Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When and How Much do I Have to Pay my Social Security Disability Lawyer?

When do I have to pay my Social Security Disability lawyer?
  • Your lawyer should not charge you any up front fees.
  • Your lawyer’s fees have to be approved by the Social Security Administration.
  • Your lawyer gets paid only when you are found disabled by the Social Security Administration and found entitled to retroactive benefits in San Francisco.
  • Your lawyer is paid directly from the Social Security Administration when your retroactive benefits check is cut.

What are retroactive benefits?

Retroactive benefits are benefits (money), which accrue during the time frame it took you to be found disabled by the Social Security Administration and awarded. Retroactive benefits start accruing from your onset date. Your onset date is the date you became disabled, which is decided by the Social Security Administration.

How much do I have to pay my Social Security Disability Lawyer?

As of June 22, 2009 the maximum fee amount you can be charged for representation is $6000, which is set by the Social Security Administration.

Can my lawyer fee be less than $6,000?

As the law is written your lawyer is entitled to 25% of your retroactive benefits not to exceed $6000. If your retroactive benefits check is $15,000, 25% of that amount is $3,750. This is the amount the Social Security Administration will take out of your check and mail to your lawyer. Your retroactive benefits check is written for $11,250 ($15,000- $3,750.) The only other costs you are responsible for are “out of pocket” expenses incurred by your lawyer as he/she prepared your case. An example of this expense is the money the lawyer paid for obtaining your medical records. “Out of pocket” expenses should be minimal and are usually collected after you receive your award from the Social Security Administration.

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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Continuing Disability Review: Why SSA Will Review Your Case Even After You’ve Been Awarded Benefits

If you have been awarded Social Security Disability benefits in San Francisco, the SSA will periodically review your case to make sure that you are still disabled. This review is known as Continuing Disability Review (CDR).

How often can I expect a CDR?

CDR varies from case to case. At the time a claimant is found disabled, a disability determination specialist sets a date for performing the next review. Dates for reviews are based on the expectation of recovery and are generally set for three or seven years, but can be sooner:

  • If medical improvement is expected, a case will generally be reviewed within six to 18 months;
  • If medical improvement is possible, a case will generally be reviewed in no sooner than three years;
  • If medical improvement is not expected, a case will normally be reviewed in no sooner than seven years.

What does the SSA look at to determine whether I am still disabled?

SSA decides if your level of disability has improved to the point that allows you to return to work. The evidence SSA uses for the CDR is similar to the evidence required for the initial application. SSA will have you fill out forms that ask you to describe your current condition and list all the places you have received treatment. In addition, SSA will obtain copies of all recent medical records and schedule a Consultative Exam if necessary.

What happens if my condition has improved?

If your condition has improved, SSA will look to see if your condition meets the current disability requirements. If your current medical condition does not meet the current disability requirements, SSA may terminate your benefits.

What can I do if I receive notice that my benefits are terminated?

If you receive notice that your benefits are being terminated, you are entitled to an interview with the person making the final decision on your case. If your benefits will still be terminated after this interview, you may appeal the decision to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). You may also have an attorney represent you during this process.

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, November 28, 2011

What are my options if I lose at my hearing in San Francisco?

About 30-90 days after your hearing in San Francisco you will receive a “Notice of Decision” in the mail. This Notice of Decision will detail the decision made by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). If the decision is “unfavorable”, this means that that ALJ decided against you and you have been denied for benefits at the hearing. If you lose at your hearing before an ALJ, you can appeal the decision. Claimants can appeal a decision by asking the Appeals Council to review the case. This is done by filing for the appeal at your local Social Security Administration (SSA) office, and must be done within 60 days of your Notice of Decision.

If the Appeals Council decides to review you case, they will look for issues such as mistakes of law or fact made by the ALJ. If, for example, mistakes of law or fact are made, then the case may be overturned or remanded. If the case is overturned, this means that the Appeals Council is reversing the decision made by the ALJ and ordering a different decision. If the case is remanded, this means that it is sent back to the same ALJ who originally decided your claim, for further consideration.

Another possible type of decision that means you have lost at hearing is a “Dismissal”. This may occur for reasons such as you not showing up to your hearing or if the ALJ determines that your case was already decided on the same issues and facts in a previous claim. A dismissal can also be appealed to the Appeals Council and also must be filed within 60 days of the Notice of Decision.

A different option you have after losing at hearing is to file a new Initial Application. This will start your claims process anew with a brand new claim. This may be a good option if there is new or better medical evidence that was not included in your first application or if you have new or worsening medical conditions.

This is just an overview of the process, but an experienced attorney can better explain what your options are and what the best course of action may be. For more information, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Trial Work Periods: What You Need to Know

A trial work period allows you to see if you can work for nine (9) months with your disability in San Francisco.

How much do I need to make during a trial work period?

If you are employed, you need to make $720 or more every month during the trial work period.

If you are self-employed, you must:

1. Make $720 every month after expenses; OR

2. Work more than 80 hours every week in your business.

How long does a trial work period last?

A trial work period ends when you have worked nine (9) months within a 60-month or 5-year period.

Will my Social Security disability benefits stop during a trial work period?

No. You will continue to receive your Social Security disability benefits during a trial work period if you let Social Security Administration (“SSA”) know you are working AND you continue to be disabled. SSA does not care how much you make during the trial work period.

Can I receive Social Security benefits after my trial work period ends?

Yes. You can continue to receive Social Security disability benefits for 36 months after your trial work period ends. The work you are doing cannot be “substantial.”

In 2011, if you are not blind, work is substantial if you are making $1,000 or more every month. If you are blind, work is substantial if you are making $1,640 or more every month.

If you have any further questions, please contact your local SSA office or an experienced Social Security attorney. 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.

What types of evidence does Social Security use to determine whether I am disabled or not?

Social Security regulations state that a disability must be medically determinable; therefore medical evidence is crucial in determining disability. There must be medical evidence that proves your condition exists and that it impairs your capacity to perform work related activities.

Types of medical evidence

Medical evidence comes in many different forms:

  • Medical records
  • X-rays
  • Progress notes
  • Witness testimony (including vocational and medical experts)
  • Claimant’s testimony

What is the most convincing form of medical evidence?

Objective evidence is the most convincing. Objective medical evidence takes the form of medical records that clearly prove a condition exists. MRI’s, x-rays, pulmonary tests, and blood test are strong types of evidence.

What if I do not have an objective test to prove my condition exists?

In some cases there are no tests that prove a condition exists. For example, there is no blood test that can prove someone is diagnosed with Fibromyalgia or Depression. In such cases, progress notes from doctors or other treatment providers describing a condition and the ongoing treatment provided can help prove the condition exists.

It is important to note that although evidence in the form of testimony is considered, it is subjective, and generally not given as much weight as objective evidence.

How does Social Security obtain my medical evidence?

During the initial application phase, Social Security asks applicants for a list of doctors they receive treatment from and obtains releases for them. Social Security will then make requests to these doctors for the applicant’s records.

It may be good idea to enlist the services of an attorney early on to help collect medical evidence. The more supportive evidence collected, the better chance you have to obtain a fully favorable award. Therefore, it is important to receive regular treatment from medical professionals.

Medical Source Statements (MSS)

MSS’s are more than broad statements stating an individual is disabled; rather, they are statements from a treating doctor about the limitations that come with a particular diagnosis. Such statements, help a Judge decide whether an applicant can work based on cited limitations. Documentation and statements from doctors should list all diagnoses and limitations. For example, certain conditions may preclude a person from prolonged sitting, standing, walking, lifting, or carrying. Other conditions may preclude someone from working due to an inability to concentrate, excessive fatigue or an inability to be around the public or co-workers due to a psychological problem. A complete description of a person’s limitations provided by a treating physician is one of the strongest forms of evidence.

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 and as much evidence as possible to support your claim is received. For more information, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What Can I Do to Help Strengthen my Disability Claim?

Applying for Social Security disability benefits in San Francisco is a long process at times. However, a claimant should not just sit back and hope that their claim is one of the lucky ones that get awarded. The truth is that Social Security takes many things into consideration when making a decision on a claim and there are some proactive steps that you, as the claimant, can take to make it more likely that your claim will be awarded. The best claims are those that have a combination of objective medical evidence, such as x-rays or scans as well as supportive information from your doctors.

Things you can do to strengthen your claim include:

  • Make sure to see your doctor(s) on a regular basis throughout the entire process
  • Make sure your doctors fill out Medical Source Statements (MSS) or Letters of Support (LOS). This is important because at a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is required by law to give more weight to the opinion of your treating physician(s).
  • See specialists for your specific conditions (such as a cardiologist for your heart condition or an orthopedic doctor for your knee). This is important in order to prove that your conditions are as severe as you say they are. For example, Social Security may not believe that your depression is severe if you do not see a psychiatrist on a regular basis.
  • Follow up with your doctors and hospitals to ensure your medical records get forwarded to Social Security, especially if they contain any x-rays, tests, scans, MRIs or procedures that you have had done. This type of objective evidence is extremely helpful to your claim.
  • Be sure to follow all directions from your doctors. This includes things like taking your prescribed medications and attending physical therapy sessions. Social Security does not award people who are unwilling to help themselves get better.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol, especially if you have a past history of abuse
  • Be sure to comply with all of the instructions and guidelines from Social Security, whether it things like sending forms back on time or attending a consultative exam
  • Always tell the truth
  • Have an experienced attorney at your side who can help you navigate this process.

This is not an exhaustive list. There is a host of ways to strengthen your claim and an experienced attorney would be able to explain all of the ways to do this. For more information, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What You Need to Know About Paying Taxes on Disability Benefits

NOTE: The information given below is for informational purposes only. Please consult a tax professional for specific questions about paying Federal taxes on your Social Security disability benefits.

Do I pay Federal income taxes on my Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) disability benefits?

No.

Do I pay Federal income taxes on my Social Security disability benefits?

Yes.

How much do I pay in Federal income taxes on my Social Security disability benefits?

The amount you pay depends on many things.

In general, if you are filing as single, up to 50% (or half) of your Social Security benefits are taxable if your total income is more than $25,000.

If you are filing jointly as a married couple, up to 50% (or half) of your Social Security benefits are taxable if your total income is more than $32,000.

Can I have income taxes withheld from my Social Security disability benefits?

Yes. If you want to have income taxes withheld:

1. Complete IRS Form W-4V;

2. Select the percentage (7, 10, 15, or 25) of your monthly benefit amount you want withheld; AND

3. Sign and return the form to your local Social Security office by mail or in person.

You can obtain a copy of IRS Form W-4V from the IRS website at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4v.pdf or by calling the IRS at 1-800-829-3676. You may also obtain the form by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

Do I have to pay state or local taxes on my Social Security disability benefits?

Many states and local authorities do not tax Social Security disability benefits. However, you should contact your state or local taxing authority for more information.

For more information about paying income taxes on your disability benefits, please visit www.ssa.gov.

If you have any further questions, please contact your local SSA office or an experienced Social Security attorney. 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.

What Happens During a Hearing in San Francisco?

The hearing on your disability claim in San Francisco will be held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In the hearing room will be the judge, his or her assistant, and you and your attorney. There may also be a Vocational Expert, who will testify as to what kind of jobs you are or are not able do. And there could also be a Medical Expert who will testify about your medical conditions.

When the hearing starts, your attorney may first make an opening statement, which is essentially a summary of your case. The judge will likely also make some type of statement that will address who is in the room, the facts about your case, and the type of claim you have.

Next, you as well as the vocational and/or medical expert will be questioned under oath. Though the hearing room is not a traditional courtroom, you will be sworn in and must always tell the truth under penalty of perjury. The questioning will be done by either the judge or your attorney. Who does the questioning is up to the judge.

You can expect to answer questions about topics such as:

  • Your age and education
  • Your past work experience
  • Why you stopped working and why you cannot work anymore
  • Your symptoms and conditions
  • What your daily life is like
  • Whether you are able to take care of yourself in terms of bathing, cooking and cleaning
  • Doctors you are seeing
  • Surgeries and procedures you have had
  • Medications you are taking and their side effects

Generally, the vocational and/or medical expert is questioned after you. When the hearing is over, it is possible for the judge to make a “bench decision”. This means that the judge will make a decision right there at the end of the hearing. However, this does not happen very often. Usually, after the hearing is over, you will have to wait 30-90 days until you receive a “Notice of Decision” in the mail. The Notice of Decision will tell you what the judge has decided.

A judge’s decision is based on a variety of factors such as:

  • The type of work you used to do
  • The condition or conditions you have now
  • Your age and education
  • The type and quality of medical evidence submitted at the hearing
  • Your testimony
  • The testimony of the vocational and/or medical expert

These are just some of the basics of what you can expect at a hearing, but they are actually complicated proceedings. It is best to have an experienced attorney at your side, to help you navigate this process. More information can be found at www.ssa.gov.

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, November 11, 2011

Advice on Completing the Adult Disability Report

If you’re considering applying for disability benefits in San Francisco, the first step of the process is filing your initial application. The initial application consists of three main forms, but the lengthiest and most detailed of the three is the Adult Disability Report. This form asks you detailed questions about your medical information and past work history and is a big part of SSA deciding whether you are disabled or not. If you are preparing to complete this report, we’ve provided some tips on it to help you out.

  • Be sure to thoroughly fill out your contact information so that SSA can ensure that all mail they need to send reaches you and so they can contact you if necessary.
  • It is also very important to provide an alternate contact person who knows your conditions well. SSA may be sending them forms to complete regarding your disabilities and it is best if they are very familiar with your conditions.
  • When it comes time to list your conditions, be sure to list everything that affects you. Many people list their main disabilities but neglect to write things such as headaches, nausea, anxiety, etc. that may also be preventing them from working.
  • One of the most important parts of this report is listing all the doctors you are currently seeing and all the doctors you have seen in the past for your disability. It is absolutely essential that SSA collect as many medical records of yours as possible. Fill out every doctor’s address and phone number to ensure they have no trouble requesting records. This is also the same for hospital visits.
  • When listing your medications, it is very helpful to also list the dosage amount of each. This way, SSA is aware of exactly how much of each medication you must take each day to help your conditions.
  • You must list the date you stopped working and whether you stopped working due to your medical conditions. If your conditions were bothering you and causing changes in your work performance before you stopped working, be sure to mark that.
  • It is important to be as detailed as possible when listing your job history. If you don’t have enough work credits earned, you will not be eligible for SSDI benefits. Be thorough and truthful with job details, as SSA will look over your past work activity to determine whether you can go back to that type of job or not.
  • If there is anything the application did not ask you that you feel is important to tell SSA, you can write this in the Remarks section.

The initial application can be very daunting as it is a long process. Many people choose to hire an attorney before they file their initial application, as their attorney will do it with them step-by-step. Hiring an attorney will also ensure that no unnecessary delays are placed on your case and that all paperwork and medical records have been received. For more information, visit us at www.socialsecuritylaw.com.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Can my Family be Eligible for Benefits Too?

If you have applied for Social Security disability benefits in San Francisco, it is possible that your family members could be eligible for benefits as well (note: this is only if you have been awarded Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB); those who have been awarded Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cannot receive benefits for their family). Read below to find out whether you have any eligible family members for auxiliary benefits:

Children

It is possible for children to qualify for auxiliary benefits on your record. This can be your biological child, stepchild, adopted child, or a grandchild if he or she is dependent. Your child’s monthly benefits could be up to one-half of what you receive. There are a few requirements that Social Security has in place in order for your child to be eligible:

  • Your child must be unmarried;
  • Younger than age 18;
  • Between 18-19 years old but in elementary or secondary school full time;
  • A full-time student (no higher than 12th grade); or
  • Age 18 or older and severely disabled (in which the disability must have started before age 22).

Spouse

You can be eligible for up to one-half of your spouse’s benefit amount when you reach retirement age. Social Security states that “your spouse must file for benefits before you can begin receiving them on his or her record. If you begin to get Social Security retirement benefits before you reach full retirement age, the amount of your benefit will be reduced permanently.”

Divorced Spouse

A divorced spouse can receive benefits on their former spouse’s Social Security record, with certain requirements:

  • The former spouse must be at least 62 years old;
  • He or she must be unmarried;
  • He or she must have been married to the former spouse for at least 10 years;
  • He or she cannot be entitled to a higher Social Security benefit on his or her own record; and
  • He or she must be entitled to receive his or her own retirement or disability benefits.

Generally, Social Security cannot pay benefits to the former spouse if he or she remarries someone else.

Other

Social Security does have a limit on the amount of benefits that can be paid monthly on a claimant’s record. To find out more regarding this and auxiliary benefits, you can visit www.ssa.gov.

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, November 7, 2011

Prototype States and Why They May be Significant to Your Claim

You are probably asking yourself, what is a prototype state?

A prototype state is a state that skips the Reconsideration level of the disability benefits process.

The first step of applying for disability benefits consists of filing your initial application. If you are denied at this first level (it usually takes 4-6 months to have a decision made), most claimants appeal that decision to take their claim to the next step- Reconsideration. At this level, your claim is reviewed again by Social Security and another decision is made after 3-5 months. If you receive another denial at this level, the next step is to file another appeal for a Hearing in front a judge (which generally takes 12-24 months to have a hearing date set).

If you live in a prototype state and you are denied at the initial application level, the appeal that you file will automatically go straight to the Hearing level, eliminating the Reconsideration part of the process.

The list of prototype states are:

Alaska

Alabama

California (Los Angeles West and North)

Colorado

Louisiana

Michigan

Missouri

New Hampshire

New York

Pennsylvania

If you are planning on filing for disability benefits or already waiting for a decision to be made on your claim, it is valuable to know whether your state is a prototype state or not so you know what to expect when a decision is made on your claim.

With disability processing times often at well over a year, it is important 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.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Explanation of the Supplemental Security Income Application

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a welfare-based Social Security disability benefits program in which claimants who are medically disabled with a limited income and resources in San Francisco can qualify for. In order to apply for SSI, you must fill out SSA’s Application for Supplemental Security Income, also known as the SSA-8001. The application is approximately 10 pages long and can be daunting for many first-time applicants, so we’ve provided an explanation of what you need to know when filling it out.

Part I: Basic Eligibility

The first section of the application asks you basic questions about your contact information, conditions, and legal status. It is important to read through this section of the application carefully so you don’t miss any questions. Question 12 is very important as it asks you the date you became unable to work and for a listing of your conditions. SSA will use this information when making a medical decision. You must next fill out your citizenship information and whether you have recently traveled outside of the United States.

Part II: Living Arrangement

Part II starts on page 5 of the application and is very short. SSA needs to know whether you live in a house, apartment, mobile home, shelter, etc. so they can begin determining your technical eligibility for SSI. You must state how long you have lived there and who you are living with.

Part III: Resources

This is a very important section of the application and it is essential to answer each question. Because SSI eligibility is based on a claimant’s limited income and resources, SSA provides a list of resources you could potentially have and asks you to mark “yes” or “no” if you own anything on the list. If you mark “yes” for any resource (resources include vehicles, bank accounts, property, insurance policies, etc.) you must list exactly how many of each you have and each resource’s cash value. Generally, you must have under $2,000 in resources for an individual and under $3,000 for a couple in order to qualify.

Part IV: Income

This section is also essential to fill out thoroughly as your current income plays a big role in determining your eligibility for SSI. You must list any form of income you, your husband, or your children are receiving; the amount received monthly or yearly; and where it is from. Generally, to be eligible for SSI you must be receiving under the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR), which is $603/month for an individual and $904/month for a couple.

Part V: Food Stamps

This short section asks you whether you are currently receiving Food Stamps. If you are, it will not affect your SSI eligibility. If you are not and would like to apply, you can write that down in this section and SSA will send you an application (or if you are filling out the SSI application over the phone with a representative, they will fill out the application with you).

Part VI: Miscellaneous

This section only needs to be filled out if you are requesting benefits for someone else.

Part VII: Remarks

This is the last section if the SSI application and is your chance to write anything down that you did not have room for earlier in the application or that you feel SSA needs to know. For example, if you are currently receiving any sort of monthly income which is actually going to stop in the near future, you can write that here. If you are supporting any family member with your monthly income, you should list that as well.

Again, it is imperative when filling out the SSI application that you read through it very carefully so as not to miss any questions. One way to ensure that the application is filled out thoroughly and correctly is to hire an attorney to handle your claim for you. 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.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Does Social Security Determine My Award Amount?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) in San Francisco offers payments for two different types of disability programs: Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you have been awarded monthly disability benefits, you are probably wondering about the process that SSA uses to determine your exact award amount. Here is what happens:

Disability Insurance Benefits

DIB payments are based on your past work history and the amount you have paid into the system. When you were working, you were paying taxes and this is what SSA uses to determine how much you will receive monthly if you are awarded disability benefits. The more you earned, the higher your payments will be. Monthly payments range anywhere from $500 - $2,000. You must have earned enough work credits when working to be eligible for DIB.

Supplemental Security Income

SSI, on the other hand, is a welfare-based program and has nothing to do with your past work. SSI payments are calculated based on your income, resources, and living situation. Only those with a very limited income and resources are eligible for SSI. The monthly amount SSI claimants usually receive is between $600 - $900. This amount is also dependant on the state you live in.

It is important to remember that along with these technical requirements for DIB and SSI, you must also be found medically disabled by SSA.

If you are interested in finding out more about the amount you may be awarded by SSA, you can fill out their Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool.

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.