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The road to winning Social Security disability benefits can be long and difficult to navigate. It certainly doesn’t seem fair for a person who has contributed to the system for years through paycheck deductions becomes disabled yet is wrongfully turned down for their rightfully earned benefits. However, if there is a slender ray of hope in this process, it is this:good and deserving people can win if they are persistent and have the right allies.
A good illustration of these points can be found in a recent case of one of our clients at Nash Disability Law. We will call him James to protect his privacy. James had worked for years doing work requiring heavy labor. His work history was solid, but the physical nature of his job had taken a toll on him. He developed multiple health problems, with the most serious being degenerative joint disease, making it excruciatingly painful for him to engage in any physical activity. His wait for benefits was so long that he became homeless and his son was taken from him as a result.
Incredibly, when he finally got a disability hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied him disability benefits and ruled—without any medical evidence to back it up—that James was capable of lifting 50 pounds! Nash attorney Dan Rosen sees this as part of larger, ongoing problem. “When I started representing Social Security disability claimants many years ago, there was almost always a medical expert present at a disability hearing. But nowadays,” Rosen says,” it is relatively rare for a medical expert to be there.” (For more on this problem see the Nash Disability Law blog post Playing Doctor: How A Social Security Judge Overstepped His Authority.)
Additionally, ALJs too often rely on the opinion of the SSA doctor who reviewed the case when it was first denied. Because it takes so long for a hearing date, that opinion may be way out of date, as the applicant’s condition may have worsened.
But in this case, there is that slender ray of hope. James came to Nash Disability Law. We appealed the decision and the Appeals Council sent it back for another hearing. James now also has a chance of getting his son back. “While it’s not over yet,” Rosen points out, “it’s an example of how we keep fighting. It’s a process and our clients are hardworking people, not just numbers.”
There are two significant takeaways from this case: