July 01, 2014

Social Security Administration

A new study launched by the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) is analyzing SSA’s laws, regulations, policies, and practices concerning evaluation of claimants’ symptoms, including pain, in the adjudication of Social Security disability claims. The results of the study will be used by ACUS to advise the SSA on how to improve consistency in disability determinations, reduce complaints of bias and misconduct against SSA adjudicators, and lessen the frequency of remands attributable to credibility evaluation. In comments submitted July 2 to ACUS, ABA Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman emphasized the role of the administrative law judge (ALJ) as the independent fact finder in administrative proceedings who must determine, based on the record, that the claimant has an impairment which reasonably can be expected to cause pain. “There is no known exact test to measure the degree of pain,” he said, explaining that the proper evaluation of pain requires the ALJ to carefully evaluate the relevant facts, medical science, and the credibility of the claimant. “Only by providing the claimants with a fair, impartial, and independent ALJ who follows the law and regulations, as provided in the Administrative Procedure Act, can the claimants be assured that they are receiving a decision that is based on a transparent and fair process as intended by the applicable laws and regulations,” he concluded. Susman noted in his comments that the ABA has a longstanding interest in the SSA’s disability benefits decision-making process, and has worked actively for over two decades to protect the adjudicative independence of the administrative judiciary and promote increased efficiency and fairness in the system. “As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA has been able to draw upon the considerable expertise of our diverse membership − including many claimant representatives, ALJs, academicians and agency staff who are active in the ABA – to develop a wide-ranging body of recommendations on the administrative adjudication process,” he wrote.

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