What Questions Does The Judge Inquire At The Social Security Hearing?

In general Social Security hearings are fairly casual, nothing like you are accustomed to seeing on the news or Court TV. Generally, the only folks in the hearing room are a court reporter who types what’s being said, the judge, the claimant and if you’re represented, your representative. It is also not unusual for the Administrative Law Judge to request a vocational expert or a medical expert testify at the hearing.

The primary goal of the hearing is for the claimant.

Usually the judge will ask questions in order to understand your case and get the info that is necessary to establish if you meet Social Security’s definition of impairment.

Background Information

The judge will ask you questions about your schooling and where you reside. Essentially, easy questions which you should not normally have to think twice about.

Work History

You’ll be asked about your work history before your alleged start date from fifteen years up to the last job you held. You might be requested to describe what this money is for if you’ve got any gains since your alleged start date.

Medical Condition(s)

Clearly you’ll be asked how they impact you on a daily basis and many questions about your impairments. Maybe you are asked if you’ve been hospitalized or if the drug helps your troubles, if the medicine has side effects. It’s also wise to be prepared to describe any difference in clinical treatment (for instance if you no longer had medical coverage).

Be prepared for the one question that I consider each and every judge I Have ever appeared in front of has inquired — “In your view, what prevents you from working?”

Daily Tasks

It gives them insight into what your limits are. It is here where the judge will usually have the ability to ascertain whether he/she considers you’re exaggerating or whether he/she thinks you’re a credible individual.

It is crucial that you make sure your limits are understood by the judge and your disability keeps you from doing daily tasks. But, at precisely the same time, you don’t need to lie or exaggerate. They are able to generally tell if someone is lying to them or if their limits are being exaggerated by the individual.

So you have applied for either Social Security Disability benefits or Supplemental Security Income and you have been refused at the First application, and perhaps another time at Reconsideration ( in case your state has this phase of the procedure).

Here are a number of things for what to expect at your hearing:

  • It is time to strongly consider getting one should you not have an experienced Social Security disability lawyer. Not to mention, they are going to present your case in an ordered fashion that reveals the judge that you simply match with the Social Security definition of disability.
  • Unlike other legal proceedings, claimants are prohibited by the new rules of Social Security from understanding who the Administrative Law Judge is ahead of the hearing.
  • Social Security hearings are fairly casual, nothing like you are accustomed to seeing on the news or Court TV. Generally, the only folks in the hearing room are a reporter who types what’s being said, the judge, the claimant and if you’re represented, your representative. It is also not unusual for the Administrative Law Judge to request a vocational expert or a medical expert testify at the hearing.
  • I have had hearings that have continued less and hearings that have continued considerably more. But, generally, if a seasoned representative or Social Security lawyer represents you, you should anticipate your hearing to continue close to an hour. From my experience of sitting in Social Security hearings where the claimant is unrepresented seldom last more than half an hour.
  • The Administrative Law Judge scarcely issues a determination the day of the hearing. It is not common practice, although this does not mean it never occurs. Thus, do not go to the hearing anticipating to have a final solution to whether or not your application for disability is being approved or refused. Should you not receive a bench decision (a decision the day of the hearing), you may need to wait to get your written determination in the email. The time frame for a verdict changes by judge, some judges get their judgements sent out within several weeks and sadly I Have had judges that take up to three months to issue their verdict.
  • The primary goal of the hearing is for the claimant. Nearly all the time spent in the hearing room if you’re represented by someone and is spent with the judge asking the claimant questions, having your representative ask you questions to notify the judge of significant details.
  • If you have been scheduled for a hearing, then read this post about Social Security disability errors that are common that are readily repaired.

You probably have waited eighteen months in case you are scheduled for a hearing then. That is why I’ll repeat my idea that should you not have an experienced Social Security disability lawyer, it is time to strongly consider getting one.  Contact a dedicated Greenville Social Security Lawyer, J. Robert Surface, Attorney at Law, right away to schedule a free, confidential consultation. J. Robert Surface has extensive experience fighting for disabled people. Use his insight to your advantage and get the benefits you rightly deserve for your military service.

How To Appeal Social Security Disability Benefits Denial

It is quite common to be denied for Social Security disability benefits when you first apply for them. This is because of the complications and challenges associated with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the fact that many do not have the help that they need to get the benefits that they deserve. In fact, many will be denied for small mistakes on the application or failing to attach important documents. This is common and frequently expected, and there is an avenue to appeal the decision against you. The wisest course of action, if you have been denied SSDI benefits, is to contact Surface Law Firm in Greenville, SC for a free consultation to learn more about your rights and the steps ahead of you.

Why Were My SSDI Benefits Denied?

If your SSDI benefits were denied, it could be for a variety of different reasons. With the right SSDI attorney, many of those reasons could be overcome with an appeal. Consider some of the following common reasons for denial of SSDI benefits:

  • You do not qualify for SSDI because you have not earned enough work credits.
  • You earn too much money through substantial gainful activity (SGA).
  • You are not disabled, according to the Social Security Administration’s definition.
  • You do not have a severe enough disability to last one year or lead to death.
  • You did not provide sufficient evidence of your disability.
  • You did not attend or refused to attend a consultative examination (CE) of disability.
  • Important information or documentation was missing from your application.
  • You are believed to have lied on the application.
  • You failed to follow through with necessary treatments or physical therapy.
  • Your disability is affected by your substance or alcohol abuse.
  • You have been found guilty of a felony and are in prison.
  • Your injury occurred while you were committing a felony you have been found guilty of.
  • You cannot be located for communication with the SSA.

Typically, the biggest obstacle that you will face in your quest to receive benefits is in providing adequate proof of the disability. Thus, it is common and necessary to use the appeals process. Being denied initially is a frequent occurrence, and you will have to deal with the administrative process if you wish to get the benefits that you need.

Four Levels of Appeals for SSA

If you have never attempted to apply for social security benefits, then you may be quite confused by the application and appeals process. The first thing to know is that there are four levels of appeals for SSA. These include the request for reconsideration, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hearing, an Appeals Council, and a Federal Court Review. On denial of your application, you will receive a formal informational letter regarding the appeals process. However, this can still be confusing. An experienced lawyer can help you to understand the process and successfully complete it.

Request For Reconsideration

The first level of appealing for SSA is the request for reconsideration. This is where the Disability Determination Services will perform a full review of your claim. These will not be the same people who have already viewed and denied your claim. You have the opportunity to submit new evidence, and this can make all the difference if you were denied for a lack of proof. This is also when you may be able to meet with an SSA rep to discuss your disability and needs. About 15% of claims that request reconsideration will be approved.

Administrative Law Judge Hearing

If you are not approved after requesting reconsideration, your next step is the Administrative Law Judge Hearing. This is much like going to court, and you would be wise to have an attorney on your side during this step. You will be presenting evidence and testimony to a judge who will question you, and you will have the opportunity to question witnesses and experts. An attorney in this situation is invaluable, as your lawyer will have the experience and expertise that you lack in gathering evidence, witnesses, expert testimony, etc, to prove that you deserve disability benefits.

At this level of appeal, your chance of approval will be greater, with some noting that more than 50% of appeals are approved at this stage. Do not give up hope when your case is denied, even if is denied again at reconsideration. There is still a chance, and if you work with an attorney, that chance is even greater, to prove your need to a judge.

Social Security’s Appeals Council

If you go through the ALJ Hearing stage and are still denied for benefits, you still have more options. The next step is to ask for a review by the Social Security’s Appeals Council. This is the council that will view requests and only review cases that are not determined to be already correctly addressed. You may get a decision from the council, or they may send you back for another ALJ review. You also have the opportunity to submit any new evidence that you may have.

At this point, you may be months into your injury and it may have grown worse. You can submit evidence of this as well. You may also have evidence that you’ve completed treatment and have not seen improvement.  You will not have to attend a council hearing at this point unless the council sends it back down for review with the ALJ.

Federal Court Review

If you are still denied or if the Appeals Court will not review your case, you still have one remaining path to take. You can file a lawsuit in the federal district court, where a judge will review your application and the whole appeals process that you have been through. The judge will check for legal errors in the case and for any factual mistakes.

While it can be stressful and can take a lot of time and money to appeal your case in court, it is an option worth considering. To evaluate whether or not this is the right choice for your case, contact a knowledgeable SSDI attorney to discuss your application and appeals process.

Consult With an SSDE Appeals Lawyer in Greenville

The best thing that you can do if your application for Social Security disability benefits is denied is to seek a free consultation with an SSDE appeals lawyer in Greenville, SC. Surface Law Firm is here to help with the experience and expertise that you need on your side for the best chance of getting your application for disability approved.

The Veterans Choice Program Appears to Be a Bust

The Veterans Administration has been under fire for some time now because of the deplorable state and quality of healthcare they provide veterans. In response, Congress enacted a $10 Billion program through the Veterans Choice Act, entitled the “Veterans Choice Program.” This Program was created as a temporary fix that would allow eligible veterans to receive healthcare from private healthcare providers in the communities where they lived rather than to wait for VA appointments that were often impossible to get. In fact, some veterans who needed immediate care for life threatening conditions often died before they were able to see a physician. Veterans who lived more than 40 miles from their nearest VA facility were also qualified to use this program.

However, despite its best intentions, this program is showing cracks in its administration that are not unlike the original VA healthcare benefit. After just one year in operation, the Veterans Choice Program appears to be an abysmal failure. Not only has it not corrected the problem veterans were having with long waiting periods for appointments, but it has created an all new set of problem for our beleaguered veterans. It looks like this new program has only placed a bandage on a systemic problem, and has created a whole new host of problems in its wake.

Healthcare Problems and Credit Problems for Veterans

Some veterans using the Veterans Choice Health Programs are not only still having long waits for their appointments – still having claims for treatments need and requested by their doctors denied – but now they are having their credit ruined because the Veterans Affairs Department is either delaying authorized payments to the participating private healthcare providers, or they are not paying them at all. Healthcare providers are being forced to bill the veteran directly and many veterans do not have the resources to pay the bills. Healthcare providers, who are not being paid, are submitting their bills to collection agencies, and the ball runs downhill after that. See this article in www.militarytimes.com.

Red Tape Stands in the Way of Adequate Healthcare

Bureaucratic “red tape” has come between the veteran and his right to proper healthcare. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been made aware of this problem, and the need to have this problem fixed as soon as possible. In one case, a veteran who needed eye surgery was denied authorization for the surgery after his initial appointment was approved. The clinic he was going to stopped treatment and demanded to be paid for the treatments he had already received before they would provide him with any further treatment. Without this surgery, there was a possibility that he would lose his sight.

Veterans are not happy with the Veterans Choice Program because they believe that this program creates more problems than it solves. One thing for sure, using the same administrators who created the original veteran healthcare debacle is probably at the root of this problem.

Contact Your Attorney for Answers to Questions Regarding Your VA Benefits

If you are a disabled veteran or servicemember needing assistance in understanding what disability benefits you are entitled to, contact J. Robert Surface Attorney at Law. Contact us today to learn more about your rights under the law.

Understanding Social Security Disability

Are you confused about Social Security disability? Well join the club. The following is an easy guide that will help explain the Social Security Disability Programs. In a nutshell:

There Are Two Federal Social Security Programs Available for the Disabled

Relief for individuals with disabilities is available through the Social Security Administration. Currently, there are two potential programs for the disabled from which to choose. One such program is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the other is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). These two programs are the largest of several federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities.

What Are the Differences Between SSDI and SSI?

While both benefits are administered by the Social Security Administration, the resemblance ends there. SSDI is a benefit that is paid for by the individual through payroll deductions. You must have had an income from some type of employment before this benefit is available to you, whereas SSI is available to disabled individuals who have had little, or no income.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

SSDI will pay you, and members of your family, disability benefits, from monies that have been collected from your “employed” income. Family members, specifically, adult children may also qualify for benefits under this program, on your earnings if he or she has a disability that developed prior to turning 22 years of age.

It is believed that one in four of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled at some point, before reaching the age of 67. When we are young, our total attention is focused on succeeding in our chosen jobs and careers, very few of us think about ensuring that we have a “safety net” to fall back on should we become disabled. This is where Social Security may come into play.

If you qualify for SSDI, your benefits will usually continue until you are able to work again on a regular basis, or until you reach retirement age. There are also a number of special rules, called “work incentives,” that provide continued benefits and health care coverage to help you make the transition back to work.

If you are receiving Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits when you reach full retirement age (currently age 66 for people born between 1943-1954; this age limit will gradually rise to 67 for those born in 1960 or later), your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same.

In the event you find yourself needing to apply for your SSDI benefits, or have been declined and need to file an appeal, consult with your attorney concerning your eligibility, and the application and appeals process.

Supplemental Security (SSI)

SSI pays benefits to individuals based on financial need, alone. This program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources, without regards to work history. SSI benefits are also payable to people 65 and older without disabilities, who meet the financial limits.

This program is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes):

  • It is designed to help aged, blind, and disabled people, who have little or no income; and
  • It provides cash to meet basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter.

Reach Out to an Experienced Attorney

If you find yourself in a position, and may need to apply for one of these disability programs, no matter whether you are just beginning to consider applying for Social Security disability insurance or if you need assistance in filing your first appeal, it is time to contact attorney J. Robert Surface. Having the benefit of an experienced Social Security disability attorney on your side during this time of physical, emotional and financial stress is invaluable.

Knowing Your Rights under Social Security Disability

Social security law and government welfare benefitsIt is estimated that the fund that helps pay for disability insurance under Social Security will run out sometime next year. This shortfall would trigger a 19% drop in benefits. These budget cuts would immediately affect 11 million people receiving disability benefits, and other beneficiaries could see reduced or interrupted payments in the near future. Having gradually evolved over the last half century, along with the rest of the Social Security system, the number of individuals receiving benefits is currently twice the number it was in 1995, and six times the number in 1970. And for just the third time in 40 years, millions of Social Security recipients, disabled veterans, and federal retirees can expect no increase in benefits. The annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) is based on a measure of inflation, as measured by the government. However, inflation has been so low this year, that economists say there is little chance of a benefit increase. There are several proposed solutions to fixing this looming problem, including merging the disability trust fund with the overall Social Security retirement fund. While this fund is also being depleted, the overall retirement fund has a longer lifespan than the disability fund. While the debate rages on about how to replenish the Social Security disability fund and save Social Security disability payments, it is important for you to fully understand the benefits that you are entitled to under the program.

Automatic Approval

While no illnesses qualify for automatic approval of Social Security disability benefits, some medical conditions receive faster approval. While a formal medical approval is always required, some conditions are so serious that they clearly meet disability standards. For these types of disabilities, the Compassionate Allowance (CAL) initiative can help to expedite processing of both Social Security and SSI disability claims. CAL is simply an internal method to speed up medical decisions, but does not remove any of the other requirements, such as work requirements, and the need-based Supplemental Security Income program, which has financial limits that must be met. For example, the five-month waiting period to receive Social Security disability still applies, even when a medical allowance is received very quickly.

There are other methods to expedite medical approvals as well. Wounded Warriors is one such example. Military service members can receive expedited claim processing if the disability occurred while they were on active duty.  A supplemental security income example of expedited claim process is presumptive disability. For some severe medical conditions where allowance is expected, several months of payment may be available in advance of receiving the official medical decision.

Speak with a Social Security Disability Attorney Now

If you or someone you know is currently receiving social security disability benefits, or may be eligible to receive benefits, you should speak with J. Robert Surface, an experienced Social Security disability attorney. He can assist you with your claim and has the experience and knowledge to ensure you receive the full benefits to which you are entitled.

Questionable Future of the Social Security Disability Fund

Old woman hands with caneSince the trustees of the Social Security trust funds reported in July that the Social Security disability insurance trust fund reserve will run out of funds by the end of 2016, many news stories, including this story published in the New York Times, have addressed what could happen if the fund shortage is not addressed and remedied.

Essentially, the fund has not been able to keep up with the claims made and benefits paid over time.  According to the Social Security Administration’s data, in 1970 only 2.6 million Americans were collecting disability benefits, while that population has grown to 10.9 million in 2014.  Currently, the Social Security disability program costs $142 billion, which, accounting for inflation, is double what it cost in 1998.

Cuts in Benefits Expected if No Action Taken

The trustees have asked Congress to attack the issue of the disability reserve fund depletion by finding a remedy before the expected depletion occurs in the last quarter of 2016.  If no action is taken and no remedy is implemented, then recipients of Social Security disability benefits could see a 19 percent decrease in the amount of their benefits.

One can think of the disability trust fund like a simple, personal checking account.  Expenses cannot exceed income.  In other words, if you earn $1,000.00 per month, you have $1,000.00 to spend on rent, food, clothing, telephone bill, etc. per month.

In the case of the Social Security disability fund, payroll taxes come into the fund from employers.  The payroll taxes pay for benefits that are paid out.  Any excess income (payroll taxes) is invested to earn interest.  The interest is deposited back into the trust fund to help pay benefits.

The trustees estimate a 19 percent cut in benefits because the income coming into the fund (payroll taxes) would only be sufficient to pay 81 percent of scheduled benefits in the fall of 2016 when the reserves (extra earned interest) come to zero.

The Democrats’ Proposal

Just as there is a trust fund for Social Security disability benefits, there is a like and separate trust fund for Social Security retirement benefits.  President Obama and democrats have proposed that the disability fund borrow money from the retirement fund.  This cannot be done unless Congress passes a law that specifically allows this kind of transaction; legally the two funds are separate and distinct and sharing or transferring funds between the trusts is legally not allowed.

The Republicans’ Proposal

The republicans have proposed more wide-sweeping reforms.  Republicans have suggested decreasing benefits, restricting eligibility for benefits, cracking down on fraudulent claims, and establishing new programs to help and encourage disabled people to get back to work more quickly.

Speak with a Social Security Disability Attorney Now

While we cannot predict what will happen in the future and how this Social Security disability crisis will be averted, we will be monitoring this important issue.  If you have become disabled and cannot work or you have questions about your current disability benefits, you should speak with J. Robert Surface, an experienced Social Security disability attorney.  Contact us now for a free consultation.

Compassionate Allowances

Money in envelope.Through its compassionate allowances initiative, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) ensures that those people who apply for disability benefits and who have conditions that are obviously disabling based upon objective medical information receive their benefits quickly.

The SSA uses compassionate allowances (“CAL”) to quickly identify and process claims that involve certain diseases and disabilities that routinely qualify as disabling in order to get benefits to those people as soon as possible.

Simply put, CAL claims are put on a “fast track” by the SSA so that a decision is made quickly.

Application for Compassionate Allowances

There is no special way to apply for CALs.  A person applying for disability benefits who has a disease or disability listed on the CAL list should apply using the regular application.  There is nothing additional or special that needs to be done to apply for a CAL.  The SSA identifies applications for CAL status internally.

Compassionate Allowances List

The SSA publishes a list of diseases and conditions that automatically qualify an applicant for a CAL.  The SSA’s complete CAL list is here.

The following are examples of diseases and conditions that qualify for CAL:

  • Many types of cancers;
  • Alpers disease;
  • Canavan disease;
  • Joubert syndrome;
  • Leigh’s disease;
  • Mixed dementias;
  • Many brain diseases;
  • Many heart diseases;
  • Wolman disease;
  • Degos disease – systemic;
  • Fatal familial insomnia;
  • Fryns syndrome; and
  • Hydranencephaly.

Processing Time for CAL Claims

A decision will be made on a claim that involves a CAL disease or disorder by the SSA within weeks, as opposed to months or years for a standard, non-CAL claim.  The time it takes for the SSA to make a decision with regard to a CAL claim depends on how quickly the SSA receives needed information and documents from the claimant’s doctor or medical treatment facility, whether the SSA decides a medical examination is necessary to provide it with evidence to support the claim, and whether the claim is randomly selected for review of the decision for quality assurance purposes.

A CAL Claim Does Not Entitle the Claimant to Any Additional Money

Having a disease or condition that is on the SSA CAL list does not entitle the claimant to any additional money.  In other words, a claimant with a CAL disease or condition is entitled only to those monies provided for by the Social Security disability program.

Speak with a Social Security Disability Attorney Now

If you suffer from a disease or condition listed on the SSA’s CAL list, and particularly if your claim has been denied by SSA, you should speak with J. Robert Surface, an experienced Social Security disability attorney.   He will assist you with your claim.  He has the experience and knowledge to ensure that you receive the full benefits to which you are entitled.  

My Social Security Disability Claim was Denied – Now What?

Security CardYou applied for Social Security disability benefits, but your claim was denied. What do you do now? You need to appeal the denial.

There are time limits within which you can file your appeal; as such, you only have a certain amount of time to file. You should contact J. Robert Surface, an experienced Social Security disability attorney, immediately to help you with your appeal.

Two Types of Denials

Generally, there are two types of denials. Most claims for disability benefits are denied for medical reasons (meaning, the Administration determines the disability or condition is not so severe as to prevent the claimant from working). The other type of denial is known as a “technical” denial. A technical denial is made for reasons other than medical ones.

Types of Technical Denials

The Social Security Administration can deny your claim for various reasons that are not related to the disability or medical issues that are the basis for your claim. For instance, if you are currently working and earn more than the “substantial gainful activity” limit, then you are by default not eligible for disability benefits and your claim would be denied. (In 2015, the “substantial gainful activity” limit for non-blind claimants was $1,090 per month and for blind claimants was $1,820 per month. For instance, if you are disabled because of a hand injury (non-blind), and you are currently working and earn over $1,090 per month, your claim may be denied). In addition, you must have worked long enough to be eligible for disability benefits. Generally, you must have worked between 5 and 10 years at a job that contributed into the system, and the number of years required for you will be based on your age. Also, your disability must have occurred prior to your Social Security insurance lapsing. In other words, if you haven’t worked in a significant amount of time, your Social Security coverage may have lapsed, and if the Social Security Administration determines that your disability occurred after coverage lapsed, then you are not eligible for benefits.

Time Limit to File Your Appeal

You only have sixty (60) days from the day you receive the letter from the Social Security Administration denying your claim to file your appeal.

Speak with a Disability Attorney Now

If your Social Security disability claim has been denied, you should contact an experienced disability lawyer immediately. Let J. Robert Surface, an attorney experienced in Social Security disability law, handle your appeal and fight for you to ensure you obtain the full benefits to which you are entitled.

Contact us now for a free consultation.

Will Social Security Eligibility Standards Tighten Further?

A recent article in Kiplinger Magazine predicts big changes for Social Security in 2016, with the program’s disability fund an area of primary focus. Without Congressional action, the fund is expected to run short by the fall of 2016. Many insiders predict that Congress will enact tighter Social Security disability eligibility standards as a compromise to provide the necessary funding.

At our Greenville Social Security disability law firm, we can’t predict which way the political winds will shift, but we do know that people who qualify for benefits are too often denied what is rightfully theirs. Here are just a few of the issues:Social Security Card

Claim Backlogs

If your disability prevents you from working, you need to file for benefits as soon as you can to support yourself and your family. Unfortunately, the large backlog in Social Security disability claims means that many people wait a year or more in order to get a final determination. The process can take a long time. Be prepared to wait.

With every application, staff who are often overworked need to answer the following questions:

  • Is the applicant currently working and earning income?
  • How severe are the applicant’s injuries or diseases?
  • Does the applicant’s disability meet the threshold requirements?
  • Can the applicant continue working in a previous job ? If not, are there others jobs he can perform in the national economy?

These questions require time and attention to answer.  What’s more, Social Security Administration staff will often need to undertake development to effectively answer these questions. SSA may send you out for a medical exam at government expense. Be sure to attend. This process can take weeks and months of mailing paperwork back and forth between various offices.

Lack of Medical Records

To approve an application, SSA must have evidence that your disability is severe enough to prevent you from working and will last long enough to keep you out of work for at least 12 consecutive months. SSA will also look to see whether your medical condition may result in death. Depending on the nature of the disability, it may take a lot of medical evidence to substantiate this.  Never stop seeing your doctor. He is your best friend during the application process.

Performing Substantial Gainful Activity after Filing an Application

Do not work while your application is pending before Social Security.  Making as little as $1,090 per month in income can result in a denied claim. Even the occasional job or odd job is frowned upon.

In view of the complexities of the system,  you need experienced legal assistance on your side. With over 35 years of experience handling disability claims, Attorney J. Robert Surface can help you navigate the complex SSA system. For a free consultation to discuss your case, contact our office online.

Social Security Disability Trust Fund

The Social Security Disability Trust fund is expected to run short of its ability to meet its obligations in 2016. If Congress doesn’t address the problem, individuals who currently receive Social Security Disability benefits may face a 20 percent cut in their monthly benefits.

So far, there’s hardly a peep out of Congress about this rapidly approaching issue. And, increasingly, it looks like this may be another round of political hardball between republicans and the current White House administration.

What members of Congress should keep in mind, however, is that, unlike SSI, Social Security Disability is a program for which recipients have paid into the system through deductions taken out of their paychecks. From the point of view of disability beneficiaries, and rightly so, they are receiving an earned benefit. They worked, paid their taxes, and are now receiving benefits to which they are entitled as a result of becoming disabled.

Congressional Republicans who choose to take advantage of the impending situation as a virtual hostage (i.e. letting SSD beneficiaries face a drastic 20 percent cut in monthly benefits unless unless certain political demands are not met) may find themselves making a terrible calculation for several reasons:

1. Even the appearance of choosing political maneuvering over people’s financial stability and well-being just doesn’t sit well with most Americans.

2. SSD benefits are not welfare; they are an earned entitlement. They were paid for.

3. If SSD beneficiaries have their benefits cut, it will negatively affect not only them, but their families as well.

For quite a few years now, Congressional Republicans have pointed t to the increase in disability claims as proof that something is wrong with the program. They insinuate that the process is too easy, that judges are too lenient, and that the system over-awards benefits. However, if you were to survey a thousand people who had actually gone through the process of applying for disability, they would tell you that the process is long and difficult, their claims were routinely denied despite solid medical evidence, and that judges are typically anything but rubber stampers.

With all this in mind, I have wondered when it was that AARP would choose to get involved. Their membership is comprised of retired Americans; however, some of those individuals have physical and mental impairments that are disabling and many recognize that based on their age and limitations, becoming disabled as a result of an injury or illness is not an improbable scenario.

Recently, AARP sent a letter to Senators Ron Wyden and Orrin Hatch, respectively the Chairman and Ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance. Here are two excerpts:

“…the highest priority in the near term is to ensure that SSDI beneficiaries — most of whom are older Americans — are not at risk of a 20% benefit cut in the very near future.”

“…interest income specified for the DI program is sufficient to support 80 percent of program cost after trust fund depletion in 2016, increasing slightly to 81% of program cost in 2087.” CBO maintains similar projections.”

“Many experts, including the Congressional Budget Office, have estimated the shortfall is largely due to: 1) general population growth, 2) women’s entrance into the labor force and consequent eligibility for SSDI benefits, 3) the increase in the Social Security normal retirement age from 65 to 67, and 4) the aging of the Baby Boom population leading to a higher percentage of older people vulnerable to illness and disability. All of these factors also contribute to other challenges in the SSDI program.”

In other words, the Social Security Disability program is facing a shortfall due largely to demographic changes. In addition to the workforce getting wider, America is getting older and grayer. And people, as they get older, tend to have a higher chance of becoming sick or injured. It is a simple fact of life. The program is not facing shortfalls, as the Republicans have falsely impugned, because large numbers of Americans are choosing to pursue disability benefits versus seeking employment.

I don’t know what the effect of this letter may be. And I don’t what else we may hear from AARP on this issue as we draw nearer to 2016. However, I think certain members of Congress should choose to do what is right and guarantee that Americans who have paid into the system and are now collecting the disability benefits that they have earned continue to receive them in full. I certainly don’t recall members of Congress volunteering any cuts in their own extensive package of benefits, which are cadillac-level by anyone’s estimation.


J. Robert Surface a call today for a free consultation at 864-235-0886

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