SSA Rules that Disability Judges Shouldn’t Research Applicants Online

Aug 22, 2014 | WC & Other Laws

If you apply for Social Security disability benefits in Colorado and are denied, the next step is for you to have a hearing with an administrative law judge. These judges are responsible for reviewing an applicant’s file prior to their hearing, conducting the disability hearing, and making a ruling as to whether or not the claimant is approved for disability benefits.

These disability hearings are extremely important. While you can appeal a judge’s denial of benefits, only a very small number of applicants are approved for disability beyond this stage in the appeals process.

A recent Social Security Administration policy change significantly affects how judges can investigate disability claimants. In April of this year, the SSA ruled that its administrative law judges can no longer search online for personal information on those with upcoming disability hearings.

Previously, some disability judges probed the Internet for information on Social Security disability applicants, even checking social networking sites like Facebook. They were assumedly looking for information that would demonstrate that the person applying for disability wasn’t truly disabled  (For example, a photo of them participating in a vigorous sport, or well-written blog posts by someone who claimed to be illiterate.)

While the SSA hasn’t completely prohibited information found online from being used to make disability determinations, they have established that the judges in charge of making these decisions shouldn’t be searching for it. SSA officials stated that it’s more appropriate for fraud investigators to conduct online searches regarding disability applicants and that the Social Security judges should instead stick to reviewing the applicant’s claim file.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) argued that in making this change, the SSA is taking away a simple way to cut down on the number of fraudulent disability claims. Coburn made headlines last year when he brought to light the story of Stanley Thornton, Jr., a disability recipient who ran a website and appeared on a TV show using carpentry skills. (Although his case was investigated, Thornton says he was cleared of fraud.)

Some judges also aren’t happy about their loss of the Internet as a resource. Judge Thomas W. Snook, out of Miami, stated “After being a judge for over 20 years, I think I can decide on what weight to give the tools available to me.”

In general, this change works in favor of those who are considering applying for Social Security disability in Colorado, or who are already in the disability application process. There’s no denying that information obtained online isn’t always reliable, and inaccurate evidence shouldn’t play a part in a critical decision such as a disability approval or denial.

However, the fact remains that the majority of those who apply for Social Security disability have their applications denied. Although some are later approved, the appeals process is lengthy and stressful. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for a disabled worker to wait up to two years from the date they first complete their disability application to the date of their disability hearing.

If you’re applying for Social Security in Colorado, one of the best ways to improve the chances that your disability application will be approved is to hire a qualified Denver Social Security disability lawyer to represent you. The knowledgeable disability attorneys at Kaplan Morrell have over 15 years of experience helping workers get the benefits they deserve and offer free, immediate consultations. Click here or call 303.780.7329 to arrange a no-obligation meeting with a helpful Colorado disability attorney who will be happy to answer your questions and assist you throughout the entire Social Security disability process.