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Pennsylvania Social Security Disability Approvals Decline

Getting approved for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits is getting much harder, even when the disability is very clear. A Pennsylvania man with a diagnosis of Huntington's disease was denied SSD benefits. Although he eventually was successful after several rounds of appeals, the initial denial speaks volumes.

Huntington's disease is an often fatal condition that left the man frequently confused and with tremors and serious balance problems. It is a degenerative neurological impairment and many view it as a death sentence. There are few effective treatments available.

This man's story is not unusual. In the Wilkes-Barre Social Security Administration's (SSA) Office of Adjudication and Review, the approval rate has declined over the past three years. Claimants who are turned down at this level must file a lawsuit in federal court.

This SSA office is not unique. The approval rate declined from 64 percent in 2010 to 47 percent in 2013. And the office in Wilkes-Barre actually approves more claims than others in Pennsylvania. State-wide, according to a story in the Scranton Times-Tribune, only 42 percent of cases were approved by administrative law judges. This increase in the number of cases declined is reflected in the number of lawsuits filed in federal court. In the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the number of lawsuits grew from 113 in 2010 to 204 as of November 22 of this year.

Disability advocates point to this increase as indicative of both the pressure that judges feel to deny claims as well as a growing number of administrative law judges who once worked for the SSA, although a spokesman for the agency said that it never tries to influence judges. In Pennsylvania, if an ALJ denies a claim, it then goes to the Appeals Council, a Social Security Administration department. If the claim is denied at that level, it then goes to federal court, where a judge can either approve the claim or send it back to the ALJ.

Some point to the posting of individual judge's approval ratings by the SSA as a subtle influence on how each operates. If one judge seems to approve many more claims than other judges in the area, he or she may adjust the approach to deciding cases. The approval rates for several judges in the Wilkes-Barre office have declined in recent years. One judge approved 73 percent of cases in 2010. By 2013, that same judge had an approval rate of 38 percent.

Getting approved at any level for SSD benefits seems to be an increasingly uphill battle. That's why it is so important to get help with an SSD claim or appeal. If you are experiencing problems with your claim for disability benefits, do what so many others have done: Call the advocates at Binder & Binder®, America's most successful Social Security Disability advocates. Tell them your story and find out what they can do for you.

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