Monday, June 19, 2017

FedEx Long Term Disability Plan Ordered to Pay Ramos Law 40K in Attorney's Fees

Individuals who have been denied LTD benefits often ask their disability lawyer whether they can obtain any punitive damages or penalties against the plan or insurance company for failing to follow the law. Unfortunately, under the law that covers most of these plans (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 “ERISA”), these damages are not available.  Given the state of the law, there are very little consequences when a disability plan acts illegally.  The payment of the benefits owed is practically the only remedy available to plaintiffs.  However, even though there are no punitive damages, the Court may force the insurance company and/or LTD plan to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees. In these instances, the imposition of attorney’s fees acts as the only penalty or punitive action that can work to deter LTD plans from violating the law. In a recent case, Ramos Law was successful in obtaining an award of attorney’s fees against the Federal Express Long Term Disability Plan. See Dwinnell v. Fed. Express Long Term Disability Plan, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57828 (D. Conn. Apr. 14, 2017)  .

In Dwinnell, the plaintiff brought a case against the benefits plan of her former employer, Federal Express Corporation, and its disability plan administrator, Aetna Life Insurance Company, after she was denied long term disability benefits. Following several years in litigation, the Court found that Aetna acted contrary to the law by failing to conduct a vocational review of the plaintiff’s claim.

In District Courts within the Second Circuit, disability plan administrators are required to conduct a two-step evaluation of disability claims. First, the plan must conduct a medical review.  Once this first level of review is completed, the plan must conduct a second assessment which involves a vocational evaluation of the claim. In Dwinnell, Aetna did not conduct a vocational review and decided the case solely based on the medical evidence. In light of the incomplete review of the claim, District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer ruled that Aetna’s review process failed to satisfy the standard set forth by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was remanded back to Aetna with an order to conduct a new review which must include a vocational assessment of the plaintiff’s claim.

After successfully arguing her position, the plaintiff in Dwinnell then filed a motion for attorney’s fees and costs. Judge Meyer granted the motion and found that Attorney Ivan Ramos’ fees of $375 per hour and Paralegal Jessica Smith’s rate of $100 per hour were reasonable. Based on the amount of time spent by Ramos Law working on this case, Judge Meyer ordered FedEx to pay Ramos Law $40,657.75 in Attorney’s fees and $400 in costs.


It must be noted that under ERISA, a plaintiff need not have total success on the merits of his or her case in order to obtain attorney’s fees.  In fact, the law states: “The court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney’s fee and costs of action to either party,” appropriate if the party seeking fees has had “some degree of success on the merits.”  Therefore, attorney’s fees can be awarded when the plaintiff gets a second opportunity to have the cases reviewed but does not get his or her benefits reinstated.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Iván Ramos Meets with Congressman Larson to Discuss Social Security Disability

As part of NOSSCR’s spring 2017 conference in Washington, DC, disability lawyer Iván Ramos met with Congressman John Larson of Connecticut’s First Congressional District to discuss legislative issues pertaining SSI and SSDI. During their meeting at Capitol Hill, Larson reiterated his strong commitment to protecting and improving our Social Security Programs. His fierce stance in support of disability beneficiaries, was evidenced by the fact that he took time to sit down and speak with Iván during one of the busiest weeks in Washington-- they met on the same day as the Comey hearings and while many important votes were taking place on the house floor!  
Currently, Congressman Larson sits on the influential House Ways and Means Committee and is the top Democrat in the Social Security Subcommittee.  He is a crucial ally in NOSSCR’s fight to protect Social Security Disability and defeat Trump’s plans to significantly reduce disability benefits.  
Iván Ramos and Congressman Larson discussed the urgency of protecting and improving the Social Security system in this critical time when the Trump administration has proposed massive cuts in benefits. In his Fiscal Year 2018 budget request, Trump proposes 72 billion dollars in Social Security cuts over the next 10 years. This proposal breaks Trump’s repeated campaign promise not to “cut Social Security”.  Some of these proposed cuts include:

  • Reducing SSDI retroactive payments to six months before the protected filing date. Currently, SSDI retroactive payments cover recipients for twelve months prior to the filing date. This will take an estimated $9.9 billion over the next ten years from people with disabilities.
  • Reducing SSDI benefits when an individual attempts to work, is laid off, and then receives unemployment benefits. This disincentives people with disabilities from trying to work.
  • Establishing a one-year probationary period for new Administrative Law Judges in Social Security, which could interfere with their abilities to make independent decisions in granting benefits.
  • Limiting SSI payments for individuals living with other SSI recipients. This would interfere with families’ choices about living arrangements, especially when persons with disabilities live with family members who can support them. It would also add complexity to the SSI program (increasing overpayments) and increase poverty.

Larson also expressed his commitment to improving the administrative funding needed to ensure that people are able to navigate the Social Security system and receive the necessary resources from the agency. Currently, the Social Security Administration lacks the appropriate technology and staffing to provide adequate services. Data provided by the Social Security Administration and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that:

“The average caller to Social Security’s national 800 number waited over 13 minutes to be answered, and it took 110 days for an initial application for disability benefits to be processed. There are now 1.1 million people waiting for Social Security Administrative Law Judge hearings, and the wait time for the hearings is over a year in 167 of the nation’s 169 hearing offices, with the average over 600 days. The consequences of such long waits can be dire: approximately 8,000 people died last year while awaiting a disability benefits hearing.”

During their meeting, Iván Ramos and Congressman Larson also discussed solutions to current and impending issues within the Social Security system. Larson is the co-author of a bill called Social Security 2100, a set of reforms to ensure that Social Security is sustainable and effective now, and is available for future generations.  The plan which is co-authored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) provides:

  • Increasing benefits
  • Protecting low income workers from retiring into poverty
  • Cutting taxes on benefits to low and middle class SSI and SSDI recipients
  • Requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate into Social Security as everyone else by lifting the Social Security Cap
  • More information can be found on Congressman Larson’s website: https://larson.house.gov/social-security-2100

Ramos Law thanks Congressman Larson, along with the great staffers from Senator Richard Blumenthal’s and Chris Murphy’s offices who set aside to time last Thursday to talk to Iván.  


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ramos Law Will Attend NOSSCR Disability Lawyers’ Conference in DC

Twice a year, the National Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives (NOSSCR) hosts a conference where disability attorneys and representatives from all over the nation meet for four days of panel presentations and seminars. This spring, from June 7th to June 10th, our very own Ivan Ramos and new Ramos Law attorney Tere Ramos will be traveling to Washington, DC to build their skillsets and network with other professionals in Social Security Disability advocacy. On June 8th, Ivan and Tere will be participating in NOSSCR’s  Capitol Hill Advocacy Day, where they and other disability lawyers will meet with congresspeople to lobby for legislation benefitting SSI and SSDI programs.
Ramos Law’s Jessica Smith and Ivan Ramos have attended previous NOSSCR conferences in DC, Denver, Philadelphia, and Seattle. There, they further expanded their literacy in Social Security Disability law through intensive workshops, seminars, and meetings. They gained valuable new insights into the field of Social Security Disability advocacy and legislation, which they brought back to the office to share with our clients. We’re looking forward to the new knowledge and connections Ivan and Tere can share with us after they come back from the spring 2017 NOSSCR conference.

We feel confident knowing that Ivan and Tere can bring their first-hand experience to Capitol Hill. Ivan will be an excellent resource for our nation’s lawmakers because of his level of professional expertise combined with his years of building personal relationships with the clients he serves. Tere has worked hard for disability rights for over a decade, advocating for and with families who are commonly marginalized. Both of their unique perspectives will bring a compassionate viewpoint to the congressional debate regarding social security, and make Ramos Law an excellent resource to our nation’s lawmakers.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Different Types of Social Security Disability Programs

When a prospective clients calls my office looking for help, my staff tries to determine right away whether the caller meets the non-medical requirements of any of the Social Security Disability programs.  This is why in the initial consultation process, my office always asks extensive questions about the callers' work history and financial resources.   

Essentially, there are two different types of Social Security disability programs: Title II and Title XVI. Both programs use the same medical requirements. However, these programs have different non-medical requirements.  Before we agree to take a case, we need to determine whether the person meets the non-medical requirements. Unfortunately, we cannot be of any help unless the person meets the non-medicals.  

The be eligible for Title II, a person must have worked long enough and recently enough.  Generally, a person must have worked 5 out of the last 10 years.  Therefore, a person who calls our office looking for help for the first time should be ready to provide us with a fairly accurate work history. In an initial consultation, it is ideal to obtain a fairly good notion of how long the person worked in each one of his or her jobs in the last ten years.  Gaps in work, reduced hours and periods of unemployment can affect eligibility for Title II.  

Title XVI is a needs based program which is generally available for persons who are poor and have not been able to work.  To be eligible for Title XVI a person must have less than $2,000 dollars, one car and one house.  Bear in mind that sources of income and assets such as pensions and 401K plans can affect eligibility for Title XVI benefits.  More importantly, if a person has a spouse who works or has significant assets, he or she might not be eligible.  For these reasons, anyone who calls our office for the first time looking for help with a Title XVI case should be ready to give us information about their finances.  

Here is a brief explanation of Title II and Title XVI benefits and the sub-types of benefits available under each program:

Title II: Also Called Title 2 or DIB or SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance)

A person is only eligible for Title II benefits if he or she has a sufficient work record (generally must have worked 5 out of the last 10 years.) Usually, the work record is of their own, but it can be that of a disabled or deceased parent(s) or spouse.

Different Sub-Types of Title II Benefits:

DIB-Disability Insurance Benefits
This is the most common type of benefit.  This is a claim on the applicants own employment record and social security taxes paid.

CDB-Childhood Disability Benefits
An individual may be eligible for CDB benefits if they are found disabled between the ages of 18 and 22 and they are the child of a wage earner who is receiving retirement benefits, disability benefits, or is deceased. They must also be or had been dependent on the wage earner and unmarried.

DWB—Disabled Widow’s Benefits
Surviving disabled widows or widowers may be eligible for disability benefits based on a deceased or surviving divorced spouse’s record.


Title 16: Also Called Title XVI, DI or SSI (Supplemental Security Income)

Persons applying for Ttitle XVI benefits must meet an income and resource test prior to qualifying for benefits. The Social Security Office determines eligibility.

Different Sub-Types of Title XVI Benefits:

DI—Disabled Individual
This is the most common type of Title XVI benefit. The claimant or applicant qualifies for benefits based on their limited income and resources.

DS—Disabled Spouse
A claim labeled as DS serves as an indicator that the claimant’s spouse is disabled and receiving benefits. The claim is worked the same as a DI claim.

DC—Disabled Child or Children's SSI
A DC claim is a disability claim for a disabled child under the age of 18. The child’s parents or guardian’s income and resources must be limited for the child to qualify for benefits. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

New Social Security Ruling on Medical Equivalence (SSR 17-2p)

Effective today, the Social Security Administration will implement a new ruling regarding the evidence needed by judges to make a finding of "medical equivalence".  For a copy of SSR 17-2p (click here.)   
Under Social Security regulations, a person may be found disabled if he or she "meets" or "equals" the requirements of a listing of impairments (listings).  If an individual meets all the criteria of the listing, then the person is found to be disabled.  However, a person can also be found disabled when the person does not meet all of the requirements of the listing but has a medical condition that is of "equal" duration and severity.
Through SSR 17-2p, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has elaborated on what type of evidence a Judge must obtain in order to make a finding that a listing has been equaled.  It is clear that with this new ruling, the SSA has made it harder for judges to make this finding.  Here is a list of the evidenciary requirements; 

To make a finding that a listing has been equaled the administrative record must contain:
1. A prior administrative medical finding from an MC [Medical Consultant] or PC [Psychological Consultant] from the initial or reconsideration adjudication levels supporting the medical equivalence finding, or
2. ME [Medical Expert] evidence, which may include testimony or written responses to interrogatories, obtained at the hearings level supporting the medical equivalence finding, or
3. A report from the AC’s medical support staff supporting the medical equivalence finding.
This new ruling seriously erodes the judicial independence of administrative law judges.  In essence, the agency has stripped judges of their ability to make independent decisions regarding medical equivalency and instead, has given these powers to doctors and personnel from the Appeals Council. This ruling is also detrimental to claimants in that it allows judges to find that a person does not equal a listing  without having to provide any explanations on the decision.



Monday, March 20, 2017

Trump's Budget Director Wants to Cut SSDI

Last Sunday, Donald Trump's Budget Director Mick Mulvaney stated his desire to cut Social Security Disability.  Appearing at the CBS program "Face the Nation", Mulvaney launched a baseless attack on SSD. His statement is plagued with falsehoods.  Here is what he said:
Do you really think that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I don’t think so. It’s the fastest-growing program. It grew tremendously under President Obama. It’s a very wasteful program, and we want to try and fix that.” 
I will address his baseless allegations one by one.

First, a Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, signed Social Security Disability into law in 1956. SSD is certainly part of what people consider to be Social Security, including Republicans. In fact, the states with most persons on SSD are all overwhelmingly Republican.  These states are: Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas. If Mulvaney messes up with SSD, he is messing up with the white-republican-rural voters who supported Trump. He should think twice before he opens up his mouth again to trash SSD.

Second, his claim that SSD is "the fastest growing program" is completely false.  Here is a graph from the Social Administration that shows that SSD enrollment has been dropping since 2014:
Finally, he claims that Social Security Disability is wasteful.  Disabled workers receive an average of $1,165 a month in benefits.  That is just $13,984 a year!  Disability benefits are extremely hard to obtain.  You can visit a recent article: "'This is not the American Dream' Says Woman Turned Destitute Waiting for Disability"  to learn how difficult and dehumanizing it has become for disabled Americans to win SSD.  Moreover, in 2012 the Social Security Commissioner explained before Congress that a study revealed that the error rate in over payments and under payments is less that 1% of all benefits.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Warning: Social Security Disability Phishing Scheme

Social Security Acting Inspector General, Gale Stallworth Stone, has issued a warning letting disability beneficiaries know that there is an ongoing telephone fraud scheme. Reports across the Nation indicate that persons are receiving telephone calls from individuals posing as Social Security Administration employees or OIG investigators. The fraudulent calls tell beneficiaries that there is an issue or something is wrong with the person's Social Security Account or Social Security number. The caller then directs the person to call a non-SSA phone number to correct the supposed problem.

It appears that the calls contain a recording from someone that states to be "Nancy Jones" an "officer with the Inspector General of Social Security". The recording then states that the person's Social Security account and benefits are suspended, and that he or she should call (806) 680-2373 to correct the issue. Persons are warned that the specific recording may vary. The SSA is letting everyone know that the number provided should not be called.

The Office of the Inspector General sometimes calls Social Security Beneficiaries during the course of investigations. However, personal information such as Social Security numbers is never asked on the telephone. If a person receives one of these calls, he or she can call Social Security at (800) 269-0271 or make a complain online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.

If a person has any questions about any letter, email or telephone call that claims to come from the SSA, please call 1-800-772-1213 to verify its legitimacy.