Monday, March 31, 2014

Social Security Disability Payees Under Scrutiny

Unfortunately, Social Security Disability beneficiaries often are the victims of predators who abuse them and steal their monthly checks.  Perhaps one of the most dramatic cases involving this problem was the "Tacony Dungeon Case" in Philadelphia where four mentally disabled persons were held captive in a filthy basement in a scheme to steal their benefits.  Now, the Social Security Administration has launched a new initiative that bars persons with a criminal record from serving as a payee for SSI or SSDI beneficiaries.

However, it is not clear how well Social Security employees will be able to carry out this new initiative given the fact that they are understaffed and don't have access to the FBI's criminal database.  Instead, agency employees are going to be relying on private third party databases and other public records.  

Pursuant to the new program, representative payees who collect payments for those who are unable to handle their own finances would be rejected if they have committed one of 12 crimes: human trafficking, false imprisonment, kidnapping, rape/sexual assault, first-degree homicide, robbery, fraud to obtain government assistance, fraud by scheme, theft of government funds,/property, abuse/neglect, forgery and identity theft.

In some cases non-profit corporations act as payees for social security disability beneficiaries who cannot handle their own finances.  Just this week, sad news came in from Portland, Oregon where a non-profit group called Safety Net is under investigation for mismanaging the funds of the disabled. A federal warrant has closed Safety Net's facilities and now approximately 1,000 Social Security Disability beneficiaries are in danger of loosing their next check.  Obviously, much more needs to be done to prevent payee fraud and mismanagement.  Unless immediate action is taken to address this problem and appropriate funds and resources are assigned to implement the new initiative, it is likely that this problem will continue.       

Monday, March 24, 2014

Support "The Social Security Fraud Prevention Act of 2014"

Ranking member of the Ways and means Social Security Subcommittee Xavier Becerra (D-CA) has announced that he is introducing legislation to give the SSA the real effective tools to fight fraud and abuse of the disability benefit programs.

While many opponents have wasted time and efforts criticizing the Social Security disability programs, H.R. 4090 provides "a secure stream" of funds to allow the agency to implement a system of fraud prevention.  This bill will give the SSA the funds it needs to perform much needed continuing disability reviews (CDR's).  Currently there is a backlog of 1.3 million cases that have not been reviewed by the agency as they were supposed.  

This proposed bill would require the Social Security Commissioner to create "Cooperative Disability Investigations Units" in all 50 states and its territories by October 1, 2017. 

I applaud Congressman Becerra's efforts and urge the Connecticut and Massachusetts Congressional Delegation to support H.R. 4090.  To see Congressman Becerra's statements before the Ways and Means Committee watch the video below:

Monday, March 17, 2014

What to Expect in a Video Social Security Disability Hearing

If your SSDI or SSI hearing has been scheduled, it is possible that your case will be one of those in which Social Security conducts the hearing via video.  You might be wondering what such hearings are like and how best to prepare for it.  Here are some tips, as well as some important information on what to expect from your video hearing.

The best way to be mentally prepared for this type of hearing, is to understand that the technology used in these types of proceedings is very similar to the technology used when conducting conversations via skype.  Therefore, you should think of your video hearing as if it were a skype interview conducted by the judge.

In a video hearing you will be able to see all the participants in a really large T.V. screen. The administrative judge stays in his or her office, while you sit in a room that is close to your residence.  A technician hired by the Social Security Administration is present at all video hearing to assure that the equipment works properly.  Except for the equipment, a video hearing is no different than a hearing at which you appear in person.  Video hearings are very common in remote areas of the country where it is difficult for Social Security claimants and their lawyers to be present directly in front of the judge. 

The number of video hearings is currently on the raise.  It is estimated that in fiscal year 2013 the SSA conducted 179,308 video hearings.  This is more than twice the number of video hearings conducted in 2009.  Often an appearance by video hearing can be scheduled faster than an in-person appearance.  For this reason, it is estimated that the use of video technology has helped considerably in decreasing the backlog of pending claims.

Monday, March 10, 2014

SSDI for Persons Who Have Low Vision or are Blind

I receive frequent calls from persons who want to know whether they qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits based on their poor vision.  Most people don't seem to be aware that the legal requirements needed to qualify for disability benefits due to this condition are fairly strict. 
With respect to blindness and Social Security Disability, there are two important points that must be kept in mind:  First of all, Social Security determines whether a person qualifies for benefits based on their vision on the better eye.  Therefore, if you are completely blind in one eye but have 20/20 vision on the other, you will not meet the blindness listing.  Second, Social Security determines whether you are blind based on your corrected vision, not on the vision that you have when you are not wearing glasses.
In essence, Social Security will find that you are eligible for benefits if your vision cannot be corrected better than 20/200 in your better eye, or if your visual field is 20 degrees or less, even with a corrective lens.
If you do not meet the definition mentioned above, you may still be able to qualify if other health problems combined with your age prevent you from working.  There are a number of Social Security Rulings that evaluate a person's ability to do work if they have problems with visual acuity.  In this respect Social Security Ruling 96-9p states:   
    Visual limitations or restrictions: Most sedentary unskilled occupations require working with small objects. If a visual limitation prevents an individual from seeing the small objects involved in most sedentary unskilled work, or if an individual is not able to avoid ordinary hazards in the workplace, such as boxes on the floor, doors ajar, or approaching people or vehicles, there will be a significant erosion of the sedentary occupational base. These cases may require the use of vocational resources.
If you feel that low vision or blindness is preventing you from working, you should talk to an experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer as soon as possible.  Most Social Security Lawyers like me provide free legal consultation and don't charge any fees unless we are able to get benefits for you.  As you can see from this posting, Social Security Rules with respect to blindness can be quite complicated and it is never a good idea to go at it alone.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Social Security Disability for Veterans: An Update

Our office takes great pride in helping disabled veteran’s obtain Social Security Disability Benefits.  Many veterans who are applying for veteran’s disability benefits do not seem to be fully aware that they may also be eligible for SSDI.  In fact, some of the findings made by the VA in a veteran’s disability case may be very persuasive in convincing the Social Security Administration that the Veteran is also eligible for Social Security Disability.   

Veterans who are applying for VA disability benefits should also contact a Social Security Disability Attorney who can evaluate their case and determine whether they should also apply for SSDI.  There are approximately 9.5 military veterans receiving Social Security Disability; which means that almost one in every four adults receiving SSD has served in the military. 

Recently the VA has come under fire due to its large backlog in processing and adjudicating disability claims.  In March 2013, the backlog was estimated to be 600,000, with over 900,000 pending to be processed.  In response to this problem, the Veternan’s Adminstration and the Social Security Administration have enacted the following initiatives:

  • VA Secretary Eric Shinseki claims to be implementing a new automated system to try to get rid of the old inefficient paper based system that has contributed to the backlog.  The VA Secretary has announced that this initiative is yielding positive results and that between March and December 2013, the backlog decreased by 36.5 percent.  However, it is important to point out that over 50 percent of the VA disability claims are still waiting to be processed.
  • Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin has announced a joint initiative with the Department of Veterans Affairs to give high priority to veterans with 100-percent VA disability ratings. This will allow Veterans that have very severe conditions to receive a much faster processing of their SSDI claims.  This new program is supposed to start in just a few weeks.