Social Security Administration Sponsors National my Social Security Week

What are the benefits of opening a my Social Security account?

The Social Security Administration recently celebrated National my Social Security Week (April 4- 13). In collaboration with a number of state and local groups across the country, the administration hosted a variety of events to educate people about the programs available through the SSA, and also to encourage individuals to open an online my Social Security Account.

In addition to its regional and field offices and other service centers, the SSA provides a wide range of services online. However, for a variety of reasons, the online services are being underutilized. While the SSA sends out periodic statements detailing earnings records and estimated retirement benefits, an online account provides a number of advantages such as tracking and verifying wages on an annual basis. For those who are still working, a my Social Security Account can also provide you with an estimate of future retirement benefits.

One of the pivotal days of the weeklong event was the “Thunderclap Campaign” on National Check Your Statement Day which took place on April 7. The so-called thunder clap was a social media blitz on Facebook and Twitter to remind workers of the importance of checking their annual Social Security statement every year. In so doing, the potential of errors in benefit calculations can be minimized and you can better plan your financial future.

Opening a my Social Security account can also enable you to manage your benefits, keep your personal information up to date, start a direct deposit, or request a replacement Social Security or Medicare card. The SSA is also working with the Treasury Department to educate workers on the importance of retirement savings.

Finally, the annual statement can also help you understand whether you are entitled to Social Security disability benefits in the event that you become disabled before you retire. Upon retiring, these benefits are converted into retirement benefits. While you may be entitled to disability benefits, many claims are often denied and the administration’s guidelines are very complicated. An attorney with expertise in the SSA’s disability benefits program can help you obtain the benefits that you deserve.

Children’s Social Security Benefits

Can certain children receive Social Security Benefits?

Most of us think of Social Security as benefiting the elderly, retired and disabled. Most of these benefits do go to people in these categories, but, did you know that children are also entitled to Social Security benefits in certain situations? If you answered no to this question you are not alone. Most people aren’t aware of these entitlements. But, here is a brief summary to update your knowledge.

Social Security benefits for children are often connected to an eligible adult. For example, the children of a retired or disabled parent are eligible for benefits if they are under 18, under 20 and still in school and/or are disabled themselves.  Children must also be unmarried to receive these benefits. If the parent is alive, the child is entitled to up to half of the parent’s benefits. If the parent is deceased and the child is receiving survivor’s benefits, the child can receive up to three quarters of the parent’s benefit. There are limitations to the total amount a child can receive set out by the Social Security Administration and these are calculated on a case by case basis. It is also important to note that Supplemental Security Income is also available to children living in a low-income family who are 22 and under and still in school or 18 and not in school.

Children are usually not allowed to handle their own Social Security benefits. Therefore, the Social Security Administration designates a representative payee to handle the child’s money.  The payments are issued to this designated person, usually a parent, and he or she is obligated to provide for the child’s basic needs using these funds.  Representative payees are also subject to an annual reporting requirement.

If you are considering applying for any type of Social Security benefit you can only increase your chances of being approved by retaining an attorney to guide you through the process.  Contact an experienced Arizona disability attorney for a case evaluation today.

Where the Remaining Presidential Candidates Stand on Social Security

With the presidential election in full swing, one of our top priorities is the status of Social Security Disability laws in the United States. As we all know, presidential candidates are prone to over-promising and under-delivering – and our nation’s benefits system is no exception. As the pool of possible presidents continues to dwindle, let’s take a look at each of the four remaining candidate’s public statements or stances on the issue of Social Security Disability, as well as a cursory look into how each candidate could impact the system post-election day.

1: Hilary Clinton: Hillary Clinton has not shied away from frankly discussing her plans with regard to Social Security. Consistently, Clinton has rebutted the notion of privatizing Social Security, citing the inherent risk of the market – which beneficiaries should not be required to endure. Further, Clinton is devoted to ensuring the nation’s more vulnerable populations have access to benefits first, particularly given the actuarial data suggesting the available cash for Social Security retirement and disability programs could possibly dry up by 2034.

2: Donald Trump: Most notably, Donald Trump has been an outspoken critic of fraudulent disability filings, which hurt the system overall and waste precious resources for those who are truly in need of support. He was quoted as stating that “between 2005 and 2009, it is estimated that $25 billion were eaten up in fraudulent Social Security Disability Insurance filings. On and on, scam after scam it goes; as always, taxpayers are the ones getting stiffed.”

 3: Bernie Sanders: As one of the more outspoken supporters of Social Security benefits, Sanders has made fighting for disability rights one of his key platforms throughout the election. More specifically, he has vowed to:

  • Protect and expand the Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) program.
  • Increase employment and educational opportunities for people with disabilities
  • Fight for the U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities

As Senator, Sanders is quoted as saying “[t]he Americans with Disabilities Act established a clear national mandate that we as a nation have a moral responsibility to ensure that all Americans have access to the programs and the support needed to contribute to society, live with dignity, and achieve a high quality of life.”

4: Ted Cruz: Texas Senator Ted Cruz has advocated what he calls “common sense reforms” to the current Social Security system. Notably, he has advocated for raises in disability benefits to meet the rate of inflation. From there, Cruz has not made much public mention of his intentions with regard to disability benefits, and has not raised the issue in a significant way along the campaign trail.

If you are concerned about your benefits and would like to speak to a reputable attorney in Arizona, please contact Roeschke Law today: 1-800-975-1866.

Thyroid Disorders and SSDI

Am I eligible for social security disability benefits for my thyroid disorder?

The thyroid gland — a gland in the neck, produces hormones that regulate weight and metabolism. Thyroid disorders such a hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause a variety of medical conditions.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

If your thyroid is not making enough thyroid hormone, you may experience the following symptoms: fatigue, depression, dry skin, difficulty concentrating, body pain, increased weight, and swollen legs. Severe cases can also result is cardiovascular and respiratory problems. This condition is treated by taking a thyroid supplement.

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

An overactive thyroid gland can cause muscle weakness, a racing heart, tremors, irritability, and problems sleeping. Treatment for hyperthyroidism includes medications, the intake of radioactive iodine, and possibly surgery.

While chronic thyroid conditions can be managed with medications and most individuals can lead normal lives and continue to work, those who are suffering from a thyroid disorder and are unable to work may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.

SSDI and Thyroid Disorders

The Social Security Administration will award disability benefits for medical conditions that are expected to last for a year or result in death. The SSA requires proper medical evidence to be submitted that indicates you are unable to perform any work or meet the requirements of a “compassionate allowance condition.”

While hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are manageable, some thyroid disorders are more likely to result in a disability, such as thyroid cancer and Graves’ disease. To qualify for disability benefits for thyroid cancer, the illness must be one that has spread beyond the area of the lymph nodes. On the other hand, while Graves disease in and of itself may not meet the criteria for SSDI eligibility, the illness can cause other medical conditions, such as a heart arrhythmia, which may qualify an individual for benefits.

What is residual functional capacity?

A thyroid disease that is not severe enough to meet the eligibility requirements for disability benefits may require a determination of an individual’s residual functional capacity, or RFC — the most one can do in a work setting. An RFC may lead to a classification of an individual being able to perform sedentary, light or moderate work. An RFC may also include limitations that prevent one from being fully productive.

Hypothyroidism, for example, can result in depression which can affect an individual’s ability to work on a regular basis. At the same time, this disorder can also make it difficult to concentrate, which can interfere with a person’s ability to follow complex instructions and prevent an individual from performing certain, but not all, jobs.

There are other symptoms of thyroid disorders as well as side effects of medications that may lead to an individual being eligible for disability benefits. Nonetheless, the process for being awarded SSDI can be very complicated. If you have question about whether your thyroid disorder makes you eligible for disability benefits, an attorney with expertise in Social Security procedures can help you explore your options.

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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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

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.