August 22, 2014

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...]

Social Security Disability Again the Subject of Congressional Inquiry

Social Security disability costs too highCBS News reports this morning that the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will begin hearings on Thursday, June 27 about the role of administrative law judges in awarding benefits.

Critics of the current disability system point to SSA’s own statistics which show that judges currently approve slightly more than half of the claims brought before them (this is down from a 60% approval rate in 2010).  Claims approved at hearings were previously rejected twice by state employees called adjudicators.

Critics also claim that too many judges are approving undeserving cases simply to clear out growing backlogs – the judges complain of quotas – which may delay a hearing date for longer than 12 months.

Others contend that long term unemployed workers claim disability when their unemployment benefits run out 1 [Read more...]

  1. This was the premise of a controversial NPR report entitled Unfit for Work: the Startling Rise of Disability in America – see my video about this story here.

New Information Available About Social Security’s Work Incentive Programs

ticket to work programSocial Security disability programs are running out of money.   As such Social Security executives are looking for ways to reduce the outflow of dollars.

One effort has been to tighten up eligibility standards.   Claimant’s representatives throughout the country are reporting that ALJ approval rates are down.   When cases are approved, judges are including directives in their decisions for SSA to review approved the approved claimant for medical improvement in one year or three years.

SSA has increased and will continue to increase the number of continuing disability reviews for approved claimants.  For years, the CDR program was basically ignored by Social Security – as a result only a very tiny percentage of approved claimants were ever removed from the payment rolls and there was no inquiry into improved medical status.   This is changing and I am starting to receive calls from my old clients asking about these continuing reviews. [Read more...]

Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace): Friend or Foe?

Back in July, I posted a blog about how Facebook can potentially damage your Social Security Disability claim if information contained in your profile contradicts your disability claim and somehow gets in the wrong hands. But since there are many social media sites out there, I would like to elaborate on this topic so as to provide more comprehensive advice on the topic of whether social media is a friend or foe.

Never before in the history of technology has there been such an array of sources available for an individual to stay in contact with friends and family social mediafar and near.  One feature of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook that attracts millions of users per day is their short learning curve.  The simplicity of these sites coupled with the fact that these mediums are free to the public attracts record amounts of new signees daily, and there appears to be no signs of a recession in sight.  Although these type mediums are great tools in which to stay in contact or reunite with high school friends and distant family, a danger lurks within, which most users are either not aware of or simply take for granted.  A mistake concerning privacy control on either of these social network sites could be the deciding factor on whether a disability applicant will receive benefits or not.

Facebook, Twitter and MySpace share the same premise for social contact; however, these social forums differ in their rules and regulations.  Most of these sites are in real-time with postings denoting both a date and time for each post.  For instance, the popular sites of Facebook and MySpace provide its users with the ability to post an indefinite supply of pictures and comments to a user’s network or followers, while its rival, Twitter is limited to micro blogs, those postings confined to only 140 characters. Creating messages under such a restricted limit often causes posts of only quick thoughts.  Although most Twitter users voice frustration on being restricted to the mere 140 characters (spaces included), 140 characters unwisely utilized by “Jane Doe,” the social security applicant, could lead to irreparable harm and the demise of her disability application.  To show how a simple post on Twitter can go from fun to disaster with the click of button (less than two seconds), let us take a brief look at a sample tweet.  “Went on our family vacation, enjoyed synchronized swimming class at the hotel’s pool and walking around Disney World.  Great time!”  Although not a proper sentence, common to the Twitter world, this 116 character long tweet is the precursor for an impending disaster.  Yes, as a post, it sufficiently allowed followers to learn and have a glimpse of her recent travel; in the social security world, however, it could be considered a costly mistake. [Read more...]

Approved Claimant Returns to Work – Are there any Defenses to a Continuing Disability Review or Termination Action by SSA

How should you prepare for a Continuing Disability Review (CDR) or notice of proposed termination?  It depends on how vulnerable you are to losing.   I received the following question from one of my readers:

I received a letter from SSA saying that they are reviewing my current SSDI benefit and possible to end my benefits due to substantial work between 2004 and now.   I would like to have your advisement how I should handle this and what options I can do to keep my SSDI benefits.   I only have Medicare insurance and living with AIDS.   Also, I am deaf.

My response: Social Security is saying that you engaged in “substantial activity” from 2004 to the present.  “Substantial activity” is a term of art and refers to activity that is work or work like activity.   Substantial activity can be work for pay, volunteer work, school or other similar activites.

In a CDR context, Social Security is most likely looking at your earnings record.  As you know, when you work your employer files copies of all W-2′s and 1099′s generated on behalf of employees.  If you were working and your employer was withholding taxes as the law requires there is a written record of your earnings.

I have posted a table on this blog setting out what you can earn and still fall below SGA (substantial gainful activity).   Social Security will look at your earnings month by month to calculate how many months you exceeded SGA.  You could, in theory, could be asked to repay SSA for each month that you received earnings over SGA and also collected SSDI. [Read more...]

Are Claimants Required to Submit Unhelpful Medical Records

There is no such thing as the “perfect” case.  Even the most deserving claimants may end up with a doctor who they don’t like or with whom they do not get along.  This is especially true in “pain” cases when narcotic medicines may be prescribed.  There are also doctors out there who do not believe in the concept of disability – as far as they are concerned no one is fully disabled and these doctors will not cooperate with a Social Security claimant at all (needless to say, it is helpful if you discover this trait in your treating doctors early enough in your case to find another doctor!).

What about unhelpful medical records?  I see this frequently in cases where there was a workers’ compensation case.  “Company doctors” often minimize symptoms and generate records indicating that a claimant has the capacity to return to work.   Other times I see unhelpful records in cases where my client just did not “click” with his or her physician or psychiatrist.

One of my blog readers wrote me to ask about his obligation to submit unhelpful records in the context of a continuing disability review:

I have been on SSI for 8 years for mental illness. One recently former psychologist would say I was never disabled while my psychiatrist, and my new psychiatrist (the present one is moving) say I am disabled. [Read more...]

Social Security Ordered to Repay 80,000 Social Security Recipients After Funds Illegally Withheld

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that a federal district court judge has ordered the Social Security Administration to repay over $500 million improperly withheld from over 80,000 disability and retirement recipients from 2007 through 2009.

According to lawyers who filed a class action suit, SSA ordered its staff to withhold benefits from anyone who was named in an arrest warrant for a federal or state felony.   The problem: many of the affected claimants were not aware of any warrants, in many cases the charges were dropped, and in other cases, SSA erred in identifying the individuals affected.

SSA should have limited its program of withholding benefits to those on the run who are attempting to avoid prosecution or punishment.

Can Your Facebook Profile Hurt Your Social Security Disability Case

I recently ran across a very timely post on Jim Reed’s New York Injury Law blog entitled “When Facebook Isn’t a Friend to Your Personal Injury Case.”   Jim correctly points out that the default privacy setting on Facebook is essentially “no privacy” meaning that anyone in your geographic area can view your profile, your photos and comments made by and about you.

What does this have to do with your Social Security disability case?

First, remember that the main issue in most Social Security cases is whether you have the capacity to perform simple, entry level, low-stress, sit-down type of work.  Now, take a look at your Facebook profile.   Does it contain photos of you dancing at a wedding, or on the beach?  Are there comments from friends chatting about that family get-together or class reunion?

Some of my disability clients “friend” me and I always find it interesting to look at their profiles.   I am looking at one such profile right now and it reads as follows: [Read more...]

Will a Work Attempt Cause Me to Lose My Benefits

Many disability claimants are not ready to give up on the idea of working.   Social Security recognizes this and offers a number of programs designed to help disabled claimants transition back into the work force.

I recently received a letter from a such a claimant.  He describes himself as a 53 year old male was was approved for SSDI as of June, 2006.  The basis of his claim is major depression.  He states that in June, 2007 he decided to try to return to work as a commissioned insurance agent.   From June of 2007 through April, 2009, he has earned $10,000 in commissions, but these commissions have not yet been distributed to him.   He states that the work effort has been very difficult and at this point he has decided to discontinue his active work as an insurance agent.

The issue facing him has to do with the $10,000.   He is concerned that if Social Security sees a $10,000 distribution, it might trigger a termination.  What should he do? [Read more...]

How Do Job Training Programs Affect Continuing Disability Reviews

In my practice I do not see very many continuing disability review (CDR) cases.   If you are not familiar with this term, a “continuing disability review” involves a review by Social Security as to whether an approved claimant remains disabled.  For example, there are some medical conditions that can and do improve over time and with treatment.   I have been involved in many cases – especially those in which the claimant is in his 20′s or 30′s – when the judge specifically includes in his decision that a particular claimant should be reviewed in 1 year, or perhaps 3 years.

In theory, every Social Security disability case will be subject to a CDR.  In reality, because of the current backlog, I rarely hear from my clients that their cases are being reviewed.   The few cases that do seem to end up in a CDR typically involve younger claimants.

I am not usually called upon to handle CDR cases because [Read more...]