Monday, July 28, 2014

I Want My Retro Check Right Away!

Our office works extremely hard and has great success at wining Social Security Disability cases.  Our goal is not just winning your case, our goal is also to get you as much back pay as possible when you win your case. Unfortunately, in many instances, the payment of your "retro check" or past due benefits is delayed by the slow moving Social Security bureaucracy.  At that point, we get numerous calls from our clients wondering what has happened with their past due benefits.  The truth is that we are not always able to explain to our clients why it takes so long to get paid.  We can only guess and speculate what might be causing the delay. Here are some likely reasons why your retro check might be delayed and some of the things that you might be able to do to make the process move a little faster:
  • My first word of advise is to be respectful of the fact that, if you have not received payment yet, your lawyer probably has not been paid either.  Don't be demanding or abusive with your lawyer and/or his or her staff. Keep in mind that they probably have not been paid for their services and that their job was to prove your disability not to untangle the complex payment mistakes often made by the Social Security Administration.
  • Make sure that you respond to any inquiries by telephone or mail from Social Security.  Keep an eye on your mail and answer all your calls.  
  • Make sure that you provide the SSA with a routing number and a checking account number to allow them to deposit your check electronically into your banking account.
  • Don't call Social Security repeatedly if you are trying to find out the status of your payment.  Just call once every 30 to 45 days and politely ask if they are missing any information that they need to be able to process your payment.  If they ask you for information, provide it to them as soon as possible. They might need to get information such as: the right spelling of your name, the identities and ages of your children, your tax returns, information on the jobs held during the period of disability, rent payments, welfare payments, workers compensation payments and settlements and income received during the period of disability. Don't question the need for the evidence requested.  Don't act as if you don't have to give them the financial information.  Don't complain about how difficult it is to get this information.  Just get it to them!  You won your case already.  The time to argue is over.  Now, the government has the right to ask you for all this information before they put you on pay status.
  • Determine whether your case was an SSI claim or if it included and SSI claim and, whether you received any worker's compensation payments.  If your case involved an SSI claim, the SSA will call you to schedule an interview.  Be ready to address all your finances on the day of that interview.  An ideal claimant should have an itemized statement of his or her finances; outlining all income and expenses made during the disability period.  If you had a worker's compensation claim opened at any point in your life, be ready to provide an accounting of every single penny received from worker's compensation and provide a copy of all records in your comp file including any settlements
There is no guarantee that the SSA will not screw up your retro check even when you follow the steps mentioned above.  Moreover, I urge you to be an active client.  Get all this information on your own or with the help of friends and relatives.  Your lawyer gets paid to prove your disability, not to be your personal secretary or assistant.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Should You Go On Vacation While Your Disability Claim is Pending?

Its vacation time and the question as to whether a Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability Claimant should go on vacation, while his or her claim is pending, keeps popping up.  Unfortunately, most claimants are not even aware that going on a trip could adversely affect their chances of winning disability benefits.  This issue is fairly controversial among disability lawyers.  Here are my thoughts:
I believe that part of the confusion regarding this issue stems from the fact that some people see vacation time as the direct opposite of working.  Many think that the ability to vacation has no bearing at all in the determination as to whether someone can work or not.  This notion is totally wrong.  In fact, most Social Security judges routinely ask claimants during the hearing whether they have gone on a trip during the period of disability.  In the past few hearings that I have been to, it looks as if the judges read this question out of a script that someone else has given them.  I have also noticed that vacations and trips are very often mentioned by long term disability insurance companies as a basis for denial of LTD benefits.  Therefore, be aware that if you go on vacation while your claim is pending, you are complicating your case unnecessarily.  Don't complicate your case.  If you want to err on the safe side, stay home.
However, if you don't want to follow my advise and want to go on vacation despite my recommendation, at the very least, you have to be smart about it.  First of all avoid, at all costs, calling your trip "a vacation".  Remember that a vacation is considered by many as a time of entertainment for those who work.  If you are not working because of a serious illness or condition, it might be a good idea to use a word other than "vacation" when you describe your trip.  Call your trip "a special time to recover and rest".  Without being overly dramatic, you can state some reason  for your trip that reiterates the fact that you are suffering from a disabling condition.  For example, you can say that your bad health made you think of your own mortality and made you want to go back to a special place such as: your hometown, the place were you met your spouse or the place where you went to college.  You can also combine your vacation with some form of therapy or retreat.
Finally, document everything that you did during your trip.  If you needed special accommodations during the trip such as special carts and wheelchairs, document it.  Keep receipts and other documentation and take pictures.  Be very careful on what you say to your doctors about your trip.  Remember that your doctors will transcribe everything that you say during a medical appointment.  Don't cancel or postpone a medical appointment due to your trip.  Moreover, if you are going on a trip due to a death in the family or a family emergency, make sure that such an emergency is reflected on your claim file.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Can the Appeals Council Review a Case on its Own?

Over the past few weeks, I have discussed how an unsuccessful claimant can appeal an unfavorable decision by an administrative law judge (ALJ) to the appeals council and, later on, to federal court.  This week, I will write about a little known fact about social security disability law: the Appeals Council can review a fully favorable decision by an ALJ on its own, even when no one has appealed it.
Receipt of a notification that the Appeals Council is reviewing a fully favorable ALJ decision can be very disheartening, since claimants often wait over 2 years to finally have their cases decided by a judge.  The Appeals Council reviews favorable ALJ decisions on its own motion in very few cases.  Moreover, the decision to review a case on its own is usually determined by a random process.  This process is more specifically described in 20 CFR 404.969.
If you are one of the few unfortunate claimants whose fully favorable decision is being reviewed by the appeals council, here is quick guide of what to expect in this process:

  • The Appeal Council has 110 days to make a decision on your case.  During this period of time the claimant will not be paid benefits.
  • If the Appeals Council does not make a decision within 110 days, the claimant is allowed to receive "interim benefits".  The claimant will not have to pay back these interim benefits in the event that the case is eventually lost.
  •  In the Appeals Council reviews the case, it can make one of three determinations: 1.  determine that the ALJ was right in grating you benefits  2.  Send the decision back to the judge to be corrected  or, 3.  the Appeals Council can decide on its own that the ALJ made the wrong decision and deny you benefits without a new face to face hearing with an ALJ.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Announcing Our New Connecticut Location!

255 Main Street, Suite 401, Hartford, CT

We are two buildings down from the old office and continue to have the same convenient parking.

This larger and more comfortable location will allow us to better serve our disability and personal injury clients. We will continue to serve our Massachusetts clients at our other location at 101 State Street, Suite 723, Springfield, MA.