Sunday, October 3, 2021

Federal Employees Must Be Fully Vaccinated by November 22nd.

The deadline for Federal Employees to be vaccinated is November 22nd, unless they meet one of the limited circumstances where an accommodation is legally required. Does that mean Social Security is getting ready to reopen their doors to the public in December?  My guess is no. 

I have  a feeling that Social Security will wait until they get through the winter months due to the fact that I suspect they will be weary to reopen during flu season with COVID-19 simultaneously taking place. 

I know I have said this before, but while Social Security's hearing offices are functioning very well during the pandemic, it is near impossible to get through to the local Social Security offices when working on the lower levels of the claims. The longer that Social Security's field offices stays closed to the public, the further they fall behind. 

The problem is that many of the employees who staff the field offices do not want to stop working remotely and are threatening to quit if they are forced to return to the office. I get that people prefer to work from home, but it only works if all employees work diligently. I think there are too many bad apples who take the work-from-home initiative as a paid vacation and have ruined the prospect of a more permanent work-from-home program for the SSA employees who took it seriously and did not abuse the opportunity. 

This is a problem that both the Feds and the private sector have faced. Not everyone can work effectively from home and stay focused in a home environment. The million dollar question is how do you set up an employment structure that allows proactive employees to work from home, while forcing employees who struggle working from home to return to the office? I cannot even imagine the back and forth arguments that are taking place at Social Security in regards to this issue. I just keep telling my clients that Social Security will probably reopen their doors sometime in 2022, but until that happens, they need to be prepared for delays and subpar service when dealing with the local field offices. 

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. 


Friday, September 17, 2021

SSA Trust Funds Projected to Be Depleted By 2034

 Social Security issued a press release on August 31, 2021, revealing that the combined assets of reserves for both the retirement and disability funds will be depleted by 2034. This means that only 78 percent of an individual's benefits would be payable at that time. For more information about this projection, please read the press release at: https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/releases/2021/#8-2021-2

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. 



Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Social Security Administrations Announces 12 New Compassionate Allowances Conditions

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 254. 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. Close to 700,000 people with life-threatening disabilities have received their benefits through this expedited process.  The new additions include:

1.          Charlevoix Saguenay Spastic Ataxia (ARSACS)

2.          Choroid Plexus Carcinoma

3.          CIC-rearranged Sarcoma,

4.          Congenital Zika Syndrome

5.          Desmoplastic Mesothelioma

6.          Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy – Adult

7.          Pericardial Mesothelioma

8.          Refractory Hodgkin Lymphoma

9.          Renpenning Syndrome

10.      SCN8A Related Epilepsy with Encephalopathy

11.      SYNGAP1-related NSID

12.      Taybi-Linder Syndrome

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/2021/#8-2021-1

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.


Monday, July 26, 2021

Social Security’s Commissioner Fired By President Biden In A Changing Of The Guard

July 9, 2021 marked a “changing of the guard” at the Social Security Administration. Commissioner Andrew Saul, a Former President Donald Trump appointee, was fired by President Biden after Saul refused to resign. In his place, President Biden hired Kilolo Kijakazi to be the Acting Commissioner.

The firing is not without controversy, though is any firing? Saul is claiming the firing is unlawful as his six-year term is not set to expire until 2025. However, there are Supreme Court decisions that indicate that a President has the authority to fire the head of an independent agency. Saul, for his part, has gone to the media to state that his firing violates a law created to protect an agency from partisanship.

I never understood why Trump appointed Saul to begin with. Andrew Saul didn’t seem to have any experience that would be helpful to SSA, though I understand both Trump, and he, attended Wharton School of the UPENN together. As is commonly seen in the political realm, sometimes career advancement is not based on what you know, but who you know.

However, there were two things I liked about Saul.  First, Andrew Saul understood that by embracing technology, SSA could become more efficient in the processing of benefit claims. Even prior to the pandemic, it was very difficult to get exceptional customer service at SSA’s field offices. Thus, as SSA began to add more and more services online, the less the public, and their representatives, would even have to contact personnel at the field offices.

Second, Saul recognizes the reality that SSA’s continued work-at-home protocol during the pandemic, and refusal to open their doors to the public, has had disastrous consequences when it came to the timely processing of claims. SSA is trying to claim that an internal survey indicated that 80 percent of the field office staff stated they are “more productive” when they work from home. Well…if you believe that, then I am unicorn trainer in my spare time. Would you like to purchase one of my rainbow-colored unicorns? They have the ability to jump over the moon.

The reality is it is impossible to get through SSA’s phone lines. Mail is not being opened in the timely manner and SSA CONTINUES to blame the poor service on the pandemic, in spite of the fact that the lion-share of the private sector has adapted to the challenges of the pandemic and are working successfully.

Let me clarify one thing. I am not talking about the Office of Hearings Operations (“OHO”). I am talking about the SSA field offices. The OHO staff have been the rock stars of the pandemic when it comes to customer service. In fact, if the entire OHO staff wants to work at home for the rest of their lives, I support it. They answer calls, return calls, send letters, get decisions out rapidly, and have managed to drastically reduce the hearing waiting time in the midst of the pandemic. They have actually improved their service during the pandemic. Conversely, the SSA field offices appear to be marginally operational right now. Saul understood this, and by seeking to reopen the field offices, he cemented his fate.

Am I glad that Biden has appointed an Acting Commissioner who actually has knowledge and experience in the disability and retirement sector?  Of course I am! However, the sudden departure of Andrew Saul leaves the reopening status in question, an indefinite limbo, that is negatively impacting the disabled and the retired.

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.

 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

11 Helpful Tips For Proving Your Disability Claim To The Social Security Administration

 Prior to the pandemic, I would give presentations at hospitals, to support groups, to caregivers, and to a variety of other service organizations interesting in learning how to navigate the Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income systems. With the exception of some Zoom presentations that I gave in 2020 and 2021, most in-person presentations have faltered due to our new infectious reality of living life during a pandemic. Thus, I have decided to provide 11 general tips in blog form. While these written tips may not be as dynamic as an in-person discussion we could have about navigating the Social Security system, I hope the information will prove to at least be helpful to those of you who are applying for benefits during this difficult time.

1. If you are unrepresented, keep a copy and get a receipt of any application or appeal you file.

All too often, we hear a familiar story. A claimant has applied for benefits, but Social Security has no recollection of this application. The claimant has been forced to refile the application and the resolution of the claim has been significantly delayed.

This scenario can easily be avoided if you get a receipt of your appeal from the Administration. If you file in person with the Administration, they can stamp your appeal and provide you with a copy. If you apply online, print out the confirmation document. If you apply by mail, follow up with the Administration and ask them to forward you a receipt. Thus, if the Administration later claims that you have never applied for benefits, you have concrete proof that you did.

2. See a doctor regularly and seek out a county facility or free clinic for treatment if you have lost your medical insurance.

In order to be entitled to benefits, your impairments must be medically documented. This means there must be legible medical documentation supporting your claim. The judge may believe that you do have severe pain, but if there is no concrete proof, the judge must deny you benefits.

Treating regularly with a physician is necessary to establish your impairment. Treating with a specialist who specifically treats your condition can add even greater weight to your claim.

We understand that treatment is expensive and can be difficult with the rising costs of healthcare. If you are no longer insured or in danger of losing your insurance, seek out county facilities and free clinics in your area so there will not be a significant lapse in treatment.

3. Keep track of all the medical providers or facilities you treat with and let your representative know when this information needs to be updated.

The foundation of every disability claim is medical evidence. If your attorney is not aware of all the providers or medical facilities you treat with, your attorney cannot get the materials to prove your claim. Every time you treat with a new provider or facility, let your attorney know. Make sure you get all the pertinent contact information for the provider, including: name, address, phone number, and fax number. If possible, get a copy of the medical record of each visit following your appointment. You never know what valuable piece of information could result in a favorable determination.

 4. Treat with a medical provider you trust and who is aware of your disability.

If your doctors do not support your claim for disability, you may need to ask yourself whether you legitimately fit the Social Security Administrations’ definition of disability. It is important that you have supportive providers throughout this process. Often the Administration or your attorney will contact your providers for support in your claim. If your provider is not aware of your disability, or does not support your claim, it is very unlikely that you will be able to obtain benefits.

5. If you return to work, let your representative or the Administration know.

A return to work can drastically change your claim. While there are some regulations that permit you to work at certain levels, your attorney needs to be aware of your work status. Not only is it important for your attorney to explain to you how work affects your case, the attorney needs this information to help formulate a legitimate theory to win your claim. Additionally, if you return to work without notifying the Administration, your claim may result in an overpayment. In an overpayment situation, the Administration will ask you to pay back the surplus amount that you were paid. If the Social Security Administration finds that you intentionally misled them to receive additional benefits, they may impose additional civil penalties.

6. Pay attention to the time frame you have to appeal a denial.

The Social Security Administration has strict deadlines for entering an appeal. Generally, it is 60 days from receipt of the denial, but this can vary. The Administration is not very understanding when a deadline is missed and may make you refile your application. This is easily avoidable if you read each denial letter carefully. Often the appeal timeframe is not on the first page, so read every page of the denial. As soon as you receive a denial, let your attorney know. Though the Administration is supposed to copy your representative on all correspondences, this does not always happen. Notifying your attorney can ensure that a deadline is not missed.

7.  Get a copy of your medical record following each visit so the Administration has accurate information regarding your medical condition.

Getting a copy of your medical records following each visit can save you a lot of administrative costs that your doctor may charge. To prove your claim, we will request a copy of your medical records from each treating provider and facility. While West Coast Disability Legal Center does not charge a fee for representation unless we win your case, your doctors may require that you pay nominal copy fees for release of your medical records. While you are responsible for these charges, you may be able to avoid them. Ask for a copy of your visit record following your appointment with your doctor. This could result in drastically reduced copy fees.

8. Let your representative know if your doctor is not supportive.

If your doctor is not supportive, you may be wasting your time applying for benefits. Make your representative aware of any providers who do not support your claim. If we legitimately do not think we can prove your case, we will let you know. The Social Security claims process is lengthy and we will honestly approach you if we think your case is unwinnable.

9. Fill out all paperwork your representative or the Administration gives you honestly and accurately.

To effectively represent you, we must have accurate details in regards to your claim. While we recognize that you may not recall every detail of your treatment or work histories, try to fill out all required paperwork as accurately as possible. Never intentionally change information to make your case look stronger. The Administration may impose civil penalties for such fraudulent behavior.

10. If the Social Security Administration schedules you for a consultative examination, please attend.

The Social Security Administration may send you to one or more of their doctors for a consultative evaluation at no cost to you. We understand that you are probably more comfortable with your own provider for regular treatment, but you must attend this evaluation. Failure to attend may result in a denial due to your lack of cooperation with the Administration’s requests.

11. Ask questions to your representative if you do not understand something.

We understand how complicated the Social Security claims process is. However, we are experienced attorneys who handle these matters every day of the week. Do not be intimidated to ask your attorney questions. No question is silly, stupid, or embarrassing. As attorneys, we are expected to know the law. You are not. You hired us for our expertise, please allow us to address your questions and concerns.

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.

 

Friday, May 28, 2021

Have a Safe and Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

I wanted to wish everyone a healthy and happy Memorial Day weekend! Thank you to all the military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the United States Armed Forces. We are blessed to have the greatest military in the whole world! 

Memorial Day is considered to be the first unofficial weekend of Summer, and for the first time since the pandemic lockdown began in March of 2020, it appears that Americans are getting ready to celebrate....I know this because the 405 freeway was bumper to bumper with camper vans, mini vans, sprinter vans, and other ginormous people-haulers, as folks head out for some well-deserved normalcy.   

It has been a tough 14 months. We are currently at 590,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States and we will undoubtedly cross the 600,000 mark this summer. As we head out to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, make sure you do your best to remember that life is precious and fleeting. Honor those who have lost their lives in service, or by disease, or by all the random tragedies that remind us that we should never take a single day for granted, and go LIVE your LIFE! 

Take off your sweatpants and turn off Netflix, and go honor those who have fallen before us, by using your time left on this Earth. Make the most of it! Go see a National Park. Visit a a loved one you fell out of touch with when the pandemic began. See a movie and have dinner out (and copious amounts of wine) with friends. Rescue an elderly cat....okay I can't fake that....I am not a huge fan of cats....rescue an elderly dog and give Fido the best retirement a pup can have. Just celebrate the lives of those we have lost by choosing to live YOUR life again. 

I love the American writer, Jack London. I love the great outdoors and adventures in nature, so London's writing has always "called" to me.....the pun was definitely intended there!  If you don't know what I am talking about, then you definitely need to read more. But I stray.....

There is a quote attributed to London that supposedly is the credo he lived by. The legend is that London spoke these words a few months before his death at some party with friends. It remains my favorite quote of all time:

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." - Jack London

If this credo doesn't speak to you after the year we have collectively had, then I am pretty sure you are an alien from another planet that wasn't pummeled by COVID-19. 

In honor of Memorial Day, I challenge you to go blaze like a meteor and live your life to the fullest, both for yourself and for those whose lights burned out prematurely.  


Saturday, April 24, 2021

SSA Changes The Musculoskeletal Listings In The Bluebook

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) revised its current musculoskeletal listings in the Bluebook this month. We had gotten wind that SSA was seeking to revise the listings in December, but they officially were published on April 2, 2021.

 Are they difficult to meet? You betcha! Unless you have the inability to use BOTH upper extremities for fine and gross manipulation, then SSA is generally going to require that a claimant need some type of assistive device to ambulate with, which varies depending on the orthopedic impairment.

 Please note, however, individuals suffering from musculoskeletal injuries can still be found disabled in certain instances, even if their conditions do not exactly fit the Administration’s criteria in the Listings of Impairments. In such instances, age and vocational background are crucial factors in such claims.

 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.