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:

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 ), 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.