Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Childhood Disability Benefits: Can a Child Receive SSDI and SSI at the Same Time?

Many parents are unaware that a child may be eligible to receive both SSDI and SSI benefits at the same time.  These children are commonly referred to as: "concurrent beneficiaries".  A “concurrent beneficiary” in Social Security parlance, is someone who receives SSDI benefits and also a reduced SSI payment.  Concurrent beneficiaries receive two separate checks each month (one for the SSDI benefit and one for the SSI), as well as both Medicare (after the 24-month Medicare Qualifying Period) and Medicaid. 
In order to understand this concept, one must be aware that a child may qualify to receive benefits under different provisions of the Social Security Act.  For example, a child may receive benefits (commonly called SSDI) because one of his parents is retired, deceased or disabled.  This type of Social Security benefit has nothing to do with whether the child in question is disabled.  A child may also be eligible to receive benefits (known by most as SSI) if he or she is found to be disabled and falls below certain economic level.  It is important for parents and childhood disability advocates to be aware that a child may be found eligible to receive concurrent payments under both of these programs.  A parent should never give up fighting for both of these benefits simply because the child has already been deemed to be eligible for one of them.  What follows is a brief summary of some common scenarios under which a child may be able to collect both benefits.
A concurrent beneficiary sometimes begins as an SSI recipient who later on is found eligible for a SSDI.  An example of this would be when a parent dies, retires, or becomes disabled, triggering eligibility for SSDI benefits for his children.  In this case, the child would get an SSDI payment that would count as unearned income for SSI.  Depending on the amount of the SSDI payment, the SSI check could be reduced or eliminated.
Another example of a concurrent beneficiary is that of a child who is receiving SSDI benefits and then, later on, subsequently meets the requirements to collect under the SSI program. A common circumstance in this type of case would be when one of the parents of child who receives SSDI, becomes unemployed, thus lowering the amount of deemed income that previously prevented him or her from receiving SSI.
In all concurrent cases, SSDI benefits take precedence since these are entitlement programs.  Once the SSDI benefit has been determined, the eligibility for SSI is made.  The SSDI payment benefit is considered unearned income for the purposes of determining both eligibility for and the amount of the SSI benefit. There is no choice when determining which benefits a beneficiary will receive since SSI is the payer of last resort in all cases.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The SSA and the DOD Create a New Initiative to Improve Veteran's Access to Social Security Disability Benefits

The Social Security Administration and the Department of Defense (DoD) are working together to improve access to disability benefits for the nation’s Wounded Warriors, service members, veterans, and their dependents. A new nationwide project enables Social Security disability case processing sites to receive military medical records from multiple DoD facilities with a single request to a centralized DoD site. As of today, this initiative is in its first phase of nationwide expansion.
“Receiving electronic medical records for our Wounded Warriors and other military personnel will significantly shorten the time it takes to make a disability decision,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. “This new process will improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of the disability program.”
Originally a pilot, the program included five states (Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington) and more than 60 military treatment facilities. These states are now receiving electronic medical records within 72 hours, a remarkable improvement over the previous average response time of five weeks for paper records from individual military treatment facilities.
The new DoD-Social Security collaboration consolidates requests for medical records from Social Security to a single location that has access to DoD records in a central electronic repository. This central location receives and responds to requests for medical records based on Social Security’s Electronic Records Express (, another successful initiative that offers electronic options for submitting health records related to disability claims.
The benefits of the new process include:
  • faster delivery of DoD medical records to Social Security,
  • a more efficient system to obtain records,
  • a reduction in the time it takes to make a medical decision on a disability claim, and
  • a reduction in the number of consultative examinations (medical exams requested by Social Security when additional tests or medical records are needed.)
This is the first step towards the long-term goal of a fully automated solution of improving medical information sharing using health information technology and the Nationwide Health Information Network Exchange.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Applying for Social Security Disability Benefits in Connecticut: Helpful Hints and Practical Advice

There are three ways that a person can apply for Social Security Disability Benefits:  1. in person at a local Social Security Field Office, 2. by phone or, 3. on line.  Any of these three methods is perfectly fine.  Here are some helpful hints and recommendations regarding the initial Social Security Application process, with particular emphasis on some of the issues faced by claimants who use the online system in the State of Connecticut. 

The Social Security Administration (SSA) seems to have an ongoing media campaign encouraging applicants to use the online system.  This electronic system seems to be working relatively well for most applicants.  In addition, the SSA is constantly working on improving its online system and has been adding new features to its web page on a regular basis.  I must confess that, at times, it is hard to keep up.  One of the most common issues with respect to the online system, is that not all aspects of the Social Security process can be conducted in an electronic format.  Despite these limitations, the SSA is working at a very fast pace towards a paperless electronic system and, pretty soon, practically every aspect of the process will be conducted in an electronic format.  One example of this problem was the fact that applicants could do the entire initial application and adult disability report online but then, had to mail a separate form to the SSA giving the agency authorization to look at their medical information.  However, just today, the SSA came up with a new electronic Authorization Form to Disclose Information to the SSA (Form SSA-827).  Now applicants can provide an electronic signature to disclose their medical information, instead of using the traditional "wet ink" signature that our civilization has used for more than two millenniums. 

Another difficulty with the current online system is that it can only be used for SSDI applications.  Applicants for SSI still have to apply in person or by phone.  This causes some confusion, since most Social Security Disability Lawyers advise their clients to simultaneously apply for SSI and SSDI.  However, this apparent problem is easily solved by completing the SSDI form online and then calling the local office to do the SSI application by phone.  Another easier way of resolving this issue is by stating in the SSDI online application that the claimant also wishes to apply for SSI.  The online application specifically asks whether the applicant also wants to apply for SSI.  If the online applicant clicks on the "yes" button, someone from the SSA will contact the claimant to complete the SSI application on the phone. 

Another issue particular to Connecticut is that applicants from the Bristol area, who apply on line, receive a statement indicating their case is being handled by the Hartford Field Office instead of the Bristol Field Office.  This can be a bit confusing but, I suspect, is no big deal.  The Hartford Field Office seems to be handling cases from the Bristol area due to budget cuts.  However, even though the Hartford Field Office is in charge of the case, claimants can still go to the Bristol Field Office to submit any necessary paperwork that cannot be delivered by mail or online.  For example, this week, one of my clients from Bristol was told that she had to show proof of citizenship to the SSA in person.  Since she is disabled, driving long distances is difficult.  She thought that she had to appear in person in the Hartford filed office to show her passport.  She was a bit overwhelmed and was making arrangements to have a friend drive her to downtown Hartford.  Fortunately, I was able to talk to her before she got in the car with her friend and explained that she could present her passport to the Bristol Field Office (which happens to be very close to her house) even though the Hartford Field Office is the office which is formally in charge of her application.

Another important piece of information is that now, Social Security Field Offices close at 3:30 PM.  The early closure of the Field Offices is also due to budgetary constraints.  For your convenience here is a list of the Social Security Field Offices in Connecticut. 

Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits - Connecticut Social Security Office Phone Numbers and Addresses:

Office NameAddressCityStateZip   Telephone
Ansonia Social Security Office   307 Main StreetAnsoniaConnecticut06401    866-331-7096
Bridgeport Social Security Office   3885 Main StreetBridgeportConnecticut06606    866-331-1213
Bristol Social Security Office   225 North Main StreetBristolConnecticut06010    888-472-2403
Danbury Social Security Office   131 West StreetDanburyConnecticut06810    866-275-7821
East Hartford Social Security Office   478 Burnside AvenueEast HartfordConnecticut06108    866-706-6759
Hartford Social Security Office   960 Main StHartfordConnecticut06103    877-619-2851
Meriden Social Security Office   One West Main StMeridenConnecticut06451    877-409-8429
Middletown Social Security Office   425 Main StreetMiddletownConnecticut06457    877-692-3145
New Britain Social Security Office   233 Main Street 2nd FlNew BritainConnecticut06051    866-858-6086
New Haven Social Security Office   150 Court St 4th FlNew HavenConnecticut06510    866-331-5281
New London Social Security Office   2 Shaws CoveNew LondonConnecticut06320    866-643-3401
Norwalk Social Security Office   24 Belden AveNorwalkConnecticut06850    877-376-9854
Norwich Social Security Office   101 Water StreetNorwichConnecticut06360    888-482-3170
Stamford Social Security Office   2 Landmark SquareStamfordConnecticut06901    866-770-1881
Torrington Social Security Office   147 Litchfield StreetTorringtonConnecticut06790    860-489-1633
Waterbury Social Security Office   95 Scovill StWaterburyConnecticut06706    203-756-7476
Willimantic Social Security Office   1320 Main StreetWillimanticConnecticut06226    860-423-6386

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Proving Medication Side Effects in Social Security Disability Cases Dealing with HIV/AIDS

HomeThis week, I was honored to receive in my office an unexpected visit from Yvette Bello, the Executive Director of Latino Community Services (LCS).  LCS is a great organization that works to prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS among the Latino Community and other communities in the Greater Hartford region.  Yvette reminded me that this Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 1:00 PM is their annual AIDS walk at the West Hartford Reservoir.  I plan to attend and I hope to see a lot of good friends there, including Mayor Pedro Segarra and his husband Charlie Ortiz.  For this reason, I figured that this was a good opportunity to blog about Social Security Disability Claims and HIV/AIDS, particularly with respect to the issue of the importance of proving the side effects of medications such as Atripla and Sustiva.

Powerful antiretroviral  drugs have markedly prolonged the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS.  Many opportunistic diseases that once afflicted persons with AIDS, are now uncommon.  While the impact of HIV/AIDS on those infected appear to be less severe now, recent studies show that patients continue to suffer from significant physical and mental impairments.  The new medications seem to work well in containing most of the symptoms traditionally associated with the virus.   However, these potent drugs have imposed new limitations on HIV/AIDS patients.  Scientific studies have demonstrated that these medications can cause very serious side effects.  For this reason, in Social Security Disability cases dealing with HIV/AIDS, it is extremely important to document all the symptoms caused by these medications. 

In most SSI or SSDI cases, medication side effects are not the most important factor in proving a disability, however, details of the adverse reactions that a person has been suffering could make a significant difference.  Even though its usually not a smoking gun, this type of evidence sometimes can become the single grain of rice that tips the scale in the claimant's favor.  Nonetheless, bear in mind that, there are also many instances --particularly in cancer cases-- where treatments with powerful drugs, such as chemotherapy, have been found to be sufficient evidence to establish that the claimant is disabled.   

During the past few months, I have been reading about some of the terrible side effects of drugs such as Atripla and Sustiva. (There are also some very compelling testimonies in YouTube from persons who take these medications.) Atripla and Sustiva have been found to cause symptoms of major depression. This is particularly troubling, since recent studies have established that HIV positive patients suffer from major depression at a much higher rate than the rest of the population. It is believed that, in many instances, the HIV virus itself might be the cause of the depression. I suspect that most Social Security Lawyers, who handle large caseloads, probably represent one or two claimants who suffer from both: HIV and major depression. In addition, these two drugs have been found to cause chronic migraines, severe fatigue, feelings of paranoia and anxiety. Some persons who take Atripla say that the side of effects of taking this drug are similar to "waking up with a hangover every morning".  Moreover, this drug can seriously disturb a person's sleep.  It is well documented that Atripla causes bizarre nightmares.  This is why patients with a dark sense of humor call it: "A--Trip--la", suggesting that the drug causes them to trip every night as if they had taken a hallucinogenic.    
Most good Social Security Disability Lawyers are aware of how important, evidence pertaining to medication side effects, can be in winning a Social Security Disability case.  Unfortunately, in many cases where the disability applicants are not represented by a lawyer, this information is not properly documented.  In order to properly document adverse effects from medication, I like to provide my clients with a series of forms that they can use to keep track of their symptoms.  These forms can later be presented as evidence to the Social Security Administration.  Also, these forms can serve as an important source of information that doctors and other treatment sources can refer to when issuing opinions to the Social Security Administration about their patients disabling conditions. 

Most of these forms that I give to my clients are in the form of daily charts or diaries.  There are very easy to complete.  In certain cases, these forms can make a world of difference.  I find them particularly useful in situations where the doctor's notes are not detailed enough or when statements made in the medical record are ambiguous or unclear.  I have copied some of these blank forms and included them at the bottom of this blog.  Enclosed are three forms pertaining to those symptoms that are most relevant to the side effects caused by Atripla and Sustiva:
Pain Chart
Sleep Journal
Monthly Headache Diary