Tuesday, March 25, 2014

VA Removes Annual Income Reporting Requirement

March 24, 2014 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is eliminating the annual requirement for most Veterans enrolled in VA’s health care system to report income information beginning in March 2014. Instead, VA will automatically match income information obtained from the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration.
“Eliminating the requirement for annual income reporting makes our health care benefits easier for Veterans to obtain,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This change will reduce the burden on Veterans, improve customer service and make it much easier for Veterans to keep their health care eligibility up-to-date.”
Some Veterans applying for enrollment for the first time are still required to submit income information. There is no change in VA’s long-standing policy to provide no-cost care to indigent Veterans, Veterans with catastrophic medical conditions, Veterans with a disability rating of 50 percent or higher, or for conditions that are officially rated as “service-connected.”
VA encourages Veterans to continue to use the health benefits renewal form to report changes in their personal information, such as address, phone numbers, dependents, next of kin, income and health insurance.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

New Compassionate Allowances Conditions

The Social Security Administration just released the following press release about the compassionate allowance program.  This program allows those with very serious medical conditions to get their benefits faster.

This month, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, announced 25 new Compassionate Allowances conditions, including a dozen cancers. This brings the total number of conditions to 225.

The Compassionate Allowances program expedites disability decisions for Americans with the most serious disabilities to ensure that they receive their benefit decisions within days instead of months or years. To date, almost 200,000 people with severe disabilities have been approved through this fast-track disability process.

“We are dedicated to providing vulnerable Americans with faster access to disability benefits through our Compassionate Allowances program,” said Acting Commissioner Colvin. “Social Security disability benefits are a vital lifeline for individuals who are facing severe diseases and we must ensure that they receive the benefits they rightly deserve.” 

Learn more by reading the press release, where you’ll find a list of the new Compassionate Allowances conditions.  www.socialsecurity.gov/pressoffice/pr/compassionate-allowances-0114-pr.html

For more information on the Compassionate Allowances program, including a full list of conditions, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/compassionateallowances.

New Compassionate Allowances Conditions

Atypical Teratoid/Rhabdoid Tumor
Chronic Idiopathic Intestinal Pseudo Obstruction
Coffin- Lowry Syndrome
Giant Axonal Neuropathy
Hoyeaal-Hreidarsson Syndrome
Intracranial Hemangiopericytoma
Joubert Syndrome
Leptomeningeal Carcinomatosis
Liposarcoma- metastatic or recurrent
Malignant Ectomesenchymoma
Malignant Renal Rhabdoid Tumor
Marshall-Smith Syndrome
Oligodendroglioma Brain Tumor- Grade III
Pallister-Killian Syndrome
Progressive Bulbar Palsy
Prostate Cancer - Hormone Refractory Disease - or with visceral metastases
Revesz Syndrome
Seckel Syndrome
Sjogren-Larsson Syndrome
Small Cell Cancer of the Thymus
Soft Tissue Sarcoma- with distant metastases or recurrent
X-Linked Lymphoproliferative Disease
X-Linked Myotubular Myopathy

To see the rest of the compassionate allowance medical conditions you can visit the SSA website or my page on Social Security compassionate allowance.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Change to Hematological Listings (proposed)

The Social Security Administration is proposing changes to the Hematological Listings which have not been updated since 1985.  The proposed changes include:  Expansion and reordering of introductory text, section 7.00.  Using broad categories of hematological disorders.  Four Categories will be included. Listing 7.05:  Hemolytic anemias; Listing 7.08:  Disorders of hemostasis; Listing 7.10:  Disorders of bone marrow failure; and Listing 7.17 Hematologicl disorders treated by bone marrow or stem cell transplantation.  Also a new functional-based listing, 7.18 would be added.
The new proposed functional listing 7.18 requires a marked level of functional limitations in one of the following areas.  Limitations of activities of daily living, or limitations in maintaining social functioning, or limitations in completing tasks in timely manner due to deficiencies in concentration, persistence, or pace.
It should be interesting to see how the final listing comes out after SSA receives comments from the medical and legal community.  The proposed listing change will not impact any present Social Security Disability cases until a final version is released.  To see the present medical listing of impairments you can visit the SSA website listing page.  You should also visit my web page on the medical listing of impairments.

Monday, April 29, 2013

SSA Goes Back to Releasing Name of ALJ for Hearing

The Social Security Administration has changed its policy back to putting the Administrative Law Judges name on the SSDI hearing notice.  This is a welcome policy change for representatives and claimants at the hearing stage.  It is particularly important to SSDI lawyers who have become knowledgeable of what certain ALJs find important.  As we all know no two people are the same and the same goes for Judges.  Therefore, knowing what a certain ALJ finds to be important to a case can help a lawyer gather the right evidence and present that evidence in a way that is more helpful to the ALJ.  I believe the decision to go back to including the name of the ALJ on the notice of hearing for Social Security Disability cases was the right thing to do.  I think most people who are waiting for an SSDI hearing would like to know the name of the ALJ that will hear their case.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Finding of Incompentency in VA Disability Case.

Generally, the VA will pay veteran's disability benefits directly to the veteran who is entitled to them. However, in cases where a veteran has been found to be incompetent, or is otherwise ineligible to receive benefits, the VA is authorized to appoint a fiduciary to receive the and spend funds on the veteran’s behalf.
 When the VA first proposes to appoint a fiduciary, a veteran can object to a finding of incompetence. However, once a fiduciary has been appointed, the relationship falls solely within the jurisdiction of the VA. This means that veterans who were assigned irresponsible or incompetent fiduciaries have found themselves with no remedy. However, a recent decision from the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims indicates that this may be changing.
 On April, 26 2011, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued a decision in Henderson v. Shinseki stating that the assignment of a fiduciary is subject to judicial review. The Court explicitly authorized veterans to challenge the appointment of a fiduciary by filing a Notice of Disagreement and appealing to the Board of Veterans Appeals. While the extent of the right to appeal is unknown, this decision is a very encouraging sign for veterans who find themselves at odds with the VA’s Fiduciary Program.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The “Secret” Disability Program

Disabled Adult Child – someone who is disabled by Age 22

The two programs that come to mind when people think about Social Security Disability are Title II (“regular”) and SSI (needs-based).  But there is also another less-known program: Disabled Adult Child (DAC).
How does someone qualify for Disabled Adult Child benefits?  You need to prove to Social Security that the individual was disabled before his or her 22nd birthday.  You must also have a parent who is collecting Social Security Disability benefits, or a parent who is on SS retirement benefits or a parent that has deceased. This does not mean that the decision must be made by the 22nd birthday, but just that Social Security accepts that the disability existed by that time.
Why would someone want Disabled Adult Child benefits? In a situation where a claimant has worked in the past, the amount of his or her disability benefit is based on what they had earned. (This is the Title II program.) Where there are no earnings or limited earnings, benefits are based on financial need. (This is the SSI program.)  Younger people generally have no earnings or low earnings and so the cash amount of their disability benefits is low.
The DAC program calculates benefits based on a parent’s earnings.  In most situations, the dollar amount of benefits from a parent will be greater than the amount paid by the SSI program. Medicare (rather than Medicaid) is included under the DAC program, as well.
When can someone receive Disabled Adult Child benefits?  DAC benefits are paid when a parent qualifies for Social Security benefits (either through retirement or the parent’s own disability), or if the parent is deceased.  But this does not mean that people should wait to apply for disability benefits!  An individual should apply for disability benefits as early as possible.  Social Security will pay under the applicable program (Title II or SSI) until it is time to transfer the benefits to a DAC claim.
What should I do?
• Apply for disability benefits as soon as possible under all programs that you qualify for.
• Try to prove that you were disabled before you turned 22 years old. 
Use medical records, school records, and letters from relatives, friends and clergy/youth group leaders, employers or volunteer opportunity supervisors, etc. 
• Shortly before a parent retires, or when a parent begins receiving Social Security Disability benefits or dies, tell Social Security that you need to file a Disabled Adult Child’s Application. The Application is just a formality and does not involve as much paperwork as your first disability application. (You will need to know the Social Security number of your parent.)   Make sure to file a DAC Application as soon as you can. If you wait, you might not get all the benefits you are entitled to, since Social Security looks at the date of the Application when it processes payments.
By Risa Rohrberger, Esq.

Risa is an attorney at Kazmierczak & Kazmierczak, LLP. a Social Security Disability law firm.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Social Security Disability Eligibility Through Work Credits

Protect Yourself:  Paying Taxes On Earnings of $4,520 A Year Secures Your Title II Social Security Disability Benefits. 

By Tracey E. Cahn Esq. of Kazmierczak & Kazmierczak, LLP.

As an attorney who works with a disabled clientele, I am writing to urge all of you who are healthy to work, at least part-time. 
Why?  Well, while there are many benefits to working, the sole reason I am encouraging you to work is to ensure that you will be eligible for Social Security Title II benefits if there is a substantial period of disability in your future. 
What are the potential Social Security Disability benefits
1. A monthly income,
2. Medicare after 29 months of disability, and
3.  Additional monthly income for your minor-aged and/or disabled children
The amount you receive may not be enough to live on, but it will be helpful. 

How does it work? 
 In general terms, if you have worked “enough” within five (5) years of becoming disabled, your Application for disability benefits can be considered by the SSA (Social Security Administration). Without “enough” recent work, the application will be denied outright at the very start of the process, without consideration of the nature and extent of your disability. 
What is “enough” work? 
 In 2012, it means earning a little more than $4,500 a year. Social Security awards “credits” for earned taxable income.  The maximum number of credits that can be earned in a year is four (4).  In 2012, for every $1,130 you earn and pay taxes on, you receive one (1) credit; when you earn $4,520 in 2012, you will have earned the maximum number of credits allowed in that year.  Just remember -   You must report your income and pay taxes to get the credits!   
 These credits gradually expire.  The general rule of thumb is that if the  claimant has barely worked in the five (5) years prior to disability, the  likelihood is great that she has a date last insured problem.  (If in doubt,  you can always contact your local Social Security Office and make an  inquiry.)
Is the date last insured important? 
 The date last insured is critical because if you cannot prove that your medical condition has been substantially disabling, since before your date last insured, you will not be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits even if you are now obviously disabled.   The situation is akin to dropping your fire insurance just before your house goes up in flames.  There is no doubt of three things:  1. if you had fire insurance, you would get a check; 2. you no longer have fire insurance; and 3. you will not get a check. 

• Janet last worked in 1999.  She was 30 at the time, and had been working for 12 years.  She had just gotten married, and her husband made a good income.  The couple decided that she had “worked” enough.   In 2006, Janet started to feel unwell.  She started dragging her right foot, her hands were cramping up and she felt tired all the time.  She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  This went on for several years, and Janet continued to decline.  She finally filed for Social Security disability benefits in 2011. 
Is Janet eligible for the benefit?
Short Answer:  No.  Janet will receive a letter from Social Security stating that her date last insured was in December of 2004, and there is nothing to support that she was disabled from working since before that date.
 So what should Janet have done to keep her Social Security Disability Insurance from expiring?  She should have continued to work, at least part-time. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25.  At minimum wage, if one works about 12 hours a week, they will earn the maximum credits Social Security allows per year.  And, even if you cannot work that much, if you can earn even one credit a year, that is still worthwhile as it will prolong the time till your date last insured expires. 
 Since Janet’s husband makes a nice income, and can provide medical insurance for her, does it really matter that she cannot get disability benefits? 
I assert that it does.  Financial independence is always preferable.  While Social Security benefits are not overly generous, they help.  And, then there are the “what ifs”:  
• What if Janet’s husband loses his job, and with that, loses the critical medical insurance she heavily relies on;
• What if their financial situation changes for any number of other reasons? 
• What if they get divorced? 
 Janet and her husband need to protect themselves.  So do you.  Therefore, while you are healthy, do your future self a favor, and find some work that you can do, pay your federal income tax obligation and earn some Social Security credits.