Category Archives: social security disability

The Wounded Warrior Program Expedites Social Security Disability Claims For Veterans

Veteran’s Day is a day that the American people have set aside to celebrate and honor all those who have served in the armed forces. Veteran’s Day – originally known as Armistice Day – has been celebrated in the United States since 1919. Armistice Day became a national holiday in 1938, and has been known as Veteran’s Day since 1954. It is celebrated on November 11th to commemorate the armistice that ended the fighting in World War One.

The Social Security Administration recognizes the sacrifices that the members of our armed forces make every day. With the Wounded Warrior Program, the Administration ensures that military members who were injured on active duty have their cases processed in an expedited manner. While the standard of disability remains the same for all claimants, individuals injured on active duty can obtain a decision faster.

Even if you are still on active duty and receiving full pay, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Social Security looks at the activities you are performing, not the pay you are receiving, to determine if you meet the standard of disability. These benefits are in addition to any benefits you may receive from the Veteran’s Administration – it is important for you to know that a separate application for each type of benefit is required.

If you have any questions about applying for Social Security disability benefits, even if you are still on active duty, please contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

What Is Chained CPI And Why Is It Bad For Elderly And Disabled People?

Chained CPI Infographic – click to zoom in

Chained CPI is back in the news.  What does this mean for the elderly and disabled who rely on Social Security benefits?  The short answer to this question is “nothing good.”  Before we discuss why chained CPI is such bad news, I should explain exactly what it is.

Chained CPI is a different way of calculating the amount of inflation that occurred in a given year, and the amount that Social Security benefits will increase in response to inflation.  Currently, the Social Security Administration uses the Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers (CPI-W).  Due to the way it is calculated, chained CPI measures inflation at a lower rate than CPI-W.  Chained CPI assumes that individuals have the ability to buy cheaper items in place of more expensive items – the classic example is buying pork instead of chicken or beef – in order to bring their expenses down.  According to the Congressional Budget Office (which provides nonpartisan analysis for Congress), chained CPI is likely to measure inflation as being 0.25 percentage points lower than CPI-W does.

A one-quarter of one percent decrease may not sound like much.  In fact, it would only result in the loss of a few dollars per month in benefits.  The problems with this approach really become apparent when you think about how your benefits will be affected several years down the road.  Due to the fact that you receive a smaller inflation adjustment each year, your benefits grow at a slower rate as the years go by.  Eventually, this one-quarter of one percent decrease will have a very large effect.

The average age of an individual receiving disability benefits is just over 53.  Most individuals who stop receiving Social Security disability benefits have their benefits stopped because they attain full retirement age and are no longer entitled to disability benefits.  Based on this, we know that many individuals receive disability benefits from Social Security for a long period of time – many years in most cases.  This means that the cumulative effect of the switch to chained CPI will hit the disabled hardest.

This decrease is an especially big problem when you realize how important Social Security benefits are to the disabled and retired.  According to the Administration, Social Security benefits provide 50% or more of household income for 53% of elderly married couples and 74% of unmarried individuals, and provide 90% or more of household income for 23% of elderly married couples and 46% of unmarried individuals.  71.7% of all disabled workers receive 50% or more of their household income from Social Security disability benefits.

Switching to chained CPI would result in a loss of benefits to the retired and disabled – those who are least able to afford such a loss.  There are news reports that a switch to chained CPI is being considered by lawmakers in Congress.  You should make sure that your elected representatives know that you do not support such a switch.  You can find contact information for your Congressional representatives at House.gov and Senate.gov.  Let them know that reducing future Social Security benefits for the elderly and disabled is unacceptable.

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

Disability, USA? A Different Point of View About Social Security Disability Benefits

imageYou may have seen a recent report on 60 Minutes regarding the Social Security Administration’s disability program.  If, after watching that report, you became concerned that either a) Social Security would soon run out of money, or b) Social Security was paying disability benefits to either outright frauds or those who just aren’t disabled, I wouldn’t blame you.  That’s not because those things are true, but because this “report” was extremely biased and inaccurate.  The truth is that Social Security is well-funded and will be able to pay benefits well into the future, if not indefinitely.

It’s true that applications for Social Security disability benefits increase when the unemployment rate goes up.  What’s not true, however, is that otherwise healthy people are drawing a disability check during bad economic times.  The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College recently published a report that concluded that applications for benefits did rise when the unemployment rate went up, but that most of these “extra” claims were denied.  Those who were approved tended to be older individuals working physically demanding jobs whose bodies were just worn out after years of hard labor.

Applications for disability benefits have increased recently, and a large part of that increase can be attributed to the fact that Americans are simply getting older.  One of the consequences of getting older is that your body doesn’t work as well as it used to, and you become much more likely to get a chronic disease such as diabetes.  It’s no surprise that disability applications will increase as more and more Americans enter the most disability-prone category of their lives.

People might worry that this increase in applications means that Social Security will soon run out of money to pay benefits.  60 Minutes didn’t do anything to allay those fears, stating several times that the trust fund is going broke in the next few years.  The disability trust fund currently only receives a fraction of the amount collected in payroll taxes, with the vast majority going to the retirement trust fund.  There is a simple fix for this problem – the government can either give more of each dollar to the disability fund, or transfer some money from the retirement fund to the disability fund.  In fact, this has been done several times, but with the money going from the disability fund to the retirement fund.  Social Security is well-funded and in no danger of going broke – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

60 Minutes also made it appear that disability benefits are there for anyone who applies, with no need to present any medical documentation to back up their claims.  Those who have been through the process know that this is just false.  The standard of disability for Social Security’s program is extremely high.  Only those who are truly disabled – and who have the documentation to back it up – are awarded benefits.

There are some people who try to game the system and get benefits that they are not eligible for.  Due to Social Security’s strict standards, most of these people are denied benefits in the first place.  For those that do resort to fraud, Social Security has an investigative unit dedicated to finding these individuals.  Once caught, they face stiff penalties, including restitution and jail time.

Despite what 60 Minutes would have you believe, Social Security’s disability program is well-funded, and only pays benefits to those who can prove they deserve them.  Don’t be fooled by sensationalistic programs designed to mislead rather than inform.

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

Overpaid Disability Benefits by Social Security: Now What?

Today’s post comes from guest author Roger Moore, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

What can I do if the Social Security Administration (SSA) says I have been overpaid disability benefits?

This is a very common problem, unfortunately. There are a number of factors that cause these issues to come up so frequently.

First, the rules about how much one can make differ, depending on what type of disability benefit is received. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) recipients can earn over $1,000 per month without jeopardizing their monthly benefit. But almost every dollar earned by Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can affect the amount of their monthly benefit, as this benefit is partially based upon a recipient’s financial situation. These amounts can change over time.   

Second, there are many different rules about when you can earn money from working above what is called the substantial gainful employment level and not jeopardize your continued entitlement to disability benefit. It’s difficult to summarize all of the circumstances, yet alone know all of the rules, for a claimant. What’s more, simply providing the SSA your wages doesn’t absolve you from having to repay overpayments. The SSA doesn’t look at this information on a regular basis. Years later, you may get a “Dear John” letter advising you that you were overpaid thousands of dollars. 

Finally, you may simply get wrong or bad information from someone when you meet with or speak with the SSA. It’s important to document when you spoke with the person and who that person was. If possible, get them to put their advice in writing. 

When faced with an overpayment, there are two things you should always do. First, Continue reading

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

Your Social Security Benefits After The Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) Decision

Nearly two months after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Social Security Administration has announced that it will start to pay benefits to some individuals in same-sex marriages. In order to be eligible for benefits, these individuals must meet the same criteria as individuals in opposite-sex marriages, in addition to several other requirements.

Only applications for spousal benefits are being approved right now. Spousal benefits are payable to a spouse who either 1) did not work enough to be entitled to Social Security benefits or 2) worked enough to be entitled to Social Security benefits but would be entitled to a larger benefit on their spouse’s earnings record.  This is generally the case when one spouse earned significantly more than the other spouse over the course of their working lives. The individual on whose earnings record the claim is made (the number holder, in SSA’s terms) must also be entitled to old-age or disability benefits from Social Security. In order to receive spousal benefits, you must be at least age 62 and have been married to the number holder for at least one year.

The individual applying for benefits (the claimant, in SSA’s terms) must show that he or she was married to the number holder in a state that permits same-sex marriage and that the number holder is living in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage either 1) when the application for benefits is filed or 2) while the application is pending a final determination. It does not matter what state the claimant lives in. What matters for SSA’s purposes is the state the number holder lives in. This only matters when spouses live in different states.

Below is a chart from SSA that shows which states recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and when those states permitted same-sex marriages.  If a state is not listed, it does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or permit same-sex marriages to be performed.

Before filing a claim for benefits or moving to a different state, you should consult with an experienced attorney or with the Social Security Administration to determine your eligibility for benefits.  As SSA continues to pay benefits to more individuals in connection with the Supreme Court’s decision, we will provide updated information regarding who may be eligible for these benefits.

State

Date Same-Sex Marriages from Any Other State Was Recognized

Date Same-Sex Marriages Were Permitted in the State

California

June 17, 2008 – November 4, 2008

June 26, 2013 – present

June 17, 2008 – November 4, 2008

June 26, 2013 – present

Connecticut

November 12, 2008

November 12, 2008

Delaware

July 1, 2013

July 1, 2013

Iowa

April 30, 2009

April 20, 2009

Maine

December 29, 2012

December 29, 2012

Maryland

February 23, 2010

January 1, 2013

Massachusetts

May 17, 2004

May 17, 2004

Minnesota

August 1, 2013

August 1, 2013

New Hampshire

January 1, 2010

January 1, 2010

New York

February 1, 2008

July 24, 2011

Rhode Island

May 14, 2012

August 1, 2013

Vermont

September 1, 2009

September 1, 2009

Washington

December 6, 2012

December 6, 2012

Washington, DC

July 7, 2009

March 9, 2010

 

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

How Workers’ Compensation Settlements Affect Social Security Benefits

Today’s post comes from guest author Todd Bennett, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

It is fairly common for an injured worker to receive Social Security disability benefits and also receive a settlement for workers’ compensation. According to Social Security, “If you receive workers’ compensation or other public disability benefits and Social Security disability benefits, the total amount of these benefits cannot exceed 80 percent of your average current earnings before you became disabled.” Here’s how I handle this situation: in any settlement where an injured worker is receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, an attorney representing that person and/or the injured worker must think about how a lump-sum settlement affects the SSDI benefits for the person. There will probably be a decrease in benefits because “workers’ compensation and other public disability benefits may reduce your Social Security benefits,” according to the Social Security Administration. Some items can be kept out of the workers’ compensation settlement total for Social Security benefits purposes. This list includes, but is not limited to, such things as: attorney fees; litigation expenses; past medical bills that need to be paid; future medications expenses; future medical care expenses; and vocational services expenses. Taking away these parts of the settlement can and should increase the value of the net settlement to the injured worker. The remaining net settlement should then be distributed proportionally over the injured worker’s life expectancy. The overall result of your attorney preparing for your settlement by making these calculations means that a workers’ compensation settlement will decrease your Social Security disability benefits less.

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

Denied Or Partially Denied For Social Security Disability? A Special Ruling Means You May Be Entitled To A Re-Hearing

If you filed for Social Security disability and appeared at a hearing in the Queens Office of Disability Adjudication and Review before any of the following Administrative Law Judges – Michael D. Cofresi, Seymour Fier, Marilyn P. Hoppenfeld, David Z. Nisnewitz, and Hazel C. Strauss, you may soon be entitled to a new hearing before a different Administrative Law Judge. You may soon receive, or have already received, a “Notice of Proposed Class Action Settlement and Fairness Hearing” from Social Security. 

This notice concerns a lawsuit, Padro, et al. v. Astrue, brought against the Social Security Administration by the law firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher and the Empire Justice Center. The lawsuit was filed to address allegations of “general bias” against disability claimants by the five judges named above. In settling the lawsuit, the Social Security Administration is not admitting any wrongdoing by any of the judges. 

Under the terms of the proposed settlement, any individual who received an unfavorable or partially favorable decision from one of these judges dated after January 1, 2008, is eligible to have a new hearing. The hearing will be conducted by a different judge than the judge who issued their first decision. However, if an individual filed a lawsuit in District Court and the judge’s decision was upheld by the court, that individual will not be entitled to a new hearing in front of a different judge.

The proposed settlement has not been finalized and the terms are subject to change. There is a hearing scheduled to finalize the settlement on July 24, 2013. Once the settlement is finalized, all affected individuals will receive another notice from Social Security advising them of their right to a new hearing. If you receive such a notice, you will have sixty (60) days to notify Social Security that you wish to have a new hearing.  If you believe that you might be entitled to a new hearing, but have not received a notice, you should contact your local Social Security office as soon as possible.

If you are interested in having our office represent you at your hearing, please contact our office as soon as possible so that you can schedule a free initial consultation with our staff.

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.

Shortcuts at the Social Security Administration Mean Mistakes

Today’s post comes from guest author Roger Moore from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Social Security Administration (SSA), frustrated by the backlog of applications for disability benefits, started pressuring the 140 doctors the agency uses to help evaluate some of the claims. In an effort to encourage the quick processing of claims doctors were paid a flat rate of $80/case in stead of the previous $90/hour to review the cases. Many times these cases have hundreds of pages of records to be reviewed and can turn on a few sentences.

In this setting it’s every more important to seek the help of a treating physician in offering a supportive report.

Also, doctors were assigned to evaluate conditions that were not in their areas of expertise. One of the more interesting quotes came from Neil Novin, former chief of surgery at Baltimore’s Harbor Hospital, who worked for Social Security part time for about 10 years. He said “People who shouldn’t be getting [disability] are getting it, and people who should be getting it aren’t getting it”. In my experience Continue reading

Prior results do not guarantee outcomes.