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Social Security disability program revisions set for the new year

In the past year, the Social Security disability insurance program received a lot of media attention. Between criticisms of the number of people approved to receive SSDI and concerns about the disability trust fund running low, there was a lot to consider in 2013.

As 2014 is ushered in, officials from the Social Security Administration are working to change a number aspects of the disability program. Interestingly enough, some of the attention given to the program in 2013 has contributed to the impending reforms.

One of the requirements to receive SSDI benefits is that a person is not able to work as a result of their condition. In order to vet this, SSA administrators use a list of job listings and roles in the applicant's geographical area to see if they are truly unable to obtain work. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, this index of local jobs has not been updated to reflect changes in local job markets in many years. Government officials plan to fix this.

In addition to outdated job data, the SSA also uses a "grid" to help determine whether or not someone is qualified for benefits. The "grid" accounts for a variety of factors -- including age, occupation and medical conditions -- to determine eligibility. This too hasn't been updated in a long time.

Furthermore, SSA officials are looking to create transparency in the benefit approval process. They want to make sure that certain parts of medical records are excluded from applications. To accompany this, they want to make sure that applications are submitted and assessed fairly.

The SSD program also has a major backlog of appeals right now. Administrative judges are required to review cases that have been appealed. Their caseloads have been so large over the last several years, that many are wondering whether they have the time to give each case the kind of attention it deserves.

As the SSA rolls out these changes, it may be helpful for applicants to determine how it could affect their case. After all, everyone deserves to be treated fairly at all steps of the application or appeals process.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Six Changes Social Security is Making to its Disability Program," Damian Peletta, Dec. 26, 2013

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