Category Archives: social security disability

Why an Obscure Securities Law Case Could Affect SSDI

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) cases are largely decided by administrative law judges (ALJs). A decision questioning the role of ALJs in another area of the law could cause some major complications for SSDI applicants and SSDI beneficiaries.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently set aside a conviction for securities fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) because the ALJ who decided the case should have been appointed under the Appointments Clause rather than hired by the SEC. The 10th Circuit’s decision directly conflicts with a recent decision made by the District of Columbia  Circuit Court of Appeals, which means the U.S. Supreme Court could take up the issue.

This matters to SSDI applicants, their attorneys and even present SSDI beneficiaries because the vast majority of administrative law judges, roughly 1,200 of 1,400, have been hired by the Social Security Administration to hear Social Security Disability appeals. Similar to ALJs from the SEC, ALJs who hear SSDI appeals are hired on merit and are federal employees.

If the U.S. Supreme Court followed the recent 10th Circuit decision and applied it to ALJs who heard Social Security Disability appeals, at least 1,200 ALJs would have to be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. This could lead to further delays and uncertainty related to SSDI appeals. If the 10th Circuit decision were applied to SSDI judges, it is uncertain as to whether awards of disability would still be valid if they were made by unconstitutionally chosen ALJs. In 2014, in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, the Supreme Court held that the NLRB’s decision made by commissioners who were appointed by constitutionally invalid recess appointments was invalid.

The Social Security Administration has recently moved to abolish the treating physician rule in an effort to decrease claim payments. Uncertainty over whether the awards of SSDI benefits are constitutional would add additional hurdles to those needing SSDI benefits. If you are applying for Social Security Disability or thinking about it, contact an experienced attorney. Also, contact your lawmakers to express your concerns about the SSDI system to them.

Why I Am Thankful – Two Photographs

Today’s post comes from guest author Leonard Jernigan, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

Recently I took photographs of two men who remind me of why I am thankful every day. One man is sitting in a wheelchair at a restaurant, with his right hand in a contorted position and he is being fed by another person. The other man, also in a restaurant, is in shorts and is holding a small child in his arms.  But something is missing – his right leg – he has a flesh colored prosthetic device as a substitute.

I have spent a lifetime helping disabled people and I have never heard any of them say “You know, Mr. Jernigan, when I got up to go to work that day, I knew I was going to be severely injured and my life would change forever.” We never know when life will take a turn like that. We never know when we will lose our independence and sometimes our dignity. Fortunately, that day will never come for most of us. But it could.

When I think about the man in the wheelchair and the man holding his child, I think how lucky I am, and I am thankful each and every day. 

Creative Legal Argument Leads To An Award of Lifetime Diability Benefits

Today’s post comes from guest author Kevin Walsh, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Good lawyering requires both creativity and a deep knowledge of the law. Last week I obtained a ruling of Permanent Total Disability for a client. The ruling entitles her to much-deserved lifetime weekly compensation benefits. This is especially important because in 2007 the Workers Compensation Law was changed to put limits on the time period for which you can receive benefits. There is now a 10-year limit on benefit duration unless you had a 100% Medicial Disability or a 100% Loss of Wage Earning Capacity (ability to work and earn money).

My client is a 55 year-old woman with a severe back condition. All of the doctors she consulted with conculded that she has a 60% medical disability. Most attorneys would have accepted that rating as is, entitling her to just 350 weeks of compensation benefits. But that would have been the wrong outcome.

Because of my client’s educational level and work experience, I knew that she was entitled to more. She only has a high school education and does not know how to use a computer. My client has never worked in any other position other than house cleaning.

All of the doctors who testified conceded that my client’s injury prevented her from doing her job – the work of a house cleaner. In fact, they all conceded that she could not do any type of physical labor. I then took my client’s testimony and established her lack of transferrable skills, focusing on her education and work experience. In essence I showed that there was no other work that she could successfully perform.

The judge agreed with my argument — my client has only a 60% Medical Disability, but has a 100% loss of her Wage Earning Capacity. The judge awarded my client Total Disability benefits, which allowed an award of a lifetime of benefits, not just a 10-year benefit period. This was a huge, and much-deserved, victory for my client.

When representing clients it is important to know your client and to know their background. This is how we practice. We strive to obtain the best outcome for out clients by knowing them, knowing the law and knowing how to obtain the maximum benefits for them.

Closed Period of Disability: Money You May Be Missing Out On

Today’s post comes from guest author William Morrison, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

If you have been out of work for 12 months or more, you may meet the requirements for a “closed period of disability” and may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. It is likely that you are eligible for benefits if the following statements apply to you:

  • You have been out of work for at least 12 months
  • You were out of work due to medical reasons
  • You received medical treatment during the time you were out of work

To receive benefits, you must also meet the minimum requirements for having a disability, which include having a medically determinable impairment that meets certain legal standards. A physician who can attest to your condition and treatment can help provide evidence to substantiate your claim. Your attorney can help you avoid roadblocks.

There is a mandatory 5-month waiting period from the date of being found disabled before a claimant is entitled to their first monthly benefit for a closed period of disability. Therefore, if you are out of work for exactly 12 months, you will be entitled to monthly benefit payments for 7 of those months.

To file for a closed period of disability, contact an attorney who can help you win your case and get paid.

If you have any questions about the material in this post or any questions at all about Social Security Disability, feel free to reach out to me at wmorrison@workerslaw.com.

The Wounded Warrior Program Expedites Social Security Disability Claims For Veterans

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Veteran’s Day is a day that the American people have set aside to celebrate and honor all those who have served in the armed forces. Veteran’s Day – originally known as Armistice Day – has been celebrated in the United States since 1919. Armistice Day became a national holiday in 1938, and has been known as Veteran’s Day since 1954. It is celebrated on November 11th to commemorate the armistice that ended the fighting in World War One.

The Social Security Administration recognizes the sacrifices that the members of our armed forces make every day. With the Wounded Warrior Program, the Administration ensures that military members who were injured on active duty have their cases processed in an expedited manner. While the standard of disability remains the same for all claimants, individuals injured on active duty can obtain a decision faster.

Even if you are still on active duty and receiving full pay, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Social Security looks at the activities you are performing, not the pay you are receiving, to determine if you meet the standard of disability. These benefits are in addition to any benefits you may receive from the Veteran’s Administration – it is important for you to know that a separate application for each type of benefit is required.

If you have any questions about applying for Social Security disability benefits, even if you are still on active duty, please contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Disability, USA? A Different Point of View About Social Security Disability Benefits

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

You may have seen a recent report on 60 Minutes regarding the Social Security Administration’s disability program.  If, after watching that report, you became concerned that either a) Social Security would soon run out of money, or b) Social Security was paying disability benefits to either outright frauds or those who just aren’t disabled, I wouldn’t blame you.  That’s not because those things are true, but because this “report” was extremely biased and inaccurate.  The truth is that Social Security is well-funded and will be able to pay benefits well into the future, if not indefinitely.

It’s true that applications for Social Security disability benefits increase when the unemployment rate goes up.  What’s not true, however, is that otherwise healthy people are drawing a disability check during bad economic times.  The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College recently published a report that concluded that applications for benefits did rise when the unemployment rate went up, but that most of these “extra” claims were denied.  Those who were approved tended to be older individuals working physically demanding jobs whose bodies were just worn out after years of hard labor.  

Applications for disability benefits have increased recently, and a large part of that increase can be attributed to the fact that Americans are simply getting older.  One of the consequences of getting older is that your body doesn’t work as well as it used to, and you become much more likely to get a chronic disease such as diabetes.  It’s no surprise that disability applications will increase as more and more Americans enter the most disability-prone category of their lives.

People might worry that this increase in applications means that Social Security will soon run out of money to pay benefits.  60 Minutes didn’t do anything to allay those fears, stating several times that the trust fund is going broke in the next few years.  The disability trust fund currently only receives a fraction of the amount collected in payroll taxes, with the vast majority going to the retirement trust fund.  There is a simple fix for this problem – the government can either give more of each dollar to the disability fund, or transfer some money from the retirement fund to the disability fund.  In fact, this has been done several times, but with the money going from the disability fund to the retirement fund.  Social Security is well-funded and in no danger of going broke – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

60 Minutes also made it appear that disability benefits are there for anyone who applies, with no need to present any medical documentation to back up their claims.  Those who have been through the process know that this is just false.  The standard of disability for Social Security’s program is extremely high.  Only those who are truly disabled – and who have the documentation to back it up – are awarded benefits. 

There are some people who try to game the system and get benefits that they are not eligible for.  Due to Social Security’s strict standards, most of these people are denied benefits in the first place.  For those that do resort to fraud, Social Security has an investigative unit dedicated to finding these individuals.  Once caught, they face stiff penalties, including restitution and jail time. 

Despite what 60 Minutes would have you believe, Social Security’s disability program is well-funded, and only pays benefits to those who can prove they deserve them.  Don’t be fooled by sensationalistic programs designed to mislead rather than inform.

New Social Security Rules Make It Harder To Present Your Case

Today’s post comes from guest author Ryan Benharris, from Deborah G. Kohl Law Offices.

In December, 2010, the Social Security Administration (SSA) implemented a set of rules put in place to enable more effective case review. One of the major changes was that Applicants will no longer know who their Administrative Law Judge is prior to their scheduled hearing. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that these judges seem more concerned with the speed of case processing than on whether the applicants actually deserve benefits. WSJ also indicated that some judges were approving more than 85% of the cases they heard in what was allegedly an effort to have the cases resolved more quickly. Unfortunately, for applicants, this change in practice has made their cases much harder to litigate. Many Administrative Law Judges have different styles of practice in how their cases are heard. An attorney may present information in a different style depending on the judge. The importance of an applicant being represented by an attorney before the Social Security Administration has never been clearer. Since there is no way to know who the Administrative Law Judge is prior to the hearing, it is absolutely imperative that every case prepared in accordance to all rules governing how cases are tried before the court. If even the slightest detail is overlooked, it may prevent an applicant from being allowed to present evidence that could win his or her case.

Your Social Security Benefits After The Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) Decision

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Nearly two months after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Social Security Administration has announced that it will start to pay benefits to some individuals in same-sex marriages. In order to be eligible for benefits, these individuals must meet the same criteria as individuals in opposite-sex marriages, in addition to several other requirements.

Only applications for spousal benefits are being approved right now. Spousal benefits are payable to a spouse who either 1) did not work enough to be entitled to Social Security benefits or 2) worked enough to be entitled to Social Security benefits but would be entitled to a larger benefit on their spouse’s earnings record.  This is generally the case when one spouse earned significantly more than the other spouse over the course of their working lives. The individual on whose earnings record the claim is made (the number holder, in SSA’s terms) must also be entitled to old-age or disability benefits from Social Security. In order to receive spousal benefits, you must be at least age 62 and have been married to the number holder for at least one year.

The individual applying for benefits (the claimant, in SSA’s terms) must show that he or she was married to the number holder in a state that permits same-sex marriage and that the number holder is living in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage either 1) when the application for benefits is filed or 2) while the application is pending a final determination. It does not matter what state the claimant lives in. What matters for SSA’s purposes is the state the number holder lives in. This only matters when spouses live in different states.

Below is a chart from SSA that shows which states recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and when those states permitted same-sex marriages.  If a state is not listed, it does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or permit same-sex marriages to be performed.

Before filing a claim for benefits or moving to a different state, you should consult with an experienced attorney or with the Social Security Administration to determine your eligibility for benefits.  As SSA continues to pay benefits to more individuals in connection with the Supreme Court’s decision, we will provide updated information regarding who may be eligible for these benefits.

State

Date Same-Sex Marriages from Any Other State Was Recognized

Date Same-Sex Marriages Were Permitted in the State

California June 17, 2008 – November 4, 2008

June 26, 2013 – present

June 17, 2008 – November 4, 2008

June 26, 2013 – present

Connecticut November 12, 2008 November 12, 2008
Delaware July 1, 2013 July 1, 2013
Iowa April 30, 2009 April 20, 2009
Maine December 29, 2012 December 29, 2012
Maryland February 23, 2010 January 1, 2013
Massachusetts May 17, 2004 May 17, 2004
Minnesota August 1, 2013 August 1, 2013
New Hampshire January 1, 2010 January 1, 2010
New York February 1, 2008 July 24, 2011
Rhode Island May 14, 2012 August 1, 2013
Vermont September 1, 2009 September 1, 2009
Washington December 6, 2012 December 6, 2012
Washington, DC July 7, 2009 March 9, 2010