Should I Try and Work During a SSD Review Process?

The Social Security Disability application and review processes usually take several months, and sometimes years, to complete. It is not uncommon for applicants to wonder if they should try to work during this time, or if working will harm their eligibility for benefits.

The quick answer to this question is that, if you can work, you should. Social Security Disability benefits are for people who cannot work due to an impairment, so if you can work, this program may not be for you.

Should I Try and Work During a SSD Review Process?

That said, it is entirely possible that you may be able to work – and still be disabled. The key is how many hours you can sustain work, and how much you are paid. SSA considers “work” (technically Substantial Gainful Activity or SGA) to be an activity that generates $1130 per month or more.  In 2017, SGA levels will be $1170 per month. So, if you can work while you are waiting for social security disability benefits approval, but that work does not generate SGA level earnings because of your impairments, you may still be found disabled.  Do not play games with this. If SSA determines that your earnings were self-limited, and not actually restricted by your impairments, your benefits will not be approved and you may be investigated for fraud.

If your claim is for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), rather than Social Security Disability, income from work will have an additional effect on your benefits. SSI is a needs-based program, so the benefit amount will be reduced if you have other income in the household. If the income is unearned, this reduction is dollar for dollar. If the income is earned, however, your SSI benefit would be reduced only $1 for every $2 earned, after an $80 set-aside.

If you have to proceed to the hearing level of appeal, working while waiting for your disability claim to wend through the process can have an effect on whether the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) believes you. Paradoxically, this could be different depending upon which ALJ hears your case. Some ALJs applaud efforts to work despite your impairments. Others will use that as proof that you really can work and are therefore not disabled. It is helpful to hire a local social security attorney, who is familiar with the ALJs in your local office, so you will know whether your particular ALJ will applaud or punish your attempts to work.

If you do try to work, it is extremely important that you keep track of your time and earnings, and honestly report this to SSA.

A social security disability attorney will be able to help you understand if working while awaiting benefits is the best thing for your situation.

Other Types of Monetary Support While Waiting for Disability Benefits

There are other programs available on a local, state and federal level that you may be able to seek assistance from while waiting for disability approval:

  • Assistance for the Blind and Disabled (ABD)
  • Rent assistance through HEN
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Food Stamps
  • Energy assistance (LEAP)

An invaluable place to find out what is available to you is the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).  A social worker will help you to discover what is available to you where you live and assist with filling out applications.

Non- Government Assistance

There are also a number of things you can do outside of government programs to help you cut back on budget costs and help make ends meet. Some of these may include:

  • If you own a home you may be able to refinance or take out a home equity loan
  • Let friends or family help, they love you and many times are willing to do what they can to help out
  • Seek out local assistance programs in your community such as food banks, churches, and non-profit organizations that reach out to help people in need in the community

Should I Try and Work During a SSD Review Process?

BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

Unemployment benefits are meant as a way to help those in the workforce that are out of work through no fault of their own. Generally, you are not eligible for Unemployment benefits unless you are able to work and are activity seeking work. Many ALJs see this as inconsistent with a disability, which by definition is an inability to work. There are some exceptions, such as if you are limited to part-time work, or if you are 50 years old or older and cannot perform your past relevant work. If you truly believe that you cannot work, however, you should not be certifying that you can in order to collect Unemployment benefits.

While there is no current legal bar to collecting both Unemployment benefits and Social Security Disability for the same period of time, this may change soon.

No one can control how long the Social Security Administration will take to review and approve an applicant for social security disability benefits. Hiring a social security disability lawyer can help you understand the process and ensure that your appeals are timely filed so your case does not get stuck. If you are able to work while you are waiting, make sure you let your attorney know, so he or she can assess the effect of that work on your claim.

The team at Maddox and Laffoon are here to help with any needs you have during the Social Security Disability application process. Contact us anytime, we would enjoy helping you.

 

Does My Age Affect My Social Security Disability Benefits Eligibility

Does my AGE affect my eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits?Does My Age Affect My Social Security Disability Benefits Eligibility

If you are 50 years or older, your age certainly can affect whether or not you qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. This is because there is a special regulation embedded in the Code of Federal Regulations that we call the “GRID.” Its official title is the “Medical Vocational Guidelines,” but even some of the Administrative Law Judges call it the GRID. It is laid out in the form of 3 charts, and looks like, well, a grid.

For the GRID to apply, you must have an impairment that prevents you from doing your past relevant work (PRW). PRW is a term of art that means jobs that you have performed sometime in the past 15 years, for pay or profit, long enough to have learned how to do them.

You can be awarded disability benefits under the GRID if you are 50 or older, are limited to Sedentary level work by your impairment, and have no:

  • Sedentary PRW;
  • Acquired skills transferable to Sedentary level work; or
  • Special training that would provide for direct entry into skilled work

“Sedentary” is another term of art, and means work that does not require you to be on your feet for more than 2 hours out of an 8-hour day or lift and carry more than 10 pounds.  If your impairment limits you, but you can do more than Sedentary work activity, you may still be found disabled under the GRID if you have attained the age of 55, and are limited to “Light” level work. Light level work is usually done on your feet, but requires lifting and carrying no more than 20 pounds occasionally (up to 1/3 of the workday) or 10 pounds frequently (1/3-2/3 of the workday).

Here is an example:

Mary worked as a Back-Hoe Operator for 15 years, until she injured her back and knees and could no longer handle the vibration or jumping on and off the equipment. Her employer put her in the back office to work as a bookkeeper, but within a couple of months checks were bouncing and it became clear that she would need some special training that the employer did not want to pay for. Instead, Mary was laid off two months before her 50th birthday. She had back and knee surgery, but it did not eliminate her pain, and her doctor told her there was nothing more he could do. He released her to work, but told her to stay off her feet and not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. He suggested she find a job as a receptionist or something along those lines.

Even though her doctor released Mary to work, she is disabled upon application of the Sedentary GRID. Her PRW as a Back-Hoe Operator was Medium level work. The Sedentary bookkeeper job, with an SVP 6, was not done long enough to learn how to do it, and thus is not PRW. Mary was refused the special training that would provide for direct entry into skilled work.

Mary’s doctor limited her lifting to a gallon of milk (which weighs 8 pounds) and advised her to stay off her feet. Thus, Mary can perform Sedentary work at most.

The Social Security Administration does not apply the GRID age categories “mechanically,” so the fact that Mary was only 49 years and 10 months old, will not prohibit application of the Sedentary GRID.

So, even though there is no dispute that Mary could perform Sedentary work, her age significantly affects her eligibility for benefits. If Mary was 40 years old, and everything else was the same, she would NOT be eligible for disability benefits.

This is a somewhat simplistic explanation of the GRID. There are other aspects to it, including how far you went in school, literacy and whether you can communicate in English. If your impairments limit you to unskilled work, transferability of skills may not be an issue. If you are over 60 years old, a different set of rules is applied to the transferability of skills issue.

If you believe you are disabled under the GRID, and have questions about it, please call Maddox & Laffoon for a free consultation.

 

 

What does Title II and SSD Mean in Social Security Disability

Social Security Disability has many components and can get overwhelming especially if you are just looking into social security disability for the first time. Some common questions about social security disability include Title II and SSD. What do these terms mean?  What does Title II and SSD Mean in Social Security Disability

Title II Benefits and SSD refer to the monthly benefits that you receive after your  Social Security Disability Claim is approved.  

Title II benefits  are monthly benefits that are received from the Social Security Administration once a disability claim is approved. These benefits are not needs-based benefits and because of this, there are no income or asset restrictions to be able to qualify for monthly payments under Title II. In order to qualify for these benefits, you must suffer from a long-term or permanent disability that is expected to last for at least 12 months in order to qualify. This condition must also be severe enough to keep the benefactor from doing any sort of work activity that could be gainful work. Applicants of Title II benefits must also have enough work credits earned from paying taxes into the social security system while working.

Read more: What are Continuing Disability Reviews?

SSD is social security disability insurance it is also referred to  as “workers disability,” SSDI, Social Security Disability, or DIB (Disability Insurance Benefits). These fall under Title II of the Social Security Act. To qualify for SSD you must have worked for a certain number of years in a job where Social Security Taxes (FICA) were paid. More specifically you need to have earned enough work credits.You can earn up to four work credits in a year. The number of work credits you need to be approved depends on your age at the time of disability. For example, a 50-year-old applicant will need 28 work credits or to have worked for seven years with at least five years in the last 10 since applying for SSD. You also need to have a medical condition that meets the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. These benefits are available only to anyone suffering from a condition for a year or longer and that you are not able to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). If you are currently working and make over a set amount ($1,130/month in 2016 and $1820 for blind applicants in 2016)the Social Security Administration will find that you are able to perform SGA and you do not qualify for SSD. If you are approved for benefits you will not begin receiving payments until five months after disability. It is likely you will not be approved until about six months to a year after so in many cases payments start shortly after a claim is approved and will receive back pay starting with the six months after your condition began. This is your disability onset date.

Read more: Beware of Disability Scammers

You will continue to receive these monthly benefits as long as your medical condition prevents you from working. The Social Security Administration will perform a CDR or continuing disability review on your case every one to three years to determine if your condition has improved at all.

It is estimated that about three in every ten workers at the age of 20 will have a disability before reaching a retirement age. In an effort to help pay bills many of these people will apply for social security disability with the Social Security Administration. Once a claim is approved Title II benefits begin and the applicant receives monthly payments, in some cases family members like dependent minors of approved applicants may also obtain Title II benefits.

Anyone interested in applying for Title II or SSD may want to consider hiring a qualified Social Security Disability attorney as they can increase your chances of receiving needed disability benefits.

 

What are Continuing Disability Reviews?

Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs)

What are Continuing Disability Reviews?

You have jumped through all SSA’s hoops, filled out all the forms, and maybe even met with an Administrative Law Judge, and your disability benefits have been approved. Finally you get to sit back and stop worrying about SSA paperwork … or do you?

To make sure that disability benefits are not being paid to people who have gotten better and can return to work, SSA conducts continuing disability reviews (CDRs) about every three years. If you are over 55 or have a condition that is unlikely to get better, you can expect CDRs less frequently, about every seven years. A CDR can also be triggered sooner if medical improvement is expected, or you begin earning too much money from working.

CDRs involve a review of new medical evidence since the time you were found disabled. For this reason it is very important that you continue to receive medical and/or mental health treatment for your disabling conditions. If you are not receiving treatment, SSA will assume this is because you no longer require it.

A CDR will result in the cessation of your disability benefits if:

• There is medical improvement related to your disabling impairments AND
• The improvement is related to your ability to work AND
• You are now able to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), taking into account your original disabling condition and any new impairments that you developed

SSA does not need to show that your impairment has medically improved if:

• You are working over the SGA level
• You have had vocational training for direct entry into work you can do
• A new method for evaluating the severity of your condition shows you are not disabled, OR
• There was an error in the original determination of disability

In these cases (Group I Exceptions), SSA does not need to establish medical improvement. They must, however, make a finding that you are capable of performing SGA before ceasing your disability benefits – unless you:

• Committed fraud
• Failed to cooperate with the disability review
• Cannot be found OR
• Failed to follow prescribed treatment

In these cases (Group II Exceptions), SSA is not required to make a finding that you are capable of performing SGA before stopping your benefits. For this reason, it is very important that you promptly respond to all notices from SSA, jump through their hoops, and complete their forms.

Read more: Beware of Scammers Trying to Help with Disability Applications

Most people do not lose benefits after a CDR, as there is a presumption of disability, rebutted only with evidence of a change. About 95% of CDRs result in a continuation of disability benefits. If you do receive a notice that your benefits will be ceased, you can appeal the decision. If you appeal within 10 days, you can ask that your benefits be continued during the appeal. Because of the presumption of disability, most people do not need a legal representative to navigate a CDR. If you do hire a representative, you should plan on paying him or her 25% of your monthly benefit as a contingent fee.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Disabled Individuals

Student Loan Forgiveness for Disabled IndividualsIf you are “totally and permanently disabled” (TPD), you may qualify for a discharge of your federal student loan debt.

There are 3 ways to prove TPD:

  • A finding by the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) that you are unemployable due to a service connected disability;
  • A finding by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that you are disabled and not subject to a continuing disability review within the next 5 years; or
  • A certification from a physician that you cannot work because of a medical or mental impairment for at least 60 months.

This TPD discharge process was signed into law in 2012, and has been available since July 1, 2013, but many people who are eligible for debt relief have been unaware of the program.

On April 12, 2016, President Obama announced a plan to help disabled people with federal student debt apply for TPD discharge. The Department of Education and the SSA have been working together to identify disabled borrowers for whom medical improvement is not expected. So far they have identified about 387,000 people who could benefit from the program. Letters are being sent out to inform them of the issues, and to invite them to apply for debt forgiveness.

If you believe you may qualify for TPD student loan discharge, you can find the forms to apply at https://www.disabilitydischarge.com/Forms

Be aware that discharge may have federal tax consequences, as the amount of the forgiven debt may be considered taxable income. Before taking advantage of the TPD discharge process, you should consult with a tax specialist.