The Blog

April is National Social Security Month!

April is National Social Security Month!  The Social Security website has provided five steps to assist in your financial security.

Step One: Allows you to get to know your Social Security and explains how Social Security is more than just retirement benefits.

Step Two: Allows you to review and verify your earnings by logging into or creating an account through my Social Security.  Please note that in order to be eligible for disability, retirement, and Medicare benefits you need to have earned 40 work credits.  $1300.00 = 1 credit and an individual can earn up to 4 credits a year.

Step Three: Shows how to calculate and estimate your social security benefits.  Planning for retirement can be tedious, however, social security has devised a system to assist in determining how long someone will have to work in order to live comfortably in their retirement.

Step Four: Shows how to apply for benefits.  The Social Security Administrations does accommodate all individuals and allows those who cannot leave their home to apply by phone as well.

Step Five: Allows you to manage your benefits and control your benefits when you need to via your my Social Security account.

Click the link below to review additional information regarding the above five steps.

https://www.ssa.gov/agency/5-steps-toward-your-financial-security/

 

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The Health Benefits of Regular Exercise

What is a simple way to feel better, have more energy and perhaps live a longer life? Exercise. The many health benefits of regular exercise are hard to ignore. Read on to discover the ways regular physical activity can improve your health and life.

Exercise can help you control your weight. When you engage in physical activity your body burns calories. The higher the intensity of the activity, the more calories you burn. In addition, exercise helps you build muscle mass. Even at rest, muscle mass burns many calories and helps to increase your metabolism. So, the great thing is, the more muscle mass you build from exercise, the more calories you can burn, even at rest, which helps you control your weight. Good stuff.

In addition, exercise can help keep the symptoms of many health conditions under control including, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. In addition, it has been shown that regular exercise can combat the symptoms of stress and depression. Exercise increases blood flow, which helps your body metabolize sugars and stimulates certain brain chemicals which can help you feel better physically and mentally. In addition, exercise helps you fall asleep faster and it promotes deeper sleep which can make anybody feel better.

As little as one half hour per day of regular physical activity is all you need to begin to realize the great health effects of exercise. And, you don’t have to sign up for a marathon to begin to notice these positive benefits. Activities as simple as taking the steps instead of the elevator, parking farther away from the door at the shopping mall or taking a walk on your lunch break are all great ways to incorporate more physical activity into your life. Of course, you should always consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

The positive benefits of exercise are waiting for you to discover today so grab your shoes and get out there.

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Federal Insurance Contributions Act

I often hear my Social Security Disability (SSD) clients say “I never thought I would be one of those people that need money from the government” or “I’m not looking for a handout”.  When I hear this, I remind them that SSD is not a handout.  In fact, it is your own money.

If you look at your paystub, you will likely see a FICA deduction from your pay.  FICA stands for “Federal Insurance Contributions Act”.  This is the tax that pays for Social Security Disability, Social Security retirement, and Medicare benefits.  This money goes into a fund to pay for your monthly benefits in the event you are disabled from working.

That’s right, the money that you work hard for all those years, that you never saw because it was taken by FICA, is the same money you are getting back if the Social Security Administration finds you disabled.  Think of it as putting money into a savings account in the event you need money and cannot work.

It is my hope that when my clients are awarded SSD benefits, they use these resources to take care of financial problems and to get the medical treatment they need to get back to work.  But claimants should not feel guilty receiving SSD benefits since it is their own hard-earned money going back into their pockets.

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Consultative Examinations (CE’s)

The majority of people that apply for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits will be scheduled to attend medical examinations known as Consultative Examinations or “CE” exams during the processing of their claim. The CE exam will be scheduled by the State Bureau of Disability Determination Services. If you have applied for SSD or SSI benefits based on physical limitations, you will be scheduled for a CE to evaluate your physical condition. If you have applied for benefits due to mental health impairments, you will be scheduled to attend a psychiatric or psychological CE. If you have made application for benefits due to both physical and mental limitations, you will be scheduled to attend both a physical and a mental CE.

The CE exam will be conducted by an independent doctor that is contracted by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) to perform these types of exams. Currently, these cases are being scheduled by a company known as the IMA group. When is it time for a CE exam to be scheduled in your SSD or SSI case, you will receive a notice from IMA which will provide you with the date and time of your CE exam. It is very important that you show up to your CE exam on time on the day and time scheduled. If you fail to show up for your CE or show up late, the doctor will not be able to evaluate your conditions and SSA can close your case for non-compliance.

You should know that the CE is not for purposes of medical treatment, but rather to provide SSA with a brief overview of your disabling conditions and related limitations. You can expect both the physical and mental CE’s to be brief, usually lasting no more than 10-20 minutes. You should come to CE prepared to tell the doctor about the physical and mental conditions that you suffer from, along with any symptoms and limitations from your conditions that you feel keep you from being able to work full time.

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SSD and SSI Financial Qualifications

Earlier this year, Social Security announced that there would be a 1.5% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security Disability (SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The COLA adjustment raised the income qualifications for these federal benefit programs. Although beneficiaries would have liked to see a higher percentage increase in benefits, in some recent years no increases were authorized. We hope that the COLA increases are the beginning of an annual trend of benefit increases for Social Security recipients.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI): The average SSD benefit has increased to $1148 per month. In determining your financial eligibility, you must now be making less than $1,070 per month to qualify for benefits, or $1,800 per month if you are blind. If you make over $1,070 a month, the SSA will find that you are able to engage in “substantial gainful activity” which means that you are able to earn money from work at such a level that you will not be eligible for benefits.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): For SSI, the new maximum benefit rate is $721 per month for an individual and $1,082 per month for a couple. The resource limits for SSI remain at $2000 for an individual and $3000 for a couple. In other words, the value of the things you own (excluding your home and one car) must be less than $2000 if you are single or $3000 if you are married in order for you to be eligible for SSI benefits.

If you are trying to determine whether you are financially eligible for SSD or SSI, we can help! Please give us a call at 215-561-1000. Our experienced SSD/SSI team can help determine your eligibility for SSD/SSI, and assist you in applying for benefits.

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Establishing Medical Treatment Records For Your Social Security Disability Case

If you are thinking about applying for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or you are waiting for a hearing before a Social Security judge, you should be receiving regular medical treatment for all of your disabling conditions. This means that you should be seeing your doctors on a weekly or monthly basis, following your doctor’s treatment recommendations and keeping the Social Security Administration (SSA) informed about your medical treatment. The SSA will not take your word regarding your medical conditions, but will instead rely on your medical records and statements from your doctors.

You can help develop your medical records by telling your doctors about your conditions, symptoms, pain, and limitations at every appointment, even if you think your doctors are fully aware of your conditions. You should also explain to your doctors how your conditions impair your daily activities and prevent you from being able to work. This will help ensure that your medical records reflect your disabling conditions and are consistent with your SSD application. You should also remember to keep your SSD attorney up to date on all of your medical providers, as your attorney will want to ensure that the SSA receives and reviews all of your medical treatment records.

If you don’t have health insurance you should consider visiting a health clinic where you can obtain a free or very inexpensive medical treatment. Many clinics will offer a free initial medical assessment and help you apply for Medical Assistance.

Follow the link below for a map of health clinics in the Philadelphia metro area that offer free or inexpensive medical treatment:

 

http://www.phila.gov/health/pdfs/phila_hc_map.pdf

 

 

 

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Disabled and without Health Insurance?

If you find that you are unable to work due to disabling conditions and are unable to pay for doctors’ visits or medications due to lack of health insurance, there are still some things you can do to get extremely low cost health insurance.

If your income and assets are low enough, you may qualify for Medicaid, which is a government health insurance program. In Pennsylvania, Medicaid is known as Medical Assistance (MA). To be eligible for MA, you will need to show that you are disabled. To show that you have a disability, you will need to have a doctor verify your medical conditions and their expected duration. Your doctor can do this by either writing a personal statement or filling out an Employability Assessment Form. On this form, your doctor should list your disabling conditions and indicate that you are Temporarily Disabled – 12 Months or More, or Permanently Disabled.Once you have these forms filled out by your doctor, you should contact your local County Assistance Office to enroll. Click here for the list of Pennsylvania’s County Assistance Offices.

Pennsylvania also offers Medical Assistance Benefits for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD). MAWD allows low-income disabled individuals to obtain very inexpensive health insurance. To be eligible for MAWD, you must be working in some capacity and have a disability. To show that you are working for purposes of MAWD, you would need to document that you have been paid by check and that you deposited these checks into your checking account. There is no minimum amount of time you have to work, and the compensation can be paid by anyone (including friends, neighbors and family members), as long as you are paid at least minimum wage by check. To show that you are disabled, you should follow the same steps outlined in the above paragraph about Medical Assistance.

The health insurance offered by both the MA and MAWD programs can also be used by people who have just started receiving Social Security Disability benefits, as these people will not be eligible for Medicare until two years after they are found disabled.

If you or someone you know is disabled and without health insurance, we can help. At Banks Law, our experienced attorneys can assist you in determining what health insurance options are available for you.

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How the SSA Determines Disability Claims

For all people applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSD) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits, the definition of disability is the same. The Social Security Administration defines disability as “the inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d).”

 

In everyday language that means:  in order for you to be considered disabled by the Social Security Administration, you cannot perform any work because of a serious medical condition that is diagnosed by a doctor.  The condition will last for at least a year or, in all likelihood, will cause your death.  The Social Security Administration needs to have more than your word that you cannot work.  They need to hear it from a doctor and usually want test results that back up the doctor’s claim.

 

Most disability claims are initially processed through local Social Security field offices. SSA representatives in the field offices receive initial applications for SSD and SSI benefits, either in person, by telephone, by mail or via an online application process.  At this stage, the SSA will attempt to verify the information submitted in the application by having its representatives contact claimants for more information.

 

When an initial claim is denied, you can appeal the denial. If SSA also denies the appeal, the case moves to a hearing office within the SSA called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). Here, the case is scheduled before an administrative law judge for a hearing. The judge issues a decision on the case after receiving additional medical evidence and holding a hearing with you present.  The entire application process- from filing the initial application through the hearing- takes approximately one year to complete. The key to obtaining your disability benefits as soon as possible is to have continuing medical treatment and an experienced Social Security attorney by your side.

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Preparing Your Social Security Disability Application

A carefully prepared SSD/SSI application will increase your chances of being approved for disability benefits or supplemental security income. Even if you are not approved after the initial application, the information gathered will be beneficial to your appeal because you will already have the proper information needed to prepare for a hearing.

In order to prepare a strong application you will need to gather the names of all the doctors, healthcare professionals, hospitals and clinics where you have treated, including their addresses, phone numbers and the dates of treatment. You will also need to compile a list of all medications and treatments you are receiving and their side effects.

You should also prepare a list of the places that you worked in the past 15 years. You will need to list the first and last date worked at each job and the date that your medical condition(s) began to affect your ability to work. You should be ready to answer questions pertaining to your duties at each job, especially the physical requirements. You will also need to list your highest level of education and any special training you may have received.

You should carefully choose a third party to communicate with the Social Security Administration (SSA) about your medical conditions on your behalf. You will want to designate a family member or friend who is familiar with your disability and who will be able to respond to the SSA’s requests about your medical conditions.

We understand that preparing a disability application can be a very difficult and time consuming process. We can help. Please give us a call at 215.561.1000. Our experienced SSD/SSI team can assist you in filing a SSD/SSI application that can increase the likelihood of being approved for benefits with your initial application, which will mean less time waiting to receive your benefits.

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