archives

social security benefits

This category contains 10 posts

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.

Advertisements

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

 

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.

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.

How Does Social Security Decide If You Are Disabled?

When you apply for Social Security disability benefits, in all likelihood you will be denied. The majority of applications are denied and your best chance of receiving benefits is to “hang in there” through the appeal process until you get to a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Many people are completely baffled about the process the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses to determine who is, and is not, disabled. The determinations often seems to make no sense, particularly when you have significant disabilities and still lose your case.

Definition of “Disability”

Social Security disability law defines “disability” as an inability “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death, or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” The fact that you can no longer perform your regular job duties does not necessarily qualify you for Social Security disability benefits.

There is a process which SSA follows in every case to determine who qualifies for disability benefits. The process is called the “five step sequential evaluation process”. If you are found to be disabled, or not disabled, after any of these steps, the process ends and SSA does not consider the next step.

Step 1. Are you engaging in “substantial gainful activity” (SGA)?

This is SSA’s determination as to whether you are working, as defined by SSA. They consider such things as what you are doing, if you are being paid and how much you are being paid. If your earnings are below a certain level, your work activities will not be considered substantial gainful activity.

Step 2. Do you have a severe, medically determinable impairment?

There must be medical evidence to support any claim of impairment. This generally means medical records or doctor’s reports which document your claim that you have an impairment of some kind which limits your ability to work. If SSA finds that you have impairments, but that they are not “severe”, the process ends. There is also a durational requirement, which means that your impairment must have lasted, or be expected to last, for a continuous period of 12 months.

Step 3. Does your impairment meet or equal a “Listing”?

If you are found to have a “severe” impairment, your claim moves on to step 3. SSA has a Listing of Impairments, which includes a wide variety of medical conditions, illnesses and other disorders. The listings include both physical and psychological conditions. (Examples: amputations, coronary artery disease, bipolar disorder, lumbosacral spine disorders, multiple sclerosis, etc.)

If the medical evidence establishes that your condition or conditions meets the requirements of a particular Listing, you are found to be disabled. Even if your impairment does not quite meet the definition in a Listing, SSA can find that your impairment is medically equivalent to, or “equals”, a Listing. If your impairment meets or equals a Listing, you are awarded disability. If not, the process continues to Step 4.

Step 4. Can you still do your past relevant work?

At this step, SSA will determine what your physical abilities are, based upon your impairments and the medical evidence. This assessment of your abilities is called Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). Your “past relevant work” means any job you have performed in the last 15 years. If SSA determines that you are capable of performing any of your past relevant work, you are not disabled. If you are not, the final determination of disability is made at Step 5.

Step 5. Are you capable of performing other work?

At this step in the process, there are a great many factors that come into play, including your RFC, age, education and work experience. This is often the hardest part of the process for most claimants to understand. SSA is not looking at your local labor market or your community in determining whether you can work. Rather, the question is whether you can perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national or regional economy. It makes no difference whether any of those jobs are close to where you live or whether they have openings. If SSA determines that you are physically capable of performing any of those identified jobs, then you are not disabled.

Summary

This was only intended to be a general summary of the disability determination process. There are many thousands of pages of Social Security regulations, rules, guidelines and decisions which govern the Social Security disability system. For every rule there are exceptions. At a Social Security disability hearing, a vocational expert and/or a medical expert frequently will be present to testify about your impairments, your RFC and your ability to perform past or other jobs. The judge will base her decision after reviewing all of the evidence and opinions from the witnesses.

What We Recommend

If you have any questions about the Social Security disability process or your claim, please feel free to contact us for your absolutely free consultation. Whether we can help you or not, you should always follow through on your claim through any appeals and hearings. You have nothing to lose but the time you have invested in your claim. The majority of people who ultimately receive Social Security disability benefits do so at the hearing level where they finally get to explain their disability to a real person – the Judge.

Except in rare cases, we generally do not become involved in a claim until after your second denial. That’s when you are requesting a hearing with a Social Security judge. At that point, we would begin to serve as your representative. We obtain medical records, request reports from your doctors and make sure that Social Security has everything in its file that might be helpful to your claim. We meet with you ahead of time to prepare you for the hearing and attend the hearing with you as your representative. Best of all, you only have to pay us if we win.

Thank you for visiting our blog.

What is a Free Consultation in a Northern Minnesota Social Security Disability Case?

Okay, maybe this seems like a really silly question. However, if you are considering calling a lawyer about a social security disability case,  you probably want to make sure that you are not going to receive a bill, at any time, for anything.  Free should mean free, right?

I can’t speak for any other law firm, but at Bradt Law Offices, a free consultation for your social security disability case means just that – A FREE CONSULTATION.  I don’t know how to say it any more clearly.

A consultation might mean a simple phone conversation to discuss your claim. The phone call is free.  No charge.

If we discuss your claim on the phone and decide to schedule a meeting, the meeting is also free.  No charge.  We can meet in our office, in the hospital or at your home.  Free.  No charge.

In all seriousness, I hope that I have made my point.  If you contact us about your claim, you will never be charged for a phone call, a meeting or any other type of consultation about your claim.  It makes no difference whether we take your case, or not.  If you hire us, we will pay the necessary expenses to obtain medical records and reports, expert opinions, etc.  You will only be asked to reimburse us if we win your case. Unless you have a very unusual case or we make different arrangements with you, you will never get a bill from us or be asked to pay us any money out of your own pocket before the successful end of your case.

Contingent Fee Arrangements for all Social Security Disability Claims

In Social Security Disability cases, attorney fees are set by law and we only get paid if we win.  Not only are the fees contingent on our success, but our fees are controlled by law and must be approved by a Social Security Judge.   Attorney fees are 25% of any back benefits we recover for you, up to a maximum fee of $6000.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Experienced Legal Advice

If you have any questions, at any time, about a possible Social Security Disability claim, please don’t be afraid to call or e-mail us.   We are happy to help and will always give you an honest opinion, based on 28 years of experience helping injured people all across northern Minnesota and on the Iron Range.

Oh, and one more thing – the coffee is free, too.

Was this post helpful?  Did it answer your questions?  If you would like to contact us for a free consultation or to send us an email, CLICK HERE.

Or, leave a comment below.

Thanks again for visiting our blog.

What Happens at a Social Security Disability Hearing?

If you have applied for Social Security disability benefits and are reading this article, then your claim has probably been denied. If that’s the case, you are definitely in the majority, because most disability claims are initially denied.

After receiving your initial denial, you may have already requested a reconsideration and been denied again. Now it’s time to request a hearing, which will be held before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge (referred to as an ALJ).  So what happens at one of these hearings?

First of all, you should understand that yours will be only one of several hearings that the Administrative Law Judge will hear that day.  Therefore, the hearings are relatively brief, typically lasting one hour or less.

Where Will the Hearing Be Held?  For claims here in northern Minnesota, hearings are generally held at the Federal Courthouse in Duluth. There may be some exceptions where your hearing is scheduled for Minneapolis, Bemidji or some other location, depending on where you live.  Until just recently, hearings were also held in Hibbing.  The hearing may be held in the presence of a “live”  ALJ, or, by videoconference. Presently, many of the northern Minnesota hearings are being held by videoconferences conducted by judges out of the St. Louis Social Security office.

What Happens at a Hearing?  The judge and your representative will discuss some preliminary matters, such as when you are claiming that you became disabled and what medical exhibits and other evidence are in the hearing record.  The Judge will then ask you some questions about your employment history, the nature and extent of your disabling conditions, your medical treatment and your typical daily activities.  When the judge has completed his or her examination, your representative will then have the opportunity to ask you some additional questions to supplement or clarify any of the issues in your case.

Who Else Is Present at a Hearing?  Whether the judge is in the courtroom or appearing by videoconference, the other persons typically participating in a hearing will be you, your representative, sometimes a vocational expert and sometimes a medical expert.  Some judges always have medical or vocational experts, or both, at the hearings.  Each judge has his or her particular preference, so there may or may not be experts present at your particular hearing. Once your testimony is finished,  the vocational and/or medical experts will provide testimony in response to questions from the judge and your representative. Their testimony will deal with your functional limitations, medical impairments, employment history and ability to perform particular jobs or types of employment.

When Will You Get a Decision?  Sometimes, the judge will issue a favorable decision during or at the conclusion of your hearing.  Or, the judge may offer you a “deal”,  by determining that you are disabled in exchange for you changing your claimed disability date.  If that happens, your representative can explain your options and advise you whether you should accept any proposed deal from the judge.  Usually, however, you’ll have to wait for a written decision, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

What Can Bradt Law Offices Do for You?  If we represent you in a Social Security disability claim, there are a number of things we will do for you.  We will gather your medical records and submit them to Social Security to make sure that all relevant and available records are considered in your disability claim.  We may also ask your doctors for specific reports or disability forms that we can submit as well.  We will meet with you before the hearing and provide you with an outline of the types of questions you may be asked at the hearing and prepare you to respond to those questions.

We appear with you at the hearing, make sure that you understand your claim and the process, answer any questions the judge might have about the claim and cross-examine the medical or vocational witnesses on your behalf.  Finally, we only get paid if we win.  Our fees are 25% of any back pay you receive if you are found to be disabled.  We don’t receive any percentage of your ongoing or future benefits.

If you have any questions about a pending claim, or if you are simply considering whether to file for Social Security disability benefits, please feel free to contact us for your free consultation. We are always happy to review your claim and give you our honest opinion about your chance of success.

Was this post helpful?  Did it answer your questions?  If you would like to contact us for a free consultation or to send us an email, CLICK HERE.

Or, leave a comment below.

Thanks again for visiting our blog.

How Much Can I Receive for Social Security disability?

If you are unable to work you may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits.  Disability benefits are paid on a monthly basis. One of the first questions we are often asked, is how much that benefit might be. Well, the amount of your monthly benefit will depend on a number of different factors, beginning with which type of benefit you may be eligible to receive.

There are two basic benefits which are paid to people who are disabled and eligible for Social Security disability. Under certain circumstances, you may be entitled to receive one, both or some combination of each (or none, if you are not determined to be “disabled”).

In order to be eligible for either type of benefit, you must first meet the definition of  “disabled” used by the Social Security Administration.  This article is not intended to discuss the complicated issue of what constitutes “disability”.  We will deal with that in a future article.  However, you should know that it is not enough to simply be unable to perform your previous work.  The evaluation process used by Social Security is more detailed than that and involves consideration of what impairments you have and how long they might last, your education and prior employment skills, whether you are presently working, your age and your physical and functional abilities (how much can you lift, how long can you sit or stand, etc.).

Assuming that you qualify as “disabled”, the two basic types of benefits available are:
DISABILITY INSURANCE BENEFITS (DIB). These benefits are based upon what you have paid into the Social Security system over the years of your employment. This amount will vary from person to person. Payment amounts are calculated based on your earnings before you become disabled and the number of years you worked while paying Social Security taxes. The more money you made in the years before you became disabled, the higher your monthly payment will be.  At any stage of your application process, a Social Security office representative can usually tell you approximately what your benefit will be if you are awarded. Or, you can use the benefit estimate calculator on the Social Security Administration website.

If you have been out of work for several years, one of the important factors considered in your claim is when you were “last insured”. If you are no longer working and paying Social Security taxes, you will eventually lose coverage. This means that for some people, you may need to establish that you have been disabled back to some retroactive date when you were “last insured”. These types of claims can be particularly difficult if the medical evidence does not support a retroactive date of disability.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME (SSI).  This is a benefit available to blind or disabled people who have not paid enough Social Security taxes to be “insured” for DIB. This may be because you have been out of work for a long period of time or have never worked and paid taxes into the Social Security system. The standard of “disability” is exactly the same for either type of benefit, but the monthly amount is different.  To receive SSI benefits, you must establish that you are blind or disabled, but in addition,  you must also prove that you have limited income, assets and resources to qualify.  The benefit amount is the same for everyone and generally increases slightly every year.

Contact Us If You Have Questions

Making your way through the Social Security disability system can be a long, confusing and complicated process.  The majority of claims are denied following the initial application.  If you have any questions about whether to apply for benefits or when you should hire a representative, please feel free to contact Bradt Law Offices any time for a free consultation throughout northern Minnesota and across  the Iron Range.  If you hire us to represent you, we don’t ask you for any money up front or at any point during your claim.  We only get paid if we win the case.

Was this post helpful?  Did it answer your questions?  If you would like to contact us for a free consultation or to send us an email, CLICK HERE.

Or, leave a comment below.

Thanks again for visiting our blog.

Archives

LEGAL DISCLAIMER

This blog/website is intended to provide general information and is not intended to substitute for individual legal counsel on any specific problem. No attorney-client relationship is created or intended to be created by use or viewing of this blog/website. Any visitor seeking specific legal advice should contact an attorney. Any links provided from this site, other than to Bradt Law Offices, are for informational purposes only. We have no control over and make no warranties as to the accuracy of information contained on any linked sites. The information presented on this website is based on the laws of the state of Minnesota. Anyone viewing this website who resides outside of the state of Minnesota should be aware that the laws in their state may differ. Every effort has been made to present accurate and current information on this blog/website. If you have a question about the accuracy of any of the information presented here, please contact Bradt Law Offices at 218-327-1235.