APPLY ONLINE FOR SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY

Does the application process seem incomprehensible? Social Security has a videotape “webinar” to explain the claims process. The webinar can be found here.

You cannot apply online, at this time, for SSI.

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ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE– ALJ–TRAINING VIDEO

This is a training video for Administrative Law Judges regarding Vocational Expert (VE) testimony: HERE.

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OBTAINING THOSE CRITICAL MEDICAL RECORDS

At the threshold of every Social Security disability case are the medical records. Even the most sympathetic examiner or ALJ  needs the medical evidence to estabilish an applicant’s disability. Social Security has an obligation to develop the file (the “record”), by obtaining medical records, even if you do nothing to provide them. However, Social Security is underworked and does not have the capacity to keep following up to obtain records. Requests are lost, put at the bottom of the pile, and often when the records come in, critical parts of it are missing. If you want to be proactive, and make sure all records are obtained and are complete, you can obtain them yourself and, in Connecticut, there is no charge by providers for supplying copies of those critical records.

In Connecticut, medical providers must provide the medical records in connection with a Social Security disability claim without charge and within 30 days. This is governed  by Connecticut General Statutes, Sections 20-7c(d) and 19a-490b.

Other states have different laws with regard to furnishing the records.

Posted in Social Security Disability ABC's, Social Security Disability Medical Issues | 1 Comment

OPEN LETTER FROM FORMER COMMISSIONERS OF SOCIAL SECURITY

NPR recently aired a piece called, “Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America”. In response to the piece aired on NPR, eight former Commissioners of Social Security have written an open letter, defending yet another attack on the disabled in America.

An Open Letter from Former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration

As former Commissioners of the Social Security Administration (SSA), we write to express our significant concerns regarding a series recently aired on This American Life, All Things Considered, and National Public Radio stations across the U.S. (“Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America”). Our nation’s Social Security system serves as a vital lifeline for millions of individuals with severe disabilities. We feel compelled to share our unique insight into the Social Security system because we know firsthand the dangers of mischaracterizing the disability programs via sensational,anecdote-based media accounts, leaving vulnerable beneficiaries to pick up the pieces.

Approximately 1 in 5 of our fellow Americans live with disabilities, but only those with the most significant disabilities qualify for disability benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Title II Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (DI) benefits and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits provide critical support to millions of Americans with the most severe disabilities, as well as their dependents and survivors. Disabled beneficiaries often report multiple impairments, and many have such poor health that they are terminally ill: about 1 in 5 male DI beneficiaries and 1 in 7 female DI beneficiaries die within 5 years of receiving benefits. Despite their impairments, many beneficiaries at tempt work using the work incentives under the Social Security Act, and some do work part-time. For example, research by Mathematica and SSA finds that about 17 percent of beneficiaries worked in 2007. However,their earnings are generally very low (two-thirds of those who worked in 2007 earned less than $5,000 for the whole year), and only a small share are able to earn enough to be self-sufficient and leave the DI and SSI programs each year. Without Social Security or SSI, the alternatives for many beneficiaries are simply unthinkable.

The statutory standard for approval is very strict, and was made even more so in 1996. To implement this strict standard, Social Security Administration (SSA) regulations, policies, and procedures require extensive documentation and medical evidence at all levels of the application process. Less than one-third of initial DI and SSI applications are approved, and only about 40 percent of adult DI and SSI applicants receive benefits even after all levels of appeal. As with adults, most children who apply are denied SSI, and only the most severely impaired qualify for benefits.

Managing the eligibility process for the disability system is a challenging task, and errors will always occur in any system of this size.But the SSA makes every effort to pay benefits to the right person in the right amount at the right time. When an individual applies for one of SSA’s disability programs, the agency has extensive systems in place to ensure accurate decisions, and the agency is home to many dedicated public servants who take their ongoing responsibility of the proper stewardship of the programs very seriously. Program integrity is critically important and adequate funds must be available to make continued progress in quality assurance and monitoring. In the face of annual appropriations that were far below what the President requested in Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2012, the agency has still continued to implement many new system improvements that protect taxpayers and live up to Americans’ commitment to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

It is true that DI has grown significantly in the past 30 years.The growth that we’ve seen was predicted by actuaries as early as 1994 and is mostly the result of two factors:baby boomers entering their high -disability years, and women entering the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s so that more are now “insured” for DI based on their own prior contributions. The increase in the number of children receiving SSI benefits in the past decade is similarly explained by larger economic factors, namely the increase in the number of poor and low-income children. More than 1 in 5 U.S. children live in poverty today and some 44 percent live in low-income households. Since SSI is a means-tested program, more poor and low-income children mean more children with disabilities are financially eligible for benefits. Importantly, the share of low-income children who receive SSI benefits has remained constant at less than four percent.

Yet, the series aired on NPR sensationalizes this growth, as well as the DI trust fund’s projected shortfall. History tells a less dramatic story. Since Social Security was enacted, Congress has “reallocated” payroll tax revenues across the OASI and DI trust funds–about equally in both directions – some 11 times to account for demographic shifts. In 1994, the last time such reallocation occurred, SSA actuaries projected that similar action would next be required in 2016. They were right on target. We are deeply concerned that the series “Unfit for Work” failed to tell the whole story and perpetuated dangerous myths about the Social Security disability programs and the people helped by this vital system. We fear that listeners may come away with an incorrect impression of the program — as opposed to an understanding of the program actually based on facts.

As former Commissioners of the agency, we could not sit on the sidelines and witness this one perspective on the disability programs threaten to pull the rug out from under millions of people with severe disabilities. Drastic changes to these programs would lead to drastic consequences for some of America’s most vulnerable people. With the lives of so many vulnerable people at stake, it is vital that future reporting on the DI and SSI programs look at all parts of this important issue and take a balanced, careful look at how to preserve and strengthen these vital parts of our nation’s Social Security system.
Sincerely,

Kenneth S. Apfel
Michael J. Astrue
Jo Anne B. Barnhart
Shirley S. Chater
Herbert R. Doggette
Louis D. Enoff
Larry G. Massanari
Lawrence H. Thompson

Posted in Social Security Disability News, SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY OF INTEREST, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dear Administrative Law Judge:

For many months, correspondence to the ALJ assigned to hear a case, had to be addressed, “Dear Administrative Law Judge.” Why was it not addressed to the Judge by name? Social Security had adopted a policy of keeping secret the identity of the ALJ until you appeared at the hearing office for the hearing. So, you had to address correspondence to the title, and not to the Judge. It was a foolish, unncessary policy, from the start, always, and will be for the next 16 days.

On April 20, the rule of the secret judge evaporates, as it should, forever.

You will again know the name of the Administrative Law Judge assigned to hear your case, in advance of your hearing. You will know what to expect and it will be one fewer thing to worry about.

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IT’S ABOUT TIME: INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY

Social Security has published a proposed change to the designation of conditions of impaired intellectual functioning, including low IQ testing results. For years Social Security has used “mental retardation.” It is now proposing to change that designation, in conformance with Rosa’s Law. The relevant portion of the proposed change is as follows:

We propose to replace the term “mental retardation” with “intellectual disability” wherever it appears in the listings and in our other rules. The proposed changes would affect listings 12.05 and 112.05; the introductions to 10.00, the Part A adult listings, and 110.00, the Part B child listings for impairments that affect multiple body systems; the introductions to 12.00, the Part A adult listings, and 112.00, the Part B child listings for mental disorders; and sections 404.1513(a)(2) and 416.913(a)(2). We also propose to replace the words “mentally retarded children” with “children with intellectual disability” in the examples in sections 404.2045(a) and 416.645(a).

You can find the full text here: Full Text of Proposed Change.

This will not change how Social Security evaluates persons with intellectual disabilities for disability purposes.

 

 

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THE UNDESERVING POOR

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Social Security Act, saying, “We can never insure one-hundred percent of the population against one-hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life. But we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.” Some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family. Nothing more extraordinary than that. Indeed, a modest goal.

Yesterday, January 18, 2013, the news was that that CEO of Goldman Sachs had a 75% raise in 2012 from his compensation rate in 2011. The CEO made $21 million in 2012, with a $2 million dollar salary and a $19 million dollar bonus. This same CEO said on November 19, 2012, “Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career…the retirement age has to be changed. Maybe some of the benefits have to be affected. Maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised.” Who is this creature with the soul of Ebenezer Scrooge; are there no prisons? And the union workhouses, are they still in operation?: Lloyd Blankfein.

The callousness is matched only by the inaccuracy in those statements. The minimum retirement age for Social Security is 62 years old. In order to have a “25 year career” and retire at “early” retirement age, the worker would not have started working until age 37. What did they all do for the years before they starting working? And, that 30 year retirement? The life expectancy of a 62 year old male is 19 years, or 81 and the life expectancy of a 62 year old female is 22 years or 84. So, what are the real facts? The real facts are that the worker will work for about 40 years and collect Social Security if he/she opts for early retirement for about 20 years, at a reduced rate because of the “early” retirement. The person who waits to full retirement age, ranging from 65 to 67, depending on one’s date of birth, will work 45 years and collect social security for 16-19 years.

Now, Blankfein could be talking about someone else when he refers to lazy moochers who work for 25 years and then retire to collect off the public dole for 30 years. Who would that be? Well, that would be Congress. The United States Congressional pension vests fully after 25 years of work, and there is no minimum retirement age or age at which one starts to collect the pension. As the minimum age to hold Congressional office is 25, then it is entirely possible for a Congressman to work to age 50 and retire to live off the public dole for the next 30-40 years.

There is so much wrong (as well as so much offensive) in what Blankfein said. The maximum earnings subject to Social Security Tax (OASDI) were $110,100 in 2012. In 2013, it will be $113,700. If one makes under that amount, say $100,000/year, 100% of one’s income is subject to the OASDI tax. In Lloyd’s case, only .05% of his income is subject to OASDI taxation. The rest is exempt from the OASDI tax. The effect of removing that cap on earnings subject to OASDI tax would be to make the Social Security system solvent for the next 75 years and produce a 115% elimination of the projected shortfall. You can see the entire breakdown here.

What about those “inflation adjustments” that need to be revised? Blankfein’s revision was a 75% increase. What was the “inflation adjustment” for retired workers in 2013? A mere 1.7% increase. See my COLA post.

Not all people can earn $21 million dollars a year. Yet, these minimum wage workers and modest earners contribute to the economy in a way that the rapacious money movers at Goldman Sachs, etc., never will. They manufacture automobiles, they transcribe medical reports, they sweep streets, and they wait on customers in grocery stores. In short, they are the ones who, with the sweat of their brow and the bend of their back, manufacture, move and deliver goods throughout the nation and abroad. Oh, and yes, they contribute to the Social Security system with 100% of their earnings base.

Posted in Social Security Disability Musings, Social Security Disability News, SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY OF INTEREST, Social Security Disability Practices | 1 Comment

NUMBERS THAT MATTER UPDATED

Social Security has a two numbers that I think conflict, but are critical to remember (see the link at the bottom for those numbers in 2015):

Before you have been declared disabled the “magic number” is $1,010 per month: if you are working very little– your earnings are less than $1,010 per month, you are likely not considered to be doing ”substantial gainful activity”and such work would presumably not affect your disability application. It may affect your Trial Work Period, but typically does not.

After you have been declared disabled the “magic number” is, in 2014 or after, $770 per month: If you work and earn more than $770 in one month, that month will be counted as part of a “trial work period”, which may affect your benefits, starting in 2013. In 2012 and before the number is $720.00 per month. In 2013 the number was $750.00.

Here is the press release of ALL the numbers that matter, increasing the trial work period number, the SGA number, etc. HERE.

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COMPASSIONATE ALLOWANCES

Social Security  recognizes certain conditions that are so serious and so obviously disabling by their diagnosis, that the requirements for a finding of disability will clearly
be met once the diagnosis is established by certain, identified tests and procedures. The conditions, called Compassionate Allowances, require special, expedited handling.

The list has recently been increased and the list is here: Compassionate Allowances

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GoDirect, DirectExpress, and Countdown Clocks

Question: What happens on March 1, 2013?

Answer: “Paper or plastic?” stops being a valid question for payment of federal benefits.

What’s that you say? By March 1, 2013, anyone receiving federal benefits (Social Security, VA, etc.) must switch over from paper checks to direct deposit or a DirectExpress debit card. Anyone receiving paper checks who fails to make the election between direct deposit to a designated account or the DirectExpress debit card will automatically receive the DirectExpress debit card.

There is a waiver process, in which one can apply to continue to receive paper checks, but it is likely to be a difficult process to obtain such a waiver, it seems, as the government is trying to save money and intends to discourage waivers except in the most compelling circumstances.

The Department of the Treasury has a fairly slick website and a countdown clock (counting down to March 1, 2013), explaining the brave new world and linking to the DirectExpress site, as well. In case you are as fond of countdown clocks as I am, you can march yourself right over to this place: Tick Tock. 131:19:13:9… 131:19:13:5. You just can never get too much of those suckers.

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