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Steve Bradt - Bradt Law Offices

Steve Bradt - Bradt Law Offices has written 16 posts for Social Security Disability Talk

Social Security Benefit Cost of Living Increase for 2015 is 1.7%

The Social Security Administration has announced that the cost of living increase (COLA) for Social Security recipients will be 1.7% for 2015. This increase applies to retirement and disability benefits. For more details, click on this Social Security Administration website link.

If you have questions about a Social Security disability claim, please feel free to contact Bradt Law Offices for your absolutely free consultation. We have been handling Social Security disability claims all across northern Minnesota for more than 30 years and are always happy to discuss your claim at any stage of the claim process. We can discuss your claim over the phone or arrange for a meeting in our office.

If you have other questions about Social Security disability claims, you can visit our website where we have a list of common questions and answers, including:

1. What are Social Security disability benefits?
2. How much will I receive if Social Security decides I’m disabled?
3. How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?
4. What do I do if my claim is denied?
5. When should I hire a lawyer to represent me?
6. How do I pay a lawyer in a Social Security disability case?
Thank you for visiting our blog.

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New Republican Congress Begins Attacks on Social Security Disability Benefits

According to this notice from the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ (NOSSCR),  the House of Representatives on January 6 passed a provision which may dramatically affect Social Security disability benefits.

(From NOSSCR)
The provision passed, almost entirely on party lines, with no Democrats voting for the measure and only four Republicans voting against it.
The provision regarding Social Security creates a “point of order,” essentially prohibiting discussion or votes on reallocation of the trust fund. The rule was opposed by aging and disability organizations, including AARP; the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare; Social Security Works; and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
This rule creates a serious problem for attempts to alleviate a coming shortfall in the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. Based on current projections, unless Congress acts by mid-2016, Social Security will only be able to pay about 80% of disability benefits; this shortfall largely occurred because of changes to America’s population and retirement age. The House rule prevents “clean reallocation,” a solution Congress has used 11 times in the past to shift money from one trust fund to the other when shortfalls arose. The reallocations have occurred in both directions.
Clean reallocation protects people with disabilities and does not hurt retirees or survivors. NOSSCR supports clean reallocation, as do dozens of organizations representing millions of people, including the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, and members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. However, it is unlikely that a Republican-led Congress will support reallocation.
It is very difficult to overcome a point of order, especially with a Republican majority, and therefore clean reallocation is unlikely. However, Congress may be able to reach another solution. NOSSCR is working with a coalition of disability and aging groups to determine the true effect of this rule, to develop a strategy to educate members of Congress and to resolve the shortfall in the Disability Insurance Trust Fund in a way that protects current and future Social Security beneficiaries.

Click here to see a Los Angeles Times editorial:  On Day One, the New Congress Launches an Attack on Social Security

 

Contact Bradt Law Offices for a Free Consultation

If you have any questions about a Social Security disability claim or if you need an experienced attorney to represent you, please feel free to contact us at any time with questions or to schedule your absolutely free initial consultation. Attorney Steve Bradt has been successfully representing Social Security disability claimants all across northern Minnesota for more than 30 years. We are happy to assist you in any way that we can with your claim.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

Limited Social Security Services Available During Government Shutdown

Due to the Federal Government Shutdown, Social Security field offices are open with limited services. Hearings offices remain open to conduct hearings before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Social Security card centers are closed.

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments to beneficiaries will continue with no change in payment dates.

click here for full article and more details

 

Preparing for Your Social Security Disability Hearing

You have been waiting for many months for your chance to have a Social Security judge decide your claim. You’ve been denied twice and appealed each determination. Up to this point, you really haven’t had an opportunity to explain to a real, live human being why you are unable to work. Finally, the day arrives when you have your chance to tell your story to a judge.

If you have an experienced attorney representing you, you should be very well prepared for your hearing. Your attorney will have provided Social Security with all of the relevant medical records to support your disability claim. In addition, your attorney may have obtained reports or forms from your treating providers which address specific disabling conditions or your ability to perform specific physical activities.

An experienced attorney will meet with you before the hearing to explain the process and what you can expect at the hearing. Every Social Security judge conducts hearings in a slightly different fashion, so it’s important that you are prepared for a variety of possible hearing procedures. Some judges like to ask all the questions and then allow your attorney to follow up with anything additional. Other judges may turn the hearing over to your attorney right from the outset and have your attorney ask all of the questions.

There may be a medical expert, a vocational expert, or both at the hearing. It will be your attorney’s job to question these experts as necessary following their testimony. Either of these experts may also ask you a few questions to clarify your testimony or to provide them with additional background information about you and your claim.

At our office, we typically meet with you in advance of the hearing and provide you with a general outline of the questions you can expect to be asked either by the judge or by me. You will also be provided with a summary of what is contained in the medical records so that your recollection of your medical care and treatment is fresh for your testimony.

Preparation is important because it is comforting to understand the process of the hearing and what type of questions you will be asked. It’s just as important to understand the types of things you will not be asked or things that the judge is not interested in. A hearing typically lasts only an hour or less, so we don’t want to waste the judge’s time with irrelevant or repetitive information. On the other hand, we certainly want to make sure that we provide the judge with all of the important information he or she needs to decide your claim favorably.

Most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough, make sure to testify truthfully and honestly. Social Security judges have heard thousands of people testify about pain and disabling conditions. If the judge suspects that you are exaggerating your symptoms or if you testify about medical problems which do not appear in your medical records, you lose all credibility and will probably lose your claim.

If you have questions about a Social Security disability claim, please feel free to contact Bradt Law Offices for your absolutely free consultation. We have been handling Social Security disability claims all across northern Minnesota for 30 years and are always happy to discuss your case at any stage of the claim process. We can discuss your claim over the phone or arrange for a meeting in our office.

If you have other questions about Social Security disability claims, you can visit our website where we have a list of common questions and answers, including:

1. What are Social Security disability benefits?
2. How much will I receive if Social Security decides I’m disabled?
3. How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?
4. What do I do if my claim is denied?
5. When should I hire a lawyer to represent me?
6. How do I pay a lawyer in a Social Security disability case?

Thank you for visiting our blog.

Northern Minnesota Social Security Disability Hearings Now Held by Video Conference

If you live in northern Minnesota and have recently been notified of a hearing on your Social Security disability claim, there’s a good chance that it will be held by Video Teleconferencing (VTC). As a result, you may have the following questions:

-What is video teleconferencing?

–Can I request an “in person” hearing, instead of a video conference hearing?

-Are there disadvantages to having a video conference Social Security disability hearing?

Within the past year or so, the Social Security Administration has begun scheduling video conference hearings for northern Minnesota claims. Prior to that, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) from the Minneapolis office would travel to Duluth or Hibbing and hold hearings where claimants and their representatives could appear live and in person. Apparently, the backlog in northern Minnesota became so great, that the Social Security Administration decided to begin using videoconference hearings with judges from outside the Minnesota area. In our experience, this change seems to have sped up the process of getting to a hearing. In the past, it was not unusual to wait as long as two years for a hearing after filing an initial application for disability benefits.

The videoconference hearings that I have attended with my clients during the past year or so have all involved judges from the St. Louis, Missouri Social Security Administration office.

A videoconference hearing is really no different than a live hearing, except that the judge is appearing on a television screen from his or her office hundreds of miles away. My clients and I typically travel to the federal courthouse in Duluth for the hearings. Generally, a vocational expert (VE) is present at the hearing in Duluth, although sometimes they appear by telephone conference. (Please see this previous post for more information about vocational experts.)

Procedurally, the hearings are identical to the way they would be held if the judge was present. There is a  video screen in the hearing room and the judge can see you and you can see the judge. Any witnesses who will testify are sworn in, and the hearing proceeds in the normal fashion. (See this previous post for a description of what happens at a Social Security disability hearing).  After a while, you hardly notice the fact that the judge is not in the same room with you.

Do you have the option of declining a videoconference and requesting an in person hearing?

Yes. The rules specifically provide that you have that option and the Notice of Hearing will also advise you of that right. If you prefer not to appear at your hearing by video teleconference, you must notify the Social Security hearing office within 5 days after you receive your Hearing Notice. The Hearing Notice also warns you that requesting an in person hearing “might delay your hearing to a date later than the current hearing date”.

Are there disadvantages to having a video conference Social Security disability hearing?

I have not noticed or observed any disadvantages to videoconference hearings and none of my clients have had any problems with the process. Anytime you can get to a disability hearing faster and with fewer delays, I consider that to be an advantage.

Summary

Just like the rest of the world, the Social Security Administration seems to be using more and more of the new technology that is available. After watching many of my clients over the past several years suffer both physically and financially, while waiting months and months for a hearing, I think the new videoconferencing procedure has been a welcome development.

If you have any questions about a Social Security disability claim or if you need an experienced attorney to represent you, please feel free to contact us at any time with questions or to schedule your absolutely free initial consultation. Attorney Steve Bradt has been successfully representing Social Security disability claimants all across northern Minnesota for nearly 30 years. We are happy to assist you in any way that we can with your claim.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

Some Tips to Help You Win Your Social Security Disability Claim

Attorney Steve Bradt, of  Bradt Law Offices, has been successfully handling Social Security disability claims for nearly 30 years. While every case is different and not every case can be won, there are a few things that you can do to improve your chances of winning your claim. This is the advice that we give to our clients early in every case:

Visit Your Doctor

One of the most important factors considered by Social Security in your claim will be the medical evidence. You have to understand that every person, who appears before every Social Security judge, in every case, tells the judge “I can’t work because I am disabled”. Obviously, Social Security cannot approve every single claim that is filed. Therefore, they will look very carefully at the medical evidence to see if it establishes the disability that you are claiming. If you haven’t been to see a doctor about a particular condition or claimed disability, there won’t be any evidence of that disability. While this seems like common sense, we are surprised every day at the number of people we speak with who claim to be disabled but haven’t sought medical treatment or haven’t been to a doctor in several months or years.

If you have ongoing medical problems which you feel are disabling, you should visit a doctor regularly for treatment. This helps Social Security see that you have a condition which has been diagnosed and treated and is consistent with the disability you might be claiming.

Follow the Treatment Recommendations of Your Medical Providers

It is very important that you follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations or use the medications prescribed for you. Many times, a Social Security judge will ask a claimant why they haven’t tried a particular form of treatment or why they are not using medication. If the judge believes that you might be able to work or that your disabling condition could be controlled if you were following your doctors instructions, you may lose your case. On the other hand, if you can a tell the judge that you have tried everything your doctors have recommended but you are still  disabled, you have a much stronger case.

Unfortunately, not everyone has health insurance or the financial ability to get treatment. If you are in that situation, make sure to explain to the judge why you haven’t been able to get all the treatment a doctor might have recommended for you.

Make Sure That Your Lifestyle Is Consistent with Your Claim of Disability

If you are claiming to be disabled from work, then your lifestyle should be consistent with that claim. In other words, if you tell a Social Security judge that you cannot work but are still able to hunt, fish, bowl, golf, hike, etc., the judge will not likely be persuaded that you are not capable of working. A Social Security judge will look very closely at the physical activities you are able to perform on a daily basis. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that the judge understands that any physical activities you perform are only done on a very limited basis as your medical condition allows. For example,  you may still do some  fishing or hunting, but you’ll need to explain that it is on an extremely limited basis, if at all, and is not anything at all like the fishing or hunting you enjoyed before you became disabled.

Tell the Truth

Perhaps the single most important thing you have going for you at a Social Security hearing is your credibility. If the Social Security judge believes your testimony, you have the best chance to win your claim. It is understandable that you may be in a desperate financial situation and feel the need to exaggerate your symptoms or disabling conditions in order to win the case. Don’t do it. If the judge suspects that you are exaggerating or being less than honest on any issues, she may find all of your testimony unbelievable and deny your claim. A key part of many claims is the amount of pain that you are experiencing and which might prevent you from working. It is essential that the judge believes you when you describe your level of pain and how it keeps you from working. If the judge doesn’t believe that aspect of your claim, , you will most likely lose.
If you have questions about a Social Security disability claim, please feel free to contact Bradt Law Offices for your absolutely free consultation. We have been handling Social Security disability claims all across northern Minnesota for nearly 30 years and are always happy to discuss your claim at any stage of the claim process. We can discuss your claim over the phone or arrange for a meeting in our office.

If you have other questions about Social Security disability claims, you can visit our website where we have a list of common questions and answers, including:

 

1. What are Social Security disability benefits?
2. How much will I receive if Social Security decides I’m disabled?
3. How do I apply for Social Security disability benefits?
4. What do I do if my claim is denied?
5. When should I hire a lawyer to represent me?
6. How do I pay a lawyer in a Social Security disability case?

Thank you for visiting our blog.

Myths and Facts about the Social Security Disability System

A recent article posted on the website of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) describes some common myths, and then offers the true facts, regarding Social Security disability issues. The article lists 8 myths about the Social Security disability system, including:

MYTH: The current SSDI program is set up so that it keeps able-bodied people out of the workforce when they are employable.

MYTH: It has never been easier to obtain Social Security disability benefits.

MYTH: Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) are bankrupting the Social Security disability insurance program by rubber stamping every disability claim they hear.

MYTH: Social Security attorneys get rich by helping undeserving applicants cheat the system.

Check out the article here to read the rest of the myths and the true facts about these common misconceptions about our Social Security disability insurance program.

The NOSSCR website is a good source of information for claimant’s and claimant’s representatives. We highly recommend that you visit the site and see what they have to offer.

If you have questions about your own disability claim, please feel free to contact Bradt Law Offices for your absolutely free consultation. We have been handling Social Security disability claims all across northern Minnesota for over 29 years and are always happy to discuss your claim at any stage of the claim process.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

Go Online to Access your Social Security Statement

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, today announced that in less than two months’ time, one million people have gone online, created a My Social Security account and viewed their Social Security Statement.  
                   
“The online Social Security Statement is a huge success,” Commissioner Astrue said.  “The onlineStatement meets our commitment to provide Americans with an easy, efficient process to obtain an estimate of their potential Social Security benefits.  I recommend that everyone get in the habit of checking their online Statement each year, around their birthday, for example.” 
                                                   
The online Statement provides estimates for retirement, disability and survivors benefits.  It also provides workers as young as 18 a convenient year-round way to determine whether their earnings are accurately posted to their Social Security records, which was not possible when the agency mailed paper Statementsonly to those 25 and older.
 
On May 1, Social Security unveiled this new addition to its popular suite of electronic services at www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement, which allows people to access their Social Security earnings and benefit information securely and conveniently. 

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), users are giving the online Statement a score of 89 — making it competitive with Social Security’s other top-rated, best-in-government online services, such as the Retirement Estimator and online retirement application. The ACSI tracks trends in customer’s satisfaction and provides valuable benchmarking insights for companies and government agencies. 

To access your online Statement, you must be at least 18 years old, have a Social Security number, have a valid email address and have a U.S. mailing address. 

To learn more or to create your own account, please go to www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement.

The social security website is a  valuable source of information about Social Security disability claims or your particular account information.  Bradt Law Offices encourages you to take advantage of this valuable resource.  The home page for the Social Security administration website is at www.SSA.gov.

If you have questions about a Social Security disability claim or the process involved, or if you need help in applying for benefits or representation at a hearing, contact us at any time for your absolutely free consultation.

Thanks for visiting our blog.

Looking for Social Security Definitions? A Glossary Of Social Security Terms

Have you received a decision from Social Security, a letter from your local SSA office or any other correspondence filled with abbreviations that have left you scratching your head?  Well, here is a handy link to the Social Security administration website and a glossary of Social Security terms.  Just click on a letter, find your word or phrase and the definition is right there for you.

If you have questions about a Social Security disability claim or the process involved, or if you need help in applying for benefits or representation at a hearing, contact us at any time for your absolutely free consultation.

Thanks for visiting our blog.

Why is there a Vocational Expert at my Social Security Disability Hearing?

If you have recently been through, or are getting ready for, a Social Security disability hearing, this may be one of the questions you have.  You may have received a notice about your hearing, telling you that there will be a Vocational Expert (VE) present at the hearing.  Some of the questions you might have are:

What is a vocational expert (VE)?

A vocational expert is a person who has experience and knowledge in the areas of jobs, job skills, job placement, labor markets, employment opportunities and similar matters. Ideally, the vocational expert testifying at a Social Security disability hearing would be a professional who spends a significant portion of time working to assist people in finding competitive employment in the workplace. Presumably, this would give the VE practical and reliable experience in assessing the availability of jobs and how they are performed in the workplace. The person who serves as VE at your hearing has been hired by the Social Security Administration as an “expert” to provide testimony on those issues in response to questions from the judge.

What does the vocational expert know about my situation?

The VE will review your Social Security file before the hearing to learn about your previous work experience. She will evaluate the jobs you have performed and classify your past employment in terms of skill levels and physical requirements. The vocational expert is almost always present at the hearing and will listen to your testimony to get additional information. On a rare occasion, at least in my experience, a vocational expert will not be present at the hearing and will be joined in on a conference call to answer questions from the judge.

What does the vocational expert do at my hearing?

After you have answered questions by the judge and your attorney or representative, the judge will then have a number of questions for the vocational expert. (At some hearings, there will also be a medical expert present to offer testimony, but that’s the subject for another post).

The judge may ask the VE if she has any additional questions for you to clarify your employment history or some of the jobs you have previously performed. The judge will ask the VE to describe your previous employment in terms of skills and physical requirements. After that, the judge will usually ask the VE a series of hypothetical questions, based upon your claimed disabilities and limitations.

The VE will offer opinions about whether you are able to return to any of your previous jobs or whether you can perform other jobs which exist in significant numbers within the regional or national economy. Depending upon what physical restrictions and limitations the judge is using, the vocational expert’s opinions will usually make the difference in whether you win or lose your claim. For a more detailed explanation about how the judge determines if you are disabled, please see this earlier post

Can I or my attorney ask the VE questions?

Yes. After the VE finishes answering the judge’s questions, you or your attorney may ask the VE additional questions (this is called “cross examination”).

Summary

This was a very short and generalized explanation of what a vocational expert is and does. Every Social Security disability claim is different, because every claim is based upon the specific facts and circumstances of your life. Each case is based upon a unique mixture of medical information, disabling conditions, educational backgrounds and work histories. Hopefully, this will give you a basic understanding of the vocational expert’s role in your Social Security disability hearing.

If you have questions about a Social Security disability claim, please feel free to contact us for your absolutely free consultation. Thank you for visiting our blog.

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