Book cover for Social Security Disability Revealed by Spencer Bishins - subtitle Why it's so hard to access benefits and what you can do about it

Social Security Disability Revealed – Reviewed

Social Security Disability Revealed, by Spencer Bishins, is an excellent and detailed book on how the Social Security Administration(SSA) makes its decisions on Social Security Disability Insurance(SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income(SSI) claims.

He clearly explains the legal process and the many ways in which it is and can be manipulated toward making decisions that are generally unfavorable for applicants.

While the people who receive benefits are definitely disabled, too many applicants who cannot reliably work due to their conditions are denied benefits because a judge, doctor, or employment expert created a theoretical job they might be able to do.

He also details the appeals process, and carefully explains his understanding(as a lawyer and SSA decision-maker) of what medical records are most valuable when applying, and why. He divides these into four types of disabilities: Visible physical impairments, Non-visible physical impairments, mental health conditions with potential symptom management, and permanent mental health conditions.

While his divisions at first seem a bit strange, he does explain them well: the focus is on the type of evidence that is considered proof of your condition, and the biases that the judges are likely to have with your type of challenge.

You can use his explanations to help yourself improve your odds of getting approved the first time by ensuring that you have the type and quality of information he suggests. While much of this book is an overview of the process, this section definitely has very actionable steps that you can take when presenting(or appealing) your case to social security.

He also provides readers with an overview of the stigma and bias they are most likely to face when applying and while deliberately deconstructing the false logic behind these beliefs and accusations.

He closes with a brief discussion of the utility of Universal Basic Income(UBI) as an alternative to all of the federal, state, and local support programs and how that process would likely both save money and reduce or remove the stigma against the low-income population.

Inside the Application and Appeal Process

I highly recommend this book to anyone who really wants to understand the application and appeal process, including people who have applied or are considering applying for disability coverage.

While his book primarily focuses on the process(and how broken it can be), he definitely also has useful recommendations for applicants in the section on medical records. His goal, which he states very early on, is to demystify the process, and I feel he does an excellent job of that.

There are a lot of acronyms in the book, but that’s more of a product of the system than a choice on his part, and he makes a point of having an index of said acronyms at the back of the book. His book is intended to be friendly and approachable, with an undercurrent of hope despite the odds.

I found it a relatively easy read despite the denseness of the subject matter. It also does not need to be read cover-to-cover, but can also be used as a reference tool for people preparing to submit their application(section 4 contains his legal perspective on medical records), as they are waiting to hear back(section 2 covers the evaluation process in detail), and/or if they need to appeal the decision(section 3 focuses on hearings and appeals).

What you can and cannot control

While the information is sobering, the author is giving a realistic interpretation, and part of the point of the book is to help you (the reader) understand the challenges and wait time involved and the parts of the process that you both can and cannot control.

If you are looking to understand the process, this is an excellent read. I highly recommend it if you or a loved one are applying and want to know what happens after your application goes in, and during each agonizing wait to hear from Social Security. It’s also a very good mental preparation for any social security hearing you may participate in.

Not a “How to” book, but a “How it works” book

This book does not discuss the application process(other than the medical documentation suggestions). It is beyond the scope, and he basically writes this under the presumption that if your intention is to apply for disability, you already have, and likely have been denied at least once already.

This book definitely is not intended to prepare you to represent yourself in your disability claim. In fact, he very specifically states that multiple times, including having sections on the importance of a representative and why you shouldn’t try to handle your case yourself.

Overall, I found it an engaging and thoughtful book to help you make sense of the system and understand the mountains of bureaucracy involved in the process.

Review by Alison Hayes who is disabled and coaches and consults on the US systems related to disability.

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