Who Determines If I’m Disabled?

POSTED BY Jon Corra . April 23, 2018

We’ve been helping people get their Social Security disability benefits since 1994. That means we’re approaching our 25th year in business. In these 25 years, we have been asked many questions.  For instance, “Who determines if I am disabled?” This is a good question any individual pursuing Social Security disability should ask.

Although your treating physician may indicate that you are disabled, it’s not a guarantee that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will agree.  SSA will consider the information and determine the amount of weight they feel the doctor’s statement should have on the decision.

So, who does determine if you are disabled?  There is not a simple black and white answer to this question. Instead, there are infinite shades of grey that will eventually determine if you’re disabled or not. The SSA uses a five-step process to determine if an individual is approved for disability benefits.

The first step in the process is simple: they will ask if you are currently working at the current SGA level. For those who may not be aware, SGA stands for Substantial Gainful Activity. The SSA states that SGA is as follows:

A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA. The amount of monthly earnings considered as SGA depends on the nature of a person’s disability. The Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for statutorily blind individuals; Federal regulations specify a lower SGA amount for non-blind individuals. Both SGA amounts generally change with changes in the national average wage index.

So, if you’re engaging in SGA, you will likely be denied at step 1 in the SSA process without SSA even looking at your medical evidence

If you’re not engaging in SGA, your claim will proceed to step 2 in the process: do you have a severe physical or mental impairment or combination of severe impairments?  SSA defines a severe impairment as an abnormality that causes more than a minimal effect on your ability to work.  SSA also requires that your impairment will cause such effect on your ability to work for 12 months or longer.

If SSA deems your impairment(s) to be severe, your claim will proceed to step 3: do you meet or equal a medical listing?  The SSA maintains a listing of medical criteria that are considered to be so severe that an individual is found to be disabled if his or her medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) matches them.

If an individual has an impairment that meets or equals one of the listings and meets the duration requirement, he or she is found to be disabled. If an individual does not have an impairment that meets or equals one of the listings or the duration requirement is not met, the adjudicator goes to step 4.

Social Security considers many factors when determining if you’re disabled.

In step 4, the SSA will examine your prior work history. Do the limitations associated with your disabilities keep you from doing the type of work you’ve performed in the past 15 years? This is where your doctor’s input becomes very important.  SSA is looking for more information than your doctor’s opinion that you are disabled and can no longer do your past work.  It is beneficial for your doctor to note what limitations you have because of your disabilities.  For example, how long can you sit, stand, walk, lift, and concentrate?  Would you need to elevate your legs and how often/for how long?  Can you interact with the public or with supervisors?  Would you need to be frequently retrained due to problems with concentration or memory loss?  Would you need extra breaks throughout the day and how often/for how long?  If your doctor does not note these types of limitations, the agency adjudicator will determine your limitations based on the information noted within your medical records.  Your doctor, who has probably evaluated you many times, is going to better know and understand your limitations than an adjudicator who is merely reading your medical records.  If it’s decided that your disability does keep you from working in the field you were formerly employed, the SSA will go on to the 5th and final step: can you do any other type of work?

At this point, the SSA wants to know if you will be able to work and achieve the SGA level in a field that differs from any of previous fields in which you were employed in the past 15 years. This can get very complicated.  Your limitations, along with other vocational factors such as age, education and work experience, will be used to determine if you can work in jobs you haven’t done before.  If it is decided that you cannot do your past work or any other type of work, you will be deemed disabled by SSA.

If you believe you may be disabled and need some help with your claim, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so we can contact you at a better time.

What is a VE and Why is there One at My Hearing?

POSTED BY admin . April 19, 2018

You have waited a long time for a hearing, and when if finally comes, you will receive a Notice of Hearing in the mail. This notice will inform you of the date, time, and location of your hearing. Sometimes the Notice of Hearing will also list other individuals who will appear at the hearing.

One of the individuals you may see ‘noticed’ to appear may be a Vocational Expert or VE.  This person is not employed by the SSA, but rather is contracted out to review the work history in your claim and to assist the ALJ in understanding the various job requirements and demands of certain jobs that exist in the regional and national economy.

During the hearing, the ALJ may ask the VE to describe the types of work you have performed in the past and to list what skills, if any, the jobs required.  Then the ALJ may ask a series of hypothetical or ‘made up’ questions such as:

“Assume you have a person the same age and educational background as the claimant, Jon Smith, who can only perform work at the sedentary level. Assume based on their back problem they can only stand for ten minutes at a time and would need to move around frequently to alleviate pain…etc”. 

At the end of the hypothetical question the ALJ will ask the VE if there are jobs that exist in the economy that would allow a person with these restrictions to still be able to work.  The VE will either say ‘yes’ and name types of jobs or ‘no’.  The ALJ may ask several different hypothetical questions making them more restrictive by adding additional limitations to each one.

After the ALJ is finished asking questions of the VE, your representative will then be allowed to ask any other hypothetical questions he /she wants to.  They often will use parts of your testimony and add it into the questions so you see why describing pain and how it limits functional abilities is so important.

Having representation that is well versed in Social Security law can make a world of difference. We have helped thousands of people get the Social Security Benefits they deserve. Call us today for a free consultation, and find out why we won’t take no for an answer. 1-877-526-3457

Social Security Q and A #1

POSTED BY Jon Corra . March 12, 2018

Jon Corra: Alright everyone. Welcome to our live Q & A with attorney Yvonne Costelloe. We’re taking Social Security questions today, so if you’re interested in something with Social Security please don’t hesitate to make a comment and we will try to answer that as quickly as possible. Yvonne’s been with us for quite a while, seven years if I’m not mistaken.

Yvonne Costelloe: It’s going to be six-

Jon Corra: … Six years, and you’ve only been a social security attorney right? Your whole career.

Yvonne Costelloe: Well, for legal purposes yeah, I’ve worked solely with Jan Dils as a Social Security disability attorney.

Jon Corra: Where did you go to school?

Yvonne Costelloe: I went to law school at the University of Dayton, School of Law, and undergrad I went to Mercy First University, which is in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Jon Corra: What has it meant … I know you’re passionate, I think every one of your clients would say you’re passionate about Social Security, and you could have chosen any type of law. What made you decide Social Security was the way to go?

Yvonne Costelloe: I came from a background working a lot with social services, working with developmentally disabled, dual-diagnosis in the mental health field, community outreach and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed helping people in their everyday lives, working directly with them, and so, an opportunity like this to be able to, hopefully, step up and really help people financially bring in that income, and who are deserving its just a great fit for me. I am able to do more for the same type of individuals and help get the benefits that they really deserve and that they need for them and their families.

Jon Corra: How awesome, I think we can agree that a lot of people in our firm especially are just driven to help people that’s why we have so many people who stay here for so long. So once again, if you have a question about Social Security do not hesitate to put it down in the comments. We are going to try to answer as many questions as we can today. We do have a few that were submitted ahead of time, and since Yvonne’s an attorney we haven’t actually done a Q & A with one of our attorneys yet. I personally want to know what can someone expect when they go to a hearing? What is it like? What’s the dynamic there? Is it like what they see on Judge Judy or is it completely different?

Yvonne Costelloe: It’s funny you say that because the first thing I say to almost every one of my clients when we talk about what to expect is not Judge Judy. This isn’t the People’s Court, that’s kind of my citation with everything. This isn’t what you think when you watch TV or you watch movies, it’s more of a conference. There’s two different ways the hearing will take place; it’ll either be by video where you’ll go into a room, like a conference room, and when you go there’ll be a big flat screen TV and the judge will be on the TV screen and he may have his expert on there, or the expert will be by phone, and then you’ll be in a room with your attorney and then also with a court reporter, or a hearing reporter. That person’s job is really solely just to record the hearing. They won’t ask anything, and then everything will go by video. Or, if you’re in person, if you’re at one of the locations like in Charleston or in Dayton or in one of the locations where there is a hearing office, then you’ll be in person with the judge and it will be you, the judge, your attorney, and then the vocational expert.

Yvonne Costelloe: When you go in, there is some formalities, you have to swear in. They’ll have you raise your right hand, swear in that you’re gonna tell the truth. This is a court hearing so you have to be honest. And then from there, every judge is a little bit different. Most of the time an attorney will have the opportunity to make an opening statement, talk a little bit about what to expect, or talk a little bit about what … talk a little bit about your record and argue the outline of what’s going on in your situation and your case. From there, most judges will either have the attorney ask questions, or you’ll ask questions, or they’ll ask questions. And these will be things you’ll talk about at the pre-hearing.

Yvonne Costelloe: They want to know how your conditions affect you. They want to hear it directly from your mouth, and how your pain effects you, or how your mental health symptoms impact your daily activities. Do you have a hard time standing or walking? Are you unable to engage in activities with your family? And a lot of that we talk with the clients ahead of time at the pre-hearing and that’s why sometimes the pre-hearings are a bit challenging but that’s why we do it. We want to ask you those questions when its just you and I on the phone, or in person so you know what to expect. And then from there the judge may have some followup or the attorney may have some followup and then we go to the vocational expert.

Yvonne Costelloe: Sometimes there’s medical experts at a hearing and they won’t … they’re not going to examine you during the hearing or ask you any questions but they’re gonna go through and look at … they’ll have looked at your medical records and make an opinion about what they see in the medical records to help the judge and your attorney. The vocational expert is going to testify about jobs. In order to be found disabled, in pretty much every case, we have to prove that you can’t do any work in the economy. So, it’s not like other claims like workers comp, where maybe you just have to prove that you can’t do the work you used to do, we have to get rid of all jobs and that’s why the vocational expert’s there. And so the judge and the attorney will ask them what’s called hypotheticals.

Yvonne Costelloe: So they’ll say, you know for example, John, if you were going into a hearing and maybe you had had an amputation, you lost an arm in an accident or something, then a hypothetical could be, you know, if we had somebody at the same age and education as John, the claimant, and they lost a limb, is there jobs they could perform and the vocational expert will say yes or no, and if they say yes, they’ll give examples. And that’s the most confusing part of the hearing for most people because they’re listing numbers and jobs and they’ve never heard of these jobs before but, your attorney is well equipped to handle that and will handle it. They’re not going to expect you to respond to that. At the very end the judge may give [inaudible 00:05:36] an opportunity to close out and make a closing. Some do, some don’t, every judge is different. But then the one thing that’s most important, that most people are not aware of coming in is that you don’t get a decision that day. The attorney may have an inclination of what’s going to happen or the judge may say, yeah, I think I’m going to find you disabled but nothing’s final until it comes in writing.

Yvonne Costelloe: We always, even when the judge says in a hearing that yes, you are gonna be found disabled or I am gonna find you favorably, I still tell the client, I give you a 99.9 because we wanna get it in writing, we want to see it come in the mail.

Jon Corra: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Yvonne Costelloe: And usually that takes 30 to 60 days, it can take up to four months after the hearing is over. So, that’s pretty much, kind of in a nutshell, how it goes and what to expect but, definitely, not like the People’s Court, there’s no yelling or gavel slamming or anything like that going on.

Jon Corra: And they don’t … most people don’t receive a judgment that day, correct?

Yvonne Costelloe: Exactly. Yeah, we expect it to come in writing so even if the judge does say they’re gonna find you disabled, we still have to get it in writing because it’s not final until it comes in writing.

Jon Corra: Okay. One of the questions we get asked quite a bit is about grid rules and I’ve done some personal research about this and I personally find it confusing. I know all of our clients, I believe, find it confusing as well. Can you describe what grid rules are and how they affect Social Security?

Yvonne Costelloe: Right, so the grid rules are a special set of regulations that come into play because the Social Security office or the Administration takes into consideration your age, your education, and the type of work you used to do. Technically, the grid rules can apply when you’re young but they’re not helpful until you’re generally about 50 years old.

Yvonne Costelloe: I always tell clients that generally 50 and 55 are the magic numbers where a lot of things can change. There’s some exceptions to that and that’s getting a little complicated. But, what starts to happen is when you turn 50 and then when you turn 55 they start to recognize that you don’t have the same ability to step back into certain types of work. So, what they’ll look at is they’ll look at your age, the type of education you have will affect you. If you have a high school diploma or not, or if you have a college degree or not and then the type of work you used to do.

Yvonne Costelloe: And this becomes a big issue or really comes into play a lot of times when I have clients that change age categories so you go from being 49 to 50 or you go from being 54 to 55. That can make a huge difference in your claim. So, for example, if I have somebody, let’s say, 48 when they applied for benefits and they’re past work, they did all heavy work, we’ll say they’re a coal miner, we work with a lot of coal miners. They’ve only ever been a coal miner and Social Security said, okay, we know you’ve only been a coal miner but we think you can do sit down work. We know you’ve got some back issues and neck issues but you can do sit down work.

Yvonne Costelloe:  Well, maybe by the time they get to hearing, they’ve turned 50, at that point they may be then found disabled because Social Security doesn’t expect a 50-year-old who’s never done sit down work or never had a job where there’s skills they can do that would be equivalent to sit down work and they’re limited to sit down work, they understand that you’re gonna have a really difficult time finding a sit down job and so you … if that’s the situation, you can be found disabled.

Yvonne Costelloe:            And I think that comes up a lot when I have clients say, okay, you know, you’ve changed age categories or sometimes judges will offer to say, listen, I think you’re disabled but I don’t think you became disabled until you turned 55 and that’s really confusing but that’s because of those grid rules and they’re very powerful and it can be … it’s one of the more solid aspects of the disability claim where we can say, hey, this and this apply and therefore this person should be found disabled but that’s why age is so important and can make such a big difference especially if you’re changing age categories during your claim.

Jon Corra: One thing I think a lot of people don’t realize is how complicated Social Security is as a whole. One thing, if it was easy, everyone would do it and if it was easy it wouldn’t take so long.

Jon Corra: We do have a quick question from one of our audience members, Mr. Davis, and you may not know the answer to this but, you know how people get the statement from Social Security every year saying if you became disabled this year you would make X amount of dollars …

Yvonne Costelloe: Correct.

Jon Corra: He wants to know if those are completely accurate and how much they come into play?

Yvonne Costelloe: They’re pretty accurate so when we look at somebody that is Title II eligible, meaning that they’ve worked and they’ve paid into Social Security, they’ve paid taxes, they’re building almost like an insurance plan where, if they become disabled, they’re gonna get paid back and the more you pay into it, I guess, the more will make and the longer you work the more you’re gonna be able to get back from that.

Yvonne Costelloe: I think the maximum is $25 or $2,600 dollars and what happens is when they send you that statement, that’s what I always tell clients, is a rough estimate. So it’s … What happens is if you’re found disabled, they do go back and recalculate and make sure everything is correct but, generally, it’s gonna be really, really close to that number. It does go up a little bit each year due to cost of living and things like that, adjustments, but pretty much that’s pretty much about what you’re gonna expect, somewhere very close to that range.

Jon Corra: And I think it probably goes back to because we’re the one paying into the Social Security tax each year. They base it off that, it’s not just … they’re not just pulling anything …

Yvonne Costelloe:  Nope, it’s based on your work history and also how much you’re making so the only time I’ve really seen people come and get a $25 or $26 … I think it’s $2,500 dollar, we call it the PIA, is when they’ve made significant earnings over an extended period of time.

Jon Corra: Okay. Mr. Davis, thank you so much for your question.

Yvonne Costelloe: Yes. Thank you.

Jon Corra: If anyone else has a question, please do not hesitate whatsoever to chime in, we’ve got our iPhone’s here, our watches and everything so we can catch your questions. One thing I want to ask you because I’m always thrown off by the alphabet soup that is Social Security and I’m sure if you have anyone who’s getting the aid, disability, watching, same problem there, all these acronyms confuse you.

Jon Corra: So, there’s two things that you’ll see, almost everyone will see in a case, that’s an ALJ and a DE, or a disability examiner, and of course, ALJ is an administrative law judge. What’s the difference between those two because they have similar jobs, correct?

Yvonne Costelloe: Well, kind of. When we’re looking at a disability examiner, that’s somebody that generally is just looking at the opinions that are made by the doctors so, when you apply for disability what Social Security will do is send your medical records to one of their examiners who will review it and they’ll make an opinion. So, sometimes clients say, oh, I got a decision and they’re talking about Dr. Joe and I don’t know who Dr. Joe is, I never saw him. And it’s usually one of the doctors that Social Security has reviewed your case. And what’ll happen then is they’ll review that, they’ll have a vocational specialist who will review your work history and then the examiners come in and they’ll make a decision on what your capacity is based on those two things combined on whether or not a finding of disability should be established.

Yvonne Costelloe: The difference between them and an ALJ is an administrative law judge is the one that you’re actually gonna go in front of with your attorney. Most of the time you don’t go in front of a disability examiner but with the ALJ they have … they can, they’re not bound by the prior decisions. They’re gonna make their own independent decision so, although those decisions are there, they’re not, they don’t have to follow them. They’re also gonna have additional evidence and also, when you’re before an ALJ, that’s the first time your attorney has an opportunity to really discuss the medical records with the judge, to make comments about what was found by them.

Yvonne Costelloe: Oftentimes, when I look back and the first step I always do when finding if a client is disabled is to look at what happened, why did they get denied and that’s the first way before court, is you gotta plug the holes in the boat, is what I always say so, I look for those holes. Why did this client get denied and is that accurate? And to look back and say, hey your honor, you know I understand that they found this but, that’s not correct or we have this new information and the ALJ is able to make those determinations and the ALJ determination is really more final.

Yvonne Costelloe: At that point, you know, then we’re looking at appealing up to the Appeals Council or federal district court after that.

Jon Corra: Awesome, thank you for that, for sure. Once again, anyone, if you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask. I see we have several people watching right now. Thanks to everyone who’s tuned in. We do have a few more questions asked of Ms. Costelloe here though.

Jon Corra: One thing that we’ve discussed a lot downstairs, by that meaning if you’re not in the office of Social Security is because downstairs mostly, VA’s upstairs … Auxiliary benefits, I hear that word thrown around quite a bit, especially after people get approved but, I think, if you’re not in the system you might not know what auxiliary benefits are. Can you describe that to us?

Yvonne Costelloe: Auxiliary … and the question leads in perfectly when the gentleman earlier was asking about the amount that they’d get paid, what happens is there’s two amounts. There’s one amount that’s kinda the individual PIA and then there’s something called a family max and he may have seen that on his statement if he was looking at it. The difference between those two is the auxiliary benefit amount. And what happens at that point is if you have a child that’s a minor, and by minor we mean a child that’s under the age of 18 or if they are up to age 19 and still in high school, then they can qualify to get these auxiliary benefits. It’s essentially divided evenly between all your dependent children.

Yvonne Costelloe: So, if you have 10 dependent children or one dependent child, it’s the equal amount and that is divided evenly between those children and there are times where step-children and some other situations can also be qualified and that’s kind of an individual situation that we can address if need be but, that amount would be distributed if the child … Essentially it’s distributed to the child’s caretaker so if the child is at home, then it would come into the home or if the child is living at a separate residence then whoever that child’s guardian or custodial parent is and that is just another way for them to understand, or for I guess, for Social Security to understand that there needs to be additional funds for that minor child and that’s essentially what auxiliary benefits, what they do for your family and the eligibility of those.

Jon Corra: Okay, great. Donna has an interesting question. Donna, thanks for commenting. She said that she received her first check on December 1st, obviously, she was approved and congratulations on that, so she received her first check December 1st, she has not received her back pay yet. So, on average, how long does it take for an individual to receive back pay?

Yvonne Costelloe: So, back pay is done on two different levels. If somebody is gonna get SSI back pay, that’s generally done at the state level and if they’re getting SSDI back pay, and I know this is getting a little complicated but, that’s generally done at the federal level. So, it just depends on how fast, usually, somebody’s gonna have their back pay by the time they get their first payment and if there’s a delay then there can be a couple of different reasons why. It could that there’s some kind of processing issue or it could be that there’s, there could be a lien or something like that, that could be affecting it.

Yvonne Costelloe: The best thing to do is if you’ve got … started getting your payments and you’re still wondering where that’s at, you can certainly contact our office and there’s oftentimes where there are delays and then our case managers will work directly with you to see why there’s delays and what we can do. But, generally, you should see your back pay, I think it’s generally up to 120 days after your decision is pretty typical but, again, things happen and it wouldn’t be … and that’s what we’re, again, still here for you, still here to work with you even though we’ve been able to get you a favorable decision, we do continue to work with you and our case managers are excellent at that.

Yvonne Costelloe: So, Donna, the best thing I would suggest is if it’s been more than that, contact your case manager and discuss that with them and they can certainly look into that for you no problem at all.

Jon Corra: And we want to remember, sometimes, most days get mangled so …

Yvonne Costelloe: Never been heard of, John. It does happen and we continue and that’s all included in our representation. We’re not gonna send you a separate bill or anything for that so, certainly call in and we will work with you.

Jon Corra: We apologize for the technical difficulties there. Of course, you know when you have a Social Security claim, you’re gonna have all kinds of issues along the way so, this is no different, we’re used to little hiccups along the way.

Jon Corra:  One last question we wanted to ask. Yvonne wanted to ask, just explain in more detail. Why is the backlog taking so long for so many people?

Yvonne Costelloe: And that’s a big one, that’s the biggest complaint from every single client and not just from the clients but for us, as your representatives, and the frustration of it is that it does take a long time. In general, the average wait time from hearing is about 600 plus days and that’s nationwide and a lot of that has to do with the Administration and I think it’s really important to clarify that it’s not your firm, especially for us, it’s not us, that we’re not ready to go and we’re not willing to go, it’s a matter of getting Social Security to get those hearings scheduled. Jan, and everyone in the firm has been great about making sure we have attorneys ready to go and ready to take … participate in these hearings but, what happens is they have, currently have a backlog with regard to hiring, with judges and those that need to process the claims in the Administration and they also have a budget that really hasn’t changed from my understanding and so there’s a lot of complications there.

Yvonne Costelloe: The Social Security office is the one that decides when the hearings are generally gonna be scheduled and the hearings are pretty much scheduled based on, for the most part, your application date and your initial reconsideration determination. There’s some exceptions to that and there is some opportunities where we can try to get that sped up. We do, do everything we can internally, as attorneys, for our claimant that if we think that somebody meets special requirements, either because of the dire need, it’s called Dire Need Application where there are issues of homelessness or bills being shut off. We try to get those processed or if somebody has a condition that meets a certain level of severity. Now every one of our clients has severe, significant medical issues that they’re going through but, in some circumstances, where that person has certain criteria that Social Security has something called a book of listing and in some circumstances where somebody has a very, very cut and dry condition, if they have cancer that’s metastasized or if they have certain findings on a pulmonary function test or sometimes things of those natures that we will try to get those approved ahead of time as well. But other than that, general rule, it is taking up to two years in some cases, if not longer.

Yvonne Costelloe:  Same thing with the Appeals’ Council, if they just go in the order they are received and the Administration has to process those applications and have to prep those cases to a certain point before they’ll even approach us about getting it scheduled but we, generally, one of the good things about the way our firm functions and the way the support staff that we have here is once they say we’re ready to schedule, we’re generally ready to schedule. We take these hearings and we do everything we can to make sure that we have attorneys available in a wide variety of areas to make sure that we can get those clients up and running when their hearing is scheduled. We always make sure we can get there and make sure that’s taken care of. I think we’ve done an excellent job of that as a firm and making sure people get in there and doing everything we can to make sure we’re 100% ready to go and the important part about that, for everybody watching, and if you’re watching, you’re probably not going to be the one that might have issues with this, is staying in communication with us because once we get that hearing, once we get the hearing date scheduled, we know generally before you do and that’s when things really start moving fast.

Yvonne Costelloe: We have a special development team that’s going to make sure we have all your medical records before you even talk to your attorney. There’s a lot of different wheels that start moving very fast. But, for the most part, the frustration is with the agency and I want people to really understand that the attorneys that are out there, and if another attorney promises you that they can get a hearing faster or generally, that’s not going to be accurate and think that’s a big misconception that floats around of why that wait time is delayed.

Yvonne Costelloe: I certainly think it’s really unfair given the circumstances and what individuals are facing when they are waiting for applications. This isn’t an easy time. This is a time when people are going through financial issues, they have health issues and they’re facing this added stress of not having a determination decision on their case and it’s really unfair but we’re gonna do everything we can to speed that up the way we can or any way that we could and make sure that when it comes time to go to your hearing that we wind up ready to go, ready to get everything moving at that point.

Jon Corra:  Mr. Davis has another question and I can field this one. He wanted to know if once he gets approved if he can file for VA disability. We’re happy to give a consultation for that, for sure. We have the staff here that’s prepared to answer that question. There is no general yes or no, we always like to take everyone on a case by case basis so, just be sure to give us a call at that point and we’ll be happy to give you that consultation. We might be able to help you with that.

Yvonne Costelloe: And we have a lot of clients that have both claims moving at once. I handle a lot of clients where we’ve gotten their VA disability approved and now we’re working on their Social Security disability. Those are kind of two different beasts but certainly, if you have questions, we have a great intake team that can answer those questions and we’ll be able to address that.

Jon Corra: Awesome. Well, everyone, thank you so much for tuning in today. For those who asked questions, we appreciate it. We’ll be doing this again in February so look for a date and time soon and, once again, thanks so much for watching. Have a good day.

 

It’s Not Over When It’s Over; What You Need To Know About Continuing Disability Reviews

POSTED BY Jon Corra . February 06, 2018

On average, Social Security Disability claims take two to three years to complete, sometimes even longer. This is due to the large backlog currently hindering the Social Security Administration (SSA). Simply getting approved is a major accomplishment. The journey may have been long, but you can finally relax because it’s over…right? Well, not necessarily. After you are approved, you’ll need to keep the SSA informed of any changes to your financial situation, your medical condition(s), and even your living arrangements if you’re receiving SSI. There is also a chance that your case will be reviewed in the future. Actually, the SSA is required to review every individual receiving Social Security Disability (SSD,) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI.) This is referred to as a Continuing Disability Review, or CDR for short. It’s important for everyone receiving disability benefits to be aware of what to expect from the CDR process. In this blog, we will explain the Continuing Disability Review in detail.

The most important thing to know about the CDR is that, if the SSA finds that your conditions have improved, you may no longer receive benefits. If your conditions haven’t improved, or if they’ve worsened, the SSA won’t likely stop your benefits.

How often do these reviews occur? The SSA does not have a set schedule for their CDRs, but most individuals will be reviewed every three to seven years. Each case is different. For individuals with conditions that are likely to improve, the reviews may occur more frequently than an individual with a condition that is not as likely to improve. The SSA may review your case less frequently than three to seven years if you have a condition that will not improve. For instance, if you’re receiving disability benefits as the result of a lost limb, you may not be subject to a review for much longer than the average time.

In addition to your condition, your age plays a factor in how often the SSA will review your case. If you’re younger than 50, you may be subject to a review more frequently than someone who is over 50. When it comes to a child’s case, there is one major difference: every child who receives SSI will be automatically reviewed when they turn 18. At 18, the child will be reviewed under adult standards, as opposed to the standards set for children.

There are additional circumstances that may give the SSA a reason to review your case after you’ve been approved. Think of these situations as “red flags” in your case. They are situations that may be in violation of the SSA rules. The following list provides examples of situations that would alert the SSA that your case should be reviewed:

  • You return to work
  • You inform the SSA that your condition has improved
  • Your medical evidence indicates that your condition has improved
  • A third-party informs the SSA that you are not following your treatment protocol, or
  • A new treatment for your disabling condition has recently been introduced

So, what exactly is involved in a CDR? You will be notified by the SSA by mail. This is just one of the many reasons why it is important to keep your information current with the SSA. When they notify you, they will send you one of two forms. If your condition isn’t likely to improve, you will get the “short form”—the Disability Update Report, which is a simple, two-page form. If you have a condition that is more likely to improve, you may receive the “long form”—the Continuing Disability Review Report. This longer form is similar to the initial application for benefits. It’s about 10 pages long, and it features more in-depth questions than the short form. The long form will ask a lot of questions about your medical history for the past year. They will want to know if you’ve seen a doctor or been hospitalized in the past 12 months. They will also ask about tests that you’ve had in the past year, and want your updated medical records. This is why we tell all of our clients that it is important to continue treatment even after you are approved. Medical treatment is the most beneficial thing anyone can do to help their case.

If you haven’t returned to work, and the SSA finds no evidence that your conditions have improved or improved enough to return to work, then the review is complete. However, if your conditions have improved, and the SSA believes that you can return to work, they will notify you that your benefits have stopped, and you will be given the chance to appeal.

If your medical evidence is not sufficient enough for the SSA to decide, they may set you up for a Consultative Exam. This is an exam by a doctor that is paid for by the SSA.

Hopefully, your CDRs will go well, and you won’t lose your benefits. Many individuals aren’t even aware that they will be subject to a review. If you need help getting approved, call our firm for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form and we will contact you at a better time.

 

What Social Security Applicants Need to Know About Federal District Court

POSTED BY Jon Corra . February 01, 2018

If you were to survey individuals who have pursued Social Security Disability claims, most would tell you that waiting for a decision is the hardest part of theWhat Social Security Applicants Need to Know About Federal District Court journey. As time goes on, that wait gets longer. If your case reaches the Appeals Council, you’ve been waiting for a long time, and there is a good chance that your case will be denied again.

So, what are you to do? Many people simply give up at this stage, but there are options. You may still appeal to the Federal District Court.

To appeal to the Federal District Court, you must file your appeal within 60 days of the Appeals Council decision. If you fail to appeal within the 60-day time period, you will have to start the process over again from the beginning.

If you file your appeal in a timely manner, then you will pursue your case with the Federal District Court. The most important thing to know at this point is that the process becomes even more complicated then it was before. The intensity level picks up, and there is even more paperwork. If you haven’t hired an attorney to represent you before, this would be an excellent time to seek one’s assistance.  It’s important to note that it may be difficult to find an attorney who will step in this late in the process.

Further proof that you’re in the major leagues is evident when you realize that the Federal District Court does not allow any additional documents or evidence to be submitted. Essentially you (or more accurately, your lawyer) have to prove that the SSA was wrong in their findings based on what the Administrative Law Judge had to review at the time of your hearing.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOK7KTjXhVs” width=”500″ height=”380″]

Once everything is submitted and the arguments have been made, it’s time for the Federal District Court to make their decision. Or is it? The Federal District Court may actually decide to do one of three things:

  • Decide to uphold the decision made by the Social Security Disability Appeals Council.
  • Decide to remand your case for additional review by the Social Security Administration.
  • Decide to grant you your Social Security Disability benefits.

One of the best things you can do before your case reaches this level is hire a qualified Social Security Attorney. Since 1994, our firm has helped thousands of people get the benefits they deserve. If you’d like to know more about the services we provide, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-Jan Dils. (1-877-526-3457.) If you can’t talk now, fill out this form and a member of our team can call you at a better time. If you would like to learn even more about the Social Security Disability Process, request a free copy of our book here.

What Social Security Applicants Need To Know About Online Applications

POSTED BY Jon Corra . January 25, 2018

What Social Security Applicants Need To Know About Online Applications
An online application is a great way to file for your social security disability benefits.

The internet is a wonderful tool with the power to make our lives easier in so many ways, including the process of applying for Social Security Disability. For instance, did you know that you might be able to save a lot of time by filing your initial application for benefits online? However, not everyone can file their applications via the internet. If you wish to pursue Social Security Disability, you must meet the following requirements to file online:

  • You must be age 18 or older;
  • You are not currently receiving benefits on your own Social Security record;
  • You are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last at least 12 months or result in death; and
  • You have not been denied disability benefits in the last 60 days. If your application was recently denied, Social Security’s Internet Appeal application is a starting point to request a review of the determination made.
  • What about individuals who want to pursue Supplemental Security Income? (SSI) Those people are able to file online too, but the requirements are slightly stricter. Per the SSA website, you must meet the following requirements to file your SSI claim online:
  • You must be between the ages of 18 and 65;
  • You’ve never been married;
  • You aren’t blind;
  • You are a U.S. citizen residing in one of the fifty states, District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands;
  • You haven’t applied for or received SSI benefits in the past; and
  • You are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance at the same time as your SSI claim.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOK7KTjXhVs” width=”500″ height=”380″]Overall, filing an online application is a great way to get your Social Security case started. There are some instances in which you may not want to file online, however:

If you don’t have access to high-speed internet, you may want to file a traditional application instead. The application can take a long time to complete, and that can be made worse if you don’t have a high-speed connection.

If you only have a smartphone. Smartphones are great, but a traditional desktop computer or laptop is a better choice for this application. The main reason for this is because you will need to upload and download large files for your new application.

If you’re not comfortable with computers, you may want to use a traditional application over the online application.

If you are curious about applying for benefits, give us a call today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. Or, if you can’t talk right now, fill out this form so we can contact you at a better time. We may even be able to help you fill out your initial application.

ODAR, and the Social Security Disability Backlog

POSTED BY Jon Corra . January 18, 2018

ODAR, and the Social Security Disability Backlog
The social security backlog continues to extend process times.

Why is the disability process so backlogged? It’s a question many people are asking, and they’re receiving very few answers. Currently, Social Security applicants are waiting at least two years for a hearing. Why is that? While there are many different reasons contributing to the massive backlog, the sheer volume is one of the biggest factors.

For instance, in 2013, 2,640,100 people applied for Social Security Disability benefits. From 2003 to 2013, the number of disability applicants increased 28%. That’s a significant increase over a short period of time. Though it’s been four years since these stats were compiled, the problem still exists, and there are even more applicants filing for disability now.

So, there has been a steady increase in the number of applicants for nearly 14 years. Currently, the SSA is struggling to replace judges who are retiring. According to a recent report in The Dallas Star-Telegram, there are only 10 Administrative Law Judges for every 5,899 cases. That’s almost 600 cases per judge.

According to a recent census, there are 854,000 people in the Fort Worth area. For all intents and purposes, Fort Worth is a large city. But what about smaller, more rural areas? What does the situation look like in those areas?

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOK7KTjXhVs” width=”500″ height=”380″]Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law is located in West Virginia. The capital of West Virginia is Charleston. The population in Charleston is just under 50,000 people. The Charleston ODAR office has 11 judges. On the surface, it would seem that a city with 1/10th the population of Fort Worth has more ALJs. Technically it’s true. However, the Charleston, WV ODAR serves far more counties than the Fort Worth ODAR does. Some individuals have to travel hours to have an in-person hearing at the Charleston, WV ODAR office. (Video hearings are often available within shorter distances.) Looking at the states as a whole, West Virginia has a total of 3 ODAR offices and 28 judges for the entire state. However, Texas has 8 ODAR offices and 98 judges.

Though the Fort Worth office has more new cases, their average wait time for a hearing is 14 months. The wait time at the Charleston, WV ODAR is 22 months. In other words, if you’re in certain areas of West Virginia, you’re going to wait at least 8 more months for a hearing than if you’re in the Fort Worth area.

This is just one of the many reasons why there is such a big backlog. The Social Security process can be difficult to navigate. But the good news is that you don’t have to pursue your case alone. Since 1994, the team at Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law has helped thousands of people get the Social Security benefits they deserve. Call toll-free at 1-877-Jan-Dils (1-877-526-3457) today to find out more. If you’d rather talk at a different time, complete this form and the intake team will reach out to you.

How Does the RFC form Impact Your Disability Claim?

POSTED BY Jon Corra . December 11, 2017

Anyone who has even considered applying for Social Security Disability will tell you that there are a lot of acronyms. An individual pursuing Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income will quickly learn that DDS is an abbreviation for Disability Determination Section. They also quickly find out that ALJ means Administrative Law Judge, and DE is short for Disability Examiner. Even Social Security Administration is typically abbreviated to SSA. But one acronym that many Social Security applicants may not be aware of is RFC.

RFC is short for residual functional capacity. Now that you know what the letters stand for, you’ll likely want to know what it means. Here is how the SSA explains RFC:

“Residual functional capacity assessment. Your impairment(s), and any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause physical and mental limitations that affect what you can do in a work setting. Your residual functional capacity is the most you can still do despite your limitations. We will assess your residual functional capacity based on all the relevant evidence in your case record.”

Essentially, SSA is determining what limitations you may have due to your conditions. For instance, back pain may limit your ability to stand for longer than 4 hours out of an 8 hour day or social anxiety may limit your ability to work with the general public.  SSA will be looking to see if there are still jobs within the national economy that you can do despite the limitations defined within your RFC.

If you have multiple disabilities, SSA will consider the combined limitations established for all of them to determine your ability to work. For instance, your back pain may limit you to only performing sedentary type jobs but your mental health diagnosis also limits your ability to concentrate for longer than 30 minutes at a time.  The physical & mental limitations combined would further reduce the jobs you could perform than only one limitation by itself. That’s why it’s important to list ALL of your disabilities when you apply for benefits. Or, if you’re working with an attorney, you’ll want to make sure they’re aware of all of your disabilities, as well as the ways in which they limit you.

[youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOK7KTjXhVs” width=”500″ height=”380″]Now that you understand the basics of RFC, you may be curious as to who determines your RFC. Actually, it’s a combination of people. Disability Determination Services is a state agency, and is the first level of determining disability benefits. DDS has individuals called Disability Examiners who work with a medical consultant to determine your RFC. These individuals consider limitations your doctor has assigned you, such as the inability to stand more than 10 minutes or lift more than 10 pounds. This is why it is extremely important to have your doctor document the limitations along with your symptoms within your medical records.

The RFC is first used to determine if you can do the type of work that you’ve done for the past 15 years. If you’ve done sedentary work for the past 15 years and your RFC states that you can do light work, which is above sedentary work, they will likely suggest that you return to your previous type of work. If the Disability Examiner determines you can’t do your prior job, they will then determine whether, given your RFC, your age, your education, and your skills, you should be able to learn another job.

This can be a difficult process to understand and navigate. That’s why so many people turn to the team at Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law to help them get the benefits they deserve. If you’d like to know more about the services we offer, or if you’d like a free consultation, give us a call today. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk to us now, fill out this form so that we may call you at a better time.

Social Security, Age, and Grid Rules

POSTED BY Jon Corra . November 15, 2017

We’ve all heard the saying “age is just a number” and, in many cases, it’s true. But, when it comes to Social Security claims, age can be a very important number.

It’s important to note that age is not the only consideration used to determine if a person is disabled. There are several other factors considered, too. Age is just a part of the equation. It plays a part just like work history, education, and the type of work an individual has performed throughout their life. But age is still an important consideration.

The general rule for age is that the younger an individual is, the more difficult it is for them to get approved.  SSA assumes that it is more difficult for a person age 50 or over to learn a new job or a new skill.

You may have heard the term “grid” used in Social Security. Social Security generally uses the grid rules (commonly referred to as the “grids”) only after it has determined that you can’t do the jobs you’ve done in the past. While it would take days to explain in detail how the grids work in a Social Security case, the important thing to remember is that age isn’t the only consideration. Once again, age, education, work history, and your residual functional capacity all play a part.

While an individual who is older may be more likely to get approved, it’s still possible for a younger person to be approved, too. For instance, a person who is 25 with several physical and mental disabilities and a lot of evidence/medical treatment is more likely to get approved for a claim that a person who is 45 with no medical treatment and little to no disabilities.

Getting approved for Social Security Disability often takes a combination of several factors. That’s partially why it takes so long to get a claim approved. Every aspect of a person’s health, age, education, work history must be taken into consideration.

If you feel overwhelmed by the Social Security process, and would like guidance through the maze, call our office today for a Free Consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that we can call you at a better time.

How Age Impacts A Social Security Claim

POSTED BY Jon Corra . October 25, 2017

We’ve all heard the saying “age is just a number” and, in many cases, it’s true. But, when it comes to Social Security claims, age can be a very important number.

It’s important to note that age is not the only consideration used to determine if a person is disabled. There are several other factors considered, too. Age is just a part of the equation. It plays a part just like work history, education, and the type of work an individual has performed throughout their life. But age is still an important consideration.

The general rule for age is that the younger an individual is, the more difficult it is for them to get approved.  SSA assumes that it is more difficult for a person age 50 or over to learn a new job or a new skill.

You may have heard the term “grid” used in Social Security. Social Security generally uses the grid rules (commonly referred to as the “grids”) only after it has determined that you can’t do the jobs you’ve done in the past. While it would take days to explain in detail how the grids work in a Social Security case, the important thing to remember is that age isn’t the only consideration. Once again, age, education, work history, and your residual functional capacity all play a part.

While an individual who is older may be more likely to get approved, it’s still possible for a younger person to be approved, too. For instance, a person who is 25 with several physical and mental disabilities and a lot of evidence/medical treatment is more likely to get approved for a claim than a person who is 45 with no medical treatment and little to no disabilities.

Getting approved for Social Security Disability often takes a combination of several factors. That’s partially why it takes so long to get a claim approved. Every aspect of a person’s health, age, education, work history must be taken into consideration.

If you feel overwhelmed by the Social Security process, and would like guidance through the maze, call our office today for a Free Consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that we can call you at a better time.