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Arizona Social Security Disability Blog

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Identity Theft Can Be a Threat to Disability Payments

How can identity theft affect your disability check?

Identity theft has become an increasingly common occurrence, causing millions of people complex financial problems and emotional turmoil. There are many ways in which you can find out that your identity has been stolen, none of them pleasant. Sometimes, you are suddenly billed for purchases you've never made; other times you are denied credit you've never applied for. On many occasions, you find out about the theft when you apply for a mortgage or try to buy a car, only to find that you suddenly have a poor credit rating because someone else has defaulted on payments using your credentials.

One of the most disturbing ways to find out about identity theft is when you attempt to file your income tax only to discover that someone has already applied to receive a fraudulent tax refund in your name. Even in these days of sophisticated computer fixes, people whose identities have been stolen usually end up spending a great deal of time dealing with the process of cleaning up the resulting mess. It is particularly labor-intensive to re-file taxes, and infuriating to experience the delay in receiving a tax refund through no fault of your own. There are, however, even worse problems that can be the result of identity theft.

When the person whose identity is stolen is on disability, living solely on monthly checks from the Social Security Administration (SSD or SSDI), the results can become life-threatening. While for most us, our tax returns are important credentials, and we know to keep them available for scrutiny by the government if the occasion arises, individuals who live on only disability income, and therefore do not pay federal income tax, do not have such evidence to prove their lack of employment to the government.

In a recent case, this caused Jennifer Marban, a disabled woman from Knoxville, Tennessee, severe trouble. Not only was her identity stolen, but the thief filed a fraudulent tax return in her name, claiming that she had been employed for four years. Armed with this false information, the Social Security Administration informed Jennifer that it was discontinuing her disability checks. Since Ms. Marban supported herself and her three children solely on her disability payments, she was suddenly destitute. Although she had verification from the IRS that her ID had, in fact, been stolen, during to the usual bureaucratic snags, the SSA had not received this information and her check was disastrously delayed. If you experience a delay or stoppage of your disability payments because of identity theft, or for any other reason, you should contact a disability attorney promptly. A lawyer experienced in this branch of the law will be able to clear the matter up much more expeditiously than if you were to try to do so yourself.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Can You Keep Receiving Social Security Disability Benefits And Work At The Same Time?

One of the most common questions recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is whether they are allowed to go back to work or at least work part time for some additional income. The answer is that some employment is allowed, but if you work too much for too long you risk losing your benefits,

Though the question can be complicated and fraught with exceptions, here are some basic guidelines. If you are receiving disability and engage in "substantial gainful activity" (SGA), you can continue to receive SSDI for a nine-month "trial period" plus a three-month "grace period," no matter how much money you earn. Earning more than $810 a month counts as SGA. In other words, if you work for less than $810 per month,you maybe able to continue receiving benefits. You can earn more than that and still receive benefits —but only for 12 months.

 After that, if your outside earnings exceed $1,130, your benefits will be suspended, but only for the month in which your earnings exceed that amount. If your earnings fall below $1,130 per month, benefits resume. This can continue for some time—33 months after the 12-month trial period and grace period have ended, a period known as "extended eligibility." 

One detail to remember is that if, as a result of your disability, you have work-related expenses that an able-bodied person doesn't, such as transportation costs, the Social Security Administration allows these to be deducted from your monthly earnings. You must report these expenses to the SSA, along with other data, such as when you started work, your hours, compensation and responsibilities.

Even if your benefits are stopped because you are earning too much, they can be reinstated if your disability prevents you from continuing to work. For a five-year period, you can get "expedited reinstatement," which does not require a new application. In spite of the apparent logic of these regulations, dealing with the bureaucracy of the Social Security Administration is never a walk in the park. You will find the whole process much easier if you consult with an experienced disability attorney. 

If you are not yet working but would like to, programs such as Social Security’s "Ticket to Work" program may help you obtain vocational training or a job without jeopardizing benefits.

On the other hand, if you are currently working but want to apply for disability and stop working, you may find that your claim is greeted with more skepticism than claims of those who not currently working at all.

In these situations, and in many others involving SSDI claims, eligibility, and compensation, the assistance of a skilled disability lawyer can help you make the best case to claims examiners and judges. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

What makes the process so daunting?

If you have heard that applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits is overwhelming, you have not been led astray. As you're probably aware, the government does not like giving money away and fears fraudulent claims, so it appears to go out of its way not to make the application process simple.

The Statistics

To be fair, SSDI already pays out $143 billion annually to the more than 11 million Americans who are unable to work because of serious illness or injury, and the claims for SSDI continue to increase. In 2013, for example the Social Security Administration received nearly 2.7 million applications, up from 1.9 million a decade earlier.

Nonetheless, the rate of approval of applicants for disability benefits averages only 36 percent, and, of these, only a quarter are awarded benefits the first time they apply. The other applicants are either approved on appeal or at hearings. For those who are disabled and struggling to survive without a paycheck, the system is a cruel one, in which, no matter how deserving you are, your plea for help will most likely be denied.

The Delays

Even if you are one of the lucky third of applicants who make the cut, the application process is prolonged and filled with bureaucratic paperwork. If an appeal or hearing is required, the process can stretch out for more than a year.

Although the government is supposedly trying to streamline the process of SSDI applications, according to Co-Chair of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget's SSDI Solutions, former Congressman Earl Pomeroy, "My guess is, while reforms are being studied and proposed, it's unlikely that in the very near future, Congress is going to enact anything sweeping by way of process reforms."

Unfortunately, this means that, even before the insolvency issues surrounding the Social Security Administration kick in, disabled citizens are going to continue to be victimized by a system that is supposed to be helping them. As many people who have been through the process have observed: applying for disability is a job in itself. The irony is, of course that the people applying are unable to fulfill the duties of a job or they would not be applying in the first place.

Increasing Your Chances

In order to apply for SSDI benefits, you must have a disability that is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. You can work part-time, but you can't be earning more than $1,130 per month.  Beyond meeting these criteria, there are several steps you can take to increase your chances of receiving benefits. These include:

  • Gathering as many of you medical records as possible before filing your claim
  • Making sure these records continue up until the present and detail your disability
  • Making sure these records contain data about diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis
  • Remembering, if your original application is denied, to appeal quickly, within 2 months

The Bottom Line

Being disabled is difficult enough without taking on the stress of applying for SSDI on your own. Your best bet is to consult with a skilled disability attorney, one who has been through the process thousands of times, and can assist you in attaining the benefits you deserve.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Medical Evidence In SSDI Cases

What type of evidence is required in an application for Social Security Disability Insurance?

Social Security Disability Insurance is a government benefit provided to those who are disabled according to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA's) definition. The SSA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that prevents a person from engaging in any substantial gainful activity and that has lasted, or is expected to last, for 12 months or more and/or result in death. In order for an applicant to prove that he or she suffers from a disability, he or she must provide the SSA with various types of medical evidence.

What are the various types of medical evidence?

Evidence must come from acceptable medical sources such as licensed physicians, licensed psychologists and qualified speech pathologists. The SSA prefers medical evidence from treating sources, that is, evidence from medical professionals involved in the applicant's care. These professionals are usually able to provide the most detailed information about the applicant’s condition.

The SSA is also interested in evidence from medical facilities such as clinics, hospitals and other institutions. The Administration may also require medical reports. These are expected to include various types of information, such as: the applicant’s medical history, examination and lab results, diagnosis, prognosis, prescribed treatment and information about what work functions the applicant remains capable of performing. If the medical evidence submitted is not sufficient, the SSA will request a consultative examination in order to ascertain additional information. Also, evidence relating to the patient's symptoms, such as the type, frequency, duration and treatment, will also be relevant and should be submitted.

In order to apply for SSDI, you must fill out your application as completely as possible. A high number of claims are denied every year due to incomplete and insufficient applications. A qualified attorney can assist you in the application process and increase your chances of an initial approval. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Can Social Security Benefits Be Garnished to Pay Debts?

Did you see the story on 3TV news about the man who is being harassed by debt collectors over a 50 year old student loan? The man claims he paid off his student loans decades ago, but a debt collection company is saying that he still owes $1,938 in interest, fees, and costs.

It isn’t clear whether the man in the story is retired and living on a fixed income, but if he went to college in the 1960s, I’m betting that he is. If that’s the case, he had better hire an attorney to represent him! Student loan debts follow you for life, and if you don’t repay them, the government can take some of your wages, seize your tax refunds, or garnish your Social Security payments until your debt is paid off.

Yes, you read that right, Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments can be garnished to pay off certain debts. In addition to federal student loans, Social Security and SSDI can be taken to pay for back taxes, child support, alimony, victim restitution, and other miscellaneous federal debts.

What about Other Debts?

While the government has taken steps to ensure that it can be repaid debts it is owed, it has limited the ability of other creditors to access your Social Security and SSDI funds.

If a creditor is able to prove to a court that you owe it a debt and that you are not paying it back, the creditor can ask your bank to turn over money from your account to satisfy the judgment. When this happens, your bank must look at your account history to see if you have received any direct deposits from Social Security. (FYI, it must also look for VA benefits.) If you have received benefits via direct deposit, it must protect 2 months worth of benefits from garnishment.

You will have full access to the 2 months worth of benefits, but all other money in the account will be frozen. You will be notified that this has happened, and will have a short period of time to decide what to do next. If you don’t do anything, the other money in your account can be transferred to your creditors. If you don’t think the debt is valid, or you can show that all of the money in the account should be protected from your creditors, you can take your case to a judge, who will then decide what happens next. Whether you will be able to keep your money, or whether it will be given to your creditors, depends largely on where the additional money in your account came from.

It is important to note that banks are only required to protect two months worth of direct deposits. If you are getting a paper check each month that you then deposit into your account, the law protecting that money from being frozen does not apply. Only funds that are directly deposited are eligible for protection.

If You Think Something Fishy Is Going On, Seek Help Immediately

The man in the news who was targeted by the student loan debt collectors did the right thing by reaching out to 3TV’s On Your Side investigators. If he has not spoken to one already, I hope that his next call is to an experienced attorney. When you are living on a fixed income, and particularly if that income is from Social Security, being targeted by creditors is something that should get professional help to deal with right away

Friday, January 22, 2016

A New Year’s Resolution That Is Easy to Keep

Do you know how much money you will get from Social Security if you are injured tomorrow? How about how much you can expect to get when you retire? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you aren’t alone. Even though the Phoenix area, and really Arizona generally, is full of people who are thinking about retirement, or who have already retired, most of the clients who come to Roeschke Law’s office seeking help with their Social Security issues don’t know this basic information. It’s time to turn this trend around. Let’s resolve to make 2016 the year we all start to keep track of our Social Security benefits online!

It is exciting that a small part of the federal government has awakened and realized we are living in the 21st century, and decided that means they should use technological advances to make their work more transparent and our lives as citizens and taxpayers a little bit easier. The Social Security Administration has developed a simple, easy to use app, called my Social Security, which allows any worker with a Social Security number who is over the age of 18 to track the benefits they have accrued.

After you have set up an account, you can log in at any time to see what type of Social Security Disability benefits you would be eligible for today if you suffered a debilitating accident or illness and were unable to work. You can also check out how much the SSA estimates you would receive on a monthly basis if you retired at various ages: 62, 66,67 (depending on your current age), or 70, based on your current payments into Social Security.

You might remember getting a paper copy of this info each year prior to 2011. In order to cut costs, the government stopped sending out these yearly paper notices, but it still sends them to you every 5 years (at ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60)if you haven’t signed up for a my Social Security account online.

Why does the government think it’s important for us to have this information? Two reasons: [1] it’s important to check up on this information so you can be informed as to your disability rights, properly plan for retirement, and  [2] it’s equally important to take a look once a year to make sure that the SSA is properly recording your payments into Social Security. Benefits (both retirement and disability) are based on how much you have paid into the system. You want to make sure that the information they have about you is accurate so you get the proper amount paid out to you in the future. If you see an error, you can usually get it corrected, as long as it happened in the last few years or is really egregious.

According to the SSA, over 22 million people have signed up for my Social Security account. It really is that easy to do. If you have questions about how my Social Securityworks, you can check out this webpage on the Social Security Administration’s website that full of helpful information. If you aren’t tech-savvy, or you have questions that aren’t answered on the SSA’s website, please feel free to give our team of Social Security disability experts at Roeschke Law a call at (800) 975-1866. We can’t set up your my Social Security account for you, but we can help you do it, either over the phone, or at our office in Phoenix. And we can absolutely help you address any errors you find in your account.

Now that you know how easy it is to keep track of your Social Security with SSA’s my Social Security app, spread the word! Let’s make 2016 the year we all resolve to get knowledgeable about our benefits. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

SSDI Still Needs Fixing

What reforms are needed in the Social Security Disability Insurance program?


The recent Budget Act signed by President Obama was approved with bipartisan Congressional support. Leading into the negotiations, there were threats of another government shutdown if Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling while lawmakers argued over the numbers. During this process, many Social Security Disability benefits recipients were concerned over a proposal that would slash their benefits by the fourth quarter of 2016.


However, lawmakers created an 11th hour remedy by shifting payroll tax revenue from one Social Security Trust fund to finance the SSDI fund. While this maneuver will prevent some of the nation's most vulnerable citizens from falling into poverty, it is only a stop-gap measure. At the end of the day, the SSDI program still has problems.


Problems Plaguing the SSDI Fund


It was recently reported that the SSDI program has numerous problems and long-term funding has not been resolved. This is especially dire as more baby boomers are becoming disabled, putting a strain on the system. Not only is there a problem with funding. Long delays in claim approval are causing financial hardship for many people.


Currently, more than 10 million Americans are now on SSDI, and that number is expected to rise. The annual cost is staggering -- about $141.7 billion in 2014. Even worse, the program has been losing money for at least the last decade.


Reforming the SSDI Program


Some proposed reforms include revamping the administrative law judge system. Because of high caseloads, hundreds of judges have been rubber-stamping approvals and "wrongful decisions" in the last 10 years have cost taxpayers at least $72 billion. The SSDI eligibility standards also need to be updated as they currently rely on data that is 30 years old. In any event, the recent budget deal was only a short-term fix, leaving the financial security of millions of disabled American hanging in the balance.


If you have become disabled and are unable to work, a qualified attorney can help you secure disability benefits.


Friday, December 25, 2015

The Long Wait for SSDI Benefits

What is causing delays is SSDI benefit approvals?

The Social Security Disability Insurance program is designed to provide financial support to people who are unable to work, providing them with a safety net from poverty. Generally, to qualify for disability, a person must have a physical or mental illness that will prevent the individual from working for at least 1 year or culminate in death. Not only is this is a high bar to cross -- many people are denied benefits -- but the approval process can be quite long. In these cases some may suffer undue physical, emotional and financial hardship.

What is the reason for SSD delays?

There are many reasons for the delays in SSD approval, which in some cases may be as long as 22 months. Even worse, some people have died while they were waiting. However, in this situation, a surviving spouse is entitled to the benefit.

Some attribute the delays to the huge caseloads of "overburdened judges." These caseloads, in turn, are due to the large number of aging baby boomers who are becoming disabled while needed staff additions for the Social Security Administration's were underfunded. Currently the SSD program stands at $126 billion which provides benefits to about 9 million people who are permanently unable to work as well as 8 million low-income people.

The SSA claims that the national average for a decision is about 16 months even though the agency has tried to limit caseloads and may even have pushed administrative judges to approve cases. In fact, an investigation conducted by the House Oversight and Government Reform committee found that hundreds of judges were rubber-stamping approvals, costing taxpayers billions. The Obama administration, however, stated that there was no evidence of rubber-stamping and the approval rates have actually declined by about 10 percent in recent years.

In an effort to address the problem, the SSA has set a goal to reduce the wait to 270 days or less by 2020. In addition, they have put a "pre-hearing triage program" in place, plan on hiring 400 more judges by 2018, and are conducting video hearing to reduce backlogs. In the meantime, countless people are falling into despair as they wait for SSD approval.

If you are disabled and unable to work, an attorney experience with the SSD program can help you qualify for benefits.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Social Security and Medicare Changes -- Pluses and Minuses

How will the new laws affect those who are receiving, or will receive, Social Security benefits?

In the budget bill President Obama recently signed into law with bipartisan support, some specific changes affecting Medicare and Social Security were included. For those who presently receive benefits from these agencies, or who foresee doing so in the near future, here is a clarification of what these alterations mean.

File and Suspend Option Being Discontinued May 1, 2016

One option being taken off the table is one known as "file and suspend." Currently, the higher wage earner in a couple who has reached full retirement age can file for his or her own Social Security benefits and immediately suspend them.

This means that the higher wage earner can continue to let the Social Security benefits grow 8 percent annually. During this time period, however, the lower wage earner can file for spousal benefits, receiving the lower amount. This results in the couple receiving a Social Security check while their benefits continue to grow. If the higher earning spouse passes away, the surviving spouse eventually receives the higher benefit.

Since file and suspend will be discontinued as of May 1, 2016, anyone interested in taking advantage of this strategy should apply now. Those already receiving benefits under this method will be grandfathered in until age 70.

Restricted Application also Being Phased Out

Restricted application is similar to, but not the same as, file and suspend. Now, individuals eligible for retirement benefits based on their own work record, as well as spousal benefits based on their spouses' work record, can elect to claim only a spousal benefit at full retirement age, leaving them free to collect a higher benefit in the future.

When the new law goes into effect, however, only individuals born on or before January 1, 1954 will continue to be able to use this option. Those younger than this will automatically receive the larger of the two benefits.

New Funds for Social Security Disability Benefits

Those receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits have had a stressful many months due the fact that it was anticipated that millions of disabled Americans were going to have their benefits reduced by 19 percent by the fourth quarter of 2016. Fortunately, that dire circumstance will not come to pass. The new law remedies the problem by shifting payroll tax revenue from one Social Security trust fund to another. Funds will be shifted from the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust fund to the Disability Insurance Trust fund. This change will save some of the country's most vulnerable citizens from falling below the poverty line.

No Increase in Medicare Part B Premiums and Deductibles

Thirty percent of Medicare beneficiaries were expecting a 52 percent increase in their Medicare Part B insurance premiums, as well as in their deductibles. The new law will protect this targeted population, approximately 17 million people, who will soon pay about $119 per month instead of the predicted $159.30 for Part B.

The other 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will continue to pay the same premium in 2016 as they did in 2015 -- $104.90. Beneficiaries will, however, have to pay an extra $3 per month to assist in paying down the money loaned to Medicare by the federal government. In addition, the annual deductible for all Part B beneficiaries will increase in 2016 to $166, an increase of about 15 percent.

If you have any questions regarding your present or future benefits, you should be sure to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable disability attorney.

Monday, November 30, 2015

SSA Announces There Will be No Cost-of-Living Increase in 2016

The cost of living is steadily increasing in virtually every zip code in America. From sprawling urban areas to more remote rural areas, consumers are experiencing a relentless increase in the costs of housing, utilities, food and other necessities -- prompting many employers to offer wage raises (though minimal ones) each year to offset the costs associated with daily living.

However, for those relying on the financial support of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the Social Security Administration (SSA) has recently announced that there will be no cost of living increase in 2016 -- citing an inflation increase too slight to warrant additional benefits. Unfortunately for many, their monthly benefit amount will remain unchanged, while the costs of basic necessities continue to rise.

Since 1975, the SSA has implemented a regular Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to help beneficiaries keep up with inflation rates and avoid further impoverishment. In years past, SSI recipients have seen increases ranging from a few dollars to a more significant sum, depending on the activity in the American economy. However, 2016 will be just the third year in history in which recipients will receive the same monthly benefit amount as the previous year – a rate currently set at $733.00 for individuals, and $1,100.00 for couples.

Across the United States, approximately 8 million people rely on SSI benefits to survive. Many of them are permanently disabled and unable to secure gainful employment under any circumstances. The percentage of Arizonans receiving benefits is higher than the national average. For these individuals, who currently rely on this income to survive, the lack of COLA in 2016 could result in a significant hardship, particularly in the event of a stark increase in inflation rates mid-year.

If you or a loved one with a disability are facing hardship because of the lack of COLA in the coming year, an experienced disability attorney can help you find the resources you need.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Process of Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits

What are the steps that must be taken to apply for SSD benefits?

The process of applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits can be a daunting one, particularly since it comes at a time when you are at a low ebb due to chronic illness or traumatic injury. This is why it is important to engage the services of a reputable disability attorney to guide you through the process.

Who can apply for disability benefits?

If you have a physical or psychological impairment that affects your ability to work on a full-time basis you can apply for Social Security Disability benefits.  You must be able to show that your severe impairment(s) have lasted for, or can be expected to last for at least 12 months.

At retirement age, the benefits continue, but are reclassified as retirement benefits.

When should you apply for SSD benefits?

It's always best to apply for benefits as soon as you become disabled.  Waiting to apply could cause you to lose out on potential benefits that could be rightfully paid to you. If your conditions prevent you from working, do not unnecessarily delay your application.

What documents are needed to apply for disability benefits?

Before applying for disability benefits, you should have all your ducks in a row, including all of the following documents that pertain in your case:

• Birth certificate or Permanent Resident Card Number
• Marriage and (if applicable) divorce papers
• Names and birth dates of children who became disabled before the age of 22, are under age 18 and unmarried, or are age 18 to19 and attending school full time
• Papers pertaining to military service
• Social Security number
• Name of place  and dates of employment for prior 2 years
• Statement of total earnings
• Bank account numbers for domestic and international accounts
• Bank information for direct deposit
• List of medical conditions
• Names and contact information for all of your doctors
• Complete information about medical tests taken 
• Complete list of prescribed medications
• Information about all completed education and vocational training

As if this weren't enough, applicants for Social Security benefits may be asked to provide additional information after they submit their application.

Once you are approved for disability benefits, will they continue throughout your lifetime?

While some conditions are chronic or progressive, some types of disability may be temporary, although they are long-term. Regular reviews of your condition will be made to determine whether you are still entitled to Social Security benefits.

As is obvious from the above materials, getting SSD benefits is a complex and often overwhelming process, a process during which the assistance of a capable disability attorney is invaluable.

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