Category: Blog

Social security disability programs provides modest but vital support

For most adult disability beneficiaries, SSDI and SSI benefits make up all or most of their income. SSDI benefits serve as the main or sole source of income for about 80% of beneficiaries.  About 1 in 3 SSDI or SSI beneficiaries have no other source of income.

SSDI and SSI benefits keep millions from deep poverty and homelessness. Without SSDI, an estimated one-half of beneficiaries would live in poverty, even with benefits.  About 1 in 5 SSDI beneficiaries live in poverty with the majority being low income.  About 43% of SSI beneficiaries live in poverty.

Online SSI claims now possible effective March 25, 2017 – for some people

Certain applicants may now apply online for SSI (supplemental security income) benefits if they meet all of the following criteria:

  • Age 18-64;
  • Resides in 1 of 50 states, the District of Columbia or the common wealth of the Northern Mariana Islands;
  • Alleges a disability but not blindness;
  • Never married; and
  • Claimant’s social security number does not exist in any SSI system (have not previously applied for SSI benefits)

 

Disability backlog tops 1 Million; thousands die on wait list

More than 1 million Americans await a hearing to see whether they qualify for disability benefits from Social Security with the average wait nearly 2 years – longer than some of them will live.

All have been denied at least once, as most applicants are initially rejected.

Last year, there were 7,400 people on wait lists who were dead according to a report by Social Security’s Inspector General. The Social Security Administration says it is working to reduce the backlog by hiring 500 new Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and more than 600 support staff.  The Judges, who now hear about 1,600 appeals from people who were initially denied benefits.  Unfortunately, budget cuts over the past 5 years have frustrated efforts to reduce the disability backlog.  Last year, the agency’s budget was 12.6 billion, roughly the same as it was in 2011, even though an additional 6 million receive either retirement or disability benefits from Social Security.  Statistically, the best chance of success is at the hearing level before an Administrative Law Judge, however, the backlog makes it extremely difficult for individuals waiting for their hearing to be scheduled.

Review of your Case After Benefits are Being Paid

Often your case will be reviewed at a later date by the Social Security Administration to see if your disabling conditions(s) have improved to the extent that you are no longer disabled under the Social Security rules. Conditions that are expected to improve are often reviewed in 6-18 months. You will receive a letter advising you that the case is being reviewed and they will ask for additional medical information about your condition. It is important to continue to treat for problems that disable you if they remain severe so that proper documentation can be provided in the event of such a review.

What to Expect at an Administrative Law Judge Hearing

The Administrative Law Judge hearing is the last administrative stage in a SSDI or SSI appeal. It takes a year or more to reach the administrative hearing after making the request. It is intended to be an informal fact finding hearing to assist the judge in his or her decision on your case.

The people present at the hearing are the judge, your attorney, the claimant, and a hearing assistant. There may also be present a vocational expert or medical expert. The job of these experts are to give testimony concerning the evidence presented in the case.

The hearings typically last about an hour. The judge usually begins the questions and then affords your attorney the opportunity to ask questions as well. Sometimes the judge will have the attorney initiate the questioning. The questions asked will involve your past education and work history, your issues with the medical or psychological conditions that effect your ability to work and also what types of things you can and cannot do on a daily basis. Questions will also be asked by the judge to the vocational and/or the medical expert. Your attorney is also allowed to ask these experts questions as well.

Typically, the judge does not render his or her decision at the conclusion of the hearing. It is usually written and sent out to both the claimant and the attorney at a later date. Typically about a month or so but that can vary. A favorable decision will result in the initiation of benefits.

New Rules on “Acceptable Medical Evidence”

There have been recent changes to the Social Security rules which now expand the list of “acceptable medical sources” to include advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), licensed audiologists, licensed optometrists and physician’s assistant. Additionally, the rules have changed so that no longer are treating physician’s opinions given controlling weight as compared to non-treating medical sources. This new rule affords the Administrative Law Judges more deference to weigh evidence as they see fit. Consequently, the opinions of a treating physician are no longer given controlling weight but rather are considered with all other medical information for purposes of the Judge’s decision. These rules take effect on all claims filed after March 27, 2017.

Can Disability Benefits be Stopped?

Two things can cause Social Security to decide that you are no longer disabled and to stop your benefits.

Your disability benefit will stop if you work at a level they consider “substantial”. In 2017, average gross earnings (per month) of $1170 for a non-blind individual and $1950 for blind individuals are considered substantial.

Your disability benefits also will stop if they decide your medical condition has improved to the point that you are no longer disabled. Ongoing Continuing Disability reviews are mandated by the law. If your doctor indicates that there has been no change or improvement in your condition, that is usually enough to stop the review. Be certain to promptly appeal all negative decisions.

You are responsible for promptly reporting any improvement in your condition or return to work. Be sure to send certified letters when reporting income.

The Most Common Mistakes in Applying for Disability

Here’s a list of the most common mistakes made in applying for disability benefits:

1. Not applying soon enough

2. Taking “no” for an answer…not appealing a denial

3. Taking “yes” for an answer-accepting a late onset (beginning) date and thus reducing the back benefit award

4. Not reapplying if the condition becomes worse after an appeal time ends

5. Not verifying that all the medical records are in the file

6. Believing a note from a doctors saying you are “disabled” is enough to win

7. Filling out a claim form before talking to a legal advisor

SSI For Your Child?

SSI FOR YOUR CHILD? Children with marked & severe functional limitations (that have or are expected to last 12 or more months) may qualify for SSI payments provided their family meets strict resource and income limits.

Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA)

COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENTS (COLA) for Disability & Retirement checks will rise between 0.2% to 0.5% in 2017.  That works out to between $2.61 and $6.53 a month more for retirees.  This is the smallest percentage increase of any year benefits did rise but it’s better than 2016 when Social Security checks didn’t rise at all.

Veterans’ Medical Records

VETERANS’ MEDICAL RECORDS  go electronic to Social Security on Nov. 11th Veteran’s Day. eHealth Exchange will go live to all Social Security Disability processing sites to receive medical records electronically from all VA facilities.  This should result in faster processing times for Veterans.