October 1, 2014

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...]

How to Explain Earnings After Your Disability Onset Date

If your earnings record shows salary earned after the date you say you became disabled, you can be sure that the judge in your Social Security disability hearing will ask for an explanation.

Example:  you say you became disabled on April 3, but your earnings record shows income in May, June and July.

In this video I explain  how I advise my clients to respond to questions about post-onset earnings in three common scenarios:

  • unsuccessful work attempts
  • accrued earnings or benefits that are paid after the last date you were physically present at work
  • part time work

No matter what the reason, always discuss with your lawyer work, work attempts or payments received after the date you claim that your disability began.

Fibromyalgia and Social Security Disability: Can You Still Win?

Social Security disability judges are increasingly reluctant to award benefits to fibromyalgia claimants unless these claims meet a certain profile.  Let me tell you about this profile – what is currently working for me in disability hearings I try here in the Atlanta area hearing offices. [Read More...]

CNN Report on September 11 PTSD Scam Misses the Mark

disability scamsCNN is reporting that more than 100 New York City firefighters have been indicted in connection with disability fraud.  These firefighters filed claims for disability under the World Trade Center Disability Law, a source of benefits available only to New York City employees injured as a result of their service on September 11, 2001.

According to CNN, these disability claimants were coached (the CNN article is silent as to who did the coaching) about how to behave to win benefits that can amount to $50,000 per year for total disability.

Investigators discovered, however, that some of these permanently injured claimants were, in fact, working – in one case, teaching martial arts – despite their claimed disability.

Presumably these dishonest, retired firefighters will face civil fines or perhaps criminal prosecution for their actions. [Read More...]