Monday, November 24, 2014

Lesbian Widow Sues Social Security

A lesbian widow has a filed a complaint in the Federal District Court in Rhode Island alleging that the SSA illegally denied her survivor benefits.
Deborah Tevyaw married Patricia Baker in Massachusetts in 2005.  Back then, same sex marriage wasn't  legal in Rhode Island.  Patricia died of lung cancer in August 2011.  
After DOMA was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, the Social Security Administration continued to deny Deborah Tevyaw's claim for survivor's benefits.  The SSA alleges that she should be denied benefits because RI would not have recognized their marriage at the time of Patricia's death.    
The Social Security Administration's actions in this case are shocking given that back in June 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor struck down the Defense of Marriage Act: a law that defined marriage as a Union between a man and a woman.  In response to pressure from the media, the SSA has responded with a carefully worded statement essentially saying that it is reviewing its policy with the Department of Justice.  In the meantime, Deborah Tevyaw will have to wait --like some many other claimants who are treated unfairly-- and live on a monthly income of $732 a month.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Get a Copy of Your Long Term Disability Plan Early... or Find Out Whether You Have LTD

If you suffer from a chronic condition or illness, preparing to file for disability benefits is something that you should start thinking about very early on.  Everyone should try to work as long as possible. However, it is better to be safe than sorry.  Don't be passive about your situation.  Get educated as much as possible, and learn what benefits will be available to you in the event that  you can no longer work.
Very often I get calls from prospective clients who are thinking about filing for Social Security Disability.  During my conversations with them, I notice that many persons out there don't know whether or not they have a private disability plan provided by their employer.  Unfortunately, only 30% of employees in the private sector have long term disability insurance.
If you have severe health problems or suffer from a condition that might prevent you from working, it is a good idea to contact your human resources department to determine whether or not you are covered by a long term disability insurance policy.  If you are covered, then you should request from HR a copy of your long term disability plan and the plan summary.  The long term disability plan administrator is required by federal law to provide you with a copy of the plan.  
Once you obtain a copy of the plan and of the plan summary, you should spend sometime reading it and learning how it works.  Don't file for short term or long term disability without first reviewing these documents carefully.  It is also advisable to contact a long term disability lawyer who can sit with you and with a copy of the plan and explain to you how its provisions apply to your particular situation. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Jail Time and Social Security Disability

Felony convictions can affect your Social Security Disability benefits.  In most instances, a felony will not automatically disqualify you from applying but, serious criminal offenses can result in a suspension of benefits or in loosing your claim.  Here are some examples on how spending time in jail and/or being convicted of a felony can affect your benefits:
  • You will be denied benefits if the agency finds that your disability was caused or it was made worse because you carried out a criminal offense classified as a felony.  (For example, you cannot claim that you are disabled because you were shot while robbing a bank.)  Moreover, you do not have a valid claim if you allege that your disability arose or became worse while you were imprisoned.  (I get calls on this one all the time.  I get inquiries like: "I suffer from PTSD because I was incarcerated".  Forget it.  I can't help anyone with that type of claim.  It just doesn't work.)
  • If you are receiving SSD, your benefits will stop 30 days after the commencement of an incarceration.  You get free food and shelter while in prison.  Don't expect other programs such as SSDI or SSI to pick up the bill.  Your benefits will be reinstated if you get out of jail before a period of 12 months.  However, if you spend more than 12 months in jail, you will have to re-apply and go through the whole application process all over again.      
My advise to all claimants is to stay out of trouble.  I have successfully represented claimants whose benefits have been terminated because they were incarcerated.  However, I must be frank and state clearly that, in most circumstances, I cannot take these type of cases.  I only get paid if I win and these cases are a huge risk for any Social Security Disability Lawyer.  

Finally, if you were caught dealing drugs or committing an economic crime while receiving SSI or SSDI, you probably will not have much of my sympathy.  (And I'm probably going to yell at you when I take your call!)  I take pride in what I do and feel offended when I see that money that is designated for those who are severely disabled is being wasted or misused.    

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Work Activity Report (Form SSA-821)

Once in a while, one of my clients receives a letter from Social Security asking them to complete a form known as the Work Activity Report or the SSA-821 Form.  This form is only requested in certain circumstances when the claimant has received income or, it appears that he or she has worked after the date of filing for disability benefits.  If you have received this form, it is important that you understand the purpose that it serves in the disability claims process.
You should also be aware that the SSA knows a lot more about you than you think.  If Social Security is requesting that you complete SSA-821, it is probably because they have found out that you have had earnings after the date of your alleged onset date.  Simply stated, you get this form because it is very difficult to hide earnings from the Government.  Remember, Uncle Sam is watching you at all times!  For example, if you sold an expensive item after filing for disability, --such as a work or art--, it is possible that this transaction will appear in the government's computer.  Moreover, if you have done some minor work for someone, it is likely that that person has issued a 1099 and that your income has been reported.
If you have received this form, be honest and complete it as soon as possible.  In all likelihood, a properly completed 821 is going to help your case.  Don't panic.  Be aware that selling assets such as stocks or works of art does not affect your eligibility for SSDI.  If you have sold an expensive asset, you should state it somewhere in your Work Activity Report.  This way you might expedite your claim and avoid confusing the SSA staff.  (If you are not open about your earnings, they might become suspicious and delay your claim.)  Keep in mind that the only income that affects your eligibility for SSDI, is income generated from wages, not income from other sources.  
Moreover, you should also clarify any earnings received from pensions,unused sick time and vacation pay or, from severance packages.  This income is often confused as wages because it comes from your former employer.  However, if you explain it properly to the the SSA, you will avoid complicating your claim.  
Finally, you should clearly document any work performed after the date of the commencement of your disability.  Get copies of all your paystubs and explain the type of work that you did.  If you made more than $1070 a month in wages in 2014, you are in obvious trouble.  However, if you made less, you should explain exactly what you were doing in your job.  It is important to explain any work accommodations given to you during this work period and the difficulties that you had in being able to fully function at the job.  Questions 5 and 6A in the form ask you about any special accommodations that you received at your job.  These two questions are perhaps the two most important questions in the form.  Unfortunately, many claimants leave it blank.  Understand that if you were working without any king of accommodation during the period of disability, it is going to be harder for your to prove that you can't work.  Be a wise and, if possible, use these sections to emphasize how the work that you performed during the disability period was just a small occupation that you held to be able to get by while your application was pending.