You Can Help Shape Our Disability Policy

November 2, 2015 • By

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Last Updated: November 2, 2015

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Social Security needs your help. We are asking for responses to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on how we should modernize our vocational rules, which we first published in 1978. These are the rules our disability decision makers use to decide whether an adult with a severe disabling condition can do any job in the national economy.

The Social Security Act sets out a strict definition of disability. Our agency pays benefits to eligible people who can’t work because of a disabling mental or physical condition expected to last at least one year or result in death. This medical condition must prevent the person from doing not only their previous work, but any other substantial work.

On Friday, November 20 in Washington DC, Social Security will host a National Disability Forum. The meeting will focus on the realities of employment for individuals with severe disabling conditions, especially for those who are older, have low skills, or low education levels. The purpose is to gather insight on circumstances such as age, education, and work experience, helping us understand the effect these may have on an individual’s ability to work and to adjust to other work. The National Disability Forum looks to consider how these vocational factors can and should inform our evaluation of an applicant’s ability to work consistent with the Social Security Act’s definition of disability.

Paul N. Van de Water will moderate a panel of experts from varying perspectives on these topics. Following the panel presentation, we encourage comments and discussion from all attendees. Your involvement is of the utmost importance in helping us further enhance our disability determination process.

Comments presented during the forum, panel, and open discussion period will be included in the public record for the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule-making, which is available in the Federal Register. To review and provide written comments, go to www.regulations.gov and enter SSA-2014-0081-0001 in the search box. Comments will be accepted until December 14.

If you plan to attend the forum, either in person or by phone, please register by Monday, November 16, 2015. For more information about the National Disability Forum series, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ndf.

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About the Author

Gina Clemons, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Policy

Gina Clemons, Associate Commissioner, Office of Disability Policy


  1. James B.

    As an emergency physician I treat many injured and ill patients, some of whom ask me to fill out the forms for disability. That’s not my job and refer them on to their own physicians. The problem in my community, as I suspect occurs throughout the USA, is that there are certain doctors, well known to those seeking disability, who will certify people as disabled, i.e. basically running a disability mill.

    Shouldn’t there be some standard for physicians who certify those trying to get on disability? As it currently stands, any physician, including me, can fill out these disability forms. There are no requirements from the government or from a specialty certification board for these physicians. I had to take and pass exams by the American Board of Emergency Medicine and am required to constantly keep up with the standards of my specialty as well as be re-certified every 10 years by the ABEM.

    It would be great to see our government take a stand and create standards for “disability doctors,” or better yet require those seeking disability to see only government physicians who are specifically trained in this “disability specialty” who would cull out the headache, neck pain, back pain and psych fakers and hopefully allow those with true disabilities to be compensated fairly. Likewise, there should be a standard by which “disability” attorneys are allowed to represent those seeking disability.

    As long as it stays as is, there will always be physicians who will certify anyone as being disabled….for the right price, of course. Our government has the ability to stop this easy street for getting on the dole. After all, it’s you and I who are paying for it.

    • Diane

      Thumbs up.

    • Tom M.

      The disability examiner can also order additional tests and or documents. As I mentioned above, one of the most compulsive persons I ever knew became a disability examiner, and I understand a good one. We said it was because he could keep asking questions until he was satisfied. I have known only a couple of people over the last 40 years who got Disability on the first try, including people who were blind. It is not the kind of cake walk you make it out to be. The person must apply himself the first time, doing all the application by himself, except for supporting documents or by a guardian. On appeal they can get a lawyer. We used to call that the lawyer retirement fund. The system is really loaded against the disabled applicant.

    • JohnnyG

      There are standards. The DDS (Disability Determination Services) at each state has board-certified specialty physicians–in a wide variety of specialties–who, along with a trained “disability examiner” (who is usually not a physician–but may have a PhD of some kind), make the determination. These board-certified physicians are M.D.’s or D.O.’s (with the rare exception of licensed Ph.D.-level clinical psychologists, or PsyD’s; as well as “speech-language pathologists”; and podiatrists). These professionals must maintain their licenses/credentials/Continuing Education units. To work in this capacity, they must complete a year-long, 9 to 5, intense training session; many drop out. Then, if they are approved, they may eventually reach “journeyman status” after 4 years or so.
      The “designated specialties” can be found here:
      Also, any doctor can fill out forms; and provide evidence; yet, a doctor does not “prescribe” disability benefits. Specialty physicians carry more weight; as do NARRATIVE reports justifying “check boxes”; as do “meaningful treating relationships”. SSA decisions takes into account MANY other factors–e.g. other eligibility, vocational factors, age/education/work experience, that may be relevant according to regulations.

  2. tom

    4 years ago when I turned 65, I had to go to the ss office and get my card replaced. it tok two trips to get it done. Both times when i went I went in, I was the only person in a waiting room full of people, all under 30 years of age. In the past several years, there are more people each month going onto disability than there are entering the work force. This typical of government creating a problem and then coming up with a fix for a problem.

  3. Mike D.

    At this time, registration for the 2015 SSA National Disability Forum is closed

  4. Deacon D.

    Truly, any national policy that’s an effort to reform the protocols of disability insurance must include the voices of the poor and disabled themselves. If that can’t be done then we’re all just whistling Dixie! I’m afraid that the current policy has been contaminated by far to much middle class sentiment at the expense of not including what has to be said by the working class and others who may want some form of socio-economic stability. More and more churches and community churches need to be deployed into the venue of Community Services and Community Development. Seniors and the Disabled are ideal to fill these ranks and also serve as a model to those who are younger and not necessarily don’t want to work but who are addicted by their vices {fueled by all types of social security payments], and are not competitive for entry level to middle management jobs based on prior education and former work experience. Far too many Homeless Services Providers hoard up opportunities, i.e., the SOAR Program, should be placed in the hands of the homeless or near homeless themselves relative to program reform such as what this national forum is all about. In conclusion, insightful and cultural competent policy needs to come forth so that any and all programs of SSA that are targeted at the poor and struggling reflect the thoughts and opinions of the actual poor who disproportionately racial minority and very low to low-income.

  5. james

    There is a need for the young and old for some type of government assistant. Supplemental government benefits should be temporary not for life. The government need a program like Peace Corp where the recipient most repay in full the amount received. We have to stop lazy Americans from stealing from the system. Back to work lrograms!

    • Mike D.

      Some so called “LAZY AMERICANS” cannot work! It is the ones that can work that make it bad for those who cannot. I am completely deaf in 1 ear, and almost deaf in the other, I have severe anxiety/PTSD issues, HEP-C, absolutely no feeling in left hand, and extreme lower back pain due to degenerative discs and a really bad right knee. Also some other mental issues and other health issues which I would rather not discuss.

    • Tom M.

      The Netherlands has the model program for this. Incidentally it cost them about twice as much as our system does.
      The provide various sheltered workshops for the various grades of disabilities (Mental, Emotional, physical, aged). They pay all benefits out as minimum wage to the workers (Defined as amount necessary to keep a family of 4 above the poverty level) When I visited, about twice then US minimum wage. They also require all business with 25 or more employees to employ 4% (1 out of 25) severely disabled. The Dutch are very work oriented and very work motivated. The workshop are reimbursed for the difference between what the person actually can earn and that minimum wage figure. There was a educational program while I was there that showed how the Children’s puzzles that you can find here, made of wood with printed animals, shapes, or other things that can be lifted out of the thick wooden base are all made in a sheltered workshop (Sociaale Werkplats— Social workplace). I also saw emotionally disabled (factory midway between two mental hospitals) making steel frame office desks, and an Amsterdam Special Education factory making all kinds of cardboard cartons, including those for exporting cut flowers, with die cut windows and glassine window. In Dutch, the way you say top quality is Export Kwalitait I mention this because you may have actually seen even bought some of these top quality products from Dutch sheltered workshop.
      But remember I told it at the beginning as impressive as it was, and I was impressed, it costs them about twice as much per patient as we spend in the US.
      Additional: On an Anglo-American tour by workshop administrators, the Dutch gave the tour to the Brits in British English and to the Americans in American English. Now that is attention to detail.

  6. Andy

    I have 3 conditions in the blue book and yet i’m denied.I can’t work or be out in the sun for long.They need to change alot of areas!

    • Tom M.

      You can and should get a lawyer, who will help compile the necessary documentation. The review process is really just a document review. One of the most compulsive people I ever met became a disability examiner, we said because he could always order more tests and more documents. P.S. he also played chess, and was ranked the 5th best chess master in Michigan.

  7. C. R.

    I think it’s high time we check the people that are getting a disability claims, they should be checked to be sure they are as disabled as they claim. I feel there is a lot of folks getting disability money that they not eligible for. Our Doctors do a pretty good job to check out the applicants. There are some Doctors that do not follow the procedures We need to have a verification system to help stop fraud. The second thing have the Government replace the IOU money they have used. From 1968 to present.
    These are a couple things that will help a lot. I would like to see a lot more little changes that would help with out confusing the people we are here to help.
    Remember this is our money paid to the government for our retirement. we should not be cut and scared how they will cut our money again. They fell this is there money and giving us a hand out. BULL

    • Tom M.

      They go through extensive scrutiny before approval and have a review every three years. This later review can be waved if they are enrolled in a planned vocational rehabilitation program with the ultimate goal of a return to full employment. I remember before that was added, the three year review was traumatic. But the truth is that few long term disabilities go away, but they did not trust the government, same as you. But the truth is that it is not easy to get on either program, as both require some sort of disability.

  8. Lic. P.

    My wife and I came to U.S. as political refugee from Cuba, that have a Authoritarian Regime since more fifty years ago. I have a degree in law from a Cuban University, and my wife have a high educational formation in Health Care in Pediatrician Clinical Laboratories, but we came over sixty years old and can’t work here. We studied English Language there, and here too with financial aid. We are proudly U.S. citizens, and immediately we were registered to vote.
    We know that the SSI is very important as Supplemental Security Income. It’s independent from the taxpayers, because the SSI provide from the budget of the Federal Government. It’s a humanitarian help for everybody in urgent necessity.
    Thank you so much.

  9. Mark B.


  10. Fred S.

    Some people have had there disability since before they were old enough to work , but when they were old enough , tried to work and found that they were unable to handle it. So it would be unfair to expect them to work before they are able to get SSI.

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