Monday, December 21, 2009

PTSD and Disability

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a common disability in both SSDI (SSD), SSI and VA compensation cases. I will discuss what the symptoms are and were you can find more information about the disability benefits you are trying to get. So what are the symptoms of PTSD? There are generally four categories of symptoms. The first of these is the reliving of the event. This can come in the form of nightmares, or flashbacks that occur while you are awake. For some there may be triggers that cause these flashbacks to occur. It is common in veterans to be triggered by sounds that resemble gunfire, or seeing or hearing about war or other traumatic event from the news or other sources. Another symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder is called avoidance. This is the act of avoiding situations which might cause memories of the traumatic event. Another symptom many with this condition experience is an overall feeling of numbness. This may cause the individual to no longer be interested in previous hobbies, have difficulty in relationships, or an inability to talk about or even remember the traumatic event. Those with PTSD also may be hyper-vigilant. This causes many veterans or non-veterans to be irritable or become angry quickly. It may also interfere with their ability to sleep and concentrate. Then they also tend to be always on guard and startled quite easily. It is also very common for those experiencing these symptoms to self medicate with drugs or alcohol. The symptoms can also cause violence, physical pain symptoms, difficulty keeping employment, troubled relationships and feelings of despair and hopelessness which can even lead to suicide. Post traumatic stress disorder is commonly thought of as a condition of veterans but those who never served can also be diagnosed and suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD can be the basis or part of a Social Security Disability or VA compensation disability case. I have recently made a new page to address this medical condition as it relates to each of these disability programs. If you are looking for information on PTSD and VA compensation visit my page linked on the subject. If you have a claim for PTSD and Social Security Disability or SSI visit my page on that subject. Many veterans may have both of these claims. If you would like to speak to a lawyer who knows about PTSD claims for both VA compensation and Social Security Disability give me a call at 1-877-527-5529 and I would be happy to answer any questions you have.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

How to Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits.

Applying for Social Security disability benefits is easy but winning at application is not. Many of you have heard that everyone loses when they first apply for SSD or SSI benefits. This is not true. However, it happens more frequently than it should because most people when they apply do so without getting a lawyer or doing any research into what they need to win their disability claim. If you simply apply, give SSA all the information they asked for, and hope you win then you are not doing all you can to win your case at this stage. Many of you may have tried to get a lawyer to help you with your application and then were told to wait till you are denied and call them back. I do not believe this is the right approach and certainly don't believe it gives you the best chance to win when you apply. If you are told this by a lawyer you may want to consider finding a Social Security Disability lawyer who is willing to help you right from the start. I say this for several reasons. First, the reason most lawyers do not take cases at application is simply a matter of a business decision on their part. If a lawyer takes your case at application and wins his fee, because it is based on past due benefits, will be less than if they win your case at a later stage in the process. I think it is best to make sure the case is done properly from the beginning to ensure you are giving yourself the best chance to win and do not do anything at application that could make your case more difficult to win later. If you take the time to learn what you need to know to win your case or you hire a lawyer you then can take steps or your lawyer can take steps to get all the information necessary to win at the application stage of the SSA process. This includes, making sure the decision makers at Social Security have all the information both medical and non-medical to find in your favor. Perhaps the most important evidence and what is frequently not in your file at this stage is opinion evidence from your doctor about how your medical condition limits you functionally. This opinion evidence can come in the form of a report from your doctors or by using what is commonly called RFC forms. RFC forms are specifically made for medical conditions and if filled out by your doctor will show the limitations that are important for Social Security to know in order to make a determination. There are two basic forms one for physical limitations and one for mental limitations. If you would like a copy of either one of these forms feel free to send me an e-mail and I were reply back with them attached. Do not expect SSA to requests these forms or a report from your doctors. SSA employees may send out requests for medical records and perhaps a watered-down version of these forms that do very little to help prove your disability. They will then rely on what their doctors have to say to determine if you are disabled or not. SSA is supposed to give your treating doctors more weight than the opinion of SSA doctors but in practice they do not always follow this rule. If they do not have opinion evidence from your doctor then they will certainly defer to what their doctors have to say your limitations are. You may also meet or equal a listed impairment which would direct a finding of disabled. However, a doctor must say you meet or equal a listed impairment, point out which one, and it must be supported by the other evidence in the file. If you feel you meet or equal a listed impairment you should take a copy of the listings to your doctor to get their opinion. Again, do not expect the employees at Social Security to do this for you. You must either do it yourself or get a lawyer to help you. To find the medical listings of impairments for your medical conditions you can find the listings on the link provided in this sentence. To find your particular medical condition you must first pick the adult or child listings on the left of the page and then find the category you think your medical condition would fit into and then look for your medical condition. This may take some time to find your condition because it may not be in the category were you would expect it to be. If you want to know what you need and how to apply for SSD or SSI benefits visit my page on the subject. If you want to win your Social Security disability claim at application get a lawyer to help you or research my website and the SSA website so that you know what you have to do to give yourself the best chance to win at this stage.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Social Security disability lawyers and non attorney representatives

When trying to find and choose a Social Security disability lawyer the information out there can be quite confusing. Social Security disability claims representation has gone through some big changes over the last couple of years. Many of you might not know that there are lawyers and non-lawyer representatives. Not too long ago, SSA has made it possible for non-attorney representatives to get paid directly from the Social Security Administration out of your past due benefits in the same way they do for lawyers. The purpose of this post is to make you aware of this fact so that if you want a lawyer to represent you you will not be mistakenly hiring a non-attorney company. If you watch TV you have probably seen many nationally televised commercials for Social Security advocates. There are several companies of non-attorney representatives doing this. Now there is nothing wrong with a company advertise its services on TV or the Internet. However, if you want to be represented by a lawyer and if you decide to call or send an e-mail to one of these companies you should make sure to ask them if they are a law firm. Many commercials and Internet ads very convincingly give the appearance that they are a law firm even though they are not. By law they cannot advertise that they are a law firm if they are not, so listen to or read the advertisements carefully. If you do not hear the words law firm, lawyer, or attorneys then chances are if you hire the company you will be represented by a non-attorney advocate. Now let me be clear that there are many fine non-attorney advocates out there. In fact, some non-lawyer representatives know and will be able to represent you better than many lawyers. So if you decide you want a lawyer then you certainly do not want to just choose just any lawyer or a lawyer that is handling another matter for you. You will want to make sure that the lawyer you are hiring has handled many Social Security disability claims. Some SSD lawyers have even gone a step further and become Social Security disability specialists. Not all states recognize law specialties but if someone has taken the time to go through the process you will at least know they would have had to have handled many SSDI and SSI claims, submitted copies of their briefs at all levels of the process for review, taken a test, and submitted information from judges and other lawyers in their field to get this recognition from the organization that has certified them. I went through and completed this process and can tell you it takes a lot of time, effort, and knowledge of the Social Security disability system. I became a Social Security Disability specialist through the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy, an ABA approved organization. To be fair I will point out that someone cannot just declare themselves to be a non-attorney representatives and start representing clients for pay. Non-lawyer advocates have to attend a certain amount hearings and take a test before they can be paid as non-attorney advocates. This is why I stated earlier that some advocates may represent you better than a lawyer who does not handle Social Security disability cases on a regular basis. The problem I see with hiring a big company with many advocates that are not lawyers is that you simply don't know what you are going to get. Do they have years of experience or are you their first real client? What you can take from this post is to do your homework and ask questions of the person or company who you are considering to represent you. I am writing this post because I have received countless e-mails recently from people who have signed up with some of these companies thinking they were hiring a Social Security disability law firm and later found out (sometimes not until the hearing) that the person representing them was not a lawyer. There is one more thing I have noticed from the e-mails I have received and the ads I have seen on the Internet. Many companies are claiming they win a certain percentage of their cases like 95%. Always read the fine print on these types of claims and if there isn't any then they are not telling you the whole story. Many of these companies drop cases that they do not feel they will win (and do not count these in there statistics) or only take cases that have a very good chance of winning. It is also worth noting that lawyers who are bound by the ethics laws of their states are not allowed to tell their winning percentages. What you can take away from all this is don't higher a representative based on the advertisement but rather on the qualifications of the person that will be representing you in your case. If you would like to ask me any questions about SSDI or SSI feel free to call me at 1-877-527-5529.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

VA Benefits fo New York Veterans

As I mentioned in my previous post I am working on my veterans disability law site to include state specific VA benefits. Many veterans are familiar with VA pension and VA compensation but may not know that their own states have additional benefits available to veterans who are residents of that state. I have previously finished two pages on VA benefits in New Jersey and I have just completed two more pages on VA benefits in New York. The first page on NY state contains information about lawyers for their VA compensation and pension claims, information about applying for VA compensation benefits in NY, and appealing VA decisions. The second page which is linked to from the first page has information on NYS veteran benefits availble through The New York State Division of Veterans Affairs including nursing homes for veterans and other state programs for vets. After finishing those two pages I realized there was not enough room to add everything I wanted to so I will be adding a third page shortly that will cover the VA health system in NY. After that page is finished I will then start to work on more individual states and specific information on VA benefits for the states. As you can imagine, it will take me quite some time before I am able to make pages for every state but I will eventually get their as I did for individual states on social security disability. The new pages on New York provide a good deal of information for New York veterans about what is available to them along with phone numbers to contact for more information about particular programs. I hope that all vets in NY will find the information I provide to be helpful and hopefully you will find a program or two that you may be eligible to apply for. To see my new page file a link to NY VA benefits. The second page is linked to the first at the bottom of the page.

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Jersey VA compensation lawyer

I represent VA compensation cases all over the country and it recently occurred to me that I have never written that my office is located in New Jersey. Because I do not advertise myself as a New Jersey VA compensation lawyer I realized I had neglected to let NJ veterans know that I am a local VA disability compensation lawyer. I plan to write a page on my VA website about each state and VA compensation law. There are many benefits each state has for veterans who are residents of their particular state. I will start with my home state with a page on VA compensation in NJ. I plan to write this new page on veterans disability in New Jersey in the next few days. I will always handle VA compensation cases across the country as I also do with Social Security disability but I think I should start with my home state and let the veterans of New Jersey know of the benefits that are available to them in my own state first. I will then systematically add pages to my veterans disability website as time goes on to help veteran from all states know of additional benefits their states may offer to them in addition to VA compensation for the disabled veteran. I think all veterans will find my new pages informative and helpful which has always been my goal. After my NJ VA compensation page is finished I will link this post to it. I just added the link to my new page for information for any NJ veterans reading this. I will now start to work on the other individual states and announce them on this blog as they become available. My goal is to eventually have my VA disability website as expansive and informative as my Social Security disability website.

Friday, October 16, 2009

VA Individual Unemployability Claims, TDIU, IU

If a veteran can not perform gainful employment due to his or her service connected disabilities the the veteran can receive disability benefits at the rate of 100% even if the service connected disability or disabilities does not add up to 100%. A veteran can do this by applying for total disability based on individual unemployability. To be eligible for this type of claim a veteran in most cases would have to have one service connected disability rated at 60% or higher or if there is more than one disability then at least one disability must be rated at 40% and the additional disabilities must bring the total percentage to 70%. If a veteran does not meet these requirements they may still make a claim for IU based on extra schedular considerations. This means that even though they do not meet the rating criteria for IU if the veterans "picture is so exceptional or unusual as to reasonably raise the issue of extraschedular consideration."

The VA states that: "Total disability rating may be assigned, where the schedular rating is less than total, when the disabled person is, in the judgement of the rating agency, unable to secure or follow a substantial gainful occupation as a result of service connected disabilities." What this exactly means is less than clear. There are some things you can do to help yourself get IU. If you are found disabled by Social Security this can be helpful evidence if you were found disabled based on your service connected disabilities. However, the VA is not required to follow the SSA decision. You may also want to seek the assistance of a lawyer. Many times vocational expert evidence can help in showing you are not employable. For more information on VA individual unemployability visit my website on VA disability law.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I have recently started another Social Security disability website.

I write quite a bit on the Internet and recently started a new website on Social Security disability. It does not have nearly as much information as my ultimate disability guide website but I am in the early stages of developing it. I decided to start a new website because although my main informational website is full of great information and tips on getting your SSD and SSI disability benefits I wanted to try some new things without disrupting my current informational website which many people are already accustomed to using. Hopefully, one day it will be as comprehensive as the ultimate disability guide but more importantly by working on my website I am hoping to add additional helpful features to my other websites. I guess you could call it my experimental website. It will include good content on Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income and will hopefully, at the same time, be a learning tool for me to see how I can make my other websites better in the future. If you would like to see my new Social Security disability website feel free to have a look and any comments about the site are welcome. The information on that site is very general and will help explain the basics of the Social Security Disability System. If you are looking to do more detailed research then I recommend my Ultimate Disability Guide website. I will also continue to work on my website devoted to VA disability compensation. In the near future, I will be adding significant content to my veterans disability website and eventually it is my plan for it to be as comprehensive and informative as can be. There is already a significant amount of information on VA law in regards to VA compensation and pension. A list of my websites and other writings on the web can be found in the resource page on my Ultimate Disability Guide Website. So whether you are applying for SSDI, SSI or VA compensation you should be able to find a significant amount of information on all of the subjects on my various websites. I hope you find this information useful. As always I wish you luck with your claims and remember learning as much as you can about the type of disability benefits you are trying to get is extremely important in giving yourself the best chance to win.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What about Social Security?

The big debate today is about what to do about medical coverage in this country. This is an extremely important issue, but what concerns me is that politicians still seem to be avoiding the fact that the Social Security system is running out of money to pay benefits. For years politicians have known that the Social Security system, which most workers pay into and rely on for retirement or if they become disabled, is running out of money.
In these rough economic times more people are applying for Social Security disability benefits. However, there does not appear to be any effort being put into solving the problem of the dwindling Social Security funds used to pay these benefits and retirement benefits. Although some may argue that medical coverage is the important issue of our time and needs to be dealt with it is not the only issue. I agree that medical coverage for all Americans is important however, perhaps the bigger issue that appears to be ignored is the Social Security system. Most people who work pay Social Security taxes on every paycheck with the understanding that they will have money for retirement or if they unfortunately become disabled they will be able to collect this money to at least meet their basic needs.
If Social Security runs out of money and cannot pay these benefits just imagine the effect it would have on every single American. This is not a political article on the medical coverage debate. The purpose of this article is to make people aware that we must not forget the Social Security trust fund and the importance of it when other issues are grabbing the headlines.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things you can do on the Social Security Administration website.

I answer many e-mails each day. In this post I am going to try and answer some of the more common questions I get about how to do certain things as it relates to a Social Security Disability claim. I will post the question and then give you a link to the page on the Social Security Administration website where you can get your answer or handle the task you are looking to do. One question that is frequently asked is how do I apply for Social Security disability benefits. You can apply online at . Another question I get is how do I get a copy of my earnings statement that shows if you have enough work credits to qualify for disability. You can get this information at the following link . Another question I get is, how can you check the status of your application. You can check the status of your application here . I am also frequently asked how do I find my local SSA office and phone number. You can get this information at this link . Sometimes people ask me how do they get a new Social Security card and you can find this information at . If you think your Social Security number was stolen and is being used by somebody else you can find information on what you can do at this link . Many of you have questions about supplemental security income also known as SSI and the following link can answer many of your questions . All of the above links are from the SSA website. You can find many other answers you are looking for at this website and the homepage is . What you will not find on the Social Security website is information and tips on how to win your SSDI or SSI claim. To find this information you can visit my website on Social Security Disability. On my website, you will find information on how to apply for SSD and SSI. I also provide valuable tips and information about disability and how to give yourself the best chance to win. You will also find pages on specific medical conditions and how they are handled by Social Security. If there is any questions you cannot find the answer to on my website you will also find a way to contact me to ask your specific questions. If you decide you want representation you will also find on my website a way to contact me to represent you or I can also help you find a local lawyer if you prefer. I hope you found the links on this page helpful and know if you visit my website you will find a lot of useful information for your disability claim.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

SSA Will Open New Call Center

Commissioner Astrue has announced on June 22, 2009 that Social Security will be opening a new phone center in Jackson, Tennessee. It has been 10 years since Social Security has opened a new call center. These call centers handle all of the calls that come in on SSA's toll-free number. The toll-free number is 1-800-772-1213. Anyone who has ever called this number looking for Social Security disability information knows how long it can take to get a hold of somebody to answer their questions about Social Security disability or other Social Security related questions. SSA presently has 35 of these call centers around the country. Clearly, Commissioner Astrue is spending a great deal of time and money on improving services within the Social Security administration. The baby boomer population and economic downturn have probably caused an increase in the number of calls coming into these call centers, so the opening of this new call center should help deal with that increase. My only concern is that they do not open the call center before they have a sufficiently trained staff knowledgeable in Social Security law. I say this because no information, or or having to wait longer for information, is better than wrong information. As is the case with the opening of any new operation, I am sure there will be some bumps in the road but overall it should be a positive step in getting the information to those who need it about Social Security and its benefits. The press release does not mention when this new call center will open. To see the full press release go to . And for more Social Security disability information visit my website.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Should you list obesity on your SSDI application?

I was at the airport today waiting for my delayed flight when I heard on the TV monitor above me a piece on one of the major news networks about whether or not obesity should be considered a disability. I listened to the segment and viewer comments that were posted by e-mail. This led me to decide to write a blog on this subject and how it applies to Social Security disability. Obesity is no longer on the medical listing of impairments for Social Security disability. Years ago, if you were a certain height and weight you could meet a listing and be granted disability on this basis. This is no longer the case. This does not mean that obesity is not considered in a Social Security disability claim. Social Security is supposed to look at the effect obesity would have on your other medical conditions. In other words, if you have a back impairment and you are obese Social Security is supposed to consider the impact your obesity has on your back condition and the limitations on your functional abilities it causes. So as you can see, even though obesity no longer has a listing it can still have an impact on your disability claim. So if you are obese and applying for Social Security disability benefits you should still list this as one of your disabling impairments. Many people who suffer from severe obesity go through great measures including surgery to try and reduce their weight. Many of these procedures for obesity have serious side effects and many times can impact the entire body and make you more disabled even if you lose weight as a result of the surgery. I have had many cases of people who have had surgical procedures to reduce their obesity and as a result of these procedures and the side effects had then become disabled. The purpose of this post is to not argue one way or the other whether obesity should be considered a disability in and of itself. I am writing this to inform those who suffer from obesity that it can have an impact on their disability claim. Anyone who suffers from obesity does not need me to tell them that there will always be those who feel obesity is the fault of the individual and should not be considered in determining disability. However, Social Security's rules clearly state obesity should be considered when determining if someone is disabled.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

SSA Commissioner Receives Award.

Commissioner Astrue received the public health leadership reward from the National Organization of Rare Disorders. The commissioner's implementation of the compassionate allowance in social security disability claims and, other initiatives to shorten the amount of time people with disabilities have to wait to get a decision, appears to be one of the reasons he was given this award. The compassionate allowance allows people with certain medical conditions to be granted disability much quicker. If a person has a medical diagnosis on a list of about 50 conditions than they are automatically granted disability. I have written on the subject before. Commissioner Astrue in a short time as the head of the Social Security Administration has continually pushed for programs and technologies to speed up the process. I would like to congratulate the Commissioner, because since he was put in charge there has clearly been a focus on decreasing the backlog of disability claims. This is an uphill battle for sure, because of the increasing claims due to the economy and baby boomer generation. However, without his leadership the backlogs may have become even longer and it appears they have atleast stabilized. I hope the commissioner continues to explore new ways to decrease the time it takes to get a decision for those applying for Social Security disability benefits. If his record is any indication, then we can look forward to continued improvement in the Social Security disability process. The National Organization of Rare Disorders also played a key part in the development of the compassionate allowance initiative. Click here for the SSA official press release. For more up to date Social Security Disability information visit my Ultimate Disability Guide website.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Social Security Disability Hearing: How to Prepare to Win.

If you are not represented by a lawyer and your hearing is scheduled it is a good idea to make sure you get a copy of your file from Social Security and review it. Most files today are on a disk. When your hearing is scheduled you are supposed to receive a copy of your file with this hearing notice. If you did not receive a copy of your file you should contact the hearing office (ODAR) and request it. When you put the disc in your computer there is instructions on how to view your file. You will want to look at the exhibit list index. The most important section of the disc is known as the F section. This is where all your medical evidence is kept. You should review this section and make sure that all of your medical records have been received by Social Security. If you find there is evidence not in the file you should do all you can to get the evidence submitted to Social Security before your hearing. This will also be your first opportunity to see what the Social Security doctors and employees have said about your condition and your limitations from those conditions. You will also want to make sure there is opinions from your own doctors of your limitations from your medical conditions. Before your hearing you should take notes of what each F exhibit contains. Each medical document is given an exhibit number such as 1F, 2F and so on. If you have notes on what each of these exhibits contain you can refer to them by the exhibit number so the ALJ will know exactly what exhibit you are referring to. You may want to point out at the end of the hearing which exhibits are particularly helpful in showing you are disabled. This does take some skill, and knowledge of how Social Security determines if you are disabled. If you have read my Social Security disability website and the SSA website and studied them as it pertains to your particular case and feel you are knowledgeable enough to be able to make your arguments at the hearing, then you may be able to do this yourself. However, you have waited a long time for this hearing and you do not want to waste this opportunity to win your case. So, if you have any doubt about your ability to handle your own case at the hearing level it would be a good idea to get a lawyer at this point to do this for you. Even if you are comfortable with your ability, knowledge of your case, and the law chances are an experienced Social Security disability lawyer who has handled many disability hearings will be able to do a better job of presenting your case at a hearing. If there is a medical expert or vocational expert at your hearing this will make the hearing even more complicated. Knowing your file inside and out will be needed to have the ability to cross examine the vocational expert and medical expert if needed. Medical experts will give a summary of your medical history. They will also give their opinion as to whether or not you meet or equal any of the listed impairments. They may also be asked to give their opinion of your limitations from your medical conditions in their particular specialty. The vocational experts job at the hearing, is to give a summary of your work history and classify those jobs as to what exertional level they were performed at and the skills required to do those jobs. They will also give an opinion as to whether or not any of the skills are transferable to other types of work. The judge will also ask hypothetical questions based on the medical evidence in the file and what your file shows your limitations are. The vocational expert will then give an opinion as to whether you can perform your prior work based on that hypothetical. The vocational expert may also be asked to give an opinion if there is any other work that could be performed based on the limitations in the hypothetical. If the VE finds there is other work based on the hypothetical he or she will then give an estimation of the number of jobs available in both the local and national economy. The key to a hearing with experts is to know what questions to ask and sometimes when not to ask questions. Hearings with experts are best handled by lawyers with extensive experience in dealing with them. A Social Security disability lawyer will know how to use the evidence in the file to cross examine these experts if their testimony is unfavorable to you. This is one area where I find it particularly difficult to try and explain to a claimant without a lawyer how to handle this type of hearing. No matter what I tell you it cannot make up for three years of law school and many years of dealing with these types of cases. So if you know experts are going to be at your hearing it would be a good idea to consider a lawyer at this point. I try to provide as much information as possible on my websites and blogs, but sometimes you can make up for experience in handling certain situations that arise in a SSDI or SSI claim. Your hearing notice will say what if any experts will be at your hearing.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Are Social Security Disability Hearing Backlogs Being Reduced?

As of March 2009 Social Security has had a drop in the number of disability hearings pending for three straight months. However, the number of applicants requesting a hearing has increased this year. The probable culprit is the lagging economy and baby boomer generation. This year the number of hearing requests is up 10% compared to last year. More bad news, there is also an increase in cases at the lower levels compared to last year by about the same 10%. The majority of these cases at the lower level will begin to reach the hearing stage soon. This will cause increased pressure and backlog at the Social Security hearing offices. Now back to some good news. There is 90 more administrative law judges then there was last year. It has also been reported that the ALJ's have increased their production of hearing decisions. There has also been an increase in hearing decisions decided by attorney advisers before they are assigned to a judge. Unfortunately, I have more bad news to report. Although SSA statistics are showing that more hearings are being held, there appears to be a slowdown between the time of the hearing until the claimant gets the decision. One cause of this problem appears to be that there is a decrease in the number of decision writers compared to last year. The result of all this when factored together appears to be keeping the processing times about the same as they were a year ago at the hearing stage. From the time you request a hearing until you get a decision it still averages around 500 days. So although SSA should be commended on its efforts to reduce the backlog it appears the increase in cases is thwarting its efforts to do so. At least, the backlog does not appear to be getting any worse. This is of little comfort to those who have to wait for a hearing. This information was obtained from the NOSSCR Forum dated April 2009 and from SSA's official statistics.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Efforts to Reduce Social Security Disability Hearing Wait Times

Anyone with a Social Security disability claim and the lawyers that help them all know that it takes way too long to get a hearing. The good news, is that as part of the stimulus package the Social Security Administration will be receiving additional funds to open new hearing offices and hire additional employees including administrative law judges. The increase funding should also help with SSDI and SSI claims at the lower levels as well. SSA also plans to hire a substantial amount of new employees to handle the application reconsideration levels as well. Social Security is expected to hire at least 7000 new employees by September of 2009. The most significant backlog is still at the hearing level and this appears to be where the emphasis is being placed. There is plans to open 13 new hearing offices. The Social Security Administration has already opened two new National Hearing Centers, one in Falls Church, Virginia and the other in Albuquerque, New Mexico. These NHC will handle cases by video hearing for the most backlogged ODAR offices. There is also plans to open two new NHC's one in Chicago, Illinois and one in Baltimore, Maryland. The 13 new hearing offices are to be opened in Phoenix Arizona, St. Petersburg Florida, Tallahassee Florida, Atlanta South Georgia, Danville or Portage Indiana, Topeka Kansas, Livonia Michigan, Mount Pleasant Michigan, Fayetteville North Carolina, Akron Ohio, Toledo Ohio, Auburn Washington, and Madison Wisconsin. Although this is good news, because on paper it looks like this should certainly help those waiting for Social Security disability hearings, but it is still difficult to tell how big an impact it will have given the sharp increase in disability hearing requests, as a result of the baby boom generation and the failing economy. Hopefully, the opening of these new offices and the other initiatives taken by the Social Security Administration will have a significant impact on reducing the wait times for disabled claimants waiting for a hearing. If you want to see how long it takes to get a hearing and then a decision in your particular state visit my website. For more information on Social Security disability hearings and what happens at that those hearings you can find this information on my website as well.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Plan to eliminate backlogs for SSDI and SSI hearings.

The Social Security Administration under Commissioner Astrue has announced its strategic goal for eliminating hearings backlog and preventing its recurrence. It stated goals are to reduce the number of pending hearings to 466,000 by fiscal year 2013. Reduce the time it takes an individual to receive a hearing decision to an average of 270 days. Increase productivity by automating labor-intensive tasks necessary to issue a hearing decision and establish standardized electronic hearings business processes.

Presently over 750,000 individuals are waiting for a hearing on their disability applications. The average wait time for individual at the hearing stage for Social Security disability benefits is 500 days to receive a decision. This wait time is clearly unacceptable for those who are disabled and have no income and have to wait 500 days to get a decision. It is good to see that the Social Security Administration is putting a great deal of time, effort, and money into the problem. The SSA plan to reduce this backlog includes increased funding to employ new workers and upgrade technology.

Their first objective is to increase capacity to hear and decide cases. They plan to do this by increasing the number of ALJ's and support staff at the hearing level. They also plan to screen hearing request to quickly identify possible allowances before hearing is even scheduled. They also plan to increase the use of video hearings and make use of SSA's two new National Hearing Centers. These National Hearing Centers were set up to help reduce severely backlog hearing offices by conducting hearings from the centers by video conference.

SSA's second objective is to improve their workload management practices throughout the hearing process. They plan to do this by streamlining and automating case tasks. This will be done by the increased use of software technology. Also part of his plan is to eliminate temporary hearing sites. In my opinion, this may help reduce costs and efficiency within the Social Security Administration, however, it will cause additional burden on claimants who may have to travel further for their hearings. They also plan to establish standardized electronic hearing business processes. This again appears to rely heavily on the usage of new technologies. They also plan to prevent unintended backlogs. The effort here appears to be based on reducing the amount of time it takes for the Appeals Council to review hearing decisions.

It will be interesting to see if social security is able to reach its goals but at the very least it at least appears like they have a feasible plan in place to help reduce the backlogs. From my experience the past year has shown a sharp increase in the number of cases decided before a hearing is even scheduled. This alone should help in reducing the wait times for claimants at the hearing stage for their Social Security Disability claims. There was one thing not specifically mentioned in the report and that is, that soon lawyers will be able to access their files at the hearing level over the Internet. I am a part of a pilot program and I am presently using that system. I believe this too will have a significant impact on reducing the backlog because cases will be better prepared so that a proper determination can be made at the hearing level. The earlier a lawyer is able to access his clients files, then the earlier he can see what is in the file and what is missing. A lawyer can then help identify cases that should be decided favorably without a hearing by sending in a pre-hearing brief. I have been handling Social Security disability cases for many years and I can honestly say that SSA has made significant strides in improving the process. The only question is whether it will be enough to reduce backlogs given the sharp increase in cases due to the baby boomer population and the struggling economy.
For more information on Social Security's new initiatives see

For more information on Social Security Disability Hearings see my website page on what you can expect when you finally do get a hearing.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Security Disability for Cancer

This blog will address cancer and Social Security Disability. Many people who are diagnosed with cancer and apply for SSDI or SSI benefits are surprised and shocked when they are denied by Social Security. What many people don't realize is that even if you are given a diagnosis as serious as cancer you still have to prove under Social Security's rules that you are disabled. It is important that you know how Social Security determines if you are disabled and what evidence you will need to prove your disability. A good place to start to learn this is my website on Social Security Disability. There are some things you should know if you are applying for disability and have cancer. The type of cancer you have can make a big difference on how your claim is processed. SSA has in place a quick determination process for those with certain types of cancer and other diseases. This means if your cancer is on this list you will get a quicker favorable determination. SSA has a screening process for these types of cases. I explain the details, and provide a list of the cancers that Social Security considers in their quick determination process on my webpage dealing with Social Security Disability and cancer. Most of you will have a cancer that is not on this list and, therefore, will have to follow the normal five step process for proving disability. If you are not one of the cancers on the list (with the severity required) then you will first want to check if you meet or equal one of the listings for cancer. If you feel you might meet or equal one of these listings for cancer you should take a copy to your doctor to see if you indeed meet a listing. Even if you do not meet or equal a listed impairment you can still be found disabled if you can show that the limitations from your cancer and treatment for the cancer would prevent you from performing your past work and a significant number of any other work. This is general Information so if you are diagnosed with cancer and applying for SSDI or SSI benefits make sure to read my website and the page that is specific to cancer and Social Security Disability.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

How do I find a Social Security Disability Lawyer?

To answer this question I will try and explain the different types of lawyers and representatives that are out there. There are big nationwide non-attorney companies. There are also big law firms that handle cases nationwide. You will also find local solo practitioners some who practice exclusively in social security disability and others who handle many types of law. You also have every other size you can possibly imagine between of both law firms and non-attorney companies. So how can you tell the difference if you want to be represented by a lawyer or law firm. First, if you want a lawyer working on your claim then you will have to know the difference between law firms and non-attorney companies. You can always call and ask them if they are lawyers but one easy way to tell whether the company you are considering is a law firm is if they advertise as lawyers. This might seem a little silly but any company that advertises that they are lawyers or that they are a law firm would by law have to be a law firm. You have to listen closely to the advertisement for the words lawyer, attorney or law firm. A company may have a name that sounds like a law firm but if you don't hear the words law firm or lawyer they are probably non-attorney advocates. The interesting thing here is some of the big disability firms that you see on TV all the time are no longer law firms. I noticed that many of the big firms are now calling themselves Social Security Disability advocates. This is probably because they made the switch from being a law firm or in some cases never were law firm to being non-attorney advocates. You might be wondering why one of these big companies would do this and lose their status as a law firm. There are a few reasons. One reason is purely economic. You do not have to be a lawyer to represent Social Security Disability claimants and get paid to do so. Fairly recently, a new law went into effect that allowed a non-attorney representatives to have their fee withheld by SSA from a claimants past due benefits just as they have been doing for lawyers for years. Some of the big law firms saw an opportunity to hire people who are not lawyers to represent SSDI and SSI claimants in their claims. As you can imagine the savings these big firms are able to make are huge by not having to hire a lawyers at a lawyer's salary. However, because these firms are now using non-attorney representatives they can no longer call themselves law firms. The other advantage to not being a law firm is that you are not subject to the many lawyer ethics rules on advertising. There are certain things lawyers and law firms cannot say or do in their advertising. Non-attorney advocates are not subject to the advertising restrictions that lawyers are. The purpose of this post is not to say that lawyers are better than non-attorney advocates when it comes to handling a Social Security Disability claim. The purpose of this post is only to make those who prefer to have a lawyer aware of how to distinguish between the law firms and non-attorney advocate companies. I decided to write this post because I have received e-mails from individuals who had hired some of these large non-attorney advocate companies thinking they were law firms and found out later they were not and were upset because they thought they were hiring a lawyer and did not find out they did not have a lawyer representing them until they had already hired them. In one case, the person did not know until he showed up at the hearing. So if you are looking to be represented by a lawyer for Social Security Disability I hope this post helps you to be able to distinguish between the non-attorney companies and the law firms before you sign the papers.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The stimulus package and its effect on Social Security disability and its beneficiaries.

The stimulus bill for 2009 is expected to have added funding for the Social Security Administration. Hopefully, this will help SSA deal with the increasing number of cases and the present backlog. It is also anticipated that the president a request a significant increase in funding for the SSA program in the 2010 budget. Also, as part of the stimulus package those of you receiving SSI and SSDI payments that live in the United States Puerto Rico or US territories will be entitled to a one-time payment of $250. It is my understanding, that you will get this payment automatically without you having to do anything. For those of you with SSI this $250 will not count as income. It is also my understanding that $250 will be tax exempt but you should check with your accountant. It is my hope that with the increase in funding to the Social Security Administration will help with the increased caseload and backlog SSA is experiencing due to the baby boomers and the declining economy. The key will be whether the money is spent efficiently to meet these goals.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Social Security Disability and the medical listing of impairments

If you are applying for Social Security disability benefits it is important that you read the medical listing of impairments for your particular medical condition to see if you may meet or equal any of these listings. If you feel you may meet or equal one of the listed impairments, you then should take a copy of the listing that you feel you meet and ask your doctor's opinion. If your doctor feels you meet or equal the listed impairment then you should ask him for a report. That report should contain the listing name and number and an explanation from your doctor as to why it is his or her opinion that you meet the listing. You should also include all medical documentation that supports the fact that you meet or equal the listed impairment. To meet or equal a listed impairment you must have a doctor's opinion that says you do. This is not the only way you can be found disabled but if you do meet or equal listed impairment you will be found disabled without consideration of your age education and past work experience. These listings were designed to be very difficult to meet for this reason. In many cases, people are found disabled at steps four and five of the process which take into consideration your age education and past work experience. The medical listings are at step three of the process. You can find all five steps of the process on my web page entitled am i disabled. This post is just a reminder to always check the medical listings because if your medical condition is severe enough to meet these listings then you'll be found disabled without having to go to steps four and five. This can be particularly important if you're under 50 years old because if you are under this age they can be much more difficult to win at the last two steps of the process.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Basics of Disability Claims

If you are trying to win a disability claim whether it be Social Security disability or veterans compensation there are certain things you should do to give yourself the best chance to win. In this post I will not get into the details of a Social Security disability or VA disability claim but rather talk about general things you should do in either type of claim. Many of the things I will mention will seem obvious but sometimes the most obvious things are overlooked and can cost you your chance at winning your claim.

First, you should know what evidence SSA or the VA have. After all, the decision they make will be based on the evidence which they have in front of them. This brings me to my next point. Make sure all the evidence medical and otherwise that support your claim have been submitted to the decision makers of your claim. If you have a lawyer or representative all evidence should be sent to them so they can review it and then submit it. In VA cases you can find out what evidence they have by requesting your C-file and service medical records. In Social Security cases it can be a little more difficult to know exactly what is in your file at least until you get to the hearing stage when you can get a copy of your file. Before you get to the hearing stage you may want to call your local office to see what evidence they have been able to obtain.

Second, you should know what you need to prove to win your case. If the law is confusing to you and you are unsure of what you have to prove, then it may be time to consider getting a lawyer if you are not already represented. If you know what you have to prove and you know what evidence is in their file, you then can take the next step which is to get the additional information or medical evidence you need to prove your case. In some cases you may need to get medical evidence that is crucial to your claim that they do not have. In other cases, you may need an opinion letter from a doctor or vocational expert. Both the Social Security Administration and the Veterans Administration are often looking for very specific things and opinion letters from experts. You must know what those things are.

Lastly, the biggest mistake you can make is to think that you have a good enough case that you can leave it up to the VA or SSA to get the evidence for you. If you are not active in your case or at least have a lawyer that is, then don't expect your file to have everything you need to win. These government agencies deal with thousands upon thousands of claims. Only you or your representative have a personal stake in the out come of your claim. As I mentioned earlier, many of this may seem obvious but it does not hurt to read it because you may realize that you are not doing everything you can to give yourself the best chance to win your disability claim.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Looking for answers to your Social Security Disability Disability questions?

I have recently added a customized Google search function to my ultimate disability guide website. The Google search bar has been set up to only search my disability websites and blogs to help you find the information you are looking for for your disability claim. I decided to add this because many of you have e-mailed me that you wish you had a way to search for answers to your questions on SSDI, SSI, and veterans compensation. You can find this new helpful tool at my informational Social Security Disability website at the bottom of the navigation bar on the left side of the page. If you cannot find the answers to your questions here you are always free to e-mail me. If you are looking for help with your disability claim either from myself or a local disability lawyer you can call me at the number on the site, e-mail me or fill out one of the forms on the website. I am an experienced disability lawyer and the information I provide I believe you will find helpful in your pursuit of benefits. I think you'll find that my website is different from most of the websites you will find on Social Security Disability and Veterans Compensation. What makes my website different is that I actually give you useful information that can help you win your claim. If you spend a little time on my website and use the search function I think you'll find that I provide the best information available on the web. My websites and this blog are truly intended to help you understand the disability process and how to win your claim with or without a lawyer. If while reading my website you are having difficulty finding information you think would be of value to people reading the site please let me know because I am always adding new content to my sites.