Sweeping New Social Security Disability Regulations Effective August 1, 2006
The new regulations changing the Social Security Disability Claims Process take effect August 1, 2006. Many Social Security Disability lawyers have commented regarding the pros and cons of these new rules since the original Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) last year. Thankfully, the Social Security Administration has taken some of our comments to heart and modified some of the proposed rules to benefit claimants.
From my perspective, the most claimant friendly improvements to the new Disability Service Improvement Process (DSI) are twofold. First, Social Security Disability Attorneys are not required to submit adverse medical evidence, as was originally proposed in the NPRM. If your law firm handles workers’ compensation claims like mine, you always have a few completely "terrible, no good, very bad" IME reports (to paraphrase "Alexander") in your file. Submitting such reports to certain ALJ’s would give them the ammo to shoot your claimant down. Under my ethical obligation to "zealously" represent my client, I have always refused to submit IME reports even when an ALJ "orders" me to submit them. My standard response to these ALJ’s is to remind them of their subpoena power and give them the workers’ compensation insurance carriers address. To date, no ALJ has ever taken the time to issue such a subpoena. Perhaps, upon reflection, they agreed with my argument that IME reports prepared by a party with adverse interests to the claimant generally lacked probative value…perhaps?
Second, Social Security Disability Lawyers will now have a 75 day notice of an Administrative Law Judge hearing. This is a great improvement over the current 20 day notice requirement which often sent us scrambling at the last minute to obtain the still outstanding residual functional capacity (RFC) form which has been sitting on the treating physician’s desk for the last three months. Now it can sit on the doctor’s desk for at least another month!
Other changes include Quick Disability Determinations (QDDs) for clearly disabled claimants, establishment of a new Medical and Vocational Expert System (MVES), and the new position of the Federal Reviewing Official (RO), a government attorney who looks at claims between initial denial level and the ALJ hearing level, and a new Decision Review Board (DRB) replacing the old Appeals Council. For those of us who remember the utter failure of old Adjudication Officer (AO) position, let’s hope the RO position more resembles the successful Senior Attorney program. These changes are being implemented gradually accross the country, starting in Region I (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont). On August 1st, all Social Security Disability attorneys will be playing on a new ballfield!