Friday, July 13, 2018

Continuing Disability Review

A few years after the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) finds you are disabled, it will conduct a continuing disability review (“CDR”) to determine if you remain disabled. The SSA will find that your medical condition has improved if you significantly reduced treating it. If you stop seeing the same doctors, that can lead to a CDR termination of benefits. 

I represent a 57 year old former information systems tech, whose retained us after her SSD benefits were terminated following a CDR. The claimant had relocated from New York to Connecticut. Despite any evidence that the claimant’s medical condition had improved, her SSD benefits were apparently terminated because she had new doctors, and presumably, the SSA hoped that the claimant would no longer be able to supply medical evidence to support her continued inability to work. 

On reconsideration, after submitting treatment records and tailored disability reports from the Connecticut physicians, the claimant’s SSD benefits were restored. The SSA has been increasingly seeking ways to reduce the number of claimants collecting SSD benefits. You cannot assume that you will continue to receive SSD benefits until you reach retirement age.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Help for Social Security?

Anyone who has applied for Social Security Disability ("SSD") benefits knows that the system has rules that do not make sense and are unfair. Two stand out. First, if you are approved for SSD, there is a 5 month waiting period from your onset date until your benefits to kick in. So if you stopped working on January 15, 2018, your SSD benefits would not start until July 2018. There is absolutely no reason to make people wait for SSD benefits, especially since there is no 5 month waiting time for Supplemental Security benefits. Second, if you are approved for SSD benefits, you must wait 2 years from your date of entitlement for Medicare coverage. Using the example above, you would not be eligible for Medicare until July 15, 2020 if your onset date was January 15, 2018. 

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. John B. Larson (D-Conn.) introduced legislation Wednesday that addresses many of the issues facing Social Security, such as lack of funding and long waits for hearings. The legislation also proposes to do away with the 5 month SSD waiting period and the 2 year waiting period for Medicare. If this legislation passed, it would make a huge difference in the lives of disabled individuals who qualify for SSD.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

SSD While You Work

A frequent question from claimants is whether they can work and still receive Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits. The answer is, it depends. As long as you earn less than substantial gainful activity (“SGA”), and are unable to work full time, you can receive SSD. I represent a 55 year old former data collector whose SSD application was approved even though he is currently working. 

After we arranged for the claimant’s neurologist to perform the consultative examination (“CE”), the State agency wanted more information about the claimant’s part time work. We advised the State agency that the claimant’s employer had made special work accommodations for the claimant, and was only working about 6-7 hours a week. We also confirmed that the claimant was only earning about $600 a month, well below SGA. Shortly thereafter, the SSD application was approved.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

DDS Summarily Reversed

The DDS continues to waste taxpayer money. I represent a 54 year old former business owner with Parkinson’s disease (“PD”), who asked me a month go to appeal his application for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) that the DDS denied. Today, a special branch of the Social Security hearing office approved that application. 

The claimant earned over a $100,000 a year, so commonsense tells you that he would rather continue working than receive less than a quarter of that amount in SSD benefits. Moreover, the claimant’s neurologist and psychiatrist provided reports that detailed why the claimant’s PD precludes the ability to perform the physical and mental demands of full-time work. 

The hearing office approved the application only a month after receiving it, which is incredibly fast. Furthermore, the special branch immediately reviewed the application, and the case never went through the normal processing steps. In other words, the hearing office immediately recognized that the application should have been approved, and prevented the claimant from having to wait while the application made its way through the normal channels.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Future of Social Security

Everyone looks forward to retirement, and most of us are counting on the money we will get from Social Security to live on. There have been countless reports in the news regarding the uncertain fate of Social Security, and how it will affect millions of eligible retirees. There is no question that we cannot rely solely on the money we expect to receive from Social Security when planning for our retirement.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Patchogue Obstruction

I represent a 59 year old administrative assistant with double concussion syndrome whose application for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits was approved in two months. It could have been faster, but the Patchogue office delayed matters by creating rules that do not exist. 

As has been the case for many years now, we filed the claimant’s application and representation forms electronically. However, in this case, we received an unsigned, one sentence letter declaring that our forms were unacceptable because “original wet signature documents” had to be submitted. 

The fact that the letter was unsigned indicates that the sender knew there was no basis for rejecting the forms. The POMS states: 

Either an attorney or non-attorney may use a rubber stamp or e-signature to sign the notice. SSA will accept a rubber-stamped or an electronic signature unless there is a reason to doubt that it represents the intent of the representative to accept the appointment. 

The POMS could not be clearer. Nonetheless, contrary to the POMS, the Patchogue office delayed matters as it insisted that original wet signature documents be submitted. A needless waste of time and resources.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Medical Sources

Recently, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) enacted new rules concerning evidence from medical providers. The bad news is that the new rules were designed to make it more difficult for a claimant to obtain Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits. The rules achieve that goal by eliminating the requirement that controlling weight be given to treating source opinions that are well supported. The bad news is tempered somewhat by allowing more weight to be given treating sources that are not considered acceptable ones, primarily MDs. 

For claims filed after March 27, 2017, the new rules state that all medical sources, not just acceptable medical sources, can provide evidence that the SSA will consider as medical opinions.

I represent a 25 year old with mental impairments whose SSD application was approved after the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) gave even greater weight to the opinion of the claimant’s certified social worker (“CSW”) than the treating psychiatrist. The rationale was that the CSW had extensive face to face interactions with the claimant and reviewed the claimant’s medical records. 

While the new rules eliminate the concept of controlling weight, there is nothing to prevent an ALJ from giving greater weight to a treating doctor after considering all the factors for evaluating medical opinions. Nonetheless, no doubt that those ALJ’s with high denial rates will see the new rules as justification to deny more claims.