Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Two TO-DO’s When Applying for Disability Benefits

If you are beginning the process of applying for Social Security disability benefits in San Francisco, you are probably aware that it is going to take a few months to have a decision made by Social Security. There are two TO-DO’s of the application process that you can easily do yourself to help out your claim!

1. Secure your own medical records

Why? There are two very good reasons:

  • When a disability claim is being handled at the initial or reconsideration levels, it is processed by an adjudicator (aka disability examiner) at Disability Determination Services (DDS). Your adjudicator will be sending requests for medical records to all the doctors you listed on your initial application.

However, your adjudicator is not always successful at obtaining all your records. In fact, it is not unusual for examiners to make decisions on claims when not all of the medical evidence has been obtained. It will happen if a disability examiner simply has no success in getting the records from a particular doctor's office, clinic, or hospital. If you hired an attorney to help you with your case, they will help out with obtaining any outstanding medical records. If not, it is good for you to have copies of all your own records just in case your adjudicator has any problems.

  • Most of the processing time required making a decision on a social security disability or SSI case is actually due to waiting on medical records. Therefore you must be proactive at obtaining your own medical records.

2. Respond to ALL Social Security letters and notices promptly!

A social security disability case can easily run into trouble as a result of a claimant not responding to an official notice, especially if it requires some type of response with time constraints. In some cases this constitutes a denied case.

In all instances, a claimant for benefits based on disability should respond promptly to notices sent by either OHA (the office of hearings and appeals), DDS (disability determination services), or the FO or DO (the social security field or district office where the claimant originally applied for benefits).

Surprisingly, a significant percentage of disability claimants do not respond to such notices. This irresponsibility causes a delay and can potentially risk putting their social security disability claim in jeopardy. Notices from SSA include paperwork that needs to be signed (an example is the Authorization to Disclose Information to SSA) and forms that must be filled out (such as a Function Report or Work History Report).

It is very important to always respond promptly to letters and notices sent by any office connected to the Social Security Administration.

Disability Group, Inc. was founded on the principles of dignity and respect. We are a national law firm focused exclusively on helping people receive the Social Security Disability benefits they deserve. For more information about Social Security, or to see if you qualify for benefits, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Can I Work While Waiting for a Decision to be Made on my Claim?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does allow you to work during the application process. However, there are certain limitations that you must keep in mind if you are considering going back to work while waiting for a decision to be made on your claim in San Francisco.

SSA defines working as earning Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA). If you earn more than $1,000 per month, then you are officially “working” as defined by SGA. This means that SSA will automatically deny your claim for disability benefits.

However, if you attempt to go back to work, this may not necessarily hurt your claim. If you work part-time earning less than SGA and must stop after less than 3 months due to your impairments, this is considered an “unsuccessful work attempt” and will not affect your claim.

If you are earning under the SGA level but are able to work for more than 3 months, SSA will look at this in more detail. If your work attempt lasts longer than 3 months, SSA will check to see if any of your impairments were severe enough to interfere with your job in any way (they may check for several absences or unsatisfactory work).

If you are able to work for longer than 6 months, even if you are earning below SGA level, this is no longer considered an “unsuccessful work attempt” and your disability claim will be denied.

In short, SSA will look at any amount and type of work you are currently performing when making a decision, as SSA’s definition of disability means that you are not able to work any type of job that exists in the national economy. Unsuccessful work attempts will not hurt your claim, but as soon as you are earning more than $1,000 per month or working for an extended period of time, you will not be eligible to receive disability benefits.

If you are applying for disability benefits, the best way to ensure that your claim is handled properly and have any questions you may need answered is to hire an attorney. Your disability attorney will stay on top of all paperwork and requests from Social Security and make sure that all your medical records have been received. For more information, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tips on Filing your Appeal

If you’ve recently been denied disability benefits in San Francisco, the next step you must take is to file your appeal. You have 60 days to file your appeal from the date on the denial letter, but it is best to do it as soon as possible so that SSA can start working on your case again. Filing an appeal takes less time than the initial application, but it can still be just as daunting. We’ve put together a list of tips to help you out if you are in the process of getting an appeal filed:

  • Be sure to include ALL of your contact information. Although SSA already has this from when you filed your initial application, they cannot process the appeal without all of it being restated.
  • Include an alternate contact person who knows your conditions well. SSA may be sending them forms to fill out regarding your impairments.
  • If there have been any changes in any of your conditions, go into as much detail as possible when describing these changes. Are you in more pain, and if so, what aggravates it more now? Do you have trouble sleeping at night? What tasks are harder to do now?
  • This is the same for describing any new limitations or conditions you may have developed, as well as describing your daily activities. The more detail the better!
  • When inputting your doctor information, you must include all the new doctors you have seen since filing your initial application, as well as any new hospitalizations you may have had. Even if you have not seen any new doctors but have just seen your regular doctors, it is still important that you list them and the dates (try to be as exact as possible!) of each recent visit.
  • List all medications you are currently taking and the dosage amount. New medications, old medications- as long as you are taking them, you must put them down.
  • Print or save a copy of the appeal once you have completed it. This way, just in case anything happens, you have a copy of it if needed.

It is important to be as thorough as possible when filing your appeal so that SSA has as much information as possible to work with. If you do not already have one, hiring a representative to help you out with the process is a good idea as your attorney will not only help you with your appeal, but they will also stay on top of all paperwork and requests from Social Security and make sure that all your medical records have been received. For more information, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Difference Between a Medical Denial and a Technical Denial

It is no surprise that many people who apply for disability benefits are denied the first and even second time around. However, what does surprise several claimants is that there is more than one type of denial letter they can receive from Social Security. Many claimants receive a medical denial, but it is common to receive a technical denial as well. Here is an explanation of each one:

Medical Denial

A medical denial is sent by Social Security to the claimant, stating that SSA has not found the claimant’s conditions disabling enough to keep the claimant from going back to any type of job that exists in the national economy (not just their old job). SSA will spend 4-6 months analyzing the claimant’s medical records and past work history before making a decision about whether they are disabled by SSA’s standards. The medical denial will commonly state specifically why the claimant is not considered disabled and list the records that were used to make this decision. If a medical denial is received, it should be appealed right away.

Technical Denial

A technical denial, on the other hand, has nothing to do with a claimant’s medical conditions and impairments. A technical denial means that a claimant has not met the basic non-medical requirements to qualify for disability benefits. There are two types of technical denials:

  • Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) technical denial. If you have not worked enough in the past to be eligible for DIB (generally you must have worked at least 5 out of the past 10 years) and earned enough work credits, then you are technically ineligible for DIB and SSA will send you a letter stating this after you have applied.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) technical denial. SSI is a welfare-based disability program. To qualify, you must have a limited income and resources. If your income exceeds $637 per month for an individual or $1,011 for a couple, and if your resources are greater than $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple, you will not be eligible for SSI. Social Security will inform you if you are not technically eligible to receive SSI.

With disability processing times often at well over a year, it is essential that you ensure your claim is being processed correctly. Hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer to handle your case will guarantee that no mistakes are made and no further delays are placed on your case. To find out more, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Just Filed My Initial Application. Now What?

You just finished filing your Initial Application for disability benefits with your representative or at your local SSA office in San Francisco. You’ve more than likely heard that it is going to take 4-6 months for a decision to be made. That’s a lot of waiting time! Many people at this point ask themselves, now what? There are several things you can do to help your case while you wait for a decision to be made:

Turn all paperwork in immediately. SSA will be frequently sending you forms to sign and reports to complete during these months to gain more information on your case. It is absolutely essential that you comply with their requests as most of these forms have time limits. Completing and sending everything back in as soon as possible will ensure that no unnecessary delays are placed on your case.

Obtain your medical records. It is true that SSA will be sending requests for records to all the doctor’s you listed on your Initial Application. While many doctors comply with these requests, some will not send your records in to SSA or will take a long time to do so. If you obtain copies of all your medical records, you can immediately send in anything that is missing to SSA. It is also a good idea to let your doctors know that you have applied for disability benefits so they are aware that they will need to send your records in.

Document your conditions thoroughly. Social Security is always looking for the most updated information on your conditions. If you have a doctor’s appointment, record it! Write down any new medications you’ve been prescribed, any new symptoms you have, whenever you are in pain and the level of it, and how you feel on a day-to-day basis. This will ensure that SSA always has the most current information on your conditions.

Stay in contact with SSA or your attorney. If you’ve filed on your own, it is a good idea to check in with SSA about once a month to find out the status of your claim to ensure that nothing is delayed and SSA has received all the forms they require. If you hired an attorney, they will be contacting SSA for you to ensure that everything is processing smoothly and then keeping you updated about this.

Waiting 4-6 months for a decision to be made at this level can be frustrating and discouraging, but these tips will help to ensure that your claim stays on track. The best way to ensure that your claim is handled properly is to hire an attorney. Your disability attorney will stay on top of all paperwork and requests from Social Security and make sure that all your medical records have been received. For more information, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Is There Any Way to Speed Up My Social Security Disability Claim?

With so many people currently applying for disability benefits, the usual wait to get awarded in San Francisco is roughly two years. This is often alarming for many people who are beginning the process or already in the middle of it. Many states are so backlogged that it can take 12-18 months just to get a hearing date set after a claimant has already gone through the initial application and reconsideration levels. The truth is many people can’t afford to wait this long. There are several ways to get a case expedited at Social Security, but it is not an easy process. Here are some ways that you can try to get a decision made a little faster:

  • If you have a terminal illness or a condition that is expected to end in death, your case will often be expedited by Social Security at the initial application level. These cases include, but are not limited to, stage IV cancer, awaiting a heart or liver transplant, or dependence on a life-sustaining device. Having a debilitating condition is the only way to guarantee your case will be rushed as it is deemed a “Compassionate Allowance.”
  • If you are in a dire financial situation, sending proof of this to your local Social Security office can sometimes help to expedite your case. Any bank statements, foreclosure notices, or unpaid bills can serve as proof. If you are unable to obtain food or shelter, your case will be deemed in “Dire Need” and Social Security may expedite it, however, this cannot be guaranteed.
  • Writing to your local congressman can sometimes help to speed up your case. You can find out who your local congressman is by researching online and request that they contact your Social Security office on your behalf. This request should include a reason why you are applying for disability, proof of your disability and mention that you are in a dire situation.
  • Keep updated medical records that DDS has obtained for your case. If you have any records be sure to include them. The faster your medical records are received, the faster a decision will be made. If you are sent forms to fill out, send them back in as soon as possible.
  • Hire an attorney. Your attorney, while they may not be able to rapidly expedite your case, will at least ensure that all SSA paperwork has been received and follow up on any outstanding medical records. This will ensure that no unnecessary delays are placed on your case.

Getting a claim expedited by Social Security is not easy nor guaranteed except with a terminal illness that falls under SSA’s Compassionate Allowances. Even though the process is difficult, it is still worth attempting. Anything that can be done to speed the process of securing disability should be done. You never know when your local Congressman may be able to place a quick call in to your local office for you.

Disability Group, Inc. was founded on the principles of dignity and respect. We are a national law firm focused exclusively on helping people receive the Social Security Disability benefits they deserve. For more information about Social Security, or to see if you qualify for benefits, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Can I Go Back to Work After Being Awarded Benefits?

The answer is YES! The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not discourage claimants from going back to work in San Francisco after they have been awarded benefits. Many people who are receiving monthly disability benefits attempt a trial work period. This is a 9-month period in which you may continue to receive your full monthly SSA award amount while working full or part-time as well, no matter how much you are earning. But you must report your earnings and work details to SSA.

However, if you continue to work successfully after your trial work period, SSA will more closely monitor your earnings. If you are earning more than Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), which is $1,000 per month, then after nine months of working you will no longer be qualified for disability benefits. This is because your income is too high and you are no longer considered to be disabled (remember that SSA’s definition of disabled means not being able to work any job that exists in the national economy).

If you find that you can only work part-time after your trial work period and you are earning less than $1,000 per month, then SSA will still pay your full disability amount for a 36-month period while you work and earn under the SGA limit. If you are still working part-time after 36 months, SSA will then reevaluate your claim to determine if you still meet their definition of being fully disabled.

SSA understands that many people who apply for disability benefits are in dire financial situations due to their debilitating conditions. This is why they allow trial work periods once you are awarded. If you are looking for more information or have been awarded and would like to report any work earnings to SSA, you can click here.

Disability Group, Inc. was founded on the principles of dignity and respect. We are a national law firm focused exclusively on helping people receive the Social Security Disability benefits they deserve. For more information about Social Security, or to see if you qualify for benefits, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SSI and SSDI Eligibility for Citizens Living Outside the Continental US

SSI and SSDI eligibility rules differ for claimants who are currently living outside the US. Under SSA rules, “outside of the US” is considered living outside of one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands or America Samoa for a period of 30 days in row or more. Upon re-entry, one must live for a continuous 30 days or more to be considered as living inside the country.

As SSI is a partially state-funded welfare-based benefit, it is only offered to US citizens living in the United States, the District of Columbia or Northern Mariana Islands and certain groups of non-citizens living in the US. US citizens living abroad in other US territories—The US Virgin Islands, Guam, America Samoa and Puerto Rico—and foreign countries do not qualify for SSI benefits.

In contrast, SSDI benefits can be collected while a US citizen is living abroad or in a US territory—excluding the Northern Mariana Islands—as long as the claimant has enough work credits earned while paying into the US Social Security system. If a claimant is already collecting benefits, traveling or living in a foreign country will not interfere with the collection of the claimant’s payments; however, SSA cannot send payments into certain countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, Cambodia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. It is important to notify SSA when traveling outside the US for more than 30 days in order to receive instruction on how to collect benefits while abroad. It will be necessary to notify SSA of the countries the claimant expects to visit and also the date of departure from the US.

In many European countries and a handful of others, US citizens may continue to receive SSA payments as long as they are living in those countries, no matter how long the claimant is living outside the US; however most countries demand additional requirements to be met for the collection of dependent or survivor benefits. For non-US citizens or citizens of countries with which the US does not have a social security agreement, payments will stop after a claimant has been outside of the US for a full six months. Some exceptions apply to this rule, and can be found in full at http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10137.html. In addition, SSA will continue to check in on claimants in order to determine that eligibility still stands. If a claimant does not comply with these updates or presents false information, benefits will stop.

Disability Group, Inc. was founded on the principles of dignity and respect. We are a national law firm focused exclusively on helping people receive the Social Security Disability benefits they deserve. For more information about Social Security, or to see if you qualify for benefits, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Monday, October 10, 2011

How will a disability lawyer help me?

If you are applying for disability benefits in San Francisco, you will want to consider hiring a disability lawyer to help you obtain benefits- most only charge you if you are awarded. Here are several reasons why a disability lawyer will greatly assist you:

Help you understand the process. Many people, when applying for disability, feel overwhelmed and intimidated when first considering the steps that must be taken when applying. A disability lawyer will explain the entire process to you, from start to end, and provide you with information on general time frames, award rates and percentages, and answer any questions you have throughout the process.

Speak to Social Security for you. It is normal for people who have applied to receive phone calls from Social Security asking questions regarding their case. A disability lawyer will be the middle man between you and Social Security and relay any information that is needed from SSA to you, and vice versa. If it is necessary that Social Security speak directly to you, your lawyer will let you know about this ahead of time regarding what SSA needs and why.

Make sure there are no delays. The entire disability process already takes months, and often if Social Security is missing information regarding your case, especially initial paperwork, the process can be delayed many unnecessary weeks or even months. A disability lawyer knows exactly what paperwork is required by Social Security to get your case moving and will be sure to submit it all right away. They will also continuously check in with Social Security during the entire process to make sure they are never missing anything else.

Help you with paperwork. The majority of the disability application process consists of many forms to fill out and paperwork to complete, and this can easily get overwhelming and confusing. Having a disability lawyer to explain what each form is for as well as let you know when more forms are coming, and fill out certain forms for you, will ensure everything gets back to SSA in a timely manner and provide you with more clarity regarding your case.

Keep you updated. A disability lawyer will be in continuous contact with Social Security to stay updated with exactly how your case is proceeding, and will in turn keep you updated with what point your case is at. This way, you do not need to attempt to contact Social Security yourself. By staying updated with your claim, your disability lawyer will ensure that everything is proceeding in a timely manner.

Help obtain outstanding medical records. When your case passes on to the disability office after the initial paperwork is completed, requests for medical records will be sent out to all your medical providers. Many doctors comply with these requests right away, but some doctors overlook the requests or do not send in records, and you will not be aware of it. Often, if the disability office does not receive your records within a certain amount of time, they will make a decision without them. Or, having outstanding records will cause your claim to be delayed while Social Security waits for them to come in. A disability lawyer will follow up with the disability office to ensure that all your records have been received. If Social Security is having trouble obtaining any records, your lawyer will contact your doctor themselves to make sure they are sent in.

Have a higher award rate. Nationwide, having a disability lawyer represent you gives you a higher chance of being awarded, especially at the hearing level. This is due to the fact that they will make sure all the necessary evidence is submitted to SSA in a timely manner. Disability lawyers have great expertise in handling disability claims of all types and know the steps that must be taken in order to get you your disability benefits.

Disability Group, Inc. was founded on the principles of dignity and respect. We are a national law firm focused exclusively on helping people receive the Social Security Disability benefits they deserve. For more information about Social Security, or to see if you qualify for benefits, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Role of Disability Determination Services in Your Claim

Disability Determination Services (DDS) is the state office in San Francisco responsible for making the medical decision about whether or not you are disabled. In order to be awarded benefits a claimant must meet medical and non medical requirements.

Non medical requirements are different, depending on which benefits you are pursuing and can involve many factors including: income, resources, living arrangements, work credits, etc. Your local Social Security office is responsible for determining whether or not you meet these non medical requirements. Once the initial application has been accepted and processed by the local Social Security office, it is sent to Disability Determination Services, where examiners will determine whether or not you meet Social Security’s medical requirements for disability.

Office

What they evaluate

Local Social Security Office

Non medical requirements

(income, work credits, other benefits, etc.)

Disability Determination Services

(State office)

Medical requirements

(medical records, exams, claimant forms, etc.)

I applied for Social Security Benefits, why am I receiving forms from the state?

The DDS office handling your claim is usually an office in your state, though in special circumstances claims can be handled by another state. Once the office receives your claim it is assigned to an examiner who is a specific person responsible for your claim. This examiner, also called an “adjudicator” will then collect medical evidence to determine the nature and severity of your disability or, in other words, to see whether or not you are disabled according to Social Security’s standards. In addition to collecting medical records from the doctors and hospitals you listed on your initial application, examiners frequently request information directly from you (as the claimant) by sending you questionnaires to fill out. These forms give the examiner added perspective about how your daily life is affected by your disabilities and more insight into the type of work the claimant used to perform. Some common forms DDS offices request from disability applicants are:

· Work History Form- asks you to list in detail each job you have worked in the past 15 years, along with a brief description of each.

· Adult Function Report- asks how your conditions affect your basic daily activities.

· Pain Questionnaire- asks questions that elaborate on the severity and extent of your pain, if applicable.

· 3rd Party Function Report- asks a friend, family member, or acquaintance to comment on the ways you are affected by your conditions.

v Note: In addition to collecting forms and records, examiners sometimes schedule appointments (Consultative Exams) with doctors employed by social security to evaluate the claimant.

Does my examiner have the final say?

Once your examiner has collected all the necessary medical evidence to determine whether or not you are disabled, the claim is sent to be reviewed by doctors in the office. This team of doctors works for Social Security and are responsible for making the final medical decision. If the doctors decide “yes” the claim is approved, and if they decide “no” it is denied. Before this decision reaches you the claim must leave DDS and return to the local Social Security office where notices will be made and sent out.

With disability processing times often at well over a year, it is essential that you ensure your claim is being processed correctly. Hiring a Social Security Disability lawyer to handle your case will guarantee that no mistakes are made and no further delays are placed on your case. To find our more, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.