You may have already learned that applying for Social Security Disability benefits can be a long, complicated and frustrating process. If so, you likely heard that denials are common and that it’s important to make sure you dot every “i” and cross every “t” with your forms and documentation.
However, there’s more to your application than you may know. Unfortunately, a large variable in whether you are approved or denied depends on who reviews your application.
As noted on the Social Security website, the Social Security Administration (SSA) oversees the nation’s two main disability programs. It is responsible for all Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims.
However, the SSA doesn’t review all these claims. Instead, it passes the initial reviews down to 52 Disability Determination Services (DDS) offices. These include one for each state, as well as one each for Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. This means that your application would most likely go to the Michigan DDS, which is actually part of Michigan’s state agency the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
Each DDS employs people to review disability applications. These include doctors who get paid to review the complex medical and work information included in each application. These people are supposed to explore the facts to decide if they support the claim. But as a recent article in the Tennessean revealed, the doctors hired by the DDS often work too fast to make good judgments.
Although the Tennessean’s report looked at the Tennessee DDS, rather than the Michigan DDS, it offered a behind-the-scenes look at some major flaws in the system. In short, the article pointed out that Tennessee’s DDS paid doctors a flat fee for each application they reviewed. This incentivized speedy, often incomplete reviews. And because doctors were more likely to make mistakes in favor of denials than approvals, Tennessee’s denial rate was 72%, well above the national average of 66%.
There is good news. A denial of the initial application is not binding on a reviewing administrative law judge. Therefore, if you are denied your initial application for disability benefits, it is important to consult with an experienced Social Security Disability Attorney to make sure your interests are protected and well represented.