Chat about the Social Security claims process with Edward Swierczek

August 20, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Edward Swierczek, a senior claimant representative with Allsup Inc. Swierczek has worked with Social Security Disability Insurance claims for 34 years. Allsup - a national company - helps people through the claims process and has obtained more than $1.4 billion in Social Security and Medicare payments.

Moderator:

Hi, I am Christine Metz and today's moderator for our online chat about Social Security Disability. Sorry for the late start we've had some technical difficulties, but are up and running now.
We have with us Ed Swierczek a senior claim executive with Allsup Inc. He has 34 years of experience dealing with Social Security Disability Insurance.
Thanks for joining us today, Ed and waiting for our equipment to start working.

Edward Swierczek:

Thanks for asking us. Allsup Inc. is based near St. Louis and we are celebrating our 23rd year of helping people with their Social Security disability benefits. We'd be happy to answer any of your questions.

Moderator:

Well, to get the chat kicked off, I'd like to ask a question. As someone who works with disability claims, what are the reasons you see for the nationwide backlog? And, is there anything a person applying for disability can do to avoid getting stuck in the system?

Edward Swierczek:

There are two parts to the problem. Number one is the Social Security Administration is under-staffed and under-funded. The second part of the problem is, as the baby boom generation ages the number of disability claims is increasing rapidly.

As far as how to avoid it. There is no way to completely avoid it. However, you can shorten your time frame with proper representation such as Allsup Inc.

Moderator:

Here's our frist question and just a reminder to readers you can still post your own.

AttaGirl45:

It seems it is harder to get approved for disability under Mental Health reasons, yet Mental health patients often do not have the support or financial means to wait on the system. Often they give up. Why does the Social Security Administration look upon Mental illness as a lesser disability than one of a more physical nature?

Edward Swierczek:

The Social Security Administration does not look upon mental illness as a lesser disability. The requirements to secure disability based on a mental impairment are quite stringent. However, with proper documentation from a mental health care professional, securing disability based on mental impairment is not any more difficult than securing disability based on physical impairment. I might add that the affective disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder, are the second most common category of awarded impairments. In fact, with a mental impairment--age, education and prior work history are not a consideration in assesing the limitations of a mental impairment.

Moderator:

Just a follow up question, how much documentation or evidence do people need to gather to prove that they are disabled?

Edward Swierczek:

As long as they are seeing a qualified mental health care professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, the evidence provided by them should be sufficient. But of significant import, is that the treating mental health care professional needs to know what the Social Security Administration needs for documentation. A qualified representative will be able to let this mental health care professional know what is neccesary to document the type of mental health impairment the individual might have. And futhermore, information from licensed professional counselors, social workers and other individuals may be used in documenting the severity of the patient's mental impairment.

Moderator:

Considering the long wait, at what stage of an illness or injury should someone begin the disability claims process?

Edward Swierczek:

You should apply immediately when you stop working, if you feel you are disabled. And by disabled, I mean the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical and/or mental impairment that can be expected to last 12 months, or has lasted for 12 months or can be expected to result in death. This is Social Security's rigid definition of a disability.

Moderator:

So, what exactly does the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity" mean?

Edward Swierczek:

Currently, that means anyone working and earning $900 per month or more is considered not disabled by SSA, because of engaging in "substantial gainful activity."

Moderator:

To our readers - We'll still able to take one or two more questions, so if you have them post.

Moderator:

From your experience, what do you see as a solution for improving this backlog?

Edward Swierczek:

More resources are needed. Congress and the administration should provide increased funding to allow the SSA to hire more people at all levels, including the Administrative Law Judges. Unfortunately, the challenge is so huge, even taking the step won't be enough. The crisis is so steep that it will take an all hands on deck approach to resolve. Companies like Allsup, who are already providing solutions in the marketplace, need to continue to educate and reach out to disabled Americans in need. Allsup requalifies individuals to ensure eligibility, develops an accurate factual record, and helps shepherd applicants through the disability decision process, leaving the SSA to focus on issuing disability decisions and clearing back-logged claims.

Baille:

80% of people who apply for SSDI the first time get denied. 70% who apply a second time get denied. But if on appeal one goes before an administrative judge with an attorney they get approved 70% of the time.

What kind of system is that that denies people twice over a period of months, makes them hire counsel (for the statutory percentage rate) and then approves them after months of denials? Is the US looking to save money by attrition?

Edward Swierczek:

For the sake of accuracy, the SSA denies about 60 percent of all initial applications.

At the hearing level in the state of Kansas, approximately 71 percent get awarded if they use Allsup's services as opposed to the 26.5 percent statewide SSA average reported by the Lawrence Journal World.

There are several reasons for more people getting awarded at the hearing level. Conditions worsen over time and it takes a number of years for a judge to hear the claim. Consequently, by sheer numbers, you are going to have more people awarded because their impairments worsened over the time frame. Additionally at the hearing level, the Administrative Law Judge has more leeway in assesing the impairment and giving stronger consideration to the limitations imposed by symptoms than professionals at other levels.

The Adminstrative Law Judge gives significant weight to the claimant's testimony. Thus, credibility of the claimant is important. We emphasize that the claimant elaborates on their limitations, but not exaggerate.

Moderator:

That's all the time we have for today. To our readers, thanks for taking the time to post questions. And, Ed, thanks for answering them. Ed, do you have any closing comments before signing off?

Edward Swierczek:

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to answer your questions. If you have any additional questions you can contact us via our Web site at www.allsup.com. You can also e-mail us at info@allsupinc.com or call us at 800-279-HELP (4357). Remember, with Allsup Inc., you stay at home, we do the work.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.