Can I Collect Disability After My Spouse Dies?

If your deceased spouse was getting social security disability (SSD) benefits at the time of his or her death, you may be able to keep getting some or all of those benefits. Benefits that keep paying out after the death of the person they were tied to dies are called survivor benefits because they go to the relatives that still survive.

The type and amount of survivor benefits you can get will depend on your age, how long you were married, your current marital status, whether or not you are disabled, and whether you are caring for your deceased spouse’s minor or disabled child.

Age

If you have reached full retirement age, you will probably be able to collect all of your deceased spouse’s SSD benefits. If you have not yet reached full retirement age, you may be able to get a portion of your deceased spouse’s benefits.

If you are already collecting retirement benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will take that into consideration, and may adjust your benefits up or down depending on your specific circumstances.

Marital Status

Unless you qualify for survivor benefits in some other manner, or a specific exception applies to your particular circumstance, you must have been married to your spouse for nine months in order to qualify for spousal survivor benefits.

There are also certain circumstances where ex-spouses can also get benefits. Don’t assume that just because you got a divorce you are not eligible for benefits, even if your ex-spouse remarried.

If you are considering getting remarried, whether you are a widow(er) or an ex, you should consult with an attorney familiar with the social security system to determine if your benefits will be impacted by your impending nuptials.

Disability

If you yourself are disabled, you may be able to get SSD benefits based on your own work record, on your spouse’s work record, or on some mixture of the two.

Children

If you are caring for the minor or disabled child (or other dependent family member) of someone who died while receiving SSD benefits, you and the child (or other family member) may be eligible for survivor benefits.

How Do I Get Survivor Benefits?

How you go about applying for survivor’s benefits depends on whether you or your children were already getting benefits when your spouse died.

If you were already getting benefits at the time of your spouse’s death, based on your spouse’s disability or otherwise, all you should need to do is alert the Social Security Administration of your spouse’s death. The SSA will determine if you are eligible for additional benefits.

If your spouse was the only person in your family receiving benefits at the time of his or her death, you will have to apply for survivor benefits. It is important to apply as soon as you can because the SSA won’t always pay benefits retroactive to your spouse’s date of death, so the longer you wait, the more benefits you lose.

If you need assistance dealing with the SSA, or you think you should be getting more benefits than you currently are, Attorney Kiel Roeschke may be able to help you. He has helped many Arizona residents get the social security disability benefits they deserve by assisting with benefit applications, and appealing cases for people who have had their claims denied. Contact him today to schedule a meeting at his Phoenix office, or just to get some advice over the phone.

What You Need to Know About Benefits for Children

Social Security disability benefits are certainly not limited to adults, and children of eligible beneficiaries may be eligible for a monthly stipend to help offset living costs and defray the financial impact of their medical condition.

According to recent data, as many as nine percent of all Social Security beneficiaries in 2014 were children – a number amounting to close to 6.4 million individuals. This data includes both children receiving benefits directly as well as those who benefitted indirectly from benefits advanced to an adult charged with their care. Children eligible for direct Social Security benefits include:

  • Those whose parent or guardian passed away, leaving them as a surviving dependent;
  • The surviving dependent of an injured worker who passed away;
  • Children of retirees.

Indirectly, millions of children benefit from Social Security each day due to the fact their caregiver or family member receives monthly financial support. According to a study conducted by the Center for Global Policy Solutions, the staggering number of children benefitting from Social Security income are actually receiving much-needed support to avoid imminent impoverishment. For instance, the study found that although 40 percent of African American children currently live in poverty, the figure would like jump to 58 percent absent Social Security benefits. Likewise, the 28 percent of Latino children living in poverty would likely jump to nearly 45 percent without the benefits – figures which are just too astounding to ignore.

 

In a statement by the Center for Global Policy Solutions, “[w]e often talk about Social Security reform in the context of retirement….The fact of the matter is that skews our understanding of who the program serves. Social Security serves people of all ages, from birth to death – and the number of dependent children is too often ignored.”

 

With Social Security facing a certain solvency problem by 2034, lawmakers are beginning to work toward solutions to help support this much-needed social program. And, as the figures show, it is not just aging retirees who depend on these benefits – it is Americans of all ages.

 

Contact an attorney experienced with Social Security today!

 

To learn more about securing benefits for you and your family, call us today: 800-975-1866. 

How the Disabled Can Get Back to Work

How the Disabled Can Get Back to Work

What is the SSA’s Ticket to Work Program?

For disabled individuals who are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, there may be a way to get back to work without losing their benefits. The Social Security Administration’s “Ticket to Work” program offers benefit recipients job training, vocational rehabilitation, job referrals and other services.

The program offers a number of options to those between the ages of 18 and 65. First, if you return to work, but are unable to continue, there is an “Expedited Reinstatement” process that allows you to immediately receive monthly benefits again and to continue receiving health care benefits.  For those who are participating in the Ticket to Work program, it is not necessary to undergo a continuing disability review.

The SSA provides free job-related resources through two types of third party providers that are under contract with the administration: Employment Networks (ENs) and Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies (VRs). ENs offer services such as career counseling and job placement assistance, and continue to work with participants in the program who have returned to work. For those who cannot return to the work they performed before becoming disabled, VRs retrain them for new careers. In sum, by working with an EN and a VR, you develop a plan for getting back to work and establishing career goals.

What happens to my benefits if I participate in the Ticket to Work Program?

In addition to being able to continue receiving benefits if you are unable to continue working, the program features a nine-month trial period. This enables program participants to perform work that pays a certain amount each month, for a total of nine months in a five-year period, and receive a full benefit amount.

When the trial period is over, benefits are not available for months in which participants earned “substantial wages.” After completing the trial work period, those who are still disabled and whose earning fell below the “substantial” threshold, can continue to receive benefits for an additional 36 months.

In the end, the Ticket to Work program offers opportunities to disabled individuals that may allow them to earn a living again. As with any other SSA program, the process can be complicated and you are well advised to work with an experienced social security disability attorney in order to protect your benefits

How Long Will It Take To Get Social Security Benefits If I Am Injured And Cannot Work?

When you are injured and cannot work, the expenses begin to pile up fast. It is easy to find yourself so overwhelmed by bills that you end up panicking and making your financial situation, and your health, worse. So, the best thing that you can do once you are physically able to, is to contact an attorney or other advocate that has experience with the disability system.

Seek Help Right Away Because Getting Benefits Takes Time

One of the main reasons why it is important to contact an attorney as soon as you can, is to get the ball rolling on obtaining financial support for yourself.

An experienced attorney is going to be able to determine right away whether you should consider filing a personal injury lawsuit, or file for workers’ compensation.

An attorney that is familiar with the Social Security system is also going to be able to advise you on whether you have the option to retire and start collecting benefits, or whether you should apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Social Security Income (SSI) benefits.

SSDI Benefits

Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) is similar to retirement benefits in that it is based on an individual’s work record. A benefit determination considers the applicant’s age at the time he or she became disabled and the corollary amount of time worked.  Generally, duration of work ranges from 1.5 years for individuals who become disabled prior to the age of 28, to 9.5 years for those who 60 or older.

In order to qualify, the disability must be due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least for one year and/or result in death. In particular, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will seek to determine whether the disability limits an individual’s ability to perform the work he or she did before, or any other type of work.

Once the SSA determines you are eligible for benefits, there is a five month waiting period before your benefits can kick in. So, if your disability began on January 1st, your benefits would kick in on June 1, but you wouldn’t receive your first check on July 1.

However, it often takes the SSA longer than 5 months to process SSDI applications, so they typically owe back payments once a claim is approved.

SSI Benefits

If your financial needs are much greater than the aid you are eligible for, you may also be able to apply for Social Security Income (SSI).

Supplemental Security Income is designed for individuals who are disabled, blind or over 65 and is based on need. In order to be eligible, the applicant’s income and resources must fall below a certain threshold, but these benefits are available regardless of whether the individual paid into the Social Security System.

Once the SSA determines you are eligible for SSI benefits, there is no wait period. However, just like with SSDI claims, there is no automatic approval process. The approval process can often take months, so if and when you are approved, the SSA will pay you back payments from the time you became eligible for benefits.

You can click here to read more about the difference between SSDI and SSI.

Hope for Victims of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Am I eligible for SSDI for my CRPS?

Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic disorder that affects the arms, legs, hands or feet. Also referred to as reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), patients suffer not only from pain, but nerve and muscle damage as well. While the cause has yet to be identified, the disorder typically develops after an accident, surgery, stroke or a heart attack. One theory is that the syndrome is the result of the body’s abnormal response to an injury that, in some cases, damages the nervous system. While the chronic pain is severe, it is said to be disproportional to the original injury.

There are two types of CRPS – Type 1, that does not involve a nerve injury, and Type 2 which results from a direct injury to a nerve. Type 1 injuries sometimes occur after car accidents or slip and falls, while Type 2 arises from an injection or a surgical mistake. The symptoms of this disorder include stiffness or swelling of the joints, decreased mobility of the hands feet or limbs, and muscle spasms. Some patients may also suffer with prolonged burning or pain sensations, heightened sensitivity or temperature and unexplained changes to the skin, hair and nails. 

CRPS can also spread to other regions of the body, which makes getting an accurate diagnosis crucial to recovery. However, there is no present cure for disorder, and treatments include pain medications, nerve blocks, pain management and physical therapy. Left  untreated, CRPS can cause permanent damage to the skin, bones and muscle.

Can I get SSDI for my CRPS?

In order to qualify for social security disability benefits, it is necessary to demonstrate that your CRPS renders you unable to work. It is also essential to have medical evidence to support your claim. A doctor must document actual physical findings that your CRPS is causing swelling, changes to the skin, abnormal hair or nail growth or osteoporosis. In addition the Social Security Administration must determine that the disorder prevents you from doing your current job, or performing any other work.

As with disability claims in general, there are a number of other factors the SSA considers, including income and asset limits. In the end, it can become quite complicated for CRPS victims to qualify for disability benefits. If you are suffering from chronic pain, you should immediately seek medical treatment. You should also engage the services of an experienced social security disability attorney who can help you obtain the benefits you deserve.

Social Security Administration Takes Aim at Beneficiaries Who Own Firearms

It is certainly no secret that the Second Amendment, and the extent to which it should be applied and upheld in today’s society, is under increasing scrutiny. Not only is the Federal Bureau of Investigation dealing with heavily-armed domestic and international individuals within the United States, but the Social Security Administration has also entered the arena of gun control and firearm ownership restriction – except, their position takes direct aim at disability beneficiaries who – in the SSA’s opinion – are under the influence of a mental health issue, therefore making gun ownership a general safety issue.

According to the 41-page document published by the SSA on May 5, 2016, the SSA intends to inform the Department of Justice on a quarterly basis of its disability beneficiaries who are receiving the benefits due to a mental health or mental impairment diagnosis. From there, the SSA will be informing these individuals of the possible prohibitions on gun ownership that could be implemented by the DOJ, as well as the consequences of violating the restriction.

Relying on the language of the Brady Act and its implementing regulations, the SSA continued by highlighting the statutory language that prohibits gun ownership by anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective.” The SSA further explained that the FBI has reported significant backlogs in running background checks on gun purchasers, often due to incomplete files or unavailable information. Under the new regulations, the FBI would have immediate automated access to this information, and would be able to quickly make a determination of “mental defect,” which has been defined to include any of the following:

  • A determination by a court, board, commission or other lawful authority that a person has marked subnormal intelligence, mental illness, incompetency, a mental condition or disease;
  • Is a danger to himself/herself because of said condition;
  • Lacks the capacity to manage his/her own affairs;
  • Has been formally committed to a mental institution.

The report does not make mention of due process rights afforded to those who are deemed “incompetent” to own a firearm. Under the regulations, over 75,000 beneficiaries could be impacted, many of whom may be required to relinquish their firearms immediately.

Contact an Experienced SSDI attorney today!

Phoenix Man Steals the Identity of Deceased Veteran to Scam the Government

A couple of months ago I blogged about the problems identity theft can cause someone who is on disability when I saw a truly sad case out East in Tennessee where a women was kicked off of disability because her identity was stolen.

Recently there was a case dealing with identity theft issues and benefits right here in Phoenix. According to ABC 15, an undocumented immigrant named Rene Ortiz Quintana has been using the identity of a deceased veteran to collect nearly $30,000 in benefits over the past four years.

Quintana has allegedly been posing as Ruben J. Gallardo, who passed away in 1994. “Under [Gallardo’s] name, police say, [Quintana] got an Arizona identification card, a state health card, a Phoenix health plan card and a VA choice card. The VA choice card was given to veterans in response to long delays in getting medical care from VA hospitals. It allows veterans to get medical care at Non-VA facilities. He also received Social security benefits under the name Ruben Gallardo.”

This is a really upsetting story for multiple reasons.

First and foremost, it is upsetting that someone disrespected the memory of Gallardo and the lives of living veterans who are trying to get care from the VA in this manner. I hope that Gallardo’s family is finding some solace in knowing that everyone who reads about this case is outraged on their behalf.

Second, it is frustrating that the government basically allowed this fraud to go on due to its poor record-keeping. I’ve also blogged recently about this problem, but from the perspective of what to do if the government declares you dead while you are still very much alive.

Finally, the fact that someone who was in need of medical care resorted to fraud to get that care is sad. I don’t want to downplay his crimes, since Quintana committed multiple crimes over many years (he’s reportedly been in the country illegally for about 50 years), but if he would have sought help, perhaps he wouldn’t have resorted to fraud.   

If you are having trouble getting benefits, or you or a loved one’s benefits are being impacted by identity theft, I encourage you to reach out.

New Hope for ALS Patients

Is ALS a qualifying medical condition for SSDI?

While Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides benefits for individuals with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), there is currently a five-month waiting period in place before this assistance becomes available to many patients. Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is an incurable neurodegenerative disease with only one approved treatment. This disease rapidly progresses eventually causing the afflicted to lose the ability to walk, talk and breathe on their own.

The ALS Disability Insurance Access Act

The five month waiting period speaks to the larger issue of the delays associated with receiving disability benefits many individuals face. Now, patients with ALS may have new hope as legislation is working its way through the U.S Congress that would waive the waiting period. The ALS Disability Insurance Access Act was introduced by both Senate and House lawmakers and has the support of the ALS Association.

Barb Newhouse, president and CEO of the association, said in a press release that those “who currently do not have an effective treatment plan, should not be forced to wait to receive benefits they deserve.”

Previous Measures to Help ALS Patients

The legislation is part of an ongoing effort to address the suffering of patients with ALS. In 2000, the SSA and Congress joined forces to waive the 24-month Medicare  waiting period for ALS patients. The SSA also has a program in place to expedite claim reviews for SSDI and SSI applicants who are suffering with the disease. Currently, however, patients must wait five months to receive benefits under both programs.

The five-month waiting period was initially put in place by Congress to allow time for other temporary conditions to reverse. For ALS patients, however, the waiting period is not justifiable since the disease is not a temporary condition, nor is it reversible. About 50 percent of ALS patients die within 16 months of diagnosis. Proponents of the legislation believe that quick access to disability benefits is essential for these patients and their families.

Obviously, ALS meets the eligibility requirements  for disability benefits, and waiving the five-month waiting period can help to offset the lost income these patient’s inevitably will experience. This is just the first step in correcting some of the inherent flaws in the system. Many individuals experience long delays in having their claims approved, and more than 60 percent of claims are denied. For these reasons, anyone in need of assistance applying for these benefits is well advised to engage the services of an attorney with experience in the SSA program

The Difference Between SSI and SSDI

What types of disability benefits are offered by the Social Security Administration?

The fact that anyone can become ill or suffer an injury at any time and not be able to work is reason to be concerned. However, there are benefit programs that the Social Security Administration has in place for disabled individuals, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). There are differences between the two programs, however.

SSI and SSDI at a Glance

Supplemental Security Income is designed for individuals who are disabled, blind or over 65 and is based on need. In order to be eligible, the applicant’s income and resources must fall below a certain threshold, but these benefits are available regardless of whether the individual paid into the Social Security System.

In short an individual who has resources exceeding $2,000, excluding a primary residence, is not eligible (the threshold is $3,000 for a couple). In addition, the Social Security Administration considers income greater than $65 a month into its determination. Every two dollars earned greater than that amount will result in a one dollar reduction in the monthly benefit.

Social Security Disability Income is similar to retirement benefits in that it is based on an individual’s work record. A benefit determination considers the applicant’s age at the time he or she became disabled and the corollary amount of time worked.  Generally, duration of work ranges from 1.5 years for individuals who become disabled prior to the age of 28, to 9.5 years for those who 60 or older.

In order to qualify, the disability must be due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least for one year and/or result in death. In particular, the SSA will seek to determine whether the disability limits an individual’s ability to perform the work he or she did before, or any other type of work.

What benefits are available under SSI and SSDI?

There is a difference in the amount of benefits paid out under each program.  SSI pays a standard benefit – currently $733 for individuals and $1,100 for couples; however a supplementary payment may also be available from the state. SSDI benefits , on the hand, can vary because they are based on work records. Information about work history and the amount of available SSDI benefits is readily available from the Social Security Administration for those who have an online mySocial Security account.

While the good news is that SSI and SSDI benefits are available for those who become disabled, the application process can be quite complicated, and many disability claims are denied. By engaging the services of an experienced Social Security attorney, however, your chances of obtaining disability benefits improve dramatically.

What Is the Maximum Income to Qualify for SSI?     

You can receive other income and still qualify for SSI, but your benefits may be reduced or even eliminated, depending on how much you make.

A Primer on Disability Appeals

What can I do if my application for SSDI is denied?

Let’s face it: anyone can become disabled due to an accident or illness and be unable to continue working. While the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a program that provides benefits to disabled individuals, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), obtaining these benefits can be difficult.

Eligibility for SSDI

To be eligible for disability benefits, you must have an injury or illness that prevents you from participating in substantial gainful activity. In particular, the medical condition must be expected to last for at least one year or result in death (the SSA has guidelines for medical conditions that qualify). There are however, a number of reasons that an application can be denied.

For example, your medical condition may not be on the list, or the SSA may determine that your condition is not a disability. In addition, in order to be approved for benefits, you must undergo an examination by an independent physician whose findings may not agree with those of doctor who treated you.

Added to this burden is the extensive paperwork that must be completed. If there are mistakes in the application or any required information is missing, the claim will be denied.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that once you receive a notice of denial from  Disability Determination Services (DDS), the state agency in Arizona that determines whether your medical condition is a disability, you can file an appeal.

Appealing a Disability Denial in Arizona

If the DDS denies your disability application, the first thing to do is file a request for reconsideration within 60 days of receiving the notice of denial. Your application will be reevaluated by a different medical consultant and an examiner who were not involved in the initial determination. However, reconsideration claims are often denied; in fact only 5-10 percent are granted, particularly in cases in which there has been a new diagnosis or a condition has worsened.

If your reconsideration is denied, you have 60 days to request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). These judges are SSA attorneys who are tasked with upholding or overturning denials. Many disability applicants who are represented by an attorney with expertise in SSDI win these appeals. If you are denied by the ALJ, however, you can request the Appeals Council to review your claim.

The Council can either overturn the decision, send it back to the ALJ for reconsideration, or deny your claim in which case your last resort is to file a lawsuit with the U.S. district court. The judge will review the case for legal errors and determine if there are valid reasons to overturn the ALJ’s decision.

In the final analysis, whether you are submitting an initial application for disability benefits or considering pursing an appeal, your chances of having a claim approved are significantly greater when you have an experienced Social Security Disability attorney by your side.