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Pending Change in Social Security: How Reducing the Past Relevant Work Period Benefits Claimants

Oct. 25, 2023

Social Security is a critical safety net for millions of Americans, providing support to those with disabilities who are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity. SSA has proposed a change in the Social Security disability analysis: the reduction of the Past Relevant Work Period (PRW) from 15 years to 5 years. This anticipated rule change has generated some debate. Peter Burke Murphy is a vocal advocate for this change, believing that it will significantly benefit claimants, and result in more approvals for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims. In this blog post, we will explore why this change is seen as a positive step and how it can potentially prevent more cases from going to court.

Understanding the Past Relevant Work Period (PRW)

Before delving into the pending change, let's clarify what the Past Relevant Work Period is and why it matters. The PRW is a crucial component of the Social Security disability determination process. It refers to the time frame during which Social Security evaluates an individual's work history to determine if they can return to any of their past jobs. Until now, this period has spanned 15 years, meaning that if an applicant was unable to engage in their previous work for any reason, Social Security would consider jobs they had performed in the 15 years leading up to their disability onset date. This long time-frame often made it difficult for some claimants to qualify for benefits, especially if they had remotely performed easier work.

The Pending Change: Reducing the PRW from 15 Years to 5 Years

The pending change in the PRW is simple but significant. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is considering reducing the 15-year PRW to just 5 years. This means that when evaluating an applicant's disability claim, SSA will only consider jobs held within the five years prior to the date they became disabled. The proposed change is primarily aimed at making it easier for individuals to qualify for SSDI benefits, especially those who have switched occupations.

Peter Burke Murphy, believes that this change is a much-needed reform in the disability evaluation process. He offers several compelling reasons for supporting this reduction in the PRW:

Improved Accuracy: A shorter PRW focuses the assessment on an applicant's recent work history, which better reflects their current skills and abilities. It reduces the chances of outdated job experiences affecting their eligibility.

Fewer Appeals and Court Cases: The existing lengthy PRW often led to more denied claims, resulting in a higher volume of appeals and court cases. By reducing the PRW, this change is expected to lead to more approvals, potentially avoiding the need for many claimants to go through the lengthy appeals process or court litigation.

Timelier Access to Benefits: A shorter PRW allows claimants to access disability benefits more quickly, which is crucial for those in dire need of financial support due to their disability. Waiting for appeals or court decisions can cause financial hardship, which this change aims to mitigate.

Increased Fairness: By considering only recent work experiences, the new rule provides a fairer evaluation of an applicant's disability. It recognizes that a person's ability to work may change over time and that past work, particularly distant work, should not be the sole basis for denying benefits. The rapidly changing nature of work has never moved faster; meaning jobs that a person did 15 years ago may not even exist any longer.

Also, jobs that were once performed as “stand alone” jobs are now mostly combined with other positions of varying physical demands and skill requirements. When experts in job requirements testify in SSDI claims they should honestly admit that never before have jobs been performed in combination with other jobs at this high a frequency.

The pending change in the Social Security disability evaluation process, specifically the reduction of the Past Relevant Work Period from 15 years to 5 years, is a significant step forward in the quest for a fairer and more accessible system for claimants. Peter Burke Murphy's perspective highlights how this change can benefit applicants by providing timelier and more accurate assessments, reducing the burden of appeals, and ensuring that individuals with changing work histories are not unfairly disadvantaged in the application process. As this rule change is likely to go into effect before many claims filed today are decided, it represents a positive and forward-thinking development in the realm of Social Security Disability Insurance.