Many of our Social Security disability clients, even those who have filed a claim for workers compensation in the past or been through the personal injury lawsuit process because of a car accident, describe the SSD process as one of the most frustrating experiences of their life. That’s because we often have to appeal several SSD denials and present their case at a Social Security Disability hearing before they get approved for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). It’s easy to see why they feel that the Social Security Administration (SSA) is doing everything it can to prevent them from getting the benefits and medical coverage they deserve.


Though the experience can make it feel otherwise, the Social Security Disability program is set up as a non-adversarial system. The rules and regulations are written in a way that tries to prove a neutral review of every disability application. Even the hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ) is supposed to be a “de novo, informal, non-adversarial hearing[].”


At the initial application level you must submit various information and documents to the SSA that will allow it to obtain medical documentation from your treating health care providers and to evaluate how your physical or mental disabilities affect your ability to complete activities of daily living and to work on a sustained basis.


Your application forms also allow the SSA to determine how far you went in school, which is known as your educational background, and your work experience. Your work experience determines whether you acquired any job skills that can transfer to work at a lower physical exertion level. ¬†All these factors help determine whether you can prove you’re disabled under the Social Security Disability Grid Rules, formally known as the SSA’s Medical-Vocational Guidelines.


It’s important that you don’t confuse the non-adversarial nature of the Social Security Disability system as a guarantee that the SSA will do everything it can to find evidence that supports your application for benefits. Once the SSA receives your initial set of application forms and your signed medical authorization release, your claim is transferred to the state agency responsible for making the initial disability determination for the federal government in Virginia. This state agency is Disability Determination Services (DDS). Virginia Disability Determination Services is headquartered in Richmond, but has regional offices in Norfolk, Fairfax, and Roanoke.


When your case is transferred from your local SSA field office to DDS, it is assigned to a disability claims examiner. This person is responsible for requesting your relevant treatment records and to develop the evidence in your case.


Unfortunately there is no guarantee that the disability claims examiner will get everything he or she is supposed to. And the examiner has no obligation to contact your treating medical providers to get evidence that may support your claim and show that you either meet a medical listing of impairment or are disabled based on your residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment.


The bottom line is that even though DDS is not working against you, it’s not working for you either. That’s why we recommend contacting an experienced Social Security lawyer with experience handling claims in Virginia. We’ll work with you and DDS to make sure all relevant medical documentation is obtained, including supportive reports from your medical providers, and that an accurate and complete description of your work experience is filed so that all past work is classified properly.


If your claim is denied at the initial application level – and there is a good chance that it will be since the majority of initial applications are denied nationwide – then you may request reconsideration. DDS will obtain updated medical documents from the providers you list in your Disability Report – Appeal form. So make sure you include an exhaustive list of medical providers in your appeal forms!


If you are denied on reconsideration, then you should file a Request for Hearing with the SSA. Though the judge serves as a neutral fact finder and there is no attorney on the other side arguing against you, you continue to have the burden of proof in your claim. So even though the disability system is non-adversarial, you must be proactive and develop the evidence to give yourself the best shot of winning your case.


If you’re looking for help with your disability claim, contact Richmond disability attorney and Newport News Social Security disability lawyer Corey Pollard for a free consultation. We’ll do everything we can to help you get approved for benefits. And there is no fee unless you win.

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