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.

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

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VA no longer accepting letters!

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Effective now, the VA is using a form-based claim system for filing claims and appeals.
The VA is no longer accepting handwritten or typed letters from vets (or their representatives) concerning their disabilities. It is not accepting claims on stationery or regular paper, and if you do so, you run the risk that your claims and appeals might be null and void.
You must now use certain forms to get your message across to the VA.  The VA is now form-driven. And you must use the correct form.  Talk about a headache !
Contact my office for questions about these required forms or any other matter concerning the VA claims process.

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

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Veterans Affairs Disability – Am I a combat veteran?

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Most of the topics for this blog come from my interactions with real Veterans, and the questions they ask. Unlike Alex Trebek, I don’t have all of the answers, and occasionally I have to look them up. That was the case today when speaking with a Veteran about combat. His question was: “What exactly makes anyone a combat Veteran?” Some may be quick to say that serving in combat makes you a combat Veteran, but there is more to it than that.

The VA lists several different ways in which a Veteran can prove he or she was in combat.

·         If you received a combat service medal, then you are considered a combat Veteran

·         If you received hostile fire pay, imminent danger pay or tax benefits

·         If you received military service documentation that documents combat theater

So, does serving in a foreign country automatically qualify me as combat Veteran? Not necessarily. Even if you served in Iraq or Afghanistan during the past ten years, it does not guarantee that you are a combat Veteran.

How can you find out? Well, your DD-214 is a great place to start. Your Discharge won’t automatically say that you were a combat Veteran though…that would be too easy.  Box 13 on more modern DD-214’s is where they list medals, awards and ribbons. The VA does recognize certain medals etc. as a qualifier for combat service. (That list will appear in an upcoming blog.)

Also listed on your DD-214 is the type of pay you received. Box 18 would be the place to find out if you received Hostile Fire Pay, or the Imminent Danger Pay. It is important to note that this can appear in box 13, though it is rare for it to appear there.

Overall, proving combat, and stressors for that matter, can be a difficult task. This is just one of the many reasons so many Veterans hire our firm to represent them.

Combat service may produce a physical or mental disability that can be service connected. If you are in the Greenville South Carolina area and would like more information, give Greenville SC Veterans Disability Attorney J. Robert Surface a call today for a free consultation at 864-235-0886

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What is Social Security Disability Insurance?

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Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI, sometimes also abbreviated as SSD) is a Social Security program that pays monthly benefits to you if you become disabled before you reach retirement age and aren’t able to work. Some people know it as “workers disability.”

Eligibility for Social Security Disability

To qualify for the SSDI program, you must have worked a certain number of years in a job where you paid Social Security taxes (FICA) taxes. Specifically, you need to have earned a certain number of work credits; you can earn up to four work credits per year. (If you haven’t worked long enough when you become disabled, and have low income and assets, you can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) instead.

Work Credits

How many work credits you need to qualify for SSDI benefits depends on how old you were when you became disabled. For example, if you are 50 years old when you become disabled, you need 28 work credits, or to have worked for seven years (and at least five of those years must have been within the last 10 years).

Medical Eligibility

You also must have a medical condition that meets the SSA’s definition of disability. SSDI benefits are eligible only to those with a severe, long-term, total disability.

Severe means that your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities.

Long-term means that your condition has lasted is expected to last at least one year.

Total disability means that you aren’t able to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) for at least one year. If you are currently working and make over a certain amount ($1,090 per month in 2015 for disabled applicants, $1,820 for blind applicants), the SSA will find that you’re performing SGA and that you are not disabled enough to qualify for SSDI benefits.

Approval for Disability Benefits

If you are approved for disability benefits, you won’t receive SSDI benefits until you have been disabled for five complete months. If you are approved right away (for instance, because you just had a liver transplant), you would have to wait five months for your checks to start.

However, it’s more likely you wouldn’t be approved for about six months to a year (after at least one level of appeal). In that case, when you finally get approved, you would be paid disability backpay starting with the sixth month after your disability began (your disability onset date).

After you are paid any backpay owing, you would get a disability benefit check each month. If your household income is over a certain amount, you will have to pay taxes on your disability benefits.

Your family members may also be eligible for a partial monthly benefit. For more information, see How to Get Disability Benefits for Your Dependents.

You can keep receiving SSDI as long as your medical condition prevents you from working. The SSA will perform a continuing disability review (CDR) on your file every one to three years to determine if your condition has improved.

Denial of Disability Benefits

If your application for SSD is denied (most initial applications are), you can appeal the decision. You have to request a review of the denial within 60 days of when you receive the denial letter. The first step of the appeal process in most states is the Request for Reconsideration, a review of your file by another claims examiner. If you are denied again, you can appeal to the next stage, by requesting a hearing with an administrative law judge who works for the SSA.

For more information contact Robert Surface at (864) 235-0886 or contact him here

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