Rural Disability Benefit Claims Found to be on the Rise

May 25th, 2017 by Attorney John Colvin

Rural Worker Injury Lawyer

Without access to appropriate health care for chronic medical conditions and the inability to rehabilitate themselves from physically limiting injuries, combined with the loss of job prospects, more rural Americans are turning to Social Security Disability as a way to support their families.

The number of adults on SSD nearly doubled between 1996 and 2015. In that same time, here in Franklin County, Tennessee, the number of adults on disability increased 58.8 percent.

So, are people taking advantage of the system? It’s a complicated question – and there are no simple answers.

The Link Between the Rural Economy and Disability

According to Forbes, disability claims have increased dramatically in recent years in areas of Appalachia, along with the Deep South. In many towns in these areas, unemployment has also increased, as major employers have shut down or relocated to foreign countries with cheap abundant labor.

Rural workers are often employed in physically demanding jobs that are also hazardous for the risk of serious injury, like manufacturing, mining, construction, farming, and logging. Those jobs all have a high rate of occupational injury that can be catastrophically disabling to a worker that has spent his work history laboring in a physically demanding occupation. In 2015, the average age of workers receiving disability was between 53 and 58. This statistic is in line with certain Medical-Vocational guidelines promulgated in 1979 by the Social Security Administration. The Medical Vocational Guidelines were established in order for the Administration to achieve more consistency with their decision making. The Medical-Vocational Guidelines consist of primarily three charts, called the “GRIDS”, which are used to answer the question as to whether a claimant is disabled for different combinations of maximum physical residual functional capacity, age, education and work experience. If the Claimant profile matches one of the rules in the Medical Vocational Guidelines for a finding of disability, the rule is binding on the decision maker and disability is directed as the outcome of the case. So why is the age range 53-58 so important in this determination? The answer lies in the way the GRIDS operate by taking into consideration that as a Claimant ages, when coupled with formal education consisting of only high school or less along with a lack of transferable skills, a finding of disability becomes more prevalent at the sedentary to light level of exertion. The real world application of the GRIDS is found in the example of a 55 year old former lumberjack with less than a high school education who, because of a disabling condition is reduced to sedentary work, is certainly not expected to become a data entry clerk at age 55.

In the Forbes article, a woman who helps people in Van Buren, Ark., return to work after receiving SSD, said SSD recipients are often scared to look for work, because they don’t want to lose health benefits and financial support that they are receiving through their Social Security Disability benefits. Without a proper safety net to support their efforts and retraining for a new skill into a new occupation, many claimants do not want to risk losing their health insurance by attempting to pursue a new job path that they do not know whether or not they could in fact prevail upon. If unsuccessful with a new job opportunity, combined with a loss of disability health and financial benefits, in turn would in all likelihood lead to a rapid decline in health and well-being for claimants with chronic medical conditions.

Returning to Work

The Social Security Administration, when determining whether a person is disabled, considers whether that person could perform some other type of work, not just the work they’re accustomed to as mentioned earlier in the “Medical Vocational Guidelines GRIDS” discussion. For many people in rural areas, education and vocational training is not available for jobs that are less physically demanding. Therefore, claimants find themselves with no available jobs – at least not jobs for which they are qualified.

Social Security over the years has created programs to encourage claimants to return to work. For example, the Social Security’s Ticket to Work Program is a free program available to all SSI/SSDI beneficiaries. SSA has specialists that can connect individuals to employment supports in their area, such as career counseling, training, and job placement. Also, they can explain in detail how going back to work will impact a person’s benefits.

  • www.choosework.net has links to local employment resources and offers free training webinars for beneficiaries and service providers.

Social Security also makes allowances for Trial Work Periods to encourage people to try to return to the workforce without being penalized. Also, for some people who are able to work part-time, they might be able to continue receiving benefits if they earn less than a certain amount each month.

Getting Legal Advice

When people are considering applying for SSD, they’re usually already in a difficult financial situation and getting legal advice may seem a cost-prohibitive notion. However, most SSD attorneys will review the basics of your claim for free, and if they believe you have a solid case, they will help you through the process and take their fees out of any Social Security back-payments or benefits the applicant receives. That is what’s known as working on a contingent-fee basis.

John R. Colvin, Attorney at Law, has successfully represented clients on a contingent-fee basis throughout Tennessee and Alabama who have needed help with disability claims. For 20 years, he has been helping victims put their lives back on track and he is ready to help you. For advice on how to proceed next or if you have any questions about this topic, call 1-931-962-1044 or submit this online form. Put his bold approach and client focus to work for you.

Licensed to Practice in Tennessee & Alabama