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Surprising pitfalls in disability cases: it's more than meets the eye

A colleague of mine once shared an anecdote about a recent disability case of his that had gone terribly, terribly wrong. The evidence was strong, the judge was fair, and the client’s testimony was compelling. The problem? When asked if there was anything else he wanted to share with the judge, the client responded, “Your honor, if I could work, I would. In fact, I’ve looked everywhere for work, but I just can’t find anything.”

This beautifully illustrates one of the cardinal rules of good advocacy—never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. But for purposes of Social Security disability, it also illustrates just how counterintuitive the disability process can be. As this blog explains, disability law often entails more than meets the eye.

By any other measure, looking for work should be helpful to a disability case. After all, doesn’t it suggest that the person is genuinely striving to become self-sufficient and avoid dependency on governmental benefits? Well, to a judge, it suggests something very different. In our experience, most judges assume that a disabled person simply knows deep down that he is disabled. Based on this logic, the judge assumes that a person who is looking for work must not believe he is disabled. Interestingly, despite this assumption, The Social Security Administration actually encourages disability recipients to try to return to work through the Ticket to Work program and The Plan to Achieve Self-Support program. Nevertheless, disability judges routinely hold this against claimants who may truly be unable to hold a job.

There are a number of other factors that can have unintended consequences on a disability claim. For instance, The Social Security Administration does not care whether there are job openings nearby or whether technological changes have hindered your work prospects. Believe it or not, it even makes no difference whether an employer refuses to hire you because of your medical impairments. To some degree, The Social Security Administration does consider your age, education, and work history as well as the incidence of work nationally. But generally speaking, the government is solely concerned with whether you can perform the actual job requirements of competitive work; if you can, the government considers you “not disabled.”

Another issue we increasingly see involves disability claimants managing Facebook accounts. Unfortunately, the mere presence of these online profiles unfairly suggests that the person is capable of working, which is obviously not always the case. Worse still, we find that many clients with Facebook accounts are surprised to learn that their accounts are accessible to the public. If you are seeking disability benefits and have an online profile, I would encourage you to check out an excellent article by Time, which explains how to make your Facebook profile private.

This only goes to show that the disability system can be counterintuitive, and what may seem like an otherwise harmless remark or notation can have devastating effects. In reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg; there are many other pitfalls to avoid, which is partly why a SSDI attorney can be helpful. If you’re reading this and are concerned about an issue that might be affecting your disability case, be sure to contact us today.