Less than half of the people in the United States who apply for disability benefits ultimately receive them, and they wait nearly 600 days to even receive an initial hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. Proposed changes to the process include giving equal weight to evidence from the claimant’s treating physician and from a medical consultant who provides a brief examination or review of medical records. For conditions that manifest themselves in difficult ways, like lupus or schizophrenia, it’s likely that a one-time consultation by a paid medical consultant will not uncover the true effects a disease has on a claimant. More initially denied claims will lead to an increased hearings backlog. Currently, more than one million people across the country are waiting for hearings, and the SSD’s budget has been cut by 10% since 2010.
The Social Security Administration announced the launch of a new health information technology initiative with the Department of Veterans Affairs in late 2016. The initiative enables all Social Security Disability processing sites to receive electronic medical records from all VA facilities. Called the eHealth Exchange, the initiative went live in November 2016. The SSA requests nearly 15 million medical records every year to help make medical decisions on approximately 3 million disability claims. As Secretary of the VA, Dr. David Shulkin, stated: “VA is currently improving quality of life by enabling veterans to share their health information with federal partners and integrating their data into a safe and secure health-related consumer application.” The initiative will now allow medical records to be shared in minutes rather than months.
The Trump Administration’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, recently stated: “If you ask 999 people out of 1,000 [they] would tell you that Social Security disability is not part of Social Security.” At the time, Mr. Mulvaney was explaining a budget proposal that would slash $72 billion in disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income over the next ten years. But what he does not seem to grasp is that cutting funds for SSD is a direct blow to the idea of social insurance. The point of Social Security is to protect against the risk that income will be lost due to retirement, death, or disability. The SSD program was created under the Eisenhower presidency. Both workers and employers contribute to the disability insurance fund through their payroll tax contributions. Workers only qualify for benefits if they’ve worked the equivalent of at least 10 years, with adjustments made for younger disabled workers, just as they must to collect Social Security retirement benefits and Medicare. But as Mr. Mulvaney believes, SSD is “a very wasteful program, and we want to try and fix that.”
Kevin J. Bambury and Christopher J. Grover, attorneys with Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC., were presenters at the 2017 Spring Conference of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives in Washington, D.C. Bambury and Grover, who handle Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims for clients in Western New York, spoke about guiding claimants through the application process and preparing them for an SSD hearing. Since it is typically around two years from the initial application to when a client obtains a decision regarding benefits, it is critical, Bambury said, that representatives fully understand the laws regarding disability. “It’s also critical attorneys define ‘total disability’ to their clients from the beginning of the claims process, and remind them of that definition until they are through the hearing stage,” he said. Claimants representatives must also be knowledgeable regarding the medical evidence required to prove a client can no longer perform their former job, or in any other job that exists in the national economy. “Obtaining SSD benefits is challenging,” Bambury said. “Currently, there’s a significant backlog of claims — approximately 1 million cases — so it is a long and arduous process getting to the hearing… Continue Reading Freedman attorneys are presenters at NOSSCR Conference
According to Social Security Administration quarterly data, more than 1.1 million people are currently waiting an average of almost 600 days for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. The top ten states with the longest wait times due to backlogged cases are California, New York, Texas, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Tennessee. One way to decrease potential wait times is to file a claim for Social Security Disability benefits with the help of a seasoned legal representative accustomed to how the process works from start to finish.
President Trump’s proposed budget includes extensive cuts to Social Security Disability (SSD), a safety net that currently helps millions of Americans who live either below or just above the poverty level. This includes workers who, due to a physical or mental disability, can no longer work and depend on SSD and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Kevin J. Bambury, attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC; and member of the National Association of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), has been assisting claimants in obtaining both SSD and SSI benefits for more than 21 years. “This budget addresses SSD and SSI as though it were an entitlement program that is fraught with fraud. When in fact, this is a program workers pay into to insure if they become disabled they will have at least a modest income to support themselves and their families,” Bambury said. “And, according to Government Accountability Office in 2012, the error rate in the SSD program (The GOA does not use the term ‘fraud.) was .06 percent, for a program then serving around nine million people — most corporations would be pretty happy with that error rate.” NOSSCR, formed in 1979 to provide support and educational programs for… Continue Reading Proposed cuts to SSD punish an already struggling population
After Kentucky attorney Eric Conn pled guilty to his involvement in a massive Social Security Disability scam, the former administrative law judge who approved over 3,000 disability cases filed by him also admitted that he scammed the federal government to the tune of $550 million in obligatory lifetime benefit payments. Former judge David Daugherty instructed Mr. Conn on how to write the fraudulent disability applications so that the applicants did not need to appear for in-person hearings prior to Judge Daugherty’s approval of the claims. Mr. Conn paid Judge Daugherty over $600,000 while the scam was in operation between 2004 and 2011. Although the Social Security Administration does not have the power to strip Judge Daugherty of his pension, the court can order that he pay restitution, which can be accomplished by garnishing his pension to cover the costs.
The Bar Association of Erie County’s Committee for the Disabled recently held a continuing education seminar on Social Security Disability: The State of ODAR (Office of Disability Adjudication and Review). Christopher J. Grover Esq., of Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC, is the committee chair. The program focused on the Social Security Administration’s new rules regarding disability claims. “There have been several new rules that will significantly affect this practice area,” Grover said. “The most predominant changes were made in the medical listings for mental health disorders and the new 5-day rule for the submission of evidence.” Judge Michael Devlin, Acting Hearing Office Chief Administrative Law Judge, spoke to the group of 40 attorneys about the changes, additions, and omissions to the new mental health listings. He also discussed a 2016 ruling, which changes the evaluation process for a person’s complaints about the severity of their condition. “Judge Devlin emphasized that the main purpose of the ruling is to weigh the claimant’s subjective symptoms with the objective findings, rather than examining the claimant’s character or credibility,” Grover said. Mark Starosielec, Esq., Hearing Office Director, discussed ODAR’s plans to address the lengthy SSD claims processing wait times and backlog. The local office, he… Continue Reading SSD seminar focuses on new rules for Disability claims
Eric C. Conn, a lawyer in eastern Kentucky, recently pleaded guilty to a social security benefit scam that could leave the government responsible for more than $550 million in lifetime benefits. Mr. Conn recruited and filed over 1,700 fraudulent applications with fake medical exams signed off on by doctors and psychologists on his team. Alfred Bradley Adkins, a psychologist who faked the examinations, and Administrative Law Judge David Black Daugherty, who approved the applications, have additional cases pending against them. However, Mr. Conn’s clients say they have valid claims of disability, despite the scam. As of October 2016, the government had paid out over $46 million in benefits.
New regulations regarding Social Security Disability (SSD) applications took effect March 27, 2017, which will make it more difficult to file a disability claim. Most significantly, the so-called “treating-physician rule” has been eliminated. Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) and others making decisions on claims will no longer put significant weight on reports from claimants’ physicians, including agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs. “This is disturbing, but it doesn’t mean more people who deserve SSD will be eliminated from qualifying,” said Kevin J. Bambury, attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC. “Truly disabled workers will get their benefits if their case is prepared well and the decision-makers have all the necessary facts to support the claim.” A brief summary of the rules follows: The definition of “signs” and “laboratory findings” has been revised to clarify one or more signs, one or more laboratory findings, or a combination of both are needed to provide sufficient medical evidence. Audiologists who are licensed for hearing impairments, auditory processing disorders, and balancing disorders are considered acceptable medical sources within the limits of their licensing practice area. The agency requires audiometric testing be performed by, or under direct supervision of a licensed audiologist or otolaryngologist. Evidence from… Continue Reading SSA imposes new rules on Social Security Disability applicants