“Obsolete jobs” prevent people from receiving disability payments

Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 5:14 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A WBTV Investigation into social security shows thousands of people are denied disability claims every year because of jobs that are out-of-date.

The Social Security Administration uses a guide called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles that hasn’t been updated since 1991, even as technological advancements have made many of the jobs described in the book obsolete.

The impact that it’s had can be felt by people like Gray Hogan.

Hogan was working in a military hospital trying to help a patient when his life changed forever.

“He started to turn blue and the only way I could help him breathe was to get him suction which was at the bedside,” Hogan said.

“I basically scooped him up and threw him onto the bed. I’m a pretty big guy, this guy was a little bigger. He weighed 350 pounds. When I did it, I heard a pop in my back .”

As the years passed the pain in his back only intensified.

“It radiates and radiates down both legs. Right now, as we sit here talking, both my feet are completely numb. I have no sensation on the left side of my left leg. I am in constant, constant pain. I mask it very well,” Hogan said.

Hogan applied for disability. He’s been unable to work a forty-hour week for years because of the pain.

But Hogan was denied twice. When social security denies a claimant, the person can often file an appeal in court with an administrative law judge. That process has numerous steps and the last one is for social security to determine if there are any jobs a claimant could work. That’s when Hogan was told there were jobs that were suited for him. But none of them were from the 21st Century.

“Document preparer, addresser and (envelope) stuffer,” Hogan said.

“Common sense would tell you that job doesn’t exist as it’s described,” attorney George Piemonte told WBTV.

Piemonte is an attorney who represents people applying for disability. He said that these old jobs often cause people to lose out on ever receiving payments.

“Over the millions of claims that they’re reviewing, you’re still talking about hundreds of thousands of people being denied based on these nonexistent jobs,” Piemonte said.

These jobs come from a book called the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the government hires a vocational expert to testify that the claimant could do the jobs and that those jobs “exist in the national economy where there is a significant number of jobs.”

But there’s no standard for what a significant number means and the DOT hasn’t been updated since 1991.

“The problem is when these vocational witnesses testify to these nonexistent jobs and claim that they exist in significant numbers and then that becomes the basis for denying it,” Piemonte said.

In a report published in 2011 by SSA this problem was even admitted. A study of denials based on “jobs that might be obsolete” found that addresser was cited in nearly 10 percent of denial cases during Step 5. Other obsolete jobs were also frequently used.

“It would be fair if these vocational witnesses gave real-world testimony,” Piemonte said.

“The most I can get on Social Security now is $1100 a month,” Hogan said.

“It doesn’t matter it just. It shouldn’t be that big an issue.”

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