Last summer, I was honored (and a little intimidated by my colleagues) to participate in a process to advise the Social Security Administration on ssdi and ssi benefits.
Hold your applause. They’re not giving away more money (did you know that SSA gives out 120 billion dollars in benefits) — just trying to make the process more “fair” and efficient. Our group’s mandate was to offer recommendations regarding using functional and vocational expertise in awarding disability benefits. Aren’t you impressed that the fed gov is thinking creatively? My hat is off Jennifer Christian, M.D., ceo and mastermind of Webility.md for directing this effort. She’s the dynamo who also moderates a fascinating group, Work fitness and disability Roundtable.
One reason I was selected to be part of this group was as a spokesperson for consumers. For several years, when ulcerative colitis left me with stool dripping down my legs and raging, unmanageable fevers, I was essentially forced to leave my job teaching college (a job I took because it was the one thing I thought I could manage with illness).
I was one of the “lucky” (and unusual) ones and got ssdi on the first try. Two years and two surgeries (to remove the colon) later, I put a toe back into working and got off ssdi (even though I wasn’t making as much as the benefits gave me).
As you might imagine, this effort has been dear to my heart. I spend my work life working with people to keep them from needing long term disability benefits (translated, to be successful in their work). But, the reality is that for some, there are no other options, so why not make it work like it’s meant to rather than be a source of ridicule.
So here’s the deal:
According to Jennifer Christian, “with regard to SSAâ€™s own programs, the report recommends:
â€¢ changes to the disability determination process, especially the addition of a face-to-face multi-dimensional assessment by an F/V expert on complex cases
â€¢ specific qualifications that practitioners should have in order to be considered F/V experts by SSA
â€¢ how and when F/V experts should be assigned to individual cases, and how they should be managed.
WHAT IS THE REPORT ABOUT?
There are 3 parts to the F/VE project Final Report, each with different content:
1. Core Report. This includes recommendations for changes to SSA’s procedures
2. Supplemental Report. This has 3 sections.
a. Design details for the MDA proposed in the Core Report
b. The Nature of Functional & Vocational Expertise (MY FAVORITE: I suggest you at least scan this.)
c. Use of Functional & Vocational Expertise in Other Systems (workers’ comp, private disability insurance, US Veteran’s Administration, US Dept of Defense, etc.)
3. Background Materials. Read this if you’d like a clearly-written overview of how Social Security Disability works, including a description of the disability determination process, claim volumes and system outcomes. It includes a selection of excellent and illustrative diagrams, figures and data extracted from SSA’s own reports. This document was one of the briefing papers used to orient the panelists (but was not submitted to or reviewed by SSA). Any errors in it are our responsibility. ”
If you know anyone involved in this work OR who is considering applying for benefits, it’s worth a read.