The initial disability claim is filed. Social Security (SSA) workers document birth records, work records and citizenship. The claim is forwarded to the Tennessee Human Services Department, Disability Determination Section (DDS). A worker is assigned, and requests medical records and other records based on the application information. The worker requests information from you using questionnaires: work history, activities of daily living, pain, fatigue, etc. The worker may request an examination with a SSA doctor. You are expected to cooperate fully. Finally, all information gathered is sent to a staff doctor (that you never see). The staff doctor basically decides whether your impairment is severe and has lasted more than 12 months, whether it meets the level of severity of one of the listed impairments in the regulations, and determines the residual functional capacity (what you can still do in spite of your impairments). The DDS worker compiles the results, and issues a determination (let’s say a denial). The claim is returned to SSA where a formal letter is written to you.
You have 60 days to request reconsideration (appeal) from the date of your initial denial. The SSA office forwards your appeal to DDS again. Another worker is assigned, and the process repeats in an abbreviated fashion. You have a 91% chance of being denied. The denied claim is returned to SSA where a formal letter is written to you.
You have 60 days to request a hearing from the date of your Reconsideration denial. The SSA office forwards your appeal to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). The odds of winning are more favorable here. However, you may have to wait 12-14 months for a hearing. ODAR rarely develops evidence. You must do it yourself or get help. The Administrative Law Judge notifies you of the hearing. If you don’t show up, your claim is dismissed. When you go to the hearing, you are expected to be familiar with everything that is in (or missing from) your evidence file. You will be asked questions using words with special definitions. You are expected to know what these words mean. You are expected to tell the truth with a high level of accuracy. Most folks are not accustomed to this high level of accuracy.
At initial application, we can review completed questionnaires (regarding the high level of accuracy expectation). We can question doctors (using forms). At denial, we appeal (requests reconsideration or a hearing). After this point (hearing request), we are the only one requesting medical reports. These are expensive. We can question doctors (using forms). We must perfect the strategy of the case at some point. This is where years of experience are invaluable. We prepare you for hearing. [When you go to the hearing, you are expected to be familiar with everything that is in (or missing from) your evidence file. You will be asked questions using words with special definitions. You are expected to know what these words mean. You are expected to tell the truth with a high level of accuracy. Most folks are not accustomed to this high level of accuracy.] We summarize the highlights of your evidence and tell it to you. Sometimes we edit it so we don’t scare you to death. We weigh credibility factors. We look at unprotected bias exposure points. We identify what is missing and try to obtain it with requests and money. We tell you the special definitions of terms that are relevant to your claim. We get you accustomed to the high level of accuracy expectations of the judge. We tell you how to address the judge and how to dress. We tell you what to expect. We question you for hours so we know your weaknesses and strengths, and your story. We explain the weight of evidence as it pertains to your testimony. We study the facts and law in your case, and prepare statements and argument.
After you win, we answer your questions about your back pay and current pay. We explain award notices and SSA letters. These are most confusing. We prompt SSA if they neglect you excessively.