Monday, August 21, 2017

How to Find Out if You Have Enough Work Credits to Apply for SSDI

Many potential disability applicants call a Social Security Law Firm to find out if they have enough work credits to be eligible for SSDI benefits. However, since Social Security Lawyers do not have access to your Social Security work history prior to assuming legal representation on your case, a lawyer in not the right person to call to find out this information.  Instead, the best way to find out this information is by contacting the Social Security Administration.

The amount of work credits a person needs to be eligible for Social Security Disability is proportionate to the person’s age. For example, a person who is 50 would need 28 work credits, and a person who is 62 or older would need 40 work credits. In general, younger applicants are expected to have less work experience.  Therefore, more credits are required as person gets older.

A person earns work credits from earning an income subject to the FICA tax. FICA is a payroll tax that all workers must pay. Under-the-table income does not count towards earning work credits. For each $1,300 a person makes, they receive one work credit, and a person can earn up to four work credits per year.

Before applying for SSDI, you need to know how many work credits you have earned. If you know how many work credits you have, you can potentially save the time and effort of completing an application and then finding out that you arebeing denied benefits due to lack of credits. To find out how many work credits you have, you can get your Social Security statement online at:

Social Security information is confidential, and lawyers do not have access to information about a person’s work credits. For this reason, it is important to get your Social Security statement on your own before contacting a lawyer. 
If you do not have enough Social Security work credits to be eligible for SSDI, you can still apply for Supplemental Security Income, or SSI. SSI, unlike SSDI, is based off of demonstrated financial need. If you are unsure about whether or not you can receive SSI or SSDI, please call our office to discuss your best options.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Good Cause to File a Late Social Security Appeal


After being notified of a Social Security decision, a claimant has 60 days to file an appeal. If this deadline is missed, the claimant usually has to make an entirely new Social Security claim, but in some cases claimants are allowed to file late appeals.

The SSA will decide if a claimant has a “good cause” for filing a late appeal. “Good” causes include circumstances that prevent a claimant from filing an appeal on time, whether or not the claimant understood what needed to be done, whether or not SSA or CMS misled the claimant, and whether there was a physical, mental, educational, or language limitation that kept the claimant from filing a timely appeal.

Examples of “good causes” for the SSA to accept a late appeal include:


  • If you were very sick when the appeal was due and you could not have contacted Social Security yourself or through anyone else. You will need to show that you were seriously ill; otherwise Social Security will find that you could have submitted the appeal paperwork on time or asked someone to do it for you.
  • If there was a death or serious illness in your immediate family.
  • If records that you needed for the appeal were destroyed by a fire or other accident. You will need to show that the records were destroyed close in time to the appeal deadline and that they were important to your meeting the deadline. For example, if your house burned down the week before your deadline and your denial notice was inside the house, you would have a strong argument that you had good cause for missing the deadline.
  • If you were actively looking for evidence to support your claim but failed to ask for an extension of time before the deadline passed.
  • If you or your lawyer asked Social Security for more information about its denial before the appeal deadline passed. You would have 60 days after Social Security gave you the additional information to file for reconsideration or for a hearing.
  • If Social Security or CMS gave you incorrect or confusing information about appealing your claim.
  • If you did not understand that you were required to file an appeal by the deadline or you were not able to appeal because of a physical or mental problem.
  • If you did not receive a denial notice. You will need proof that you never got the notice. For example, if Social Security mailed the notice to the wrong address, and you had notified them of the right address, then they might find good cause for your late appeal.
  • If you sent your appeal to another government agency within the time limit because you misunderstood that the appeal needed to be sent to Social Security, and the other agency did not forward your request until after the deadline.
  • If there were any other unusual or unavoidable circumstances, and you could not reasonably be expected to have met the deadline.
Social Security has published these examples of “good causes” to file late appeals, but this list is not exhaustive. If you believe you have a good cause for filing a late appeal to your SSI or SSDI decision but it isn’t on the list, Social Security may still accept it. The later an appeal is filed, the less likely it is that Social Security will accept it.

To make a late appeal, you must attach a written document with the reason for the late submission to the appeal form. Social Security is obligated to consider your late appeal request, but has the right to deny the request if they find there is no good cause. Even if the request is denied, Social Security may consider the date you made a late appeal request as a protective filing date for the next time you apply for benefits.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Study Shows That Disability Insurance Income Saves Lives

A recent study showed that disability insurance can decrease the mortality of its recipients. The research for this study was supported by grants from the Social Security Administration and the SSA Disability Research Consortium at the National Bureau of Economic Research.  The study was published by Alexander Gelber from UC Berkeley, Timothy Moore from the University of Melbourne and Alexander Strand from the SSA.

This study was the first to detail the positive impacts that disability income has on its recipients' health and lifespan. Previous studies on income's effect on health and mortality have not focused specifically on disability insurance recipients, and other studies have only focused on disability benefits' effects on the workforce. Many recipients of disability benefits already understand the improvements in quality of life after receiving disability income, this study confirms those testimonies and proves why disability income is necessary for millions of Americans.

A complete copy of this study can be found at:

Disability insurance recipients have high mortality rates and low average income, which is a unique demographic situation. This causes disability beneficiaries' health to be affected significantly by their level of income. Disability payments can greatly impact the recipient's health. The study found that $1,000 in annual disability payments decreases the annual mortality rate of low-income beneficiaries by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points. This means that people with disabilities are living longer while on disability payments.

To many, this findings of this study aren't surprising. Many of our clients live with less stress and live healthier lives after winning disability benefits.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Nebulizer Treatments and RFC Determinations In Social Security Disability Cases

In every Social Security Disability case, the adjudicator must determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity, otherwise known as the “RFC.” Unfortunately, disability lawyers and judges often forget the importance of nebulizer treatments when determining RFC.
The judge in an SSD case makes an RFC determination by evaluating the most a claimant can do despite their limitations. The judge is required to consider all relevant evidence, including medical records, physical and mental abilities, and a claimant’s subjective evidence of symptoms. Usually, lawyers and judges think of a person’s ability to lift, walk, and stand when determining the RFC. However, going through frequent treatments also plays a large part in a person’s ability to work.
Nebulizer treatments tend to require frequent usage and are not easily portable. One client at Ramos Law needed to use a nebulizer every 4 to 5 hours during the day, which, a vocational expert determined, would prevent him from performing any job. The judge, who decided the case before Ramos Law became involved, initially overlooked the claimant’s need for regular nebulizer treatments and denied the case. The case is now pending at the Federal Court level.  
Unfortunately, the effects of therapies such as the need to use a nebulizer are often overlooked.  For this reason, it is important to provide sufficient evidence to prove that the claimant’s treatments affect their RFC.  In an ideal situation, a client would need records of specific medical treatment and prescriptions by a doctor, and proof that the claimant actually needs and uses the treatment. Usually the treatment must be provided by a specialist, and there must be documentation of the treatment’s continuation throughout their visits with the doctor. The treating physician should also provide a written opinion stating the need for the treatments. Insurance records could also serve as proof that the claimant purchased the prescribed treatment and that its medical necessity has been established by an independent party.
As mentioned above, cases where judges overlook the effect nebulizer treatments in the RFC determination are not uncommon.  Here are a few examples of Federal District Courts cases where the courts have emphasized the importance of considering nebulizer treatments in RFC determinations:  
Deso v. Astrue, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 137646 (D. Vt. 2011);
Holland v. Apfel, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15674 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 23, 1998); (Approved and adopted in  Holland v. Apfel, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5891 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 28, 1998)); and Konoloff v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42127 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 30, 2016)

Moreover, an ALJ cannot impose in his own lay opinion of the claimant’s need, or lack thereof, for nebulizer use.  This is the case even when the evidence in a case might reflect that a pulmonary condition is well controlled.  See  Begolke v. Astrue, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41747, 2007 WL 5555951 (W.D. Wis. June 7, 2007)

Monday, July 24, 2017

New Regulations Make it Harder for Disabled Veterans to Win Social Security Disability Benefits

Veterans in the United States, especially disabled veterans, frequently have trouble receiving the government benefits that they deserve after surviving the physical and psychological injuries they might have experienced while serving their Country. In light of some new changes to the Social Security regulations, Disability benefits are becoming increasingly difficult for veterans to win.

Though the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Social Security Administration have different criteria for determining disability, in the past, Social Security judges were required to take VA disability ratings into account when making an SSD ruling. Though the SSA was not required to agree with the VA, judges had to provide an explanation for their rulings either way, and they had to specifically explain why they disagreed with the disability determination made by the VA. As of March 27, 2017, SSA judges no longer are required to give any special weight to medical opinions from the VA or from other governmental agencies. This means that VA disability ratings and opinions from VA medical professionals do not hold any special legal weight in SSA hearings.

VA disability ratings can still be considered as evidence, but technically, judges are now legally allowed to completely ignore VA disability ratings. Furthermore, SSA judges are no longer required to provide explanations for their rulings. A judge can overlook evidence provided by the VA without being required to provide a reasonable explanation.

​Many Americans are questioning why the two government agencies have such a “disconnect”. Why do the VA and the SSA have different criteria for determining disability? Why is the SSA allowed to overlook VA findings, when VA medical professionals are presumably more familiar with their disabled veteran patients’ cases than the SSA is?

​Our current Commander in Chief promised to protect veterans. However in light of these recent changes benefits for veterans are only becoming more difficult to attain. A recent article by Andy Pierrotti for WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee reports on the specific struggle of Daniel Norfleat, a disabled veteran who recently had his Social Security Disability benefits terminated. Norfleat was already receiving SSD benefits when his attorney advised him to apply for additional back payments for a time period before he won benefits. Shockingly, the SSA then denied his request for back payments and also revoked his SSD altogether, claiming he was employable, and completely ignoring the opinions of VA professionals.
Here is a video of Mr. Norfleat’s story:

http://www.wbir.com/news/local/veteran-survives-crash-stroke-heart-attack-but-denied-benefits/458822810

Unfortunately, Norfleat’s case is an example of what can happen to veterans who need SSD but are facing great legal challenges under the new SSA regulations. Trump promised to protect veterans, but here is a clear example how government resources are only becoming more difficult for veterans to access under his administration.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Cigna Reinstates LTD Claim After Ramos Law Files Administrative Appeal

Ms. S sought legal representation from a long term disability attorney after Cigna denied the continuation of her long term disability benefits. Ms. S worked at a desk job that required repetitive typing motions.

Fortunately, Ramos Law was able to help her win back her LTD benefits.

Prior to becoming disabled, Ms. S had worked at a large investment services firm until the pain in her hands made it impossible for her to continue with her job.

Ms. S had bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger in multiple fingers as well as other severe issues in her wrists and hands. Ms. S underwent several surgeries and physical therapy sessions for these debilitating conditions. Unfortunately, her hand pain persisted despite aggressive treatment. Ms. S also had several other health issues which caused pain in her back, hips, foot, and ankle. Ms. S complained of pain in her hands, hips, and back both while working and during her long drive to and from the office each day. Ms. S’s doctor also recommended elevating her foot and ankle intermittently throughout the day, which also significantly interfered with her ability to work at the office.

Like many other LTD plans, Cigna’s policy in Ms. S’s case provides disability benefits for a period of 24 months if she is unable to perform the material duties of her regular occupation or “own” occupation. In Ms. S’s case, Cigna denied the continuation of her long term disability benefits, claiming that she was physically able to her own job.

Attorney Ramos thoroughly reviewed Cigna’s denial letter and Ms. S’s entire claim file. He noted that Cigna’s medical and vocational reports contained numerous inconsistencies and did not take into account the progressive nature of Ms. S’s conditions. As part of the administrative appeal that was submitted to Cigna, Ramos Law obtained new medical opinions from Ms. S’s doctors as well as a thorough opinion from a vocational expert.

Hiring our own vocational expert in this particular case was extremely helpful. Through the use of a vocational expert, we were able to prove that Ms. S’s could not perform the material duties of her own job without requiring the use of her hands and fingers at least two thirds of the workday.

Through the use of a more recent medical opinion and a vocational evaluation, Ramos Law was able to prove that Ms. S’s conditions continued to meet the definition of disability under the terms of the policy provided by Cigna. Besides the inability to use her hands on a frequent basis, our appeal also provided substantial evidence which showed that, non-exertional limitations such as chronic back pain did not allow her to maintain the pace and concentration needed to stay on task in an office that deals with challenging financial information.

Once Cigna reviewed the documents that Ramos Law filed in support of Ms. S’s case, Cigna was forced to reinstate her long term disability benefits. Our paralegal Jessica Smith was informed by telephone that Cigna had agreed to grant our appeal and told that a retroactive check had been issued to Ms. S’s for the amount owed in back due benefits.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Working Under the Table and Social Security Disability

Many clients ask their Social Security Disability lawyershow working under the table will affect their eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits. Under the table income is not taxed, therefore no deductions are taken from these monies to pay into the Social Security system. For this reason, persons applying for SSDI with a history of working under the table may not have enough credits, or quarters, paid into the system to be eligible for benefits. These applicants may only have the option of applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is an asset-based program. This is measured based on the amount of money in the bank or the amount of assets (or property) that a person has.
Moreover, under the table work can present some problems during a Social Security Disability Hearing.  Failing to report income and pay taxes can be seen by some judges as a sign of dishonesty.  Nonetheless, it is important to be completely honest from the outset and disclose all work related information to the judge.  In our experience, it is much worse to get caught lying about your work than it is to admit that you performed work under the table.      
In an SSDI case, the judge will ask about the applicant’s work history. It is important to be upfront about all income made in the past 15 years, even if the income was not taxed. Though some work history is not on tax forms, judges can still find out about unreported work and income through other documents. Medical records usually include more than individuals think they do- and doctors, particularly mental health providers, usually ask and take notes about work history.  
It is always a bad strategy to assume that the government doesn’t know about your work history.  In fact, you should make the opposite assumption: --assume that Uncle Sam knows everything about you!  Be aware, claimentsget caught lying about their wages all the time.  For example, many individuals who think that they are being paid under the table are not aware or do not remember that their employers have issued 1099 forms for some or part of the payments made for wages.  This situation can cause some discrepancies between the testimony provided and the actual wages reported.  Another similar problem occurs when a claimant is self-employed and does not report income for purposes of income taxes but then receives a 1099 form from one of his or her clients.  
If you are unsure about your eligibility for SSDI and SSI because your income is under the table, please contact our office for a consultation.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Winning SSD for Clients with POTS and Dysautonomia

Claimants seeking SSDI benefits for POTS and/or dysautonomia often have difficulty finding a disability lawyer who is educated and experienced in these kinds of cases. Ramos Law has successfully worked with clients with POTS who have been able to win their Social Security Disability benefits.  

POTS, or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, is a type of dysautonomia-- a condition which impacts the body’s ability to perform “automatic” functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and temperature control. People living with POTS can experience the condition in many different ways at different severities. Many POTS patients experience fatigue, headaches, lightheadedness, heart palpitations, exercise intolerance, nausea, diminished concentration, shaking, fainting, coldness or pain in the extremities, chest pain, and shortness of breath. According to Dysautonomia International http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org ), approximately 25% of POTS patients are disabled and unable to work, and “symptoms may be so severe that normal life activities, such as bathing, housework, eating, sitting upright, walking or standing can be significantly limited.”

People living with POTS may have a hard time finding a diagnosis, as it is a long process, and doctors specializing in POTS and dysautonomia are uncommon. Many POTS patients are misdiagnosed with anxiety disorders, due to the fact that POTS and severe anxiety disorders have similar symptoms. However, their causes are entirely different. POTS is caused by dysfunction in the autonomic system, and that dysfunction can have many underlying causes. Often, diseases that cause chronic pain such as Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (EDS) can be the source of dysautonomia. Other times, the cause of this syndrome is never known. It is estimated that about 80 percent of the patients suffering from POTS also suffer from Type III EDS.  EDS is a genetic connective tissue disorder that causes chronic pain, constant joint dislocations, arthritis, and vascular disease. 

Because POTS is difficult to diagnose and largely misunderstood, POTS patients seeking disability benefits need to work with a lawyer who is educated about the condition. Judges may dismiss POTS patients’ cases because the patient appears well or because the severity of symptoms may be difficult to measure or prove. This does not mean that the often painful and debilitating nature of POTS isn’t real.  If you are suffering from the debilitating symptoms of POTS and/or dysautonomia and are unable to work, feel free to call our office to see if we can help you win disability benefits.

Monday, June 26, 2017

TrumpCare (AHCA) Will Have a Devastating Impact on Our Clients

Denying millions of more vulnerable Americans health care while cutting taxes for millionaires and billionaires is unacceptable. Ramos Law is strongly opposed to the AHCA and fully supports the actions of those in the disabled community who have voiced their outrage over this “mean” proposal.

The American Health Care Act (AHCA, AKA TrumpCare) received strong opposition, particularly from Americans with disabilities, almost immediately after it was released to the public. One group voicing their strong opposition was disability rights organization ADAPT, which held a protest at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. ADAPT is run by and for people with disabilities, and has operated for 25 years. At Ramos Law, we were moved by the energy and determination of the ADAPT activists who were arrested for engaging in Civil Disobedience at the Capitol. Here is a video clip showing the protest:



Also, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR) has issued a statement against the AHCA. For the statement from NOSSCR’s executive director Barbara R. Silverstone click here:
https://www.nosscr.org/news/2017/06/statement-response-senate-health-care-bill

AHCA, if passed, would throw approximately 24 million people off health insurance and raise costs of premiums. Ten million current Medicaid enrollees have disabilities and are now at risk of losing their health insurance. Loss of basic health insurance and healthcare will have devastating repercussions. SSDI claimants who have lost health insurance will lose access to doctors’ visits, making it harder to obtain the medical evidence needed to support their cases.

Medicaid and SSDI work hand in hand in supporting people with disabilities in living independent and healthy lives. Many people rely on both the healthcare they have through medicaid and the supplemental income they receive through SSI and SSDI. In a press release, representatives from ADAPT expressed concerns that with AHCA’s cuts to Medicaid, many Americans with disabilities will be institutionalized against their will because they will no longer be able to afford the resources that they need to live independently.

Mike Oxford, and ADAPT organizer from Kansas, said, “Home and community based services are what allow us to do our jobs, live our lives and raise our families. Without these services many disabled and elderly Americans will die. We won’t let that happen.”

Monday, June 19, 2017

FedEx Long Term Disability Plan Ordered to Pay Ramos Law 40K in Attorney's Fees

Individuals who have been denied LTD benefits often ask their disability lawyer whether they can obtain any punitive damages or penalties against the plan or insurance company for failing to follow the law. Unfortunately, under the law that covers most of these plans (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 “ERISA”), these damages are not available.  Given the state of the law, there are very little consequences when a disability plan acts illegally.  The payment of the benefits owed is practically the only remedy available to plaintiffs.  However, even though there are no punitive damages, the Court may force the insurance company and/or LTD plan to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees. In these instances, the imposition of attorney’s fees acts as the only penalty or punitive action that can work to deter LTD plans from violating the law. In a recent case, Ramos Law was successful in obtaining an award of attorney’s fees against the Federal Express Long Term Disability Plan. See Dwinnell v. Fed. Express Long Term Disability Plan, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57828 (D. Conn. Apr. 14, 2017)  .

In Dwinnell, the plaintiff brought a case against the benefits plan of her former employer, Federal Express Corporation, and its disability plan administrator, Aetna Life Insurance Company, after she was denied long term disability benefits. Following several years in litigation, the Court found that Aetna acted contrary to the law by failing to conduct a vocational review of the plaintiff’s claim.

In District Courts within the Second Circuit, disability plan administrators are required to conduct a two-step evaluation of disability claims. First, the plan must conduct a medical review.  Once this first level of review is completed, the plan must conduct a second assessment which involves a vocational evaluation of the claim. In Dwinnell, Aetna did not conduct a vocational review and decided the case solely based on the medical evidence. In light of the incomplete review of the claim, District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer ruled that Aetna’s review process failed to satisfy the standard set forth by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was remanded back to Aetna with an order to conduct a new review which must include a vocational assessment of the plaintiff’s claim.

After successfully arguing her position, the plaintiff in Dwinnell then filed a motion for attorney’s fees and costs. Judge Meyer granted the motion and found that Attorney Ivan Ramos’ fees of $375 per hour and Paralegal Jessica Smith’s rate of $100 per hour were reasonable. Based on the amount of time spent by Ramos Law working on this case, Judge Meyer ordered FedEx to pay Ramos Law $40,657.75 in Attorney’s fees and $400 in costs.


It must be noted that under ERISA, a plaintiff need not have total success on the merits of his or her case in order to obtain attorney’s fees.  In fact, the law states: “The court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney’s fee and costs of action to either party,” appropriate if the party seeking fees has had “some degree of success on the merits.”  Therefore, attorney’s fees can be awarded when the plaintiff gets a second opportunity to have the cases reviewed but does not get his or her benefits reinstated.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Iván Ramos Meets with Congressman Larson to Discuss Social Security Disability

As part of NOSSCR’s spring 2017 conference in Washington, DC, disability lawyer Iván Ramos met with Congressman John Larson of Connecticut’s First Congressional District to discuss legislative issues pertaining SSI and SSDI. During their meeting at Capitol Hill, Larson reiterated his strong commitment to protecting and improving our Social Security Programs. His fierce stance in support of disability beneficiaries, was evidenced by the fact that he took time to sit down and speak with Iván during one of the busiest weeks in Washington-- they met on the same day as the Comey hearings and while many important votes were taking place on the house floor!  
Currently, Congressman Larson sits on the influential House Ways and Means Committee and is the top Democrat in the Social Security Subcommittee.  He is a crucial ally in NOSSCR’s fight to protect Social Security Disability and defeat Trump’s plans to significantly reduce disability benefits.  
Iván Ramos and Congressman Larson discussed the urgency of protecting and improving the Social Security system in this critical time when the Trump administration has proposed massive cuts in benefits. In his Fiscal Year 2018 budget request, Trump proposes 72 billion dollars in Social Security cuts over the next 10 years. This proposal breaks Trump’s repeated campaign promise not to “cut Social Security”.  Some of these proposed cuts include:

  • Reducing SSDI retroactive payments to six months before the protected filing date. Currently, SSDI retroactive payments cover recipients for twelve months prior to the filing date. This will take an estimated $9.9 billion over the next ten years from people with disabilities.
  • Reducing SSDI benefits when an individual attempts to work, is laid off, and then receives unemployment benefits. This disincentives people with disabilities from trying to work.
  • Establishing a one-year probationary period for new Administrative Law Judges in Social Security, which could interfere with their abilities to make independent decisions in granting benefits.
  • Limiting SSI payments for individuals living with other SSI recipients. This would interfere with families’ choices about living arrangements, especially when persons with disabilities live with family members who can support them. It would also add complexity to the SSI program (increasing overpayments) and increase poverty.

Larson also expressed his commitment to improving the administrative funding needed to ensure that people are able to navigate the Social Security system and receive the necessary resources from the agency. Currently, the Social Security Administration lacks the appropriate technology and staffing to provide adequate services. Data provided by the Social Security Administration and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that:

“The average caller to Social Security’s national 800 number waited over 13 minutes to be answered, and it took 110 days for an initial application for disability benefits to be processed. There are now 1.1 million people waiting for Social Security Administrative Law Judge hearings, and the wait time for the hearings is over a year in 167 of the nation’s 169 hearing offices, with the average over 600 days. The consequences of such long waits can be dire: approximately 8,000 people died last year while awaiting a disability benefits hearing.”

During their meeting, Iván Ramos and Congressman Larson also discussed solutions to current and impending issues within the Social Security system. Larson is the co-author of a bill called Social Security 2100, a set of reforms to ensure that Social Security is sustainable and effective now, and is available for future generations.  The plan which is co-authored by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) provides:

  • Increasing benefits
  • Protecting low income workers from retiring into poverty
  • Cutting taxes on benefits to low and middle class SSI and SSDI recipients
  • Requiring millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate into Social Security as everyone else by lifting the Social Security Cap
  • More information can be found on Congressman Larson’s website: https://larson.house.gov/social-security-2100

Ramos Law thanks Congressman Larson, along with the great staffers from Senator Richard Blumenthal’s and Chris Murphy’s offices who set aside to time last Thursday to talk to Iván.  


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ramos Law Will Attend NOSSCR Disability Lawyers’ Conference in DC

Twice a year, the National Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives (NOSSCR) hosts a conference where disability attorneys and representatives from all over the nation meet for four days of panel presentations and seminars. This spring, from June 7th to June 10th, our very own Ivan Ramos and new Ramos Law attorney Tere Ramos will be traveling to Washington, DC to build their skillsets and network with other professionals in Social Security Disability advocacy. On June 8th, Ivan and Tere will be participating in NOSSCR’s  Capitol Hill Advocacy Day, where they and other disability lawyers will meet with congresspeople to lobby for legislation benefitting SSI and SSDI programs.
Ramos Law’s Jessica Smith and Ivan Ramos have attended previous NOSSCR conferences in DC, Denver, Philadelphia, and Seattle. There, they further expanded their literacy in Social Security Disability law through intensive workshops, seminars, and meetings. They gained valuable new insights into the field of Social Security Disability advocacy and legislation, which they brought back to the office to share with our clients. We’re looking forward to the new knowledge and connections Ivan and Tere can share with us after they come back from the spring 2017 NOSSCR conference.

We feel confident knowing that Ivan and Tere can bring their first-hand experience to Capitol Hill. Ivan will be an excellent resource for our nation’s lawmakers because of his level of professional expertise combined with his years of building personal relationships with the clients he serves. Tere has worked hard for disability rights for over a decade, advocating for and with families who are commonly marginalized. Both of their unique perspectives will bring a compassionate viewpoint to the congressional debate regarding social security, and make Ramos Law an excellent resource to our nation’s lawmakers.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Different Types of Social Security Disability Programs

When a prospective clients calls my office looking for help, my staff tries to determine right away whether the caller meets the non-medical requirements of any of the Social Security Disability programs.  This is why in the initial consultation process, my office always asks extensive questions about the callers' work history and financial resources.   

Essentially, there are two different types of Social Security disability programs: Title II and Title XVI. Both programs use the same medical requirements. However, these programs have different non-medical requirements.  Before we agree to take a case, we need to determine whether the person meets the non-medical requirements. Unfortunately, we cannot be of any help unless the person meets the non-medicals.  

The be eligible for Title II, a person must have worked long enough and recently enough.  Generally, a person must have worked 5 out of the last 10 years.  Therefore, a person who calls our office looking for help for the first time should be ready to provide us with a fairly accurate work history. In an initial consultation, it is ideal to obtain a fairly good notion of how long the person worked in each one of his or her jobs in the last ten years.  Gaps in work, reduced hours and periods of unemployment can affect eligibility for Title II.  

Title XVI is a needs based program which is generally available for persons who are poor and have not been able to work.  To be eligible for Title XVI a person must have less than $2,000 dollars, one car and one house.  Bear in mind that sources of income and assets such as pensions and 401K plans can affect eligibility for Title XVI benefits.  More importantly, if a person has a spouse who works or has significant assets, he or she might not be eligible.  For these reasons, anyone who calls our office for the first time looking for help with a Title XVI case should be ready to give us information about their finances.  

Here is a brief explanation of Title II and Title XVI benefits and the sub-types of benefits available under each program:

Title II: Also Called Title 2 or DIB or SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance)

A person is only eligible for Title II benefits if he or she has a sufficient work record (generally must have worked 5 out of the last 10 years.) Usually, the work record is of their own, but it can be that of a disabled or deceased parent(s) or spouse.

Different Sub-Types of Title II Benefits:

DIB-Disability Insurance Benefits
This is the most common type of benefit.  This is a claim on the applicants own employment record and social security taxes paid.

CDB-Childhood Disability Benefits
An individual may be eligible for CDB benefits if they are found disabled between the ages of 18 and 22 and they are the child of a wage earner who is receiving retirement benefits, disability benefits, or is deceased. They must also be or had been dependent on the wage earner and unmarried.

DWB—Disabled Widow’s Benefits
Surviving disabled widows or widowers may be eligible for disability benefits based on a deceased or surviving divorced spouse’s record.


Title 16: Also Called Title XVI, DI or SSI (Supplemental Security Income)

Persons applying for Ttitle XVI benefits must meet an income and resource test prior to qualifying for benefits. The Social Security Office determines eligibility.

Different Sub-Types of Title XVI Benefits:

DI—Disabled Individual
This is the most common type of Title XVI benefit. The claimant or applicant qualifies for benefits based on their limited income and resources.

DS—Disabled Spouse
A claim labeled as DS serves as an indicator that the claimant’s spouse is disabled and receiving benefits. The claim is worked the same as a DI claim.

DC—Disabled Child or Children's SSI
A DC claim is a disability claim for a disabled child under the age of 18. The child’s parents or guardian’s income and resources must be limited for the child to qualify for benefits. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

New Social Security Ruling on Medical Equivalence (SSR 17-2p)

Effective today, the Social Security Administration will implement a new ruling regarding the evidence needed by judges to make a finding of "medical equivalence".  For a copy of SSR 17-2p (click here.)   
Under Social Security regulations, a person may be found disabled if he or she "meets" or "equals" the requirements of a listing of impairments (listings).  If an individual meets all the criteria of the listing, then the person is found to be disabled.  However, a person can also be found disabled when the person does not meet all of the requirements of the listing but has a medical condition that is of "equal" duration and severity.
Through SSR 17-2p, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has elaborated on what type of evidence a Judge must obtain in order to make a finding that a listing has been equaled.  It is clear that with this new ruling, the SSA has made it harder for judges to make this finding.  Here is a list of the evidenciary requirements; 

To make a finding that a listing has been equaled the administrative record must contain:
1. A prior administrative medical finding from an MC [Medical Consultant] or PC [Psychological Consultant] from the initial or reconsideration adjudication levels supporting the medical equivalence finding, or
2. ME [Medical Expert] evidence, which may include testimony or written responses to interrogatories, obtained at the hearings level supporting the medical equivalence finding, or
3. A report from the AC’s medical support staff supporting the medical equivalence finding.
This new ruling seriously erodes the judicial independence of administrative law judges.  In essence, the agency has stripped judges of their ability to make independent decisions regarding medical equivalency and instead, has given these powers to doctors and personnel from the Appeals Council. This ruling is also detrimental to claimants in that it allows judges to find that a person does not equal a listing  without having to provide any explanations on the decision.



Monday, March 20, 2017

Trump's Budget Director Wants to Cut SSDI

Last Sunday, Donald Trump's Budget Director Mick Mulvaney stated his desire to cut Social Security Disability.  Appearing at the CBS program "Face the Nation", Mulvaney launched a baseless attack on SSD. His statement is plagued with falsehoods.  Here is what he said:
Do you really think that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I don’t think so. It’s the fastest-growing program. It grew tremendously under President Obama. It’s a very wasteful program, and we want to try and fix that.” 
I will address his baseless allegations one by one.

First, a Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, signed Social Security Disability into law in 1956. SSD is certainly part of what people consider to be Social Security, including Republicans. In fact, the states with most persons on SSD are all overwhelmingly Republican.  These states are: Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arkansas. If Mulvaney messes up with SSD, he is messing up with the white-republican-rural voters who supported Trump. He should think twice before he opens up his mouth again to trash SSD.

Second, his claim that SSD is "the fastest growing program" is completely false.  Here is a graph from the Social Administration that shows that SSD enrollment has been dropping since 2014:
Finally, he claims that Social Security Disability is wasteful.  Disabled workers receive an average of $1,165 a month in benefits.  That is just $13,984 a year!  Disability benefits are extremely hard to obtain.  You can visit a recent article: "'This is not the American Dream' Says Woman Turned Destitute Waiting for Disability"  to learn how difficult and dehumanizing it has become for disabled Americans to win SSD.  Moreover, in 2012 the Social Security Commissioner explained before Congress that a study revealed that the error rate in over payments and under payments is less that 1% of all benefits.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Warning: Social Security Disability Phishing Scheme

Social Security Acting Inspector General, Gale Stallworth Stone, has issued a warning letting disability beneficiaries know that there is an ongoing telephone fraud scheme. Reports across the Nation indicate that persons are receiving telephone calls from individuals posing as Social Security Administration employees or OIG investigators. The fraudulent calls tell beneficiaries that there is an issue or something is wrong with the person's Social Security Account or Social Security number. The caller then directs the person to call a non-SSA phone number to correct the supposed problem.

It appears that the calls contain a recording from someone that states to be "Nancy Jones" an "officer with the Inspector General of Social Security". The recording then states that the person's Social Security account and benefits are suspended, and that he or she should call (806) 680-2373 to correct the issue. Persons are warned that the specific recording may vary. The SSA is letting everyone know that the number provided should not be called.

The Office of the Inspector General sometimes calls Social Security Beneficiaries during the course of investigations. However, personal information such as Social Security numbers is never asked on the telephone. If a person receives one of these calls, he or she can call Social Security at (800) 269-0271 or make a complain online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report.

If a person has any questions about any letter, email or telephone call that claims to come from the SSA, please call 1-800-772-1213 to verify its legitimacy. 


Monday, February 27, 2017

Social Security Disability Judge Refuses to Watch LGBT Video and Sues the Agency

Social Security Disability Judge Gary Suttles from Texas has refused to watch an LGBT diversity training video as was mandated by the terms of his employment.  To avoid getting disciplined or fired, he has filed a lawsuit claiming a "religiously hostile work environment".  

The order to all Social Security Judges to watch the video is an effort by the Social Security Administration to create "better awareness in a diverse and inclusive environment".

On a statement to the hearing office director, Judge Suttles stated that he would not watch the video and said: "I am already fully aware to treat all persons with respect and dignity and have done so my entire life".  I strongly disagree with the Judge.  Judge Suttles is part of a group of "serial denier judges" within the systems whose practices have been unchecked by the agency for many years. Suttles approves the benefits of only 15% percent of the claimants who appear before him.  Over the past three to four years the agency has fostered a culture that favors judges with low approval rates. Very little has been done to review judges, such as Suttles, who have extremely low approval rates.  

In his complaint, Judge Suttles alleges that he has had a "sterling work record" in his career as an administrative law judge.  However, he fails to mention that he was investigated after he unfairly treated a Gulf War veteran who appeared before him in a disability hearing.  The veteran alleged disability as a result of war related PTSD.  According the the Washington Post and the Austin American-Statesman, the 44-year old veteran had served as a fueler on an aircraft carrier. Judge Suttles mocked the veteran's claim by stating:
"I mean, hey you were in the Navy.  You weren't fighting on the ground...  To me it would have been exiting.  What do you mean stressful?"
Even though veterans' groups condemned Judge Suttles remarks, the Social Security Administration refused to suspend or remove him from his job.  Hopefully, any Social Security Disability Lawyer with an LGBT client who appears before Judge Suttles will demand that he recuse himself from the case. 
      



Monday, February 20, 2017

The Meaning of "SVP" In Your Social Security Disability Hearing

The Social Security Disability claims process is full of abbreviations and acronyms.  If you have had a Social Security Disability hearing, you probably have heard the term "SVP" used by your lawyer, the judge or, the vocational expert.  

SVP stands for Specific Vocational Preparation.  SVP refers to the amount of time that it takes a person to learn a specific job.  As a Social Security Disability Lawyer, it is my duty to prove to Social Security that there are no occupations that my clients can perform.  My arguments vary greatly depending on my clients' skills and their ability to transfer them to other occupations.  

According to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, each occupation in the National economy has a corresponding SVP level.  These SVP levels range from 1 to 9.  Here are the nine SVP levels and the corresponding explanations regarding how long it takes to learn the skills of at each level:

SVP 1 Short demonstration only
SVP 2 Anything beyond short demonstration up to and including 1 month
SVP 3 Over 1 month up to and including 3 months
SVP 4 Over 3 months up to and including 6 months
SVP 5 Over 6 months up to and including 1 year
SVP 6 Over 1 year up to and including 2 years
SVP 7 Over 2 years up to and including 4 years
SVP 8 Over 4 years up to and including 10 years
SVP 9 Over 10 years

Here is a short fact pattern that illustrates how SVP numbers are used during a Social Security Disability hearing:

Miroslav  was "tailor" who alleged disability, in part, due to an injury in one hand.  Miroslav knows some English but has difficulty engaging in a full conversation.  At the hearing, the vocational expert (VE) states that the occupation of tailor has an SVP of 7. The VE also states that a tailor must be able to constantly use both hands.  Miroslav's lawyer cross-examines the VE.  He asks whether a person can be a tailor if he or she is limited to less than constant use of both hands. The VE states that he or she cannot. Consequently, the job of tailor is ruled out and it is determined that Miroslav can no longer do his old job.

Miroslav's lawyer must then show that there are no other jobs that his client can perform.  The judge interrupts and asks the VE to identify other jobs with the same SVP level as the job of a tailor. The VE comes up with other jobs such as "store manager", which also has an SVP of 7. On cross examination, Miroslav's lawyer correctly points out that a store manager requires good command of the English language. He also points out that even though the occupation of tailor is highly skilled, it does not have skills that can easily be transferred to other jobs at the SVP 7 level. The Judge then realizes that Miroslav's lawyer is a competent SSD lawyer and agrees to change his question to the VE. Based Miroslav's the lack of transferable skills and his difficulty speaking English, the judge then asks the VE to identify jobs that have an SVP level of 1 or 2, only.  Since jobs with SVP levels of 1 and 2 usually require good use of both hands, Miroslav's lawyer is now in a better position to rule them out.  (Miroslav's hand limitation would have made much less of a difference if the judge had considered jobs at the SVP 3 to 7 levels.)