Monday, December 30, 2013

Social Security Disability Calculators: How to Find Out Your SSI/SSDI Benefit Amount

As a Social Security Disability Lawyer my job is to prove that my clients are found "disabled" under the Social Security Disability rules.  This process involves a great deal of work dealing mostly with medical and vocational issues.  I rarely get to calculate the specific amounts that my clients will receive.  For the most part, mathematical calculations are beyond the scope of what I do.  However, very often clients ask me how they can find out what amount their disability benefit will be if their cases are granted.  In response to this frequent question, I will like to post some links to some very useful calculators, available online, that can help disability claimant's estimate their benefits.     
The first link is an SSI/SSDI Calculator App available at Google's Play Store.  You can download this App into your phone totally free of charge:
I find that this App is particularly useful when you are trying to determine how much money will be taken from your SSI payments if you receive earnings from part time work.  By using this App, you can make an analysis of how you will end up financially if you decide to take apart time job.  Download the App, use it, play with it, and let me know how it works for you.
In addition to this phone App, the Social Security Administration has several calculators in its webpage that can help claimants determine their benefit amounts:

Note that the SSA has more than one calculator available.  There are different calculators for different types of Social Security benefits.  This variety of calculators is particularly useful for older claimants who are planning their disability benefits in conjunction with their retirement.  This way they can calculate disability benefits and retirement benefits for their spouses.
Hopefully my readers will find these electronic gadgets useful.  Please let me know how well these calculators work for you.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Wish List from The Connecticut Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog

I would like to extend my warm holiday wishes to all the faithful readers of the Connecticut Social Security Disability Lawyer Blog. 

First and foremost, let me point out that I have not missed a single blog this year!  This blog has been updated every Monday --with the exception of one week when it was updated on Tuesday because I was on vacation in Portland, Oregon. 

As I reflect on this past year, I realize that my practice has grown and that there are many changes coming to my office in 2014.  Here is a modest wish list of some of the things that I would like Santa to bring me, in my capacity as a Connecticut SSDI Lawyer.

Next year Santa will be bringing me a brand new office space in Hartford!  I expect to move to a place just two buildings down from where I am now.  I am really excited about this new development.  The new space will be bigger and much more comfortable. 

Santa is also bringing us lots of new gadgets.  We are in the process of acquiring a mega scanner.  This will help us continue with our shift to an office that is almost entirely electronic.  I love the fact that my office is paperless and that I can work and connect with clients from practically any location.  All this state of the art technology enables us to represent clients in practically any corner of Connecticut or Massachusetts.     
I would also like to install video conference equipment in our new conference room.  This way we can conduct meetings via Skype and, also develop educational materials in video format that we can then distribute to our clients via You Tube. 
And... last but not least, Santa will bring a fancy espresso machine for Jessica: our wonderful para-legal.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Significance of "Episodes of Decompensation" in Mental Illness Cases

If you or someone you love is applying for Social Security Disability due to a mental health condition, it is likely that you might have heard the term: "episodes of decompensation".  This is an important term that it usually used in determining whether a claimant meets the listing for conditions such as:
  • schizophrenia
  • anxiety
  • bipolar disorder, or
  • depression.
The term episodes of decompensation refers to a point when a person's mental health deteriorates after previously being able to deal or manage the condition.  It is fair to say that an episode of the decompensation occurs when a mental health patient experiences a crisis or a sharp decline in their ability to function.   

It is important to properly document any episodes of decompensation experienced by a person who is seeking disability benefits.  Creating proper documentation of these episodes is perhaps one of the biggest challenges faced by Social Security Disability lawyers.  In many instances, we find that friends or relatives of the claimant tell us of an unusual mental health crisis that they witness but then, we find out that no one took the time and effort to document it.  For this reason, it is always beneficial to obtain mental health treatment whenever a claimant's mental health condition worsens.  Seeking medical treatment is the best way to insure that a proper record is generated, describing the specific nature of episode suffered by the claimant.    
As a general rule, a claimant must suffer an average of three episodes of decompensation in a year in order to meet the mental health listing.  Each one of these episodes should last at least two weeks.  However, the number of episodes required is not a 'black and white" type of rule.  Social Security will look at each case separately depending on the severity and duration of each episode and could grant disability benefits even when the specific requirements are not met. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

New Social Security Study Explains the "Explosion" in Disability Benefits

Its time to put all the misinformation regarding the Social Security Disability programs to rest.  Fraud or laziness are not the reasons for the explosion in Social Security Disability claims.  A new study conducted by two economist confirms, once again, that this rise in disability claims has been caused by the changing demographics of the American population.
A copy of this study can be found here.  Economists David Pattison and Hilary Waldron examined 36 years of demographic data and made the following findings:
We find that three factors—(1) population growth, (2) the growth in the proportion of women insured for disability, and (3) the movement of the large baby boom generation into disability-prone ages—explain 90 percent of the growth in new disabled-worker entitlements over the 36-year subperiod (1972–2008). The remaining 10 percent is the part attributable to the disability “incidence rate.” Looking at the two subperiods (1972–1990 and 1990–2008), unadjusted measures appear to show faster growth in the incidence rate in the later period than in the earlier one. This apparent speedup disappears once we account for the changing demographic structure of the insured population. Although the adjusted growth in the incidence rate accounts for 17 percent of the growth in disability entitlements in the earlier subperiod, it accounts for only 6 percent of the growth in the more recent half. Demographic factors explain the remaining 94 percent of growth over the 1990–2008 period.

The "disability incident rate" was lower between 1990 to 2008 than it was between 1972 to 1990

The most significant part of this report is the section where the authors discuss the actual "disability incident rate".  This is the rate at which disability claims increased if one takes the demographic changes out of consideration.  This factor is extremely important because it can shed light as to whether factors other than demographics (i.e. fraud, abuse or lax application of the rules for eligibility) are causing the disability claims to raise.  For this reason, the authors of the study found that it was important "to be able to calculate an incidence rate that shows the changes in disability incidence that are not due to the shifting age composition of insured workers". 
The report found that the "disability incidence" rate has been falling over the past 18 years; not "skyrocketing" or "exploding" as critics of the Social Security Disability programs suggest.   
Pattison's and Waldron's work is specially important at this particular moment, when SSDI is under heavy attacks from uninformed critics like Sen. Tom Coburn from Oklahoma.  The Republican Senator went  on "60 Minutes" and, in a sensationalistic fashion, exclaimed out loud: "where all the disabled people came from?".   Well, Senator, here is the answer!  Read the study!  The Senator's suggestion that the increase in disability claims was a result of fraud or laziness was completely shameful and baseless.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Obtaining Social Security Disability with Interstitial Cystitis

Interstitial Cystitis, which is also called IC or Painful Bladder Syndrome, is a chronic and painful inflammatory condition in the wall of the bladder.  Social Security does not have a specific listing for this condition, however there are different ways that you may be found eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits due to IC.  

Interstitial Cystitis is extremely painful.  Some of its symptoms are:
  • Frequent urination
  • Feelings of pain and pressure in the bladder, the pelvis or the genital areas
  • Pain during sex
  • Men suffer from pain and discomfort in the penis and the scrotum
  • In most women symptoms get worse around the menstrual cycle

The diagnosis of IC is a difficult one.  Doctors usually make the diagnosis of this condition by excluding all other possible illnesses.  This is in part why social security issued a ruling to address the methodology to be followed by the agency when faced with a case involving Interstitial Cystitis.  (See SSR 02-02p) 

Since there isn’t a listing for Interstitial Cystitis, most Social Security Disability cases dealing with this condition will be evaluated at step 4 and step 5 of the Social Security sequential evaluation process.  At step 4, the claimant must be able to prove that the condition prevents him or her from doing the work performed during the past 15 years (past relevant work).  If you are not able to perform past relevant work, then Social Security will consider your limitations, such as how long are you able to sit without pain, which can make a sedentary job impossible. Pain can also make physical work like lifting or carrying difficult. Side effects from medications, including fatigue and dizziness, may also impact your ability to perform physically at work.  Based on your age, your education and your skills Social Security will then determine at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process whether you still have the capacity to do other work.  If you are not able to do any other work do to your limitations, you will be granted Social Security Disability Benefits.