Social Security Updates Disability Determination Process

Social Security Administration

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Social Security Administration (SSA) is making significant changes to its disability determination process, aiming to modernize and improve how disability benefits are assessed. The agency administers these benefits through two programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Key Changes Announced

The SSA has identified 114 occupations listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) that exist in very limited numbers or not at all across the nine U.S. Census divisions. These occupations will no longer be used as evidence to deny disability claims. Additionally, 13 occupations have been flagged where federal courts have questioned the supporting evidence for a “not disabled” finding. The SSA will now require additional evidence when considering these jobs.

Martin O’Malley, Commissioner of Social Security, explained the rationale behind these updates. “It makes sense to identify occupations that now exist in very limited numbers in the national economy,” he said. “By making this update, our decision makers will no longer cite these jobs when denying a disability application.”

Importance of Accurate Job Data

When determining disability claims for adults, the SSA evaluates whether an individual can adjust to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. This assessment considers a person’s capacity to perform work-related activities, their age, education, and work experience.

To support a “not disabled” finding, the SSA must present evidence that the claimant can adjust to available work. Historically, the SSA has relied on the DOT and its companion publication, the Selected Characteristics of Occupations Defined in the Revised Dictionary of Occupational Titles. However, many of these job listings are outdated or no longer relevant in today’s labor market.

Implications of the Update

This update means that disability determinations will be based on more current and relevant job data. By removing obsolete occupations from consideration, the SSA aims to ensure fairer evaluations. Individuals applying for disability benefits may find it less likely their claims will be denied based on the availability of jobs that effectively no longer exist.

The SSA published new public guidance and instructions about these changes on June 22, 2024. This guidance will help both SSA decision-makers and claimants navigate the updated evaluation process.

Future Directions

The SSA continues to analyze data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Requirements Survey. This survey provides detailed information about the physical and mental requirements of various jobs, which will inform future updates to the disability determination process.

By integrating more accurate and current job data into its evaluations, the SSA seeks to better serve individuals applying for disability benefits. This ongoing effort reflects a commitment to adapt to changing labor market conditions and ensure that disability determinations are both fair and evidence-based.

The SSA’s updates to its disability determination process mark a significant step toward modernizing how disability claims are assessed. By eliminating outdated job listings and requiring additional evidence for certain occupations, the agency aims to provide fairer and more accurate evaluations. As the SSA continues to refine its processes, these changes promise to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those seeking disability benefits.

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