March 27, 2015

Local TV Station Highlights Problems with Social Security Hearing Process

This is the video segment about Social Security disability delays, hosted by investigative reporter Randy Travis of Atlanta’s Fox 5 TV.   Travis highlights what most Social Security disability lawyers already know – that the judge assigned to your case could mean more than the medical records in terms of whether or not you receive benefits.

In the Atlanta downtown hearing office, there are judges who approve less than 20% of cases, and judges who approve more than 70%.   So two identical claimants – each with the exact same medical issues – would likely get different results based solely on the luck of the draw.

And you are going to wait – often two years or longer – before you even get the chance to appear before that judge.

While there are other problems with the SSD process, Mr. Travis’ report highlights two of the biggest issues – the wildly divergent approval rates by judges within the same hearing office and the outrageous delays.

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

Hearing Strategies for Claimants with Multiple Medical Problems

multiple medical problems and social security disabilityGreg writes:  “I have seen many if not all of your YouTube videos and have to say you probably are the best disability lawyer on there. My case is rather unusual in the sense that I do not have one injury, I have three. I have a bad back, one herniated disk that causes a lot of pain for me and three bulging disks that are bad in their own right. My right hip is bad and needs replacement, I am on year 6 since it’s discovery. I also have two feet that have chronic pain from bad plantar fasciitis that have both been operated on with little to no success.”

“How on earth do I and my lawyers tackle this in a manner in which I can get approved ??? Should I have my primary doctor do a functional test on me for all three injuries or have each specialist do a functional test on each injury? Secondly is an MRI going to sway a judge more than an X-ray when these days X-ray specialists write their findings and send it to the treating doctors themselves.”

“Any advice would be much appreciated, and keep up your great work with helping us needy and injured.”

–Thanks, Greg

Greg, here are my thoughts. First, thanks for the kind words about my YouTube channel. I do put a lot of effort into creating these videos and I appreciate your positive feedback.

As far as your medical issues are concerned, I would defer to your lawyer who obviously can review and assess your medical problems. Speaking generally, however, my experience has been that it would likely be an uphill battle to base your disability case on planar faciitis since that condition is usually not totally disabling. It can eliminate categories of jobs that require more than minimal standing and walking but probably not sitting jobs. [Read More…]

No Jail if You Refuse to Use SSDI Money to Pay Court Ordered Obligations

contempt of courtThe Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued an interesting decision in a case called In re Robby Lampart about the right of a state agency to go after a claimant’s Social Security disability to enforce a criminal restitution order.  In a tightly written opinion which you can read here, the Michigan appellate judges held that a trial court could not use its power of contempt (i.e., putting a defendant in jail) to coerce that defendant to use Social Security funds to pay his obligations.

Usually, of course, the payment dispute involves child support rather than criminal restitution. My sense is that if other courts adopt the Lampart court’s reasoning in child support cases, custodial parents would not be able to use contempt actions to incarcerate disabled non-custodial parents although they could use contempt actions to find out what other assets that non-custodial parent might have.

Here’s what happened in the Lampart case.

Lampart’s mother, Diana Alexandroni, was ordered to pay criminal restitution of $28,210 at rate of $250 per month. The trial judge ordered Ms. Alexandroni to submit to a wage garnishment of $62.50 per week from her job with the funds payable to the State of Michigan. [Read More…]

How Does a Social Security Judge Decide if I have “Transferable Skills” for Grid Rule Purposes?

transferable skillsThis is a good question – the short answer is that judges will look to vocational expert witness testimony to determine whether a claimant has acquired transferable skills.

Your question got me thinking that it might be helpful to review how the grid rules work and to take my readers through a grid rule analysis, so, here you go:

The grid rules, or “medical vocational guidelines” can qualify you for Social Security disability benefits even if you have some capacity to work, but you are not likely to find work because of limited skills and a limited education.

In order to qualify for a finding of disability under the grid rules you must have exertional limitations. This means that your medical issues must impact your physical capacity. Thus, a person asserting disability based on depression, or bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia could never qualify under the grid rules 1

You can look at the grid rules here.

The grid rules look at several factors: your age, your education, the skill level of your past work and whether or not your past work generated any transferrable skills. SSA lays out these factors in a table divided by grid lines – thus the name.

When a judge applies the grid rules he first must make a decision about your capacity for work. If you are limited to sedentary work, you are more likely to be found disabled under the grid rules than if you are limited to light or medium work.

Let’s analyze how the grid rules work in practice. [Read More…]

  1. Such a person could, however, qualify for disability based on a listing or using a functional capacity argument.

SSA Overpayment Issues Can be Difficult to Handle

SSA overpayment claimIf you need a lawyer to help you with an overpayment issue, you are going to have a hard time finding help. Overpayment cases arise when Social Security discovers that they have paid you too much – sometimes for years – and now they want their money back.

In most cases, you will receive a letter that says something like this:

We are writing to give you new information about the disability/retirement/survivors benefits which you receive on this Social Security record. We have determined that you were overpaid in the amount of $30,000. Please refund this overpayment within 30 days.

An explanation of the overpayment will be included. And, to show that they have some compassion, they do include an envelope. If you do not send them the full amount due they will withhold your monthly benefit check for as many months as it takes to recover the overpayment.

Obviously if your Social Security money is your only source of income, this can be a huge problem.

An overpayment can happen for several reasons.

  • Perhaps you were found disabled then returned to work under the Ticket to Work or a trial work period program. Social Security may have continued to pay you disability benefits even after you returned to work.
  • You could be an SSI recipient whose income and resources exceeded the stingy limits of that program.
  • You could be a disabled widow who was receiving benefits under a deceased spouse’s earnings record and now you have remarried.
  • The mistake could have been on SSA’s end – they may have advised you that you were eligible for a particular type of benefit but later concluded that you were not so eligible.

Whatever the reason, it is probably a safe bet that you don’t have $10,000, $20,000 or whatever the overpayment number is claimed. What can you do? [Read More…]