When filing a claim for benefits from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, a claimant has a duty to provide honest and accurate information to the Social Security Administration (SSA). An attorney representing an SSDI claimant has a duty to provide diligent and competent professional services in accordance with the rules of the state in which they are practicing law. SSA regulations also place duties on the attorney to deal openly with the SSA, to promptly respond to requests for information, and to generally comply with the agency’s rules.
A new regulation, which took effect in April 2015, changes the duties placed on both SSDI claimants and their legal representatives, essentially requiring claimants to provide all evidence related to their claim, regardless of whether it supports or detracts from the claim. It also modifies the duties of a claimant’s legal representative to reflect these new duties.
New Evidence Requirements
The new rule modifies numerous SSA regulations, but one of its most important changes is to the regulation regarding evidentiary requirements in SSDI claims, found in Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 404.1512.
Prior to the new rule, a claimant had a duty to provide any and all evidence related to the claimed disability that “shows that [the claimant is] blind or disabled” [emphasis added in all quotes]. The new rule modifies § 404.1512 to state that a claimant must “submit all evidence…that relates to whether or not [the claimant is] blind or disabled.” The plain language of the modified regulation suggests that a claimant must now submit all evidence known to them regarding their condition, including evidence that detracts from their claim.
The rule allows two exceptions. A claimant is not required to provide evidence that falls under the attorney-client privilege or the work product privilege, which is described as the claimant’s attorney’s “analysis” of the claim.
New Rules of Conduct
The new regulation also modifies Section 404.1740, which covers “rules of conduct and standards of responsibility” for attorneys and other representatives.
This section previously required a representative to “act with reasonable promptness to obtain the information and evidence that the claimant wants to submit in support of his or her claim,” and to forward such materials to the SSA “as soon as practicable.” The revised rule alters this duty so that it applies to “information or evidence that the claimant must submit under our regulations.” This appears to place some of the new rule’s responsibility to provide all evidence to the SSA on the lawyer or other representative.
Controversy Over the Rule Change
In its Notice of Final Rule, published in March 2015 in the Federal Register, the SSA stated that it received 85 comments about the proposed rule, which covered a wide range of concerns. Several commenters took issue with the use of the word “relates” in the section on the duty to provide evidence. This word, the commenters said, is too vague and leaves open to interpretation the question of whether a claimant must submit evidence about all of their health issues, or only the ones that directly pertain to the claimed disability. The possibility of interpreting the rule as requiring over-disclosure of medical information also gave rise to privacy concerns for several commenters.
The SSA dismissed these concerns over possible vagueness in the March 2015 notice, stating that it is using the “ordinary meaning” of the word “relates,” “which is to show or establish a logical or causal connection between two things.” It notes that it already uses the word in the SSDI rules, such as when it defines “evidence” as “anything you or anyone else submits to us or that we obtain that relates to your claim.”
If you are pursuing a Social Security disability claim or you are looking to begin an application for benefits, it is important to understand how these new rules affect you. Understanding your responsibilities in this process is essential to ensuring a positive outcome in your case and the need to be able to weave your way through these regulations is another reason why having an experienced specialist in this area of the law makes so much sense. You can get the advice and assistance you need on your SSDI claim right away by scheduling a free, confidential consultation with the Law Offices of Russell J. Goldsmith. Call us at 1-800-773-8622 today.
More Blog Posts:
Requesting Reconsideration of an Application for SSDI in Maine and Elsewhere, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, August 2, 2015
How to Apply for SSDI Benefits in Maine and Beyond, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, July 1, 2015
What is SSDI? An Overview for Residents of Massachusetts and Other States, Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog, June 24, 2015