Monday, March 9, 2020

Disability Benefits Attorney: Strong Representation for a Successful Claim

If you have become disabled and expect to be disabled for at least a year, you probably want to file a Social Security Disability claim. Be prepared, though, the application and approval process is long, complicated, and sometimes very frustrating. With strong representation on your side, however, you’re less likely to just give up and more likely to get approved. When you hire a disability benefits attorney, the probability that you will have a successful claim is greatly improved.

Improving Probability for Success

A knowledgeable and experienced disability benefits attorney understands what needs to be done and when, as you go through the process of applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). There are many requirements, in terms of your eligibility as well as in terms of the type and amount of documentation that must be submitted, that can be confusing.

The initial approval rate for SSDI claims is relatively low. Only 23% of applicants are approved after submitting their claim and 12% are approved after they appeal or have their case reconsidered. The Social Security Administration (SSA) first weeds out applicants who are technically disqualified, then sends the rest to state disability determination services for medical evaluation. If the applicant is denied at that point, there are options for reconsideration and appeal.

Approximately half of SSDI applicants who have their claim denied initially then pursue an appeal. Eligibility criteria is strict, but a qualified disability benefits attorney will know the requirements and the process for submitting a successful claim for you.

Keeping Up with Changes

SSDI requirements can change from year to year. For example, SSA released a proposal in November 2019 that would require some SSDI recipients to more regularly prove that their medical conditions haven’t improved. Many recipients would have to take part in a more frequent continuing disability review (CDR), similar to a medical audit for those already proven to be medically disabled.

Changes in the Social Security Administration itself have also affected the application process. Since 2010, administrative funding has declined, which has impacted SSA’s customer service and resulted in longer wait times in offices and on the phone. There have also been staff cutbacks, leading to increased delays in processing applications.

An experienced disability benefits attorney keeps current on regulations and requirements, even as changes are made. The attorney can ensure that your application is completed properly to increase the possibilities that it will be successful.

Documentation and Questions

Your disability benefits attorney can help make sure that you are submitting all of the necessary documentation in your initial application and can help you answer the questions that may come back from the SSA after they review your application. When applying, you will need:

  • Information about yourself – name, date of birth, Social Security number, and other pertinent data about you and your minor children
  • Information about your medical condition – detailed information about your medical provider and examinations, and about your illness or injury
  • Information about your work – the name of your most recent employer, including your salary there, and a list of the jobs you’ve held for the past 15 years and any military service
  • Documentation – birth certificate, medical evidence, W-2 forms, and a list of other required forms.

Expediting Under Dire Circumstances

The wait for a decision can be long and disheartening. If you are disabled and have dire circumstances, such as a terminal medical condition or severe financial difficulties, your disability benefits attorney may be able to move your case through the system more quickly. At the very least, the attorney will be able to help with your initial application to ensure that all the required information is included – and will be there for you when the SSA has questions or if you need to file an appeal.

Searching for Strong Representation

When you decide to hire a disability benefits attorney, there are certain questions you will need to ask and qualities you will need to search for in strong representation for your successful SSDI claim. The disability benefits attorney should:

  • Have an in-depth knowledge of SSA, SSDI, and current requirements and regulations
  • Have strong litigation experience, to be successful in arguing and proving disability during a hearing when necessary
  • Be able to help you gather medical evidence to support your case for disability
  • Communicate successfully with SSA on your behalf.

Experienced Disability Benefits Attorneys are Here to Help You with Your Successful Claim

The professional team at Driscoll Salazar Disability Group has helped many clients with their SSDI claims. We know what SSA looks for when they review your application and we’ll work closely with you to provide them with the information they need for a successful claim.

To learn more about how a disability benefits attorney can help you, contact the Driscoll Salazar Disability Group by calling 949-359-1370.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Updates to SSI in 2020

Millions of Americans depend on the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) they receive from the Social Security Administration (SSA) each year. SSI helps low-income adults as well as those who are blind, disabled, or elderly. Disabled children may also be eligible recipients. SSI payments could mean the difference for this population in meeting basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Each year, SSA makes adjustments to its programs, based on factors such as the cost of living, and there are several updates to SSI in 2020.

Income Changes in 2020

More than eight million people currently receive monthly payments from the SSI program. SSI recipients typically have very low incomes. In 2020, a recipient must have less than $803 a month in unearned income to receive SSI benefits. A couple must have unearned income of less than $1,195 a month. Because a larger portion of earned income isn’t counted, a person who gets SSI can earn up to $1,651 a month ($2,435 for a couple) and still receive SSI payments.

SSI divides income into earned and unearned categories. Earned income includes wages, net earnings from self-employment, certain royalties and honoraria, and money from sheltered workshops. Unearned income includes all income that a person doesn’t earn, such as Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation, certain veterans’ compensation or pension payments, unemployment, pensions, support and maintenance in kind, annuities, rent, and other income.

While the Social Security Administration does encourage SSI recipients to work if they are able, people who work while applying for SSI benefits based on disability cannot make as much in earned income. In fact, in 2020 a person applying for SSI disability benefits who isn’t blind, and who works and earns more than $1,260 a month, probably won’t be able to get SSI benefits, according to SSA. Likewise, a person who is blind and is applying for SSI disability benefits, but who earns $2,110 a month, probably won’t be able to get SSI benefits.

Increases to SSI Payments in 2020

Each year, SSA typically announces a cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients. Known as a COLA, the increase affects SSI recipients as well as those who receive Social Security payments. The COLA is adjusted based on the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index, which indicates whether prices for good and services are higher and the cost of living is more expensive.

In 2020, the COLA is 1.6 percent. The 2020 adjustment results in monthly maximum benefits of $783 for individuals and $1,175 for individuals with an eligible spouse, effective on December 31, 2019. COLA can change significantly from year to year. In 2016, there was no cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients. COLA has reached a high of 14.3% in 1980, with the second highest of 11.2% recorded the following year, in 1981. In recent years, the COLA has been much lower, 2.0% in 2018 and 2.8% in 2019.

State Changes in 2020

Most states supplement the federal SSI payment. Only Arizona, Mississippi, North Dakota, and West Virginia, and the Northern Mariana Islands territory do not offer additional payments. In 2020, the total of the state and federal payments varies, depending on where the SSI recipient lives and the recipient’s situation.

For example, in California the maximum benefit for an individual who is elderly or disabled is $943.72 and the maximum benefit for a person who is blind is $1000.23. In Vermont, the maximum benefit for an individual who is elderly, blind, or disabled is $835.04 in 2020. The maximum for a couple in Vermont is $1,273.88 across the board for SSI recipients.

If You Need Help Understanding Supplement Security Income (SSI), Contact the Driscoll Salazar Disability Group

If your application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) was denied, please contact us. Our staff understands your challenges, and our goal is to make sure your application has the best possible chance of approval. Serving Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside, and San Diego County, we can provide you with strong representation to help achieve a successful claim. We can also help people navigate the process who are applying for the first time.

Misconceptions affect people who need benefits by deterring them from moving forward with an application. We want to help you better understand your legal options, which is why we offer free consultations. Take advantage of a free case evaluation by calling the Driscoll Salazar Disability Group at 888-984-3734.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

What is a Qualifying Condition for Social Security?

While Social Security payments are generally thought of as repayments for taxes paid into the system while working, there are two types of Social Security benefits that are primarily based on the recipient’s physical or mental disabilities. Retirees can collect Social Security payments beginning at age 62, but most wait until their full retirement age which ranges from 65 to 67, depending on their birth year. Payments based on disabilities have a wide range of requirements, including whether the recipient has a specific qualifying condition.

Supplementary Security Income (SSI) is designed for people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. Blind or disabled children may also get SSI. Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) pays benefits to the recipients and certain family members if the recipient worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.

Definition of Disability

For potential SSDI recipients, the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers you to be disabled if:
  • You cannot do work that you did before;
  • You cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

SSA will ask you five questions to determine whether you are considered disabled for the purposes of receiving benefits:
  • Are you working?
  • Is your condition “severe”?
  • Is your condition found in the list of disabling conditions?
  • Can you do the work you did previously?
  • Can you do any other type of work?

A child under age 18 will be considered disabled if he or she has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that causes marked and severe functional limitations, and that can be expected to cause death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.

Qualifying Conditions

Depending on the answers to SSA’s questions and on other factors, including age and income, there are many qualifying conditions that would enable a person to receive disability benefits. Medical criteria for disability determination is divided into fourteen separate areas, with multiple qualifying conditions listed within each section:
  • Musculoskeletal System
  • Special Senses and Speech
  • Respiratory Disorders
  • Cardiovascular System
  • Digestive System
  • Genitourinary Disorders
  • Hematological Disorders
  • Skin Disorders
  • Endocrine Disorders
  • Congenital Disorders that Affect Multiple Body Systems
  • Neurological Disorders
  • Mental Disorders
  • Cancer (Malignant Neoplastic Diseases)
  • Immune System Disorders     

Examples of these conditions include:
  • The inability to move effectively or the inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively lasting, or expected to last, for at least 12 months.
  • Disorders of the veins or arteries (for example, obstruction, rupture, or aneurysm) that cause impairments of the lower extremities (peripheral vascular disease), the central nervous system, the eyes, the kidneys, and other organs.
  • Disorders that result in chronic kidney disease.
  • Neurological disorders that may manifest in a combination of limitations in physical and mental functioning, such as Huntington’s Disease.
  • Impairment of the mental functioning a person uses in a work setting: understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and adapting or managing oneself. 
  • Impairment that results from pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid gland, and adrenal gland disorders.

Conditions Qualifying for Fast-Tracked Claims

SSA’s Quick Disability Determination (QDD) electronic system screens applications for disability benefits for keywords. Applicants reporting certain conditions may qualify for accelerated processing. For example, an applicant that:
  • Has a condition which has reached a terminal stage
  • Is in imminent danger of becoming homeless
  • Does not have a specific disease but may have extenuating circumstances, such as a low birth weight infant
  • Has one of approximately fifteen severe physical or intellectual impairments, such as amputation, Down Syndrome, total blindness or deafness, or HIV/AIDS
  • Is a veteran who became disabled while on active duty, whether or not the disability occurred in the course of military action, if it occurred since October 1, 2001.

Find Out More About Qualifying – Contact the Driscoll Salazar Disability Group Today

The wide range of disability requirements can be confusing. To learn more about whether you might have a qualifying condition, don’t hesitate to contact the Driscoll Salazar Disability Group by calling 949-359-1370.

We’ve helped many clients and we know what SSA is looking for when reviewing applications. We will work with you to be sure that you are providing SSA with all the information they’ll need to determine your eligibility.