Friday, November 18, 2022

4 Important Changes for 2023 that Could Affect Your Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits

Every year the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) makes important changes to the monetary thresholds associated with Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. It is important to know about these changes, so you are in compliance with SSA’s requirements. 

1.    SSA Announces a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (“COLA”) for 2023 

The Social Security Administration has announced an 8.7 percent benefit increase for 2023. This cost-of-living adjustment (“COLA”) will begin on December 30, 2022 for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) beneficiaries. Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Social Security Retirement recipients will see the effects of the COLA in their January 2023 benefit payments.

2.      SSA has increased the threshold value for full-time work.

In order to be found disabled under SSA’s definition of disability, you must be able to prove that you are unable to earn a certain monetary value due to the limitations from your disability.  This value is referred to as “Substantial Gainful Activity (“SGA”). If you are able to work at SGA levels, SSA will not consider you to be disabled. For 2023, that monthly rate is $1,470.00 for a non-blind individual and $2,460.00 for a blind individual. Thus, if you are able to earn such monthly earnings, in spite of any impairment that you have, then you are not disabled under SSA’s definition of disability.

3.      SSA has increased the amount that a person can earn during a Trial Work Period.

SSA allows SSDI recipients to test their ability to work in a program called a Trial Work Period (“TWP”). During a TWP, a SSDI recipient is able to work for 9 month period without being at risk for losing his/her benefits. These months do not have to be consecutive. Specifically, SSA looks to see whether an individual can earn at certain levels over a rolling 60 month period. If a person exceeds certain monetary levels for 9 months (even if not consecutive) over a 5 year period, then the TWP has been exhausted. SSA will then look to see if a person has exceeded SGA values (see above) to determine whether or not, the person is still under a disability. For 2023, SSA will consider any month in which a SSDI recipient earns more than $1,050.00 to be a month in which goods and services have been performed at a TWP level.

4.      SSA has increased the value of a quarter of coverage.

In order to receive SSDI benefits, you must be insured for benefits. This means you must have paid into the Social Security system through the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (“FICA”). An individual must have worked a sufficient amount of quarters to be entitled to these benefits. Every year a person can earn up to 4 quarters. For 2023, one quarter of coverage is $1,640.00. This means you must earn at least $6,560.00 for 2023 in order to obtain all 4 quarters for the year. 

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 101.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

SSA Announces a Cost-of-Living Adjustment (“COLA”) for 2023

The Social Security Administration has announced this month an 8.7 percent benefit increase for 2023. This cost-of-living adjustment (“COLA”) will begin on December 31, 2022 for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) beneficiaries. Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Social Security Retirement recipients will see the effects of the COLA in their January 2023 benefit payments. This COLA will affect the more than 70 million Americans who receive monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Additionally, the maximum amount of earnings subject to Social Security tax will be increased from $147,000 to $160,200.

While inflation, rising gas and food prices and a bursting housing market continues to wreak havoc on our economy, it is nice to hear some favorable economic news for once!

 For more information on the 2023 COLA adjustment, please visit Social Security’s website for more details.

 Got a question that you need answered? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with valuable information on our website that may help you navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to shoot me an email at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call us at (800) 459-3017 x 101.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Social Security Disability Glossary of Terms

A client recently asked me if I could publish a general glossary of disability-related terms, so she could become more familiar with the Social Security Administration's (SSA'S) lingo. After all, no one loves an acronym more than the federal government! I happened to have a list of commonly used SSA terms that the average person may not be familiar with lying around. So here you go........ 

Glossary of Terms

 Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

Activities of Daily Living are simply the normal, basic activities that most people must engage in as a requirement of daily living. They include basic activities such as: personal hygiene (bathing, dressing), meal preparation (breakfast, lunch, dinner), shopping (grocery and other shopping), and standard home maintenance activities such as sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, laundry, and dish washing.

 AIME (Average Indexed Monthly Earnings)

The dollar amount used to calculate your Social Security benefit if you attained age 62 or became disabled (or died) after 1978. To arrive at your AIME, Social Security adjusts your actual past earnings using an "average wage index," so you won’t lose the value of your past earnings (when money was worth more) in relation to your more recent earnings. If you attained age 62 or became disabled (or died) before 1978, Social Security uses Average Monthly Earnings (AME).

 Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)

Administrative Law Judges are appointed by, and work for, the federal government for the purpose of rendering decisions on Social Security Disability claims at the hearing level. In order to adjudicate a claim, an ALJ will normally read a claimant's cumulative social security file, which, at the time of a hearing, is referred to as an exhibit file. On certain cases, an ALJ may also rely on expert testimony provided by medical and vocational experts.

 Alleged Onset Date (AOD)

The alleged onset date is the date a person claims, or alleges, on the social security application, that their disability began. The alleged onset date potentially determines how much in past due benefits, or retroactive benefits, a claimant can receive.

 AME (Average Monthly Earnings)

The dollar amount used in calculating your monthly Social Security benefit if you attained age 62 or became disabled (or died) before 1978. The AME is determined by dividing the total earnings in the "computation years" by the number of months in those same years.

 Appeal

You will receive a letter of explanation whenever Social Security makes a decision regarding your eligibility for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal (ask Social Security to review your case).

 Appeal Deadline

The deadline to file an appeal after a Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income claim has been denied is always 60 days from the date of the last denial. This date is usually stamped on the first page of the denial letter in the upper right hand corner.

 Appeals should always be filed timely, before the appeal period expires. A failure to appeal in a timely manner will result in having to start over at the very beginning, i.e. filing a brand new application. That is, of course, unless a claimant can demonstrate "good cause" for appealing after the deadline has passed.

 Appeals Council

The Appeals Council comprises the third step in the Social Security Disability system's appeal process. This stage in the process is different from the others in that it's purpose is not to evaluate the merits of a case, but, rather, to determine if the Administrative Law Judge who denied the claim was in error. The Appeals Council will conduct a thorough review of the ALJ’s decision and issue their own independent decision either remanding the case, reversing the case, or denying the appeal.

 Application for Benefits

To receive Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits, you must complete and sign an application. You can apply in person at your local Social Security Administration office, by telephone at (800) 772-1213, or online at www.socialsecurity.gov.

 Base Years

A worker's (wage earner) base years for computing Social Security Disability benefits are the years after 1950 up to the year of entitlement to retirement or disability insurance benefits. For a survivor's claim, the base years include the year of the worker's death.

 Benefit Verification Letter (BEVE)

An official letter from Social Security that verifies the amount an individual receives each month in Social Security Disability benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income payments.  These letters are normally issued following a request from a beneficiary or his/her authorized representative.

 Benefits

Social Security pays monthly cash benefits in four major categories: 

  • Retirement
  • Disability
  • Family (dependents)
  • Survivors 

Additionally, Social Security provides medical coverage in the form of Medicare for qualifying individuals.

Cessation

Cessation refers to a discontinuation of benefits for a person who was once thought eligible to receive disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. In most instances, disability recipients are ceased and taken off benefits when they no longer meet Social Security's medical or non-medical program requirements.

 Closed Period

A closed period exists when a claimant for disability benefits is found to be ineligible for ongoing benefits, but eligible to receive benefits for a specific period of time in the past extending over a minimum period of 12 months.

Computation Years

Computation years are the years with highest earnings selected from the "base years.”  Social Security adds total earnings in the computation years and divides by the number of months in those years to get the AME or the AIME

Consultative Examinations

Consultative examinations are medical examinations that Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income claimants are sometimes sent to in the course of processing a claim for disability benefits. The doctors who perform consultative examinations for the Social Security Administration are independent physicians who have contracted to perform such services.

Consultative examinations can be mental or physical. They can also include ophthalmologic exams, bloodwork, and the taking of x-rays. Consultative examinations conducted for social security objectives are not for the purpose of delivering medical treatment. Instead, their purpose is to provide a recent snapshot of a claimant's conditions and various limitations.

Claimants who receive appointment letters indicating that they have been scheduled for a consultative examination, should always attend them since examiners are empowered to close disability claims for "failure to cooperate". However, when a claimant misses a scheduled exam and has a valid reason for this happening, an examiner will usually allow for the examination to be rescheduled.

 Countable Assets

To maintain eligibility for Supplemental Security Income benefits, disability recipients cannot have more than $2,000 in countable assets for individuals, and $3,000 in countable assets for couples.

 Credits

Previously called "Quarters of Coverage." As you work and pay taxes, you earn credits that count toward your eligibility for future Social Security benefits. You can earn a maximum of four credits each year. Most people need 40 credits to qualify for benefits. Younger people need fewer credits to qualify for disability or survivors’ benefits. During their working lifetime most workers earn more credits than needed to be eligible for Social Security. These extra credits do not increase eventual Social Security benefits. However, the income earned may increase the benefit amount.

Date Last Insured (“DLI”)

Your DLI can be an important date for your Social Security Disability claim. Social Security Disability is an insurance program, and a portion of the FICA payroll taxes withheld from every paycheck pays the disability premium. However, if you stop working, you stop paying the premium. Eventually, your disability insurance will lapse. The date your insured status ends is called the "date last insured." To prevail with a Social Security Disability claim, you must show that you were disabled prior to your date last insured.  If you cannot demonstrate that you were disabled prior to your DLI, you will be denied Social Security Disability benefits.

 Dire Need

Critical case processing may be warranted when a person has insufficient income or resources to meet an immediate threat to health or safety, such as the lack of food, clothing, shelter or medical care.

 Direct Deposit

This is the standard way to receive Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. Your money is sent electronically to an account in an accredited financial institution, such as a bank or credit union.

 Disability Determination Services (DDS)

DDS is the state-level agency whose basic task is determining the eligibility of claimants to receive monetary disability benefits, or benefits from a state's adult Medicaid program. DDS is where cases are resolved at the initial application and reconsideration levels.  DDS examiners evaluate and process disability claims at these two levels.

 DDS Disability Examiner

All disability cases (prior to the hearing level where an Administrative Law Judge decides a claim) are evaluated and processed by disability examiners. Disability examiners work at state agencies generally referred to by the acronym DDS, or Disability Determination Services and they are responsible for determining medical eligibility for claimants attempting to win Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits.

 Durational Denial

A durational denial occurs when a disability examiner determines that a claimant's medical condition has not been disabling for at least a 12 month period, or cannot be projected to be disabling for at least this long.

 Earnings Record

A chronological history of the amount of money you earn each year during your working lifetime.  The credits you earned remain on your Social Security record even when you change jobs or have no earnings.

 Established Onset Date (EOD)

The established onset date, is the decided commencement date for a claimant's disability.

 Exhibit File

The exhibit file contains copies of  everything accumulated during the course of processing a claimant's disability claim. This includes copies of applications and other paperwork submitted by claimants, letters sent to the Social Security Administration by claimants, and medical evidence gathered by disability examiners at the initial application and reconsideration levels. Exhibit files are made available to a claimant and their representative for viewing and copying.Family Benefits (Dependent Benefits)

When you’re eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, the following people may receive benefits on your record:

  • Spouse if he or she is at least 62 years old (or any age but caring for an entitled child under age 16)
  • Children if they are unmarried and under age 18, under age 19 and a full-time elementary or secondary student
  • Children age 18 or older but disabled
  • Divorced ex-spouse.

 Family Maximum

The family maximum represents the maximum amount of benefits payable to an entire family on any one worker’s record.

 Five Month Waiting Period

Claimants who have been approved to receive Social Security Disability benefits are subject to a five month waiting period. The five month waiting period simply means that the Social Security Administration will withhold five months of an approved claimant's benefits.

*Note: Claimants who have been approved to receive Supplemental Security Income benefits are not subject to the five month waiting period.

 FICA Tax

FICA stands for "Federal Insurance Contributions Act." FICA is the tax withheld from your salary or self-employment income that funds the Social Security and Medicare programs.

 Insured Status

If you worked and earned enough Social Security credits to meet the eligibility requirement for retirement or disability benefits or enable your dependents to establish eligibility for benefits due to your retirement, disability, or death, you have insured status.

 Lawful Alien Status

People admitted to the U.S. who are granted permanent authorization to work by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (formerly INS) or admitted to the U.S. on a temporary basis with USCIS or INS authorization to work.

 Listing of Impairments

The Listing of Impairments describes, for each major body system, impairments that are considered severe enough to prevent a person from doing any gainful activity (or in the case of children under age 18 applying for SSI, cause marked and severe functional limitations). Most of the listed impairments are permanent or expected to result in death, or a specific statement of duration is made. For all others, the evidence must show that the impairment has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. The criteria in the Listing of Impairments are applicable to evaluation of claims for Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits.

 Lump Sum Death Payment

A one-time payment of $255 paid in addition to any monthly survivors insurance benefits that are due.  Upon an individual’s death this benefit is paid only to their widow(er) or minor children.

 Maximum Earnings

The maximum amount of earnings Social Security can count in any calendar year when computing your Social Security benefit.

 Medicaid

A joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for people with low incomes and limited resources. Medicaid programs vary from state to state, but most health care costs are covered if you qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. 

 Medical Expert

Medical experts may testify at Social Security Disability hearings at the request of an Administrative Law Judge. Medical experts are provided a copy of the claimant’s medical records file prior to the hearing and are called upon to provide informed testimony regarding the interpretation of a claimant's medical records.

 Medical-Vocational Guideline (“The Grids”)

The Grids are medical-vocational guidelines that the Administration must consider in evaluating your ability to work. The Grids address your ability to work by weighing age, education, and the exertional and skill levels of your past work performed in the last 15 years.

 Medicare

The federal health insurance program for:

  • People 65 years of age or older,
  • Certain younger people with disabilities, and
  • People with permanent kidney failure with dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD (End-Stage Renal Disease).

 Notice of Award

Once Social Security determines that you are eligible for benefits, you will receive an official letter explaining the amount you will get each month and the amount you will receive in past due benefits. Typically, award letters are received about 8-12 weeks from the notice of decision.

 Notice of Decision

Social Security will send you an official letter at the initial application level, the reconsideration level, and the hearing level explaining their decision and your appeal rights.

 Office of Hearings Operations (OHO)

The Office of Hearings Operations (OHO) is responsible for holding hearings and issuing decisions as part of the Social Security Administration's process for determining whether or not a person may receive disability benefits. Each OHO is staffed with Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who conduct impartial "de novo" hearings and make decisions on appealed determinations involving claims for Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits.

 On The Record Decision

An on the record decision occurs when an Administrative Law Judge, prior to a hearing having been held, approves a case because the medical evidence available to an ALJ is strong to enough to enter a finding of disability without the need for a formal hearing.

 Past Relevant Work (PRW)

Past relevant work is work that you have done within the past 15 years, that was substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for you to learn to do it.

 Presumptive Benefits

Social Security may make presumptive disability or blindness payments available for up to six months, if you applied for Supplemental Security Income benefits because of a disability or blindness and are waiting for the DDS to make a final decision. You may be eligible to receive SSI benefits right away on the basis of a presumptive disability or blindness determination if you have one or more of the following medical conditions:

·         amputation of a leg at the hip,

·         allegation of total deafness,

·         allegation of total blindness,

·         allegation of bed confinement or immobility without a wheelchair, walker, or crutches, allegedly due to a longstanding condition––excluding recent accident and recent surgery,

·         allegation of cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or muscular atrophy and marked difficulty in walking (e.g., use of braces), speaking, or coordination of the hands or arms,

·         allegation of Down syndrome,

·         an applicant filing on behalf of another individual alleges severe mental deficiency for claimant who is at least seven years of age,

·         Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection,

·         allegation of a stroke (cerebral vascular accident) more than three months in the past with continued, marked difficulty in walking or using a hand or arm,

·         infants who weighed less than 1200 grams at birth, or less than 2000 grams at birth and they were "small for gestational age" (For example, they weigh at least two standard deviations below the mean, or below the third growth percentile, for gestational age.) and have not yet attained age one,

·         allegation of inability to ambulate without the use of a walker or bilateral hand–held assistive devices more than two weeks following a spinal cord injury with confirmation of such status from an appropriate medical professional,

·         a physician confirms by telephone or in a signed statement that an individual has a terminal illness with a life expectancy of 6 months or less OR a physician or knowledgeable hospice official confirms that an individual is receiving hospice services because of a terminal illness,

·         end stage renal disease with ongoing dialysis, and the file contains a completed CMS–2728 End Stage Renal Disease Medical Evidence Report–Medicare Entitlement and/or Patient Registration,

·         allegation of severe mental deficiency made by another individual filing on behalf of a claimant who is at least seven years of age,

·         allegation of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease).

Social Security does not ask you to repay these presumptive disability payments, even if you are later found not to be disabled or blind.

Primary Insurance Amount (PIA)

The monthly amount payable if you are a retired worker who begins receiving benefits at full retirement age or if you're disabled and have never received a retirement benefit reduced for age.

 Protective Filing Date

The date you first contact Social Security about filing for benefits is referred to as your protective filing date. It may be used to establish an earlier application date than when Social Security receives your signed application.

 Remand

A remand is a disability claim that has been:
1. denied by an Administrative Law Judge,
2. reviewed, upon request, by the Appeals Council, and
3. returned to the hearing office for a second hearing.

 A remand is typically granted when the Appeals Council is able to find fault with the hearing decision issued by a judge.

Representative Payee

If you receive Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits and become unable to handle your own financial affairs, after a careful investigation, Social Security might appoint a relative, a friend, or an interested party to handle your Social Security matters and benefits.

 Residual Functional Capacity (RFC)

A medical assessment of what an individual can do in a work setting in spite of the functional limitations and environmental restrictions imposed by all of his or her medically determinable impairment(s). RFC is the maximum degree to which the individual retains the capacity for sustained performance of the physical-mental requirements of jobs.

 Retroactive Benefits

Commonly referred to as “Back Pay." Retroactive benefits represent the monthly benefits that you may be entitled to before the month you actually file an application, if you meet the entitlement requirements. The amount of back pay a claimant can receive will always depend on:

  • when a claimant filed for disability, and
  • when a claimant's disability is decided to have begun.

 For Social Security Disability benefits, benefits can accrue and be paid from the date of the application as well as up to 12 months retroactive to the date of the application (minus the five month waiting period for Social Security Disability cases). Disability based on Supplemental Security Income benefits can accrue and be paid from the date of the initial application.

 Social Security

Social Security is based on a simple concept: While you work, you pay taxes into the Social Security system, and when you retire or become disabled; you, your spouse and your dependent children receive monthly benefits that are based on your reported earnings. Also, your survivors can collect benefits if you die.

 Social Security Administration (“SSA”)

The Social Security Administration is an independent agency of the United States federal government that administers Social Security, a social insurance program consisting of retirement, disability, and survivors' benefits. To qualify for these benefits, most American workers pay Social Security taxes on their earnings; future benefits are based on the employees' contributions.

SSA is headquartered in Woodlawn, Maryland, just to the west of Baltimore, at what is known as Central Office. 

Social Security Disability Benefits

You can get Social Security Disability benefits if you:

  • Are under full retirement age,
  • Have enough Social Security credits, and
  • Have a severe medical impairment (physical or mental) that’s expected to prevent you from doing "substantial" work for a year or more, or have a condition that is expected to result in death.

 Social Security Number (SSN)

Your first and continuous link with the Social Security Administration is your nine-digit Social Security Number (SSN). Your SSN helps Social Security maintain an accurate record of your wages or self-employment earnings that are covered under the Social Security Act, and to monitor your record once you start getting Social Security Disability benefits.

 Social Security Office

Your local Social Security office is the place where you can:

  • Apply for a Social Security Number,
  • Check on your earnings record,
  • Apply for Social Security Disability benefits, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare, and
  • Enroll for Medicare,

The address and telephone number of your local Social Security office can be obtained by calling (800) 772-1213. You can also locate a local office online at www.ssa.gov.

 Spouse

You are the spouse of the worker if, when he or she applied for benefits:

  • You and the worker were married, or
  • You would have the status of a husband or a wife for that person’s personal property if they had no will, or
  • You went through a marriage ceremony in good faith, which would have been valid except for a legal impediment.

 Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

Substantial Gainful Activity is the dollar amount that a disability beneficiary may earn each month while simultaneously maintaining eligibility for benefits. Currently, the SGA amount for 2022 is $1,350.00. Individuals who work and have earned gross monthly income exceeding the SGA threshold are not considered disabled and are ineligible to receive benefits.

 Supplemental Security Income

A Federal supplemental income program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes).  It helps aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income by providing monthly cash payments to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

Survivor Benefits

Social Security Disability benefits based on your record (if you should die) are paid to:

  • Your widow(er) age 60 or older, 50 or older if disabled, or any age if caring for a child under age 16 or who became disabled before age 22
  • Your children, if they are unmarried and under age 18, under 19 but still in school, or 18 or older but disabled before age 22
  • Your parents if you provided at least one-half of their support.

A special one-time lump sum payment of $255 may be made to your spouse or minor children.

 TERI Case

A TERI case is a critical case involving a terminal illness that requires additional special handling and tracking to ensure that it is expedited. TERI cases include any case involving:

  • an allegation that the claimant's illness is terminal,
  • an allegation or diagnosis of AIDS,
  • a claimant registered in a hospice or receiving hospice care at home,
  • a claimant with a condition which medical records indicate cannot be reversed and is expected to end in death.

The presence of one of the above criteria does not mandate a finding of disability. The impairment(s) must be fully evaluated.

 

Trial Work Period (“TWP”)

The Social Security Administration does permit claimants to test their ability to work once they become entitled to Social Security benefits. A TWP continues until an individual has performed “services” for 9 months (not necessarily consecutive) within a consecutive 60 month period. 

 

Unsuccessful Work Attempt (“UWA”)

An UWA is an effort by a disabled individual to do substantial work that either stopped or produced earnings below the Substantial Gainful Activity level after 6 months or less due to the individual’s disabling condition or the elimination of the special services or assistance that the individual needed in order to work.

 Vocational Expert

Vocational experts may testify at Social Security Disability hearings at the request of an Administrative Law Judge. A vocational expert’s role at the hearing is to provide testimony regarding the jobs performed by the claimant is the past 15 years and the range of available jobs for various occupations.

 Wage Earner

A person who earns Social Security credits while working for wages or self-employment income. Sometimes referred to as the "Number Holder" or "Worker."

 Widow(er)

You are the widow(er) of the insured person if, at the time the insured person died:

  • You and the insured person were validly married, or
  • You would have the status of a husband or a wife for that person’s personal property if they had no will, or
  • You went through a marriage ceremony in good faith that would have been valid except for a legal impediment.

The minimum age for disabled widows benefits is age 50.

Got a question that you need answered? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com. We try to provide you with valuable information on our website that may help you navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to shoot us an email at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call us at (800) 459-3017.


Sunday, August 21, 2022

The Social Security Administration Announces 12 New Compassionate Allowances Conditions For 2022

 

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) added 12 new Compassionate Allowances conditions to the Compassionate Allowances program. This brings the total number of conditions on the list to 266. Disabilities that comprise the Compassionate Allowance list represent the most serious disabilities that affect individuals. The purpose of the program is to expedite disability decisions, so individuals suffering from these severe diseases receive their benefit decisions as quick as possible. More than 800,000 people with life-threatening disabilities have received their benefits through this expedited process.  The new additions include:

1.    Angioimmunoblastic T-cell Lymphoma

2.    Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm

3.    Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker Disease

4.    Microvillus Inclusion Disease – Child

5.    Mowat-Wilson Syndrome,

6.    Myelodysplastic Syndrome with Excess Blasts

7.    NUT Carcinoma

8.    Pfeiffer Syndrome - Types II and III

9.    Pontocerebellar Hypoplasia

10.          Posterior Cortical Atrophy

11.          Renal Amyloidosis – AL Type

12.           Sarcomatoid Mesothelioma

To see a complete list of all the impairments which qualify for the Compassionate Allowances program, visit this website: https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/releases/2022/?utm_content=pressrelease&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery#8-2022-1

Got a question that you need answered? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with valuable information on our website that may help you navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to shoot us an email at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call us at (800) 459-3017.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

SSA Reports Failure in Mail Processing During The Pandemic

Well, color me surprised! The Social Security Administration ("SSA") acknowledged deficiencies in mail processing during the pandemic in an Office of the Inspector General ("OIG")  report dated June 30, 2022.  Mailing paperwork to your local SSA office often feels akin to throwing it in the trash.  While we make an effort to utilize all of SSA's online services, there are certain items that SSA requires us to mail and/or fax in. For instance, while we can upload forms and evidence as PDFs for appeals, SSA doesn't allow us to attach forms or evidence to the initial application that we file online. If SSA expanded online service to allow us to add attachments when filing initial applications, this simple step alone would drastically reduce the amount of mail that SSA has to open every day, which in turn, would likely improve SSA's ability to handle their incoming mail. 

SSA has never been known for their "lean" strategies, however. They will add 3 steps to eliminate 1 step. No joke, in 2020, SSA changed the appointment of representation form from 1 page to 6 pages! That's efficiency at its best!  

SSA could improve their services and (drastically) reduce their costs by spending the money to hire six sigma black belts to come in and teach them how to work smarter, not harder. I have practiced disability law before SSA for 18 years. I doubt I will ever see SSA take a proactive and research-oriented approach to improving service. We didn't need a formal report to be issued acknowledging that SSA is horrible at processing its mail. Every red-blooded SSA employee, claimant and attorney could tell you this. Rather than write a 25 page report about it, why not invest the energy into fixing the problem with real-time solutions. 

If you need help falling to sleep tonight, please feel free to peruse this 25 page report: https://oig.ssa.gov/assets/uploads/a-08-21-51115.pdf

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 101.

 


Sunday, June 19, 2022

Should I Object To A Telephone Or Video Hearing?

Many of my clients are looking for guidance as to whether they should object to a telephone or video hearing should they have to appear in front of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for a Social Security Disability Insurance "(SSDI") and/or Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") hearing. It is an excellent question and I think that many attorneys have different views on the matter. 

I want to give you my personal opinion on the subject. Keep in mind, I am currently only practicing in California  (I used to practice all over the Western US) and that my firm is located in Long Beach.  I wanted to clarify my location because I might feel differently about the issue if I practiced in less populated states like Maine or Vermont. However, the California Office of Hearings Operations ("OHO") are currently running over 400 days behind. Apparently, long hearing waiting periods come along with our hefty "sunshine tax."

You may be asking yourself, "What is a OHO?" The OHOs are responsible for  assigning ALJs to hear claimants' cases at the third stage of the SSDI/SSI process. By the time a claimant requests a hearing, the claimant has already been denied at the initial application and reconsideration levels, stages that can take a combined one year to 18 months to go through. 

The California OHOs have made it clear to my office that if we demand an in-person hearing, we will likely be adding up to an additional 200 days of waiting to the already lengthy waiting period for a hearing. This is because not every ALJ is back working at the OHOs due to the pandemic. Many are still working remotely and will remain working remotely for the indefinite future. Additionally, I have been told that scheduling is "easier" on the scheduling units when we agree to virtual hearings. This is due to the fact ALJs and experts have more openings in their schedules when they are working from home. It is essentially easier to find more common time slots in which all parties are available for the hearings. 

I certainly can attest to the fact that my phone and video hearings do seem to get scheduled about four to six months faster than in-person hearings. I also have found that the ALJs are granting as many cases virtually as they do at in-person hearings. In fact, I think the ALJs are granting at a slightly higher rate during the pandemic (for my clients at least).

That being said, there are times that I think it is beneficial to have an in-person hearing. My clients with impairments like hearing disorders, tremors, notable skin conditions, and other impairments that are visible may benefit from an in-person hearing. Also, clients who do not have access to reliable phone or computer service would likely want to select an in-person hearing. The desired format of the hearing really comes down to a case by case basis. 

In summary, I do not think that an in-person hearing is crucial in most instances. However, it is a good idea to discuss the options with your attorney and get your attorney's recommendation before objecting to the format, so you are making an informed decision when it comes to your hearing choices.   

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 101.






Sunday, May 22, 2022

3 Important Updates From the NOSSCR Annual Conference

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (“NOSSCR”) held its annual conference in Austin, Texas, last week. It was exciting for multiple reasons. For starters, it was an in-person conference. Well, some speakers attended virtually, but the conference goers were all real, non-Zoom-an beings.  While I did come home with a cold (not COVID….I was tested J), I also came back to California with updates – some positive and some a little bleak. Here are 3 updates from NOSSCR that you may be interested in hearing about.

1.     SSA’s Acting Commissioner, Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi, announced that beginning November 30, 2022, SSA is raising the representative fee cap to $7,200.00. This is the first pay raise that representatives have had since 2009. Thirteen years is a long time to go without a pay increase, especially since our fees are not subject to standard Cost-Of-Living-Adjustments (“COLA”) and we have been dealing with all the increased costs that come along with inflation. SSA charges representatives a “user fee” for withholding our fees, so while that fee has steadily increased every year, our attorneys’ fees remained stagnant.  This caused some representatives to start practicing other areas of law to make ends meet and others abandoned their Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) practices altogether in recent years.  I hope the increased fees mean more “mom and pop” practices like mine will be able to survive in order to help those who are truly deserving of disability benefits. Thank you to all of those who lobbied to increase the fee cap!

2.      Acting Commissioner Kijakazi also gave us an honest portrayal of what is going on at SSA. She fully acknowledged that SSA lacks an adequate budget to handle the volume of claims that SSA has to process every day. While she is thankful for any budget increase that Congress may bestow on SSA, she explained that the current budget was not even close to what is needed to successfully run day-to-day service at SSA.

While this news may sound bleak and cynical, I really appreciated Acting Commissioner Kijakazi’s candor. Like most practitioners and claimants, I have become increasingly frustrated with the poor customer service we have been experiencing from our local field offices. There are times I feel enraged at how poorly some of my clients’ cases are handled by the local field offices. I see “red” at times when we can’t get through to any employees at SSA to address pressing issues for our clients. However, I can’t expect champagne service when SSA has a beer budget…and not a high-end microbrew budget, but more like the garbage kids drink in college. SSA CANNOT perform their jobs if they don’t have a budget to run the program.  

Thus, I am going to make an effort to stop criticizing SSA’s field offices, when the blame seems to fall more with our elected officials. SSA employees are clearly overworked and undervalued. You can’t just assign 1,000 cases to employee and think that person is going to do a stellar job. SSA doesn’t need a bunch of attorneys attacking them right now when they are already having dirt kicked in their faces by our elected officials. Instead, I am going to focus more on who I vote for and educating those as to the necessity of SSDI and SSI benefits.

3.      NOSSCR announced a changing of the guard. While NOSSCR has spent years helping to educate attorneys as to the ins and outs of SSDI and SSI law, they seem to realize that they must focus their efforts more on legislative affairs and policy making. Thus, they are moving their offices from New York to Washington D.C. to become a true legislative player. They are also on a hunt for a new Executive Director.  

I think this is excellent news. I have practiced this area of law for 19 years now. I like to see new blood and “shakeups” in the system. I think a lot of us have felt that our clients have gotten railroaded over the last several years with procedural and legal changes that have hurt the most vulnerable people who need help. I like the fact that NOSSCR recognizes the need to develop new strategies to improve the SSA system. I let me membership lapse years ago, but I was impressed enough with NOSSCR’s changes in the works that I plan to reactivate it.   

Got a question about SSDI or SSI that you need us to answer? Please check out our website at www.westcoastdisability.com . We try to provide you with helpful information on our website that will allow you to successfully navigate the Social Security Disability process. Also, feel free to email me your questions at megan@westcoastdisability.com or call me at (800) 459-3017 x 101.