Social Security Disability Law Changes in 2021, 2020 and 2019

Social Security Disability provides monthly income and Medicare eligibility when you can’t work because of serious health problems.

When your days are filled with medical appointments and worries about lost earnings, these benefits are a major lifeline.

But deciding who should get benefits is complicated. The Social Security Disability system has thousands of rules.

The rules try to address the many different situations people face with medical conditions and work limitations, all while making the system more fair and avoiding errors in awarding or denying benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) updates and adds rules all the time.

Keeping up can be a job all in itself—the job of Social Security Disability attorneys like at Geary Disability Law, who help people navigate the process of applying for disability benefits.

Some changes take place every year, such as adjustments to the amounts that benefits pay or the amount that a person can earn and still qualify for disability benefits.

Other rule changes fundamentally alter how you qualify for benefits and what steps you must go through.

If you have an experienced Social Security Disability lawyer, you can rest easier knowing that someone is keeping track of what you need for your claim.

To give an idea of everything that goes into this, we’ve gathered a selection of Social Security Disability law changes in 2021, 2020, and 2019.

These aren’t all the changes. They’re just highlights. Take a look:

Social Security Disability Rule Changes in 2021

These are some of the rule changes that the SSA made to the disability benefits process in 2021:

  • Special Considerations for ALS: For people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Social Security eliminated the standard five-month waiting period from when a disability began to when a person can qualify for benefits.
  • Medical Impairment Standards: Social Security extended existing rules to qualify for disability benefits with ailments in several body systems: cardiovascular, digestive, skin, immune system, respiratory, genitourinary, neurological, and mental disorders.
  • Flexibility Due to COVID-19: To prove musculoskeletal diseases to Social Security, the window of time during which medical information can be gathered temporarily expanded from four months to 12 months due to difficulties finding medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social Security Disability Rule Changes in 2020

These are examples of changes in the Social Security Disability system in 2020:

  • Musculoskeletal Disorder Updates: Based on updated medical knowledge, experience from disability cases, and public input, Social Security revised its guidelines for getting disability benefits with musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Administrative Appeals Hearings: To increase Social Security’s capacity to hold disability hearings for people appealing benefits denials and deal with backlogs of cases, the agency expanded the ability of its Appeals Council to hold hearings.
  • Lenience on Overpayments: Because of COVID-19 disruptions to government operations, Social Security temporarily loosened its rules on requiring people to pay back overpayments of disability benefits.
  • Medical Impairment Standards: Social Security extended its guidelines on how to qualify for benefits with low birth weight, failure to thrive, endocrine disorders, special Senses and speech, hematological disorders, congenital disorders affecting multiple body systems, and cancer (malignant neoplastic diseases).
  • Educational Background Standards: Social Security changed its rules for evaluating someone’s educational background as part of the decision on whether they can’t work and need benefits.
  • Non-English Speaking Claimants: Social Security removed the inability to speak English as a contributing factor in qualifying for disability benefits, arguing that speaking different languages is no longer a useful measure of employability.
  • Representative Payees: The rules changed for what information disability recipients must provide to name someone a representative payee in advance of needing one. A representative payee is a person who manages Social Security Disability benefits for a recipient who no longer can.

Social Security Disability Rule Changes in 2019

And this is a sampling of the ways the SSA adjusted its rules for disability benefits in 2019:

  • Disability Hearing Process: Social Security adopted new rules for scheduling disability hearings with administrative law judges and organizing how disability claimants and witnesses appear at hearings.
  • Medical Impairment Standards: The agency extended its qualifications for disability benefits involving problems with the musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, skin disorders, immune system disorders, respiratory disorders, and genitourinary disorders.
  • Representative Payees with Convictions: People convicted of certain crimes can no longer serve as representative payees who oversee Social Security Disability benefits on behalf of someone who can’t manage it themselves.
  • Headache Disorders: New guidelines went into place on how Social Security evaluates headache disorders for the purposes of awarding disability benefits.
  • Hearing Requests: Social Security issued a ruling clarifying how people should request hearings with disability judges, particularly when they file their appeals electronically.
  • Impairment Due to Obesity: New guidelines went into place on how Social Security evaluates obesity in deciding disability benefits claims.
  • Challenges to Disability Judges: When a disability applicant raises a challenge to the appointment of an administrative law judge for their claim, new rules govern how Social Security will process the case when it’s at the level of a review by the agency’s Appeals Council.

A Social Security Disability Lawyer Can Help You Sort Through the Changes that Apply to You

This list of rule changes—which again is just a partial list—makes it clear why you want a professional working on your Social Security Disability claim.

Your disability lawyer will know how Social Security decides if your health problems qualify for benefits and how that process is evolving.

They can be your guide through a system that is intimidating to anyone who doesn’t deal with it every day—making sure you file the right forms, submit the right evidence, take the right steps and meet the required deadlines.

If you have questions about securing disability benefits when you can’t work due to health problems and how any recent changes may affect you, get in touch with us at Geary Disability Law.

Written by a Geary Disability Law contributor.

Disclaimer: Blog entries are not intended to be a substitute for actual legal advice. It is important for a representative to understand the specific facts and circumstances of your case before they can provide you actual legal advice. If you have questions about your Social Security Disability benefits, please contact a qualified representative to discuss your case.

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