The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives Conference (NOSSCR), held annually, hosts SSDI attorneys and representative’s country-wide serving as pioneers in continuing legal education and furthering firm’s practices. In 1997, the first conference advocating for the disabled was held in New Orleans and now 40 years later, they are back! Not only did Patrice have a fantastic time in the ‘The Big Easy’ but she was able to continue her education on SSDI matters to ultimately help our clients. Some highlights include effectively cross-examining experts witness like vocational experts and medical experts, an ethics session representing claimants with mental disabilities effectively, and learning more about how Veteran’s Administration (VA) disability/unemployable status and how Social Security views this information in deciding on disability.
March 27, 2017 is a very important date on this topic! On this date, Social Security Administration (SSA) changed its rules to state that a decision of total disability by another government agency is not based on Social Security rules and therefore not binding to the SSA. This largely has to do with the complicated way the VA calculates a cumulative, final disability rating. The VA uses “VA math” that can result in a veteran, for example, have a cumulative rating of 70 percent, with that individual have a 50 percent rating for a mental impairment and 30 percent rating for a physical impairment. One step further, this same individual could either be compensated at the 70 percent rate or the 100 percent rate depending on the employability of the veteran. Therefore, it is possible for a veteran to have a 100 percent disability rating but still be employable. Additionally, a 100 percent compensation rate is the same as a 100 percent disability rating.
So, what is the determining factor? The determining factor is if the VA deems the individual to be unemployable, and this can be determined despite having a cumulative rating less than 100 percent. These are called Total Disability Individual Unemployable (TDIU) claims, and in order to meet the status of being unemployable, the veteran must have either one condition with a cumulative rating of 60 percent or have a cumulative final rating of 70 percent with one individual condition rating of 40 percent or higher.
Thus, for the SSDI Advocate, it is vital to look at both TDIU cases where the cumulative rating may be under 100 percent but the veteran is deemed unemployable and 100 percent rating where the veteran is considered unemployable. The Advocate in either case can use this as platform to build the case but should not make the rating the entire case. But why not? Well simply put, VA decisions on disability are not given a much weight by the SSA due to lack of clear understanding of the VA adjudication process. According to some, the SSA has a more elaborate or developed system for evaluating total disability than the VA. For example, SSA considers factors like age while the VA does not evaluate how age would affect employ-ability. So unfortunately, factors like this cause the VA to give more weight to SSA decisions on disability instead of the other way around. Additionally, the VA can use even favorable SSA decisions against veterans still seeking higher impairment ratings or unemployable status as the VA will play close attention to how much the decision is based on service-connected medical issues.
Ultimately, the NOSSCR conference leaves you incredibly proud, surrounded by other professionals that know Social Security Disability is their passion and we truly want to make the system better for our clients.
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