Articles Posted in Applying for benefits

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Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder, which affects motor functioning. The symptoms include shaking (tremors), rigidity of muscles, difficulty speaking, problems walking, and depression. Depression occurs as a direct result of Parkinson’s in 80% of those with the disorder.  While some of those suffering with this disease initially have relatively mild symptoms, which slowly progress over time, others degenerate rapidly.

Parkinson’s is currently not included under the Compassionate Allowance program, meaning that being diagnosed with Parkinson’s does not guarantee that you will win your disability benefits case. Thus, those with Parkinson’s must prove that their condition hinders them from doing any work they have done in the past 15 years or in another job for which they could be reasonably trained. It is generally not difficult for those with Parkinson’s to prove that they could not train for new employment. However, it can be more complicated to prove that you cannot do work you have previously done, depending on your prior work.

If you or a loved one is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, contact this law firm for a free consultation on your eligibility for disability benefits. 

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) lists vision loss in its Blue Book of disabilities that are eligible for disability benefits. Persons who suffer from blindness, however, may have special rules that apply to them due to the severely limiting and restrictive nature of their disability. For instance, a person who suffers from even partial blindness may be eligible for disability benefits. The agency defines vision loss as vision that cannot be corrected to better than 20/200 in the better eye, or involving a field of vision of 20 degrees or less, even after using corrective lenses.

However, you may qualify of benefits even if your blindness doesn’t meet these criteria. If your blindness or vision problems make it difficult to work or earn an income, we urge you to discuss your rights to disability benefits with an attorney. The SSA also has a higher income threshold for persons with blindness. If you suffer from vision loss, the monthly earnings limit that applies to you in 2018 is $1,970–which is higher than the limit for non-blind workers.

If you suffer from an eye disease or condition like cataracts, retinopathy, glaucoma or another disease that limits your vision significantly, talk to an attorney about your rights to a claim. Remember, however, that the SSA will not approve of your claim if you have good vision in at least one eye.

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A woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy can lead to extreme fatigue, and gainful activity is usually impossible during this time. Certain types of breast cancer, including unresectable or inoperable breast cancer, qualify for expedited processing of disability claims under the Compassionate Allowances program. When a cancer is as serious as this, it is important to make sure that your claim is filed with all relevant documentation and evidence to ensure that the claim is processed quickly.

Keep in mind that if the documentation, lab reports and pathological evidence you have provided is not deemed sufficient, the agency may deny your claim. Talk to an attorney and get your claim reviewed thoroughly before you submit it to maximize your chances of a successful claim.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to Lisa Siegel, Georgia Disability Attorney, and discuss how you can begin the process of filing a claim.

 

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The Social Security Board of Trustees recently released their report for 2018. The report has few surprises for disability benefits attorneys–it predicts a 75-year deficit of 2.84% of payroll and that the trust fund will be depleted by 2034. However, the report released in June 2018 also estimates that disability rolls are dropping and will continue to decline in the future.

Some Americans argue that disability application numbers have increased in recent decades mainly because of fraud. However, there are several factors why the number of Social Security disability beneficiaries has increased over the last 35 years, unrelated to fraud. In 1984, new laws expanded the definition of disability, making more applicants eligible for disability payments. An aging population also resulted in higher disability rolls and an increase in disability payouts. Also, the increase in the number of females in the workforce raised the number of women who by virtue of their work history became eligible for benefits.

These factors converged to result in an explosion of disability beneficiary numbers. However, none of those factors seem to be active anymore. It’s very unlikely that the scope of the disability benefits program will be expanded any further. Therefore, it is safe to assume that disability rolls in the future will be lower, reducing the pressure on the program.

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To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), applicants must be unable to perform any “substantial gainful activity” that pays $1,180 a month or $14,160 annually. This is roughly the income a minimum-wage American worker makes per year. Also, their condition must be expected to last at least a year or until death.

The analysis of the data from the Census Bureau by economist Ernie Tedeschi shows that the number of Americans ages 25-54 out of the workforce because of a disability has declined 7% since 2014. With 10.3 million people out of the workforce as of May 2018, this reverses an upward trend that had been in place for decades. This can possibly be explained by the growing economy over the last few years, which has allowed companies to hire more workers. University of Maryland economists Katharine G. Abraham and Melissa S. Kearney studied situations where individuals applying for disability benefits were assigned to judges who varied in their leniency. This allowed researchers to compare the outcome of similar applicants when they given or denied benefits. They found that for individuals whose cases for SSDI were questionable due to the acuteness of their condition, 28% of those people decided not to work who otherwise would have. This means that 28 out of 100 individuals decided not to work for fear of this interfering with their ability to successfully win disability benefits.

Robert VerBruggen, deputy managing editor of National Review, emphasized that the current SSDI program fails to accommodate disabled individuals who are still able to work in some capacity. He argued that reform to the program is “imperative.”  A long-term plan, he added, should include awarding temporary or partial benefits to those able to work, but limited in their abilities to do so. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan think tank devoted to reducing the deficit and debt, has published other potential options including subsidizing those with disabilities in their first few months back in the workforce.

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Today, fewer Americans are applying for disability benefits than in America’s recent history, with a growing economy and an increasing number of retirees leaving the program due to becoming eligible for Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare. In 2017, fewer than 1.5 million Americans applied for benefits through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This may be due partially to additional lower-skilled jobs being available in a growing economy which those with modest disabilities sometimes can handle. Additionally, employers may be more willing to accommodate workers with disabilities. Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University, added that when the economy is doing well, “employers are more willing to look to other labor pools and be more accommodating.”

However, getting the disability benefits in the first place has become harder today.  The Social Security Administration hardened their standard for awarding benefits without any major announcement. Overall, the odds of a successful appeal fell from 69% in 2008 to 48% in 2015. Nicole Maestas, a Harvard economist, said that the Social Security Administration analyzed judges who approved disability claims at a higher rate than others and singled them out for special instruction. This action may have been taken as a result of critics in the media exposing some abuse and fraud in the system since 2011, as reported in the Wall Street Journal and 60 Minutes.

As a result, the administrative law judges handling disability cases have become more skeptical of claims and less easily persuaded to approve benefits. Richard Browdie, CEO of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, argues that the process has become “overly restrictive.” However, Torsten Slok, chief international economist of Deutsche Bank, argued that this data contradicts the “post-recession narrative of an out-of-control entitlement program.”  Whatever the reasons are for these trends, it is clear that fewer people are applying for disability benefits and among those, less are being approved.

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On July 10, 2018, the White House signed an Executive Order that gives agency heads greater discretion over the selection of administrative law judges. The United States federal government employs 2,000 judges, with the largest number serving in the Social Security Administration as the judiciary for benefit claims. This, in effect, overturns the Administrative Procedure Act (1946), which set up a system for choosing judges based on scores in detailed examinations. This places the future selection of administrative law judges more directly in the hands of political appointees, who may not have adequate experience or knowledge on important issues to make effective decisions. In this order, it states that the only requirement for an appointee is to “possess a professional license to practice law and be authorized to practice law”—making any lawyer qualified to serve as an administrative law judge. Before this order, requirements to serve included a vetting process through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), as well as 7 years of experience as an attorney. The order does, however, add that “each agency shall follow the principle of veteran preference as far as administratively feasible,” which is vague and open to interpretation.

John Palguta, a civil service expert, cautioned of the importance of oversight from the OPM to “assure that departments or agencies do not abuse this authority by violating the merit system principles…” Many people are concerned that this order could lead to what Palguta fears: the appointment of judges based on political ideology, rather than their merit. Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, warned that this system “could lead to abuse and biased decisions.”

For those applying for Social Security disability benefits, this decision could impact you or a loved one. If judges selected lack education about the importance of benefits for those with disabilities and the long and trying process until a decision is made by the court, many people’s cases in the courts could be at risk. Those applying for Social Security benefits deserve to have lawyers who are unbiased and well versed in the issues that affect these people’s lives. This Executive Order may negatively impact many people applying for benefits if the administrative law judges are biased against them.  It will be important to watch the appointment of Administrative Law Judges to the agency over the next months to see its impact on the court’s rulings for those with disabilities.

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In Georgia, there are various programs that help people living in poverty.  These programs include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Head Start, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). SNAP is a program that provides low-income households with food stamps to help pay for the cost of food. In order to be eligible for SNAP in Georgia, you must be a resident of the state and have a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) of under $3,001 if you share your household with a person with a disability or person over age 60. If you do not fit into these categories, your bank balance must be under $2,001. You must also have an annual household income (before taxes) below a certain amount (for example, no more than $32,630 for a family of 4).

Another program supporting low-income families is TANF, which provides temporary assistance to families. This program has four goals, which includes giving families support and job preparation.  In order to be eligible for TANF, you must be a US citizen, national, legal alien, or permanent resident, and also have a low income. For example, a family of three must have an income of less than $784/month to qualify for TANF. The amount of cash benefit this program provides depends on the county you live in and your family’s income.  However, there is a five year lifetime limit on TANF benefits.

Head Start, a federal program, educates and supports infants and children up to five years old in families with incomes under the national poverty level. Head Start programs enhance young children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and work to prepare them for success in school. There are also some Early Head Start programs which support pregnant women and babies living in poverty. The maximum income eligibility for Head Start depends on your household size. However, there are groups eligible for Head Start programs regardless of income including:

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A common question I get each while talking to prospective clients is whether a person can keep working while applying for disability.  Frequently, callers are baffled when I advise that “no, you cannot work and simultaneously apply for disability.”  Also, I do not accept prospective clients that are still working.  First, let’s define “work.”  Social Security defines work as “substantial gainful activity”  or “SGA”  SGA means that you are earning $1170 a month in gross income (in 2018 this amount will be $1180).  If you are legally blind, this amount is $1950.  SSA does not care how much your bills are each month; it only evaluates monthly gross income.  If you are earning SGA, then you cannot be disabled.  That will be the end of your disability application and no medical evaluation of your disability will need to take place.

Now does that mean that you can earn just under SGA and be successful on a disability application?  Practically speaking, the answer is no.  Usually, claimants (people applying for disability) that work in the upper end of this number or just at SGA are not successful either.  Probably because while the claimant is not technically barred from receiving disability, the ability to work and earn income close to SGA suggests that they could earn SGA.  Thus, these claims also usually fail.

When I explain this to callers, many are aghast that they might have to wait two years on a decision on a disability application while also not being able to earn an income of any sort.  I agree – that is a dilemma.  What do people do?  First, if you have a chronic condition, you might want to plan ahead.  If your employer offers disability insurance, then buy it.  Buy it even if you are healthy.  Many of clients with long-term disability insurance weathered the long wait time for Social Security Disability because they had private insurance payments coming in each month.  Without private insurance, my clients have downsized, exhausted savings, and borrowed from family.  These are not ideal plans, but it is a gap filler while awaiting Social Security disability benefits.  Delay times at this administration are not improving.  So preparing financially to be without an income for two years is a good idea.