Wednesday, December 31, 2008

VA doctors and SSDI claims.

There is good news for veterans who have had difficulty getting their VA medical providers to provide medical evidence for their Social Security disability claims. According to the NOSSCR Forum dated December 2008 there is a new VHA directive 2008-071. This directive makes it clear that VA medical providers are required to provide veterans with completed medical forms for non-VA issues. This is particularly helpful for veterans who are treated at VA facilities and are applying for Social Security Disability benefits. For years, many veterans and lawyers working for them on their Social Security disability claims have had difficulty getting medical evidence and opinions from VA hospital physicians. This directive should make it easier for veterans applying for Social Security disability benefits to be able to get medical forms filled out by their doctors that could help their claims for SSDI. I personally can attest to the difficulty in getting VA doctors to fill out forms for Social Security disability claims and I hope this new directive will assist our nation's veterans in obtaining the evidence they need to win their disability claims.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Doctors nexus letter in a VA disability claim.

Many veterans applying for veterans compensation benefits are aware that a nexus letter from their doctor can help prove service connection in their disability case. What I have found however, is that many nexus letters are inadequate and often times are given little weight by the VA. It is my personal opinion, that the VA relies too heavily on specific wording and other elements of the letter when determining what weight they will give that doctors opinion. But since the veterans administration is the one making the decision it is a good idea to try to include what the Veterans Administration is looking for in a nexus letter.

Oftentimes, the doctors that write these letters do not mention that they have reviewed the veteran's entire file and medical records. Believe it or not, this can be enough for the VA to disregard the doctors opinion. (This can also work to your advantage if you received an unfavorable C&P exam and the VA doctor does not mention that he reviewed the veterans file.) So if you're going to get an opinion letter from your doctor whether it be a nexus letter or an opinion of some other aspect of your claim it is important to give a copy of your file and any medical records you have to the doctor and tell him of the importance of him noting in his report that he has reviewed these documents. If the doctor references any thing from the file to support his opinion this can make the report carry even more weight.

For some issues, it is important that the doctor also perform an exam on you and state that his opinion is based on the veterans file, his medical records and his exam of you.

As I mentioned earlier, terminology can be very important in the nexus letter. You should let your doctor know that he does not have to be 100% sure in his opinion. You should provide him with the terminology the VA uses. Some examples are, if he is more than 50% sure he should use the phrase "more likely than not that the condition was caused/exacerbated during service. If he is 50% sure the terminology that should be used is "as likely as not that the condition was caused/exacerbated during service. If the doctor is less than 50% sure then the terminology that should be used is "less likely that the condition was caused/exacerbated during service. If a doctor is at least 50% sure (as likely as not) that your condition was caused or exacerbated during service then this is enough to demonstrate his opinion is that you are service-connected. More than 50% sure (more likely than not) is even better but not required.

Doctors opinion reports can be an extremely valuable tool in a be a disability claim if they are done correctly. If you have a lawyer or representative have them provide your doctor with a letter describing what is needed for your particular case. Every case is different and the type of report needed for a particular claim can vary so the above is just general information to give you an idea of what the VA is looking for. For additional information on VA disability claims or if you have any other questions you can e-mail me here or at the website linked in this sentence.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Economy and Social Security Disability.

What do you do if you are presently working with a medical condition that causes you disabilities and you are lucky enough to be in the company that accommodates those disabilities but now you are concerned there may be layoffs at your company? This is a question facing thousands of Americans with disabilities. These fears are justified and for many of you in this position you may have to start looking at the possibility of applying for Social Security disability benefits if your company let you go. The best case scenario is that you are able to find another job that is willing to accommodate your disabilities. However, this can be a lot more difficult than it sounds depending on what your disabilities are. If you have worked for a company for many years and developed your medical condition while working for them generally they are more willing to take steps to accommodate your disability because of your relationship and experience in the job. When applying for a new job you do not have this relationship with the company, or possibly the experience the new job requires. This could lead to a frustrating search for new employment. There are laws in place to protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against when applying for jobs, however, we do not live in a perfect world and many companies will not be hiring, or will be looking to hire younger cheaper employees. In my opinion, those most affected will be those who worked for one company for many years and are now in the 50 to 65-year-old age group. The good news is for those of you who do have disabilities and are in this age group it can be significantly easier to be approved for disability benefits than for those under 50 years old. I would never recommend someone apply for Social Security Disability benefits over looking for new employment because generally working is better both financially and for one's personal well-being. But, for those who can't find employment with disabilities Social Security Disability may be your best option. If you have a disability and you have recently been let go or you expect that your company will be making layoffs now is the time to research all your options. To learn more about Social Security disability follow the link to my website so you can learn about disability and be prepared for what might lay ahead. In these uncertain times, you should learn all you can about all your options if you lose your job. My website can help you better understand one of those options. I sincerely hope that this is not your situation but if it is, you have a place to go to learn more about disability benefits.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

SSA Commissioner Astrue's new intiatives.

SSA Commissioner Michael Astrue spoke at the recent NOSSCR conference. The Commissioner spoke of the decreased waiting times at the hearing offices as well as some new planned initiatives for the Social Security Administration. The Commissioner plans include opening up new hearing offices. He also hopes to be able to hire more administrative law judges and increase the usage of video hearings. Part of this initiative is also to allow lawyers and representatives the ability to conduct hearings from their office by video conference as well. The hope is that these initiatives will help deal with the increased caseload while decreasing wait times at the hearing level. There is also plans to develop new software to help with the decisions at the application level. In addition there are plans to develop a new system to deal with the occupation aspect of Social Security claims. The Dictionary of Occupational Titles also called the DOT has been the SSA's primary source for dealing with occupational issues. The Commissioner noted that the DOT is outdated. The commission also plans to update the listing of impairments on a more regular basis. The Commissioner also has a new initiative to allow "compassionate allowances". This would allow quicker decisions for claimants whose medical condition would clearly meet Social Security's definition of disabled. The above information is from my attendance at the NOSSCR conference and the Social Security Forum released by NOSSCR in the October 2008 edition. Commissioner Astrue should be commended for the decrease in wait times at the hearing level and for his active pursuit of new initiatives to make the Social Security Disability process better. The biggest question I have is whether SSI will have the funds in this new economic environment to be able to carry through on all these initiatives.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Social Security Disability NOSSCR conference

I will be attending the NOSSCR conference this week. This is a conference for members who help disability claimants get their benefits. I will be posting from the conference any interesting news about Social Security disability law that I hear about. These conferences also help me to come up with new ideas for posts for this blog. My goal is to provide you with as much information as I can about Social Security disability and attending every conference possible is part of that plan. Make sure to check back at this blog and my website for new information and tips on Social Security disability. There is many new and interesting developments in this area of law. In particular, Social Security is exploring new ways to help speed up the process. I will of course as always report on any new developments that may benefit you. In the meantime, I wish you all luck with your claims and remember to stay informed.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer joins our firm.

I am pleased to announce, that in August 2008 I have hired a new experience Social Security Disability lawyer to my law firm of Kazmierczak & Kazmierczak, LLP.. Darren T. Suelto, Esq. will be working for our firm on Social Security Disability cases and long-term disability cases. Darren has eight years of experience in Social Security law and trial advocacy. He is a Brooklyn Law school graduate and was admitted to the New York bar in the year 2000. He also has a Masters degree in Business Administration which he received from Baruch College. At Kazmierczak & Kazmierczak we believe in hiring experienced Social Security Disability lawyers and Darren more than fits that bill. Mr. Suelto grew up in New York City and now lives in New Jersey. When not reviewing or developing cases, Darren likes music and cinema as well as traveling with his wife, Maila. Darren's experience and knowledge in Social Security disability law will not only benefit our firm but he will also contribute articles to this blog and my informational website on Social Security disability law. His articles should bring a fresh insight and contribution to my Web publications that are devoted to helping people understand Social Security disability law to give themselves the knowledge they need to help them in their pursuit of disability benefits.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Recent Conference on Veterans Disability Law

This past weekend I attended the NOVA conference. As usual, the conference was very informative and many topics were covered. One of the most interesting aspects of this conference was that they actually had a real case presented before the court of veterans claims. NOVA's membership has grown quite a bit, in fact, it has tripled since the first conference I attended. This is good news for the veterans as it appears more lawyers and representatives are taking the time and effort to learn how to become better advocates and representing veterans before the veterans administration. Most of the new lawyers at the conference that I met were primarily Social Security disability attorneys and workers compensation lawyers. It appears that more and more lawyers are getting involved in this field which should make it easier for veterans to find help with their claims. Conferences like this should make the transition from other fields of law into veterans law much easier. I want to thank all of the speakers at the conference for the exceptional job they did in sharing their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of veterans and the lawyers who want to help veterans. For more information on VA disability you can visit my website on the subject which will soon be updated to include more content.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I am clearly disabled for SSDI why was I denied?

What factors other than your medical condition and how it limits you affect whether or not you win your Social Security disability case? Some people make the wrong assumption that because they have a disability and medical evidence to prove it that this automatically means they will win their Social Security disability benefits. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The person who decide your case at Social Security can be as important as the disability and evidence itself. This may not be fair, but it is humans who ultimately decide whether or not you win or lose your social security disability claim. Some of these decision makers are favorable to claimants and others are not. You have no control over who decide your case. So you might be wondering, why I even mention this if you have no control over it? The reason I mention it is to keep you from being discouraged if you get an unfavorable decision. Social security has an extensive appeal process. So, even if you are denied you will have many additional opportunities to win your claim. If you know you are disabled and have the evidence to prove it then you should keep appealing. Each new appeal will be decided by a different person and your luck may change. Now I cannot say that some people who are clearly disabled have not lost all their appeals. However, chances are if you are disabled and have the evidence that shows you are disabled you will eventually have a good chance to win your claim. You should not ignore the fact that you have been denied you should look at it as a wake-up call to take additional steps to give yourself the best chance to win on appeal. If you have been denied and you do not have a lawyer you should definitely consider getting one at this point. The reason I say this is because even though you have other appeals you do not want to waste these opportunities to win. As I've mentioned earlier, it may just be the person deciding your claim but it could also be something you are missing. If you are denied you may also want to ask yourself whether you know what you have to prove to win your case. You must understand how the decision-maker at Social Security determines if you are disabled. If you know the process the decision maker goes through to determine if you are disabled you may learn what you have been missing about your particular case. You can then take steps to improve your claim.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Social Security Disability Check List

In this post, I will provide a small checklist for those trying to get their Social Security disability benefits. I hope that this will help some of you make sure that you have done some of the basic things that can help you win your benefits.

Did you collect and send in all your medical evidence? You should not rely on Social Security to get all your medical information. You should do whatever you have to do to make sure all of your relevant medical evidence is in your file for Social Security to review when deciding your claim. You can call Social Security to see what medical information they were able to get. You can also check with your doctor to see if your records were sent to Social Security.

Do you have opinion evidence from your treating doctors? This can be in the form of a report detailing your medical condition and how it limits you. You can also have your treating doctor fill out an RFC form. Without opinion evidence from your treating doctors in the file you will have to rely on what Social Security's doctors say your limitations are from your medical conditions. Your treating doctors are supposed to be given more weight than the opinions of the Social Security doctors so it is highly recommended that you get this opinion evidence from your doctors.

Do you understand what you have to prove to win your case? If you do not know what you have to prove to win your particular case you should research Social Security disability law as much as you can. You may also want to consider hiring a lawyer to help you with your claim.

Did you respond to all the letters you got from Social Security? If you received a letter from Social Security requesting specific information you should make sure you provide Social Security the information they are looking for. Read every letter you get from Social Security. You would be surprised at how many cases are held up or denied because claimants did not respond to a letter sent by Social Security looking for certain information.

Did you appeal your denial? You should make sure to appeal any denial you get within the time frame you are allowed. Most appeals must be filed within 60 days.

The above checklist is very basic and too many of you might seem like common sense but sometimes a simple reminder like this can help you realize you need to stay involved in your claim. I hope this information is helpful and wish you luck.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Social Security Disability Hearing

I will address how to prepare for a Social Security Disability hearing. The first you should know is that if you are at the hearing stage this means you have already been denied at least once and probably twice. Because of this if you do not have a lawyer yet you may want to consider finding one to help you. If you decide you still want to go it alone you will want to review your file at least one month before your hearing. In most cases you can call the hearing office were your hearing is going to be held and either make an appointment to go down there and look at your file or if your file is in electric format request a copy of your file on CD. You will want to make sure all your medical records are up to date and that you have a report or RFC form from your treating doctor explaining your medical conditions and your limitations from them. If you have any records missing or do not have a report or RFC from your doctor then you must make sure to take advantage of the time left before the hearing to get this information. You will also want to look at what the SSA doctors exams have to say about your condition. If you have a lawyer they should do this for you. To prepare for what will happen at your hearing I recommend you read my web page called Social Security Disability Hearing. You should also take the time to review the rest of my site so that you know what you have to prove to win your particular case. Keep in mind on the day of the hearing that you should not talk about your case with anybody but your lawyer while you are waiting in the waiting room. Something you say could be over heard. The two most important things you can do is make sure to be there on time and make sure your file has all the medical evidence. If you are unable to get some evidence you feel is important to your claim you can ask the ALJ for assistance in getting the information or ask for more time so that you may get it. Try not to postpone your hearing. Instead try to have the hearing and ask to get the records after the hearing so you won't have to reschedule. You should ask for a postponement if you have seconds thoughts and want to find a lawyer.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How things are going with new SSDI pilot program

My initial observations of the new pilot program that allows me to access clients files directly over the Internet are so far very positive. When accessing files at the local ODAR office I have very little trouble. I hope in the future SSA will allow access to files at the application and Appeals Council level and from what I understand this is eventually in the plans. I have not yet had the opportunity to submit a request for a fully favorable decision through the system but look forward to doing so at the earliest opportunity to see how that works. I know another post on this subject might not be of much interest to many of you but for any lawyer who practices in this field who might be reading this, I have to say it is a pleasure to be able to access my clients files at ODAR without having to wait for them. This will be my last post on this subject until I have something new to report. My next few post will be devoted to providing information helpful to those in the process of a Social Security Disability claim. I will write again soon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Recent meeting with SSA on pilot program

This past Monday a meeting was held at SSA with the lawyers and representatives that are part of the new pilot program that will let representatives access the files at the hearing stage on-line. I am in this program and will update as to how the program is going every so often. If you want to read more on the Social Security Disability Pilot program see my website blog. One thing I was surprised to learn was that the Social Security Administration is ready to allow lawyers and representatives to hold hearings at their offices. I hope to be able to hold hearings at my office in the near future. It requires that the law firm buy the equipment and be checked by SSA for security. This should be very beneficial to claimants, lawyers and SSA in a number of ways. For claimants who live far from the closest ODAR office they will be able to have their hearing by video at their lawyers office which in many cases is closer to the claimant and a more comfortable environment. For lawyers, the advantage is they may be able to schedule more hearings even at different ODARs for the same day. It will also allow lawyers to spend more time at their office because they will not have to spend any time traveling to and from a hearing. For example, the hearing office I go to for most of my hearings is an hour away. When I have hearings I often do not get to spend any time at my office on those days. I plan to have the capability to hold hearings in my office in the near future. For SSA, the advantages are that a ALJ can hold hearings in several locations from their own hearing room thus allowing them to schedule more hearings. This does not mean that all hearings will be held from layers offices since the cost will preclude many firms from doing it and there are times when an in person hearing is important to a particular case. The bottom line is that these programs are a benefit to all claimants because it should decrease the processing time of cases at the hearing level. I must commend SSA and all the employees at Social Security who worked on these programs to get them ready as quickly as they did.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Veterans and Social Security Disability

I have noticed while answering e-mails from veterans that many veterans do not apply for Social Security Disability because they fear it will adversely affect their VA compensation. You can get both SSDI and veterans compensation. I have also heard from many veterans that they wanted to wait before applying for SSDI to see how their veterans compensation claim goes first and that they don't want to have to deal with applying for both at the same time. Now I understand that dealing with a claim before the VA and SSA at the same time can be a little overwhelming but it is important to file your claim for SSDI as soon as you are eligible if you can not work. The reason this is important is for two reasons. First, you can only get paid for SSDI for one year prior to your application. So waiting for a veterans compensation claim to be finished could cost you past due money you could be entitled to from Social Security disability. Also if you are applying for unemployability through the VA a favorable SSDI decision can be strong evidence that you should be entitled to VA unemployability if you were found disabled by Social Security on the same medical conditions you are service connected for. This post only is referring to VA compensation and Social Security Disability. SSI and VA pension are treated differently because they are needs based programs and eligibility for these depends among other things on ones financial situation. SSI and VA Pension are for those with very low income. if you have any questions about any of these programs you can contact me at VA and Social Security Disability lawyer.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Social Security Disability Article

I have an article in the July - September 2008 edition of Liver Health Today. I first want to thank the good people of the Liver Health Today for allowing me to be published in their magazine. My article covered how SSA determines if you are disabled and more specifically how cases of chronic liver disease are handled and how to give yourself the best chance of winning a Social Security disability claim for liver disease. If you suffer from liver disease I strongly recommend the magazine. You can subscribe by calling 1-800-792-6397 x133. I am making this post in hopes that some of you who suffer from chronic liver disease will know of this magazine that covers issues relevent to your condition. If you suffer from any of the chronic liver diseases and are unable to work and if you have any questions feel free to contact me at 1-877-527-5529 and ask for Karl.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Tips on how to win a Social Security Disability Claim

I will give you a few tips on how to win your SSDI or SSI claim. Many of these things I have mentioned before but if you are reading my blog and others like it then this is the information you are really looking for. I will discuss tips that help with all types of claims and you should realize that every case is very different but there are some common keys to preparing your case. First, learn enough to know what you have to prove to win your particular case. A good place to start your research on Social Security Disability is my website. Second, read the medical listing of impairments for your particular conditions. If you feel you may meet or equal one of those listings take a copy to your doctor and ask him or her. If they agree you should try and get a report from them that states the listing and why you meet that listing and have the rest of your records to support this. If you do not meet or equal a listing you will still need all your medical information but you will also need RFC forms or a report from your doctor that shows your limitations from your medical conditions. Look at the GRID Rules and see if you would be disabled under them given your age education and work experience and the limitations you have from your condition. If you do not meet a listing or fall favorably into one of the categories for the Grid rules then you will most likely have to show you can't even do a significant number of sedentary jobs (sit down work with very little lifting and standing). Important limitations to show here are any psychiatric or other cognitive limitations. Also any limitations of your arms and hands. You should also not forget your limitations from pain such as limitations in sitting long and difficulty in concentration. This is just a short list of tips but should get you going in the right direction. If you have trouble understanding what you have to prove and how to do it seek the help of a lawyer. Despite what many lawyers may tell I suggest you do not wait to be denied before getting help. Get it right from the start and your case may win at application and save you much time in the process.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Things you should know about Social Security Disability.

I have decided today to just list some things you should know about Social Security Disability. SSA uses a five step test to determine if you are disabled. Many people who write me about why they can't do the work they have been doing. This is not what determines if you are disabled or not. This is only one step in the process. See link above to see the steps the Social Security Administration takes to determine whether you win or lose.

A person applying for SSDI or SSI should not rely on Social Security to get the information needed to win your claim. They will send for some records from the information you give them but they can not be counted on to get everything you need to win. You need to be active in your case particularly with your own doctors to make sure you have all the prove you need to win your Social Security Disability Benefits.

Your age is a big factor in your chances of winning SSDI or SSI benefits. This is especially true for those with physical disabilities. If you are younger than 50 years old usually you will have a more difficult case.

If you do not speak English this can in some situations help your case but if you can speak and understand English and are trying to pretend you don't this will hurt your case tremendously as your credibility for everything else you state will come in to doubt.

If you have a letter from your doctor stating you are disabled this is not enough. ALJs and employees of the Administration often ignore these letters if they are not supported by the doctors own treatment records and the rest of the medical evidence. The decision of disability is for SSA to decide not your doctor.

If you do not understand what you have to prove for your particular case or do not have the ability to present your case well you should get a lawyer to help you. You do not have to pay lawyers upfront they get paid on a contingency bases and only get paid if you win your case.

There is much more you should know and you should research as much as you can even if you have a lawyer. For more information on what you need to know and how to win Social Security Disability follow the link.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Do You Qualify for Social Security Benefits?

You qualify for Social Security benefits when you earn enough "credits".  You earn credits by working and paying Social Security Taxes.  These credits are based on the amount of your earnings.  An individuals work history determines if you are eligible for retirement, disability, or your family is eligible for survivors benefits when you die.  For the year 2008 for each $1,050 of earnings you earn one credit, up to a maximum of 4 credits a year.  this amount needed to earn a credit goes up each year.  If you are in the military you also earn work credits.  The number of credits you need to be eligible for benefits depends on your age and type of benefit.  For all those born after 1929 to be eligible for retirement benefits you need 40 credits which amounts to 10 years of work.  For disability eligibility it depends on your age and when you became disabled.  if you became disabled before age 24 you usually need one and a half years of work or 6 credits in the three years prior to you becoming disabled.  If you are between the ages of 24 and 30 then you need credits for half the time until you became disabled.  If you became disabled at 31 years or older then you usually need 20 credits in the ten years before right before you became disabled.  i will now list the credits needed if you became disabled at the following ages:  31-42 years old you need 20 credits, at 44 you would need 22 credits, at 46 it would be 24 credits, at 48 you would need 26 credits, at 50 it would be 28 credits, at 52 you need 30 credits, at 54 you need 32 credits, 56 you need 34 credits, 58 you need 36 credits, 60 you need 38 credits, and at 62 or older you would need 40 credits.  The best way for you to know if you have enough credits is to look at the SSA statement you get every year from Social Security or simply call SSA at 1-800-772-1213.  For information see my website on Social Security Disability Benefits.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

How do you prove you can't do sedentary work for SSDI?

In a Social Security Disability claim if you are under 50 years old or over 50 years old and have prior relevant work that is sedentary you will probably have to show you can't even do sedentary work to be found disabled. So how do you do this? If you don't know what I am talking about make sure to read how Social Security determines disability. To show you are limited to less than sedentary work you must think about your limitations from your medical conditions and how they would interfere with your ability to do a sit down job were you did not have to lift much if any weight. Now many of you with back problems might start off by saying you can't sit long. This is significant but will normally not be enough. The important thing here is why you can not sit long. It is probably because of pain. Pain can interfere with your ability to concentrate and focus on a task. Many pain medications can also interfere with these abilities. Many people who have chronic pain or illness also suffer from depression. If you suffer from depression make sure to get an RFC and treatment notes from your psychiatrist because depression can cause many limitations that would make even sedentary work difficult or impossible. Other things to consider are: Does your medical condition require you to take frequent breaks or elevate your legs? How frequently must you go to doctors for your treatment? Do you have days were you simply can not get out of the house? Do you have difficulty using your hands in any way from your medical condition? This is just a starting point to the types of limitations that can help prove you can't even do sedentary work. It is important to remember that it is not enough that you say you have these types of limitations it must be supported by your doctors opinion evidence and backed up by the medical record. You must think of how your particular medical conditions limit you everyday and think of how those limitations would affect you if you had a sedentary job.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

OIG Looks at ALJ Productivity

There is much talk about the cause of the backlog of Social Security Disability and SSI cases. To see how long it takes at the hearing stage in your area click on this link. The Office of Inspector General recently released an audit report of the productivity of Administrative Law Judges to see if it played a factor in the backlog of cases. The Commissioner of SSA also has expressed the possibility that increasing the productivity of ALJs could decrease the backlog. SSA appears to be looking at setting some sort of minimal standard in terms of number of cases an ALJ should perform in a given year. There are several problems with SSA's ability to put a minimal standard of production on ALJs. First, Administrative Law Judges are supposed to be independent of SSA in their decision making. Therefore, SSA must be careful not to interfere with the ALJ decision making process. Second, the ALJs have a union that will probably appose any tough standard requirements for ALJs. Lastly, SSA will have to figure out what is an acceptable level of hearings per year for an ALJ. I remember the speech the Commissioner gave at the last NOSSCR conference and it was clear he was not happy about the production of some ALJs and expressed his frustration on his ability to do something about it, but it was clear he planned on working on the issue. I should note here that it has been my experience that the vast majority of ALJs are very productive, and as they should, balance that with the need for a fair hearing for the claimants. In my opinion, it is only a few ALJs that are not producing at a sufficient rate. However, SSA should have the ability to force those few to be more productive to help decrease the backlog of cases.

Monday, March 24, 2008

SSA Working on Updating Listings

The Social Security Administration has been working to update the medical listing of impairments. I will be very interested at the upcoming NOSSCR conference to see the progress they have made and the impact it will have on Social Security Disability claims. At the last conference SSA spoke about making the medical listings more current and easier to asses if someone meets a listing. There has already been a few changes to the listing. My hope is that the changes will help reduce backlogs by granting benefits to those with obvious disabilities earlier in the process. If they make the listings more understandable and more defined then the employees at SSA may be able to grant benefits earlier instead of "passing it on". I will be updating my page on the medical listing of impairments as they become available and as time permits. I will also report back anything I learn at the upcoming NOSSCR conference pertaining to the medical listings and any other topics I feel would be of interest to you.

Monday, March 03, 2008

How to win Social Security Disability benefits

Wining your SSDI or SSI claim is no different than trying to win anything else.  It takes hard work, knowledge, sometimes a little luck and almost always perseverance.  The hard work is the effort it takes to make sure you have all your medical records, RFCs, and doctor's reports.  This may not seem that hard but it often involves multiple request to your doctors and hospitals.  It can also be very difficult to get your doctor to write you a report or fill out an RFC form.  Some doctors will simply refuse to fill out forms or write reports and others will want to be paid for the time it takes them to write them.  You must acquire knowledge to know how SSA determines if you are disabled and what you need to prove your particular case based on SSA's rules.  This can be very difficult for someone who is not trained in law.  You can research the Internet but there are very few websites with any helpful information.  I do recommend my website and I have tried to make it as easy to understand as I could.  If you are just finding this part too difficult then you should consider a lawyer for your case.  Of course, there can be luck involved as well.  For example the person who is deciding your claim may be one who is very liberal in their interpretation of the rules or they may think everyone can work.  Perseverance is required because it often takes a very long time and you may be denied several times before you win your case.  It is important that you not get discouraged and keep appealing your denials.  This post may seem like very simple advice but it is also sound advice for wining your Social Security Disability benefits.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Social Security Disability Web Sites

Most of you who read my blog know that I also have a website devoted to Social Security disability information to help those trying to get benefits. I encourage you to read my website as I think it is the best resource on the web for those who are trying to win benefits on their own or who have a lawyer but want to know more about how SSA works and what they can do to help their lawyer win the case. You will find information like how to apply, how SSA determines if you are disabled, what happens at a hearing and most importantly tips on how to win your case. It even has pages on individual medical conditions like depression, back conditions, fibromyalgia just to name a few. If you want to know how long a claim takes for your area of the country you can find that as well. Take a look for yourself if you have not already and I think you will agree that the information on SSDI and SSI on this sight is second to none. If you do take a look I like to get feedback on what you like about the website and how I may improve it. Also if there is not information there that you are looking for let me know I am always adding new information, statistics, and tips. If you are thinking about applying for Social Security Disability or already have a claim going it is a great place to start your research. To view this website just click on the link at the top of the page.

Friday, February 22, 2008

SSDI and SSI Overpayment Rules Need Change

I know this is something that will never happen but SSA needs to consider changing their rules in regards to over payments in Social Security Disability and SSI payments. The way it is now even if the claimant is not at fault they will still usually have to pay the money back. Essentially if the claimant can "afford" to pay the money back then they are responsible for the pay back even if they are not at fault. I have seen over payments from a few hundred dollars up to over one hundred thousand dollars. What is almost comical to me is the payment notices that go to the claimant have way to many words and not enough information on how much the claimant is supposed to get and why. Then when SSA realises they made a mistake they act like the claimant should have known the amount they were getting is wrong. Anyway I am not suggesting that individuals who knowingly take money they know is not theirs should not have to pay it back. But sometimes you get a minor mistake by SSA that can over pay an individual just a little bit over many years and then all the sudden the government wants $20, 000 for the overpayment. The way the rules are now even though it was not your fault if you have enough money in SSA view to live on per month then anything extra should go to the overpayment. What makes matters worse is that almost no attorneys or representatives will take these cases. I made no attempt here to actually explain the exact language of the rules on overpayments. This was just a venting post on my part.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

How to know if your lawyer is experienced in SSDI cases.

When looking for a lawyer or representative for your Social Security Disability or SSI case it might be wise to find out if the lawyer is experienced in these types of cases. So how do you do that? You can simply ask them how much of thier practice is devoted to SSDI or how many cases have they handled. You can also look to see or ask if they are a member of NOSSCR or NADR. NOSSCR is the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives. NADR is the National Association of Disability Representatives. Some lawyers who handle SSDI claims have taken the step of getting certified in some form. Some states have certification programs and there is also certification through non-profit organizations like the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy. Some states do not recognise certification in the field at all. However, any lawyer who has taken the time to get certified in one form or another in my opinion is showing their commitment to this area of law. Also to get certified the programs I am aware of require a great deal of proof of a lawyers commitment to the area of law. None of this means there are not good lawyers and representatives that are not members of these groups or that are not certified by some organzation. I am providing this information so you have more tools in your home work in finding a lawyer.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Reporting Good News for Future Claims

I have recently learned that SSA by order of Commissioner Astrue will be suspending the proposed rule changes that would disadvantage claimants trying to get Social Security Disability benefits. The rule that would require evidence to be submitted 5 days prior to hearing has been halted. Also the closing of the record on appeal has also been suspended. The Commissioner after recieving concerns from Social Security representatives and lawyers about the proposed rule changes has reconsidered in light of the understanding of the difficulty claimants sometimes have in obtaining their medical records in a timely manner. It was also announced that the DSI program in the Boston region will be terminated. The DSI program was a tested new process in that region. It incorporated the five day rule on evidence and ended the claimants right to administrative review of unfavorable decisions by ALJs. This does not mean there will not be changes at some point but for now the Commissioner plans to meet with lawyer and representative organizations to discuss possible changes in system.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Future of SSDI Hearings

I recently had a hearing were the claimant was in one state the ALJ was on video from another state and I flew in from NJ to be with the client in their state. After the hearing I started to think about the future of Social Security Disability hearings. The Social Security Administration will soon start a pilot program that will allow lawyers to have the client at there office for a video hearing with an ALJ who is at his hearing office. Will we one day see a time when all the different players in hearing are in different states all connected by video conference? I think we will and it may happen sooner than we think. One difficulty SSA has in getting hearings scheduled is when an VE, ME and or interpreter is needed. SSA is already using interpreters, VEs and MEs on the phone on occasion. You also see many claimants who are hiring lawyers in other states for their SSDI claims. So it appears logical that one day we may have hearings were the lawyer, claimant, VE, ME, interpreter and ALJ all all in a different state brought together for a hearing by video conference. This idea may scare many people that the process will become too impersonal and that this could disadvantage the claimant. On the flip side if it could cut down very significantly on how long a claimant has to wait to have a hearing it may be worth doing in some situations. As I have posted about before SSA has already set up a National Hearing office to deal with extremely long wait times of certain hearing offices by video hearings from that office. For people waiting for hearings in some areas of the country for well over two years the idea might not seem so bad if it can cut there wait time down in half. Who knows, but it seems more and more possible if not probable that this could be in SSA's future.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New budget for SSA sighned into law.

On December 26, 2007 the SSA budget was signed by the president. The Social Security Administrations new budget for 2008 will be $9,746,953,000. This amount is actually more than the President asked for. In my opinion, the amount if used properly should help deal with the growing case load and hopefully decrease the increasing wait times at the hearing level. It will now be up to Commissioner Michael Astrue to make sure the money is spent in a way that will help decrease waiting times and get better decisions. I have posted earlier on some of the Commissioner's plans to decrease these wait times and improve the SSA process. As I have stated before I like many of the new changes coming to SSA and hopefully this new budget will allow for at least the most helpful changes to be implemented. The source of the information is from the NOSSCR Forum.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Medical Listing of Impairments

In Social Security Disability claims one thing that is sometimes overlooked is the Medical Listing of Impairments also known as the Blue Book. If your medical condition is found to meet or equal a listed impairment then a finding of disabled is appropriate with out regard to your age, education or work experience. To meet or equal a listing you must have a doctors opinion that says so and it must be documented by the medical evidence. It can be extremely difficult to meet or equal a listing and it is designed that way. However, you should always view the medical listing for your medical condition and if you feel you meet the requirements have your doctor look at the listing. If the doctor agrees that you meet the listing a report from the doctor that addresses the listing and the supporting evidence on why you meet the listing can go a long way to proving it. You do not have to meet or equal a listing to win your claim but always check. To see how the medical listing fits into how SSA determines if you are disabled click on the link.