Social Security Disability

Beware of Social Media!

We all spend way too much time browsing social media. It is easy to get lost looking at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other platform that has become a way of life. Although most of the time spent on social media is harmless, sometimes what seems harmless often can be problematic.

Recently, an article was published on a local news site about a Bucks County man who is facing federal charges in connection with the Capitol riots in January. The FBI was tipped off when it was sent screenshots of a post his wife made on Facebook detailing her husband’s account of the incident – which he attended. Another recent article was published about a New York man who is being charged with disability fraud. Why? Because pictures emerged on his wife’s Instagram account of this “disabled” man running a business and pumping iron.

After all, social media posts are designed to be public, but they can also be problematic, as these men discovered. The same applies for the average person who may believe that their posts don’t matter. They do.

At the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, we represent injured workers in workers’ compensation claims, disabled persons who are seeking Social Security benefits, and persons injured in slips and falls and motor vehicle accidents. In all of those types of cases, we advise our clients to be very careful about what they post to social media.

Posts about your activities or your whereabouts could potentially impact your case. Claiming you are injured and need to receive workers’ compensation benefits while posting photos of you hiking in the mountains, for example, can make your claims seem more than a little bit unbelievable. Even if your account is “private,” you never know who is looking or may decide to forward on information. I am sure the wife of the Bucks County man wasn’t thinking any of her “friends” would pass on information to the FBI! The post had been later deleted from public view, but the screenshots already existed. And the New York man’s wife used her Instagram account very publicly to serve her own business.

It is now very common in litigation and other proceedings to be asked about social media accounts. And even if the question never comes, often, the lawyers are looking. Make sure you are careful about what you post, and never discuss your case! And make sure you control who can “tag” you in their posts. When in doubt, don’t post. If you do, and aren’t careful, it may cost you.

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Yes, Social Security Disability Claimants Can Die While Waiting for a Hearing

The headline is gruesome: “With COVID Delays, You May Die Waiting for Disability Benefits.” But the headline and the accompanying article in the February 2021 issue of In These Times are true. Disabled individuals who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) often have to wait years to receive the benefits they have paid for throughout their working life.

The situation is terrible, and we see it every day, with clients who cannot pay rent, who cannot afford to eat every day, and who have to wait for years before they receive the SSDI benefits they are entitled to. For some, it can seem like a death watch.

The reality is that SSDI claimants who are denied benefits, and have to wait years for a hearing, struggle to get adequate medical care, making their already deteriorating health even worse.

Most people don’t even realize that they are paying for this federal disability insurance benefit, although it is listed on the annual Earnings Report. SSDI is by payroll tax contributions. Workers and employers currently each pay a 0.9 percent tax on wages up to $113,700, with a portion going into the Disability Insurance Trust Fund. Those payments fund the SSDI system.

To obtain benefits, an individual must apply. And it is from the time of the application that the delays begin. An individual who is unable to continue working and seeks SSDI benefits applies for benefits. It can take anywhere from a few months to much longer for SSA to make an initial decision about each claim – and in fact that initial determination is made by a state agency in the state an applicant lives, not even the SSA.

About 65 percent of the applications are denied on the first application.

Next, the applicant must request reconsideration. That process takes on average three to five months, and it is typically a rubber stamp denial of the application. The denial rate for reconsideration is at least 85 percent.

At this point, applicants have just spent roughly nine to twelve months and have gotten nowhere. But if they do not jump through these hoops, they will never receive SSDI benefits.

The next step is the one that matters – getting a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who will actually look at everything and give applicants a full and fair impartial hearing. Applicants must request a hearing. After that, they have to wait for SSA to assign the request to a local hearing office. After the file is assigned, then the wait begins.

According to the latest SSA statistics, the average wait time for a hearing is 208 days in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, and between 249 and 323 days in Philadelphia, although it is often far longer. The In These Times article, for example, quotes an SSA spokesperson who acknowledged that as of the end of March 2020, the average waiting time was 408 days.

So what can you do to improve your chances of getting benefits and getting a hearing as quickly as possible?

The first recommendation given by Social Security is to appoint a representative, which means “Hire a lawyer,” and “do so as early as possible.” SSA statistics also show that SSDI applicants who hire an attorney to handle their SSDI or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability claims are more likely to be approved than those who don’t.

At the Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC, we regularly represent individuals with disabilities seeking Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits. We understand the system and do everything we can to keep our clients’ cases moving through the system as quickly as possible.

If you need SSDI or SSI lawyers, give us a call at 610-446-3457 or send us an email, or contact us through our website’s chat feature.

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Trump Administration proposes more changes designed to make it harder to obtain and keep receiving Social Security Disability benefits.

Once again, the Trump Administration is proposing changes to the Social Security Disability benefits program that could result in many people losing their SSDI and SSI benefits. Individuals who receive disability benefits are always subject to “continuing disability reviews,” which were originally intended to determine whether they still deserve compensation.

For many years, there have been only three categories of disabilities that were used to determine how frequently an individual is subject to a review. The reviews were infrequent and generally triggered by some change in condition that Social Security learned about.

The Administration is now proposing a fourth category for people for whom it “believes” medical improvement is “likely.” These reviews would occur every two years and would primarily apply to children and Step 5 recipients. Step 5 recipients typically suffer from debilitating medical conditions and cannot work.

The problem is that complying with disability reviews can be difficult, and requiring more frequent reviews appears to just be another attempt to push people out of receiving benefits.

We will monitor these proposed changes and keep you apprised.

We regularly represent individuals seeking Social Security benefits and can assist you throughout the process. You can call our office at 610-446-3457 to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys. We will explain the process, guide you and fight to get and keep the benefits you need.

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Social Security Administration Slows Down the Disability Application Process by Adding More Red Tape

Two years. That is how long it can take for an individual to make his or her way through the social security disability application process. For individuals with significant physical or mental health impairments who desperately need income, that is an eternity. Now, the Social Security Administration has added three to six more months to the application processing time by requiring applicants to file for Reconsideration.

The Social Security Administration has reinstated Reconsideration as a step in the disability adjudication process. As of April 1, 2019, Pennsylvania applicants whose initial applications were denied, which is nearly everyone, must seek Reconsideration.

If the Social Security Administration denies your initial application, you have 60 days from the date you receive the notice to submit a request for reconsideration. After you submit your reconsideration request, the Disability Determination Services will do a second review of your records. Unfortunately, if there are no changes from your initial application, you can expect another denial. And, if the reconsideration request is not submitted within 60 days, you will have to start over and resubmit your initial application. Only after you receive the reconsideration denial, then you can request a hearing.

We regularly represent individuals seeking Social Security benefits and can assist you throughout the application process. You can call our office at 610-446-3457 to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys. We will explain the process, guide you and fight to get you the benefits you need.

 

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Social Security Disability Claimants Face Long Delays Waiting for Hearings

It takes an average of 23 to 25 months until a Social Security Disability claimant has their hearing. Don’t take our word for it, you can read it on Social Security’s website at https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/01_NetStat_Report.html. That’s a long time, and one that neither the claimant nor counsel can control. Worse, the 25 month wait time for the Philadelphia office is the longest in the country.

In fact, one of the toughest things our office has to do is explain the length of the process to people applying for Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Even worse, that’s not the full story. Because those people must first apply for benefits and wait for that preliminary decision, which generally takes three to six months. Only then can they request a hearing before a Judge and get into the two-year long line.

We represent many of the claimants in the Philadelphia area who are feeling the effects of this crippling backlog. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, these are the disheartening statistics:

  • The average wait time for a hearing in Philadelphia is 26 months
  • The average wait time for a hearing in Elkins Park is 20 months
  • The average wait time for a hearing in South Jersey is 23 months
  • There are more than 10,000 Philadelphians currently awaiting hearings
  • 8,699 Americans died in 2016 while waiting for a hearing
  • Each Philadelphia office has more than 5,000 pending cases, but no more than 8 Judges

While no attorney can speed the process, they can offer guidance and preparation to help improve your chance at success. Our office regularly represents clients seeking Social Security benefits at every stage of their claims, including administrative hearings, and even in Federal District Court. The claims process involves complicated paperwork, appeals can be confusing, and the long wait for hearings makes everything seem worse. But we have the knowledge and experience to help guide you through the process. If you are considering a claim or have been denied, call our office at 610-446-3457 and we will explain the process and help you prepare your application or appeal properly.

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Available Soon – Fee Agreements in Pennsylvania (6th Edition) – Edited by Attorney Daniel J. Siegel

Almost hot off the presses. I just received a copy of the cover of my newest book, Fee Agreements in Pennsylvania. I edited the book (now in its 6th edition) and authored one chapter. The book will be available for purchase in the next few weeks from the publisher, the Pennsylvania Bar Institute. The book provides practical and ethical guidance that will help attorneys draft comprehensive fee agreements, and contains sample fee agreements covering a wide range of practice areas. My office regularly provides guidance to attorneys about how to improve their agreements and avoid fee disputes with clients.

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Learn About Social Security Disability – Dan Siegel to Speak at Delaware County Bar on August 31st

The Social Security Administration pays disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Benefits received through these programs may be relevant to personal injury, workers’ compensation, family law and other matters.

Attorneys often overlook the importance and impact of Social Security Disability benefits on their clients’ cases. To help attorneys assist their clients, Dan Siegel will discuss “Social Security Disability for Non-Social Security Disability Attorneys” on Thursday, August 31, 2016 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. at the Delaware County Bar Association  in Media. This CLE, on the final day of the August compliance period, will provide an overview of the Social Security Disability/SSI claims process, explain how clients can receive benefits, and answer common questions about the SS system.

Click here for more information about the program.

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Social Security Disability Applicants: Have No Fear, The System is Not Going Under

According to Chicken Little, the sky was always falling. Some observers of the Social Security Disability (SSDI) system seem to have a similar belief – that the SSDI system is “broke” and there won’t be enough money to pay all of the people entitled to benefits. In fact, an article in the July 2, 2015 issue of Business Week suggested that “the disability program needs help itself.”

While the SSDI system isn’t perfect, it’s not broke – or broken, and persons who need and are entitled to these benefits should file their applications. First, what is SSDI? The disability program provides monthly benefits to workers who can no longer work because of a significant illness or impairment expected to last at least one year or result in death within one year. And what most people don’t know is that part of the money deducted from their paychecks goes into the disability fund to protect them if their health worsens.

It is important to understand first, before pointing fingers, that when the economy goes down, disability claims go up. Since 1989 the SSDI system has more than doubled the number of enrollees between the ages of 25 to 64. This increase reflects the fact that as the economy worsens, it becomes harder for workers with medical problems to get or maintain jobs. It also reflects the fact that baby boomers are starting to feel the impact of years of work. Consequently, the SSDI is literally the “backbone” for workers affected by mental illness and back pain, in addition to those with heart disease, cancer and other disabling conditions.

What this means is not that the SSDI system is crumbling or that it is granting benefits to unworthy beneficiaries; rather, it means that the system adapts to the definition of what it means to be “disabled” in the workforce. While some, such as Stanford economist Mark Duggan, who is quoted in the Business Week article, claim that “SSDI absorbs people who might otherwise work when economic conditions approve,” that ignores the many programs, such as trial work periods, designed to encourage beneficiaries to return to the workforce. Duggan’s statement also ignores the reality economic conditions directly affect a person’s mental health. After all, a worker who had worked for the same company for 30 years and suddenly could no longer work because of COPD, is likely to become clinically depressed when she realizes that her job – an important part of her identity – is gone, and she is now homebound.

Economists who point their fingers at the SSDI system for accepting unfit candidates or discouraging work, focus more on the economic cost of the SSDI program and ignore its effectiveness and importance to so many people. To those workers, who never purchased disability insurance or never received it as an employee benefit, SSDI is the only thing prevents them from becoming homeless.

SSDI is not a “busted system,” and it will continue to help people with disability claims as it has in the past. Although the program is costly, Congress will almost certainly act – as it did the last time SSDI faced a monetary crisis – and “divert a portion of Social Security’s payroll tax revenues to SDDI to avoid cuts in benefits,” as the article notes. This will allow the system to provide benefits to those with SSDI claims for at least 17 more years, and prevent the system from going under, contrary to the eager predictions of some economists. In short, the Social Security Disability system is not going under, and future claimants have nothing to fear.

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Surprise? – There’s a Backlog in Social Security Disability Cases

As if it were “new” or “news,” an Associated Press report in the January 2, 2009 Philadelphia Inquirer discussed the “huge backlog of [Social Security disability] cases.”  Unfortunately, this isn’t news, it’s “olds.” For years, the Social Security system has been plagued with delays, and the backlog ebbs and flows with the economy and with the amount of funding SSA receives. Currently understaffed and facing an onslaught of claims, the system is way behind. On average, it now takes 480 days for an Adminsitrative Law Judge (ALJ) to rule on a claim. In the Philadelphia area, the average delay is only about one year.

 Here’s the problem. When workers pay into Social Security, they are buying both old age benefits and disability coverage. If they cannot work because of a disability (before their retirement age), workers can apply for Social Security disability benefits. Their claims are processed by an agency in their own state, which denies the majority of the claims. From that point, they can request a hearing before an ALJ. The one year delay, therefore, is calculated after the ALJ’s office receives the applicant’s file – and that, of course, is months (or a year or more) after the initial application is made. So, in reality, an SSD claimant can wait two or more years for benefits.

Having represented SSD claimants for nearly a quarter of a century, I have seen the average “delay” shrink and increase – although the current delays are some of the worst ever. Clients are not happy when I explain how long the process takes, but I don’t want them getting frustrated with me, so I believe it’s important to let them know what they face up front. In the long run, they appreciate the candor, even if they don’t appreciate the message.

It will take money – to pay for increased staff – to start to fix the system. Fortunately, in the Philadelphia area, our delays are shorter than  the national average, and hoepfully they will be reduced even more. Let’s hope so. Most Social Security disability claimants have worked most of their lives and need the SSD benefits to survive. Plus, they receive Medicare after being on SSD, and that can be an enormous benefit. Let’s hope the Obama adminstration addresses the situation.

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