The Video Teleconference (VTC) Process

Posted November 22, 2017 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Due to the increased backlog of claims in recent years, the wait for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has increased drastically. In most jurisdictions, a claimant will wait 12 to 18 months (or longer) to have a hearing in front of an ALJ. This wait time does not include the processing time periods from initial application and reconsideration either. The 12 to 18 month waiting period begins once any individual requests a hearing. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that these timeframes are problematic for individuals whom are unable to work, unable to earn an income, and in many cases, unable to put food on their tables. Thus, SSA utilizes video teleconferencing (VTC) to help decrease the backlog. The process involves having ALJs appear by VTC from other jurisdictions that are not as backlogged at the hearing level. Often these VTC ALJs are from states that are not as populated, and therefore do not have as many claimants in their jurisdictions. Thus, the VTC ALJs have time to hear cases from other jurisdictions, which can help to decrease the backlog of claims.

The Offices of Disability Adjudication and Review, who handle claims at the hearing level, will send letters notifying claimants that they are utilizing the VTC process to help improve the efficiency of the hearing process. If you do not wish to have a VTC hearing scheduled, you have 30 days from the date that you receive the VTC notification to object to it. If you do not object within the 30-day period, and later decide you do not want to have a VTC hearing, then you must have good cause for missing the deadline.

In some cases, a VTC hearing makes sense. Accepting a VTC hearing may mean that you will have your hearing months in advance of when it normally would be scheduled. However, a VTC also has its drawbacks. The VTCs can be blurry and have slight delays between communications. Thus, if you are hard of hearing, have difficulty with speech, or if you have an impairment that has physical manifestations (i.e. tremors, skin disorders etc), it may be best do elect to have an in-person hearing, even if it means you will be waiting extra months for that hearing.

If you or someone you know is unable to work due to a medical condition, please contact us for a free case evaluation! We may be able to help even if you already have a claim pending.

By: Thomas A. Klint of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

The Vocational Expert

Posted November 17, 2017 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

In many disability claims, vocational evidence becomes critical to whether you will be found disabled or not. A vocational expert (VE) is an “expert witness” called by the Social Security Administration to testify at your disability hearing. A VE knows about job availability in the current labor market and the skills needed to perform certain jobs.

If you are found to have a severe medical impairment, the question then becomes whether you can perform your past work or any other work – such as a light duty or sedentary job – with your age, education, and work experience. For example, a 55-year-old coal miner with a fifth-grade education is in a different position than a 40-year-old with a graduate degree.

A VE is called to testify at most disability hearings. VE’s are trained to assess an individual’s age, education, and past work to determine “transferable” skills which would allow them to move into another job. A Judge usually calls a VE when it is clear that an individual cannot return to the type of work that they performed in the past. The VE is then asked to indicate what jobs are available in the local or national economy, considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, physical and mental limitations and “transferable” skills.

If the Judge determines that you can still perform any kind of full-time work, then your disability claim may be denied. Keep in mind, the issue is not whether you could be hired for a particular job, but whether you retain the capacity to perform any other type of work.

Social Security recognizes that as people age, the ability to adapt to new skills, tools, and work settings diminishes. If pain and/or fatigue impose significant limitations, this can reduce the pool of available jobs. The VE should be cross-examined to determine if you can fully perform the job(s) suggested. It takes experience with disability hearings and knowledge of Social Security law to ask the right questions that will successfully rule out any jobs the VE says you could do. To avoid losing your hearing based on the VE’s testimony, consider hiring an advocate or attorney to represent you at your hearing.

If you or someone you know is looking for assistance with a Social Security Disability claim, please contact us for a free case evaluation!

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

What Does it Mean to Ambulate Effectively?

Posted November 10, 2017 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

There is a wide variety of conditions and impairments that may qualify a person for Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits. What is important to understand is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not as concerned with the diagnosis itself as they are with the limitations that an impairment may impose on an individual’s ability to work. Certain impairments, like lower extremity joint disorders, require SSA to look at a person’s ability to “ambulate effectively” when assessing disability. SSA defines effective ambulation in specific terms.

In order to ambulate or walk effectively, an individual must be able to walk without a hand-held device that would otherwise prevent an individual from using at least one upper extremity to carry items. For example, a person must use his/her hands to operate a walker or a manual wheelchair. Thus, a person using a manual wheelchair or walker would have difficulty with ambulation because such devices require the use of both hands to be operational. Conversely, a person who relies on a cane to walk has an available hand to carry items.

Furthermore, to ambulate effectively, SSA also indicates that a person must be able to walk at a reasonable pace over sufficient distance to carry out activities of daily living. Effective ambulation further requires that a person be capable of walking at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces for a full block. A person must be capable of walking up a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single handrail to be considered ambulatory. Finally, a person must be able to use public transportation to carryout routine ambulatory activities like shopping to meet SSA’s requirements for effective ambulation.

For more information on SSA’s definition of “effective ambulation,” please see: http://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/1.00-Musculoskeletal-Adult.htm

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®