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Earlier this week, the Supreme Court decided Biestek v. Berryhill, a case we hoped would balance in favor of all disability claimants. Unfortunately, the Court did not reach the outcome we had expected.

Understanding the Disability Process

Before delving into the merits of this case, some overview of the disability process is necessary. For most disability applicants, their best hope of success is a hearing before an administrative law judge. The hearing is usually attended by the claimant, his or her attorney, and various expert witnesses, including a vocational expert (and, occasionally, a medical expert). These experts exert tremendous influence on the outcome of a hearing, particularly the vocational expert, or 'VE,' who is responsible for classifying the applicant's job history and testifying as to whether or not there are other duties the applicant can perform.

The Vocational Expert

Enter Biestek. In this case, the vocational expert testified that Biestek could perform 120,000 'sorter' jobs and 240,000 'bench assembler' jobs – the implication being that he was not disabled. When Biestek's attorney asked how the vocational expert arrived at these numbers, she replied that they were from her own private labor market surveys. When the attorney asked to see these surveys, the vocational expert refused, and the Judge concluded that it was unnecessary. After the hearing, the Judge issued a partially favorable decision, denying some of Biestek's benefits based on the vocational expert's testimony. Now, the question was whether the vocational expert's testimony could be considered 'substantial evidence' to deny the claim.


It's an election year, which means that Social Security has become another contentious topic among political candidates, pundits, and the media. Unfortunately, not all information out there is accurate and the GOP-which infamously tried to keep our Social Security disability fund depleted last year-is counting on the public to take some of these assertions as fact. Below, let's debunk some of the myths that have been circulating.

Illegal Immigrants Are Benefiting from Social Security

Perhaps this myth is prevalent due to a lack of knowledge of how Social Security works, but Social Security benefits are dependent on a claimant's work history in Social Security-covered employment. If you begin a job as an undocumented resident without a Social Security number, there's no way to actually collect future benefits. Fake credentials may fool an employer-but not the Social Security Administration if a claim for benefits is made.

Illegal Immigrants and Fraudsters Are "Skipping the Line"

A Donald Trump ad aired earlier this month implied that illegal immigrants were not only preying on Social Security benefits, they were also "skipping the line" ahead of citizens that had filed legitimate claims. As the Los Angeles Times reports, this is categorically untrue: there is no way to skip the line. In cases where claimants are suffering from life-threatening conditions, there are ways to expedite their claim but, again, the claim must be verified as legitimate first.


There is a public perception that those who suffer from drug abuse or alcoholism (DAA) will never be granted approval for disability benefits. That isn't to say, however, that benefits are granted purely on the basis of an alcoholism or drug addiction diagnosis. In the middle of these two myths is the truth – while drugs and alcohol don't always impact your chances of eligibility for benefits, that doesn't mean it never will.

A disability claim can be denied by Social Security if it is determined that the individual's drug and alcohol addiction is a major factor that contributes to his or her disability. If the individual, however, would still meet the requirements without the drug and alcohol abuse, Social Security will consider their case.

To determine if drug or alcohol addiction is material to the determination of disability, Social Security will ask the following questions:


Dallas SSDI attorneysIt's no secret that the Social Security Administration faces a tremendous backlog of disability claims to evaluate and process. SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle told Huffington Post that the agency is "in the midst of a public service crisis."

Perhaps even more worrisome, however, is what reporters learned the agency is doing to improve efficiency. Up until recently, appealed claims that are remanded for reconsideration were handed back down to an administrative law judge. Now, the SSA is having some of those same cases handed to administrative appeals judges. The change may look minute, but could have negative ramifications for claimants.

That's because administrative appeals judges are not hired or overseen by the same standards as administrative law judges. Administrative law judges are shielded from institutional pressures, performance reviews, and bonus evaluations. Administrative appeals judges are not, calling their impartiality into question.


Dallas SSDI attorneysFor some time now, disabled Americans who were saddled with hefty federal student loans remained eligible for loan forgiveness under the Total and Permanent Disability ('TPD') Discharge program. Unfortunately, many disabled borrowers were unaware of the debt forgiveness program and have never sought assistance. Fortunately, the Department of Education has just announced that it plans to prospectively identify borrowers who are eligible for debt forgiveness, which could be a huge relief for thousands of disabled Americans.

Working in coordination with the Social Security Administration, the Department of Education has sought to identify student loan borrowers who receive disability payments and are designated as 'Medical Improvement Not Expected,' a term that would qualify them for loan forgiveness under the TPD program. According to the Department of Education, in December of 2015 and March of 2016, approximately 387,000 borrowers were identified as being eligible for debt forgiveness under TPD. The Department estimated that this constitutes over $7.7 billion worth of student loan debts that might be eligible for forgiveness.

Starting on April 18, 2016, The Department of Education is seeking to reduce this number by sending customized letters to eligible disabled borrowers with instructions on how to obtain a discharge under the TPD program. This will also apparently include a streamlined process to sign and complete an application with relatively little inconvenience.

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