Monday, August 25, 2014

Don't Believe all the Hype About SSDI's Supposed Depletion in 2016

Important Article About the Solvency of Social Security Disability on U.S. News and World Report

In the aftermath of the misleading and ill-intentioned news stories about Social Security Disability aired by Sixty Minutes and Fox News, the U.S. News and World Report has published a great article debunking the false allegations being made about the programs projected depletion in 2016. 

Chad Stone from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has written a great piece outlying the facts on how the anticipated shortfall was largely anticipated and how it can be managed if proper measures are taken.  He notes that in the past, measures have been taken to fix similar shortfalls in the Social Security Disability programs without any major controversies.  It is obvious that now, some in Washington are trying to create a big hype around the projected deficit in 2016 for political gain.  Chill out and don't believe the hype.  Read the article from the U.S. News and World Report here:

Monday, August 18, 2014

How Soon Will My SSI/SSDI Case be Reviewed?

The guidelines used by the Social Security Administration to determine when an existing beneficiary's eligibility will be reviewed are fairly subjective.  However, when a claimant receives a fully favorable decision from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the decision usually states a specific time period when the case will be reviewed again by the SSA. 
Lately, ALJs have been setting very short periods for disability reviews.  This all seems to be part of a trend at the national level, to make Social Security Disability guidelines stricter than ever before.  (Don't be fooled by the ramblings of those who are maliciously leading everyone to believe that obtaining SSD is easy.) 
For example, just a few days ago I got a fully favorable decision that stated that the claimant's case had to be reviewed again in 12 months.  This is an extremely short period.  In reality, most cases that are granted are reviewed between 18 to 36 months. 
When a case is granted prior to a hearing with an ALJ, the SSA uses certain specific guidelines for determining when a case will be reviewed.  However, the exact interpretation of these rules can be a bit subjective.  Here is the terminology used by Social Security used to determine when a case will be reviewed.  At what point in time your case will be reviewed, depends of where your expected medical improvement falls in relation to the following terms: 
  • If "medical improvement" is "expected", your condition will be reviewed within 18 months.
  • If "medical improvement" in your case is "possible", your case will be reviewed in approximately 3 years.
  • If "medical improvement" is "not expected", your case will be reviewed in 5 to 7 years.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Dangers of Hiring a "Social Security Disability Mill"

Be aware that some "Social Security Disability Mills" are now posing as "local law firms" 

I spend a great deal of time with first time callers to my office.  I listen to all sorts problems pertaining to their Social Security Disability claims.  Of all the problems that I hear, none is more disconcerting than when a claimant tells me how their lawyers or representatives are mishandling their claims.  
It seems like more and more Social Security Claimants are becoming victims of what I refer to as : "Social Security Disability Mills".  Social Security Disability Mills are large out of state corporate entities that provide none or very little personal attention to their clients.  These entities rely heavily on mass advertising, such as television adds or fancy internet sites, in order to stay profitable.  Their formula for economic success is based on the sheer volume of their case load, rather than on the quality of services that they provide to their clients.  Note that, in most instances, these firms work out of the state where they advertise and have non- lawyer representatives handle your claim.  
Obviously, having non-lawyers represent their clients also saves them a lot of money and helps them stay extremely profitable.  The largest Social Security Disability Mill in the Country uses non-lawyer reps.  It was reported by the Wall Street Journal that this firm makes more than 85 million dollars a year!    
What is more shocking --and more and more claimants need to be aware of-- is the fact that now, we have large out of state "SSD Mills" using local Connecticut and Massachusetts law firms to sign up clients without providing any meaningful services to clients at the local level.  It seems that, as consumers have become more aware of problems with out of state SSD Mills, the mills have develop new tactics to try fool consumers into signing up with them.  In fact, one of the largest Personal Injury law firms in Connecticut --which is notorious for their aggressive television commercials-- is also claiming to represent Social Security Disability Clients. Unfortunately, as soon as this Personal Injury law firm takes an SSD client, they transfer the case to a Mill in North Carolina.  Over the past year, I have been getting numerous complaints from clients or former clients from this firm.  
In many instances, once the out of state firm screws up a claim, it is very hard for a good local and hardworking lawyer to save it.  Therefore, I urge the readers of this blog and all prospective SSD claimants out there to be aware of this practice.  Before signing up with a Social Security Disability lawyer or representative, ask what kind of individual attention you will receive in your case and whether your case be handled by someone near your.        

Monday, August 4, 2014

Should My ERISA LTD Insurance Company Handle My Social Security Claim?

If you are disabled and can't work, you might have disability benefits provided through your job as part of your package of benefits.  These benefits are generally referred to as ERISA short term disability (STD) or ERISA long term disability (LTD) plans.  ERISA stands for the Federal Law that covers these type of disability benefits: the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.  STD and LTD benefits are usually provided through a policy or a self funded plan administered by an insurance company.  Some of the major players in the STD and LTD insurance business are: CIGNA, The Hartford, MetLife, Sun Life, Unum, Liberty Life, Prudential, the Standard and Aetna.  
Besides representing claimants in Social Security Disability cases, our office also represents individuals who are seeking or have been denied ERISA STD or LTD benefits.  Recently, a prospective client asked me whether it was a wise decision for an  LTD claimant to allow his or her LTD insurance company to also handle their Social Security Disability case.  Here are my views on the subject:     
The vast majority of ERISA LTD plans have provisions that allow the insurance company to offset the money that they pay a beneficiary by the amount that the beneficiary receives in Social Security Disability benefits.  Moreover, most plans also provide that a beneficiary is required to apply for Social Security Disability in order to be able to received LTD benefits.  These provisions are completely legal.  However, LTD beneficiaries are free to determine who handles their Social Security Disability claim.  The insurance company does not get to choose who will act as the claimant's lawyer or representative.  Unfortunately, it is clear that, in most cases, insurance companies do not respect a claimant right to choose his or her own lawyer or representative before Social Security.  Instead, they steer or even strong arm beneficiaries into hiring companies like Allsup, Advantage 2000, Ocudanta and Disability Services, Inc. to handle their Social Security Disability claims.  These companies are agents of the insurance company and do not owe a duty of loyalty to the claimants.  Their goal is to help the insurance company, not to help you.  For this reason, I urge all LTD claimants who are also applying for SSDI, to obtain their own lawyer.  Social Security Disability Lawyers work on a contingency basis and will not charge you any money unless they are able to get benefits. In addition, the insurance company is required to give you credit for the contingency fee paid in the case and are not allowed to include that portion as part of the offset.   
Ideally, you should hire a law firm like ours that handles Social Security Disability as well as ERISA STD and LTD claims.  This way, the law firm can gather evidence and develop arguments that will help you in both cases.  A competent disability lawyer that concentrates in disability law is also going to be able to counsel and advise you on issues that might affect the interest of the insurance company.  (Remember that insurance companies make profits by denying benefits.)  On the other hand, Allsup, Advantage 2000, Ocudanta and Disability Services, Inc., are required by the terms of their contract to be tight-lipped as to any information that might prejudice the economic interests of the insurance company.