely and consistently denies SSD benefit applications.

In the meantime, benefit applicants will no longer be notified about which judge is assigned to hear a particular case. This was done with the hope that it would level the playing field for all SSD applicants. The other way to level the playing field is to hire the assistance of an experienced attorney to advocate for your interests.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Disability-Benefits System Faces Review," Damian Paletta, Dec. 15, 2011

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