Social Security Help for Olympia Washington

Malynda“Everyone thus far is very warm and professional. I don’t feel like another dollar sign. I appreciate their compassion and support. They help to make me feel human in a process that has been a little difficult. I am grateful for my friends referral. I will be referring their services no doubt.” ~ Malynda M.

The last thing you want in a disability suit is to feel uneducated, ignorant, and gullible. Launching into a case like Malynda’s without the proper representation can feel overwhelming. This is where we come in. We inform you of every aspect of the case, how to go about it, how to react and respond when questioned and to feel confident with your goal. Social Security Help for Olympia Washington

Social security and the laws and rules behind it can be very confusing and overwhelming. Laws change each year and we stay on top of every nuance of the legalities of SSDI information and benefits. We explain your rights as a citizen and make you feel comfortable and well-taken care of throughout the process. We are here to answer any questions you may have and guide you to the results you want.

When it’s time to learn more about the social security system, your rights, and your benefits, give us a call.

Having represented thousands of clients in disability cases since 1980, Maddox & Laffoon, P.S. of Olympia, WA is your experienced choice dedicated to helping improve your quality of life. When you visit our law office, you will soon understand this commitment to your needs. Our entire staff always works together as a team with your needs in mind. 

Maddox Laffoon Helping People in Thurston County

I can’t thank the folks at Maddox & laffoon enough. I could not possibly have navigated through the social security disability application process without Jeanette’s legal assistants help. They helped me through the application process all the way and helped me understand the questions. They then take it from there and submit it for you and stay right with you through the process of answering any questions or document requests from Social Security. I was approved for my social security disability in one month. Now obviously that is not the norm but I believe it was moved along the chain a lot faster with the assistance of Maddox & laffoon. Highly recommended. – Kathy Davenport-Schramm

Thank you Kathy! We appreciate your kind words.

Social Security and Disability rights can be a tricky thing to navigate and it’s almost imperative to have someone on your side that understands the process. Because laws and rules change all the time, it’s practically like alphabet soup to understand everything yourself. Maddox Laffoon

But with the right team, and I do mean team, behind you, you can process and figure out exactly what you need, when, and how. Our team is not just the attorneys, but everyone in the office that helps each and every client. Most people have no idea where to start, which is where we come in.

Having represented thousands of clients in disability cases since 1980, Maddox & Laffoon, P.S. of Olympia, WA is your experienced choice dedicated to helping improve your quality of life. When you visit our law office, you will soon understand this commitment to your needs. Our entire staff always works together as a team with your needs in mind. 

Give us a call today to understand your rights when it comes to social security and disability benefits. This is what we specialize in and can help make the entire process as stress-free as possible.

Social Security Alphabet Soup

Social Security Alphabet Soup

A client recently informed me that she had no idea what I was talking about, and asked me to speak in regular English. I had just told her that the ALJ at OHO would pose a hypo to the VE based on an RFC tied to the psych CE what could be clearer?

As with many governmental agencies, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has its own unique language composed of acronyms.  Initial contact with SSA is usually made at the local District Office (DO), where a claim for Social Security Disability (SSD, Title 2) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI, Title 16) benefits is filed. The claims are not actually adjudicated by SSA at this level of review (Initial), but rather by Disability Determination Services (DDS, the State Agency). At DDS, the claim is handled by a Single Decision Maker (SDM, Adjudicator), with input from a medical consultant (MC) and/or a psychological consultant (PC). You will never meet an MC or PC, unlike a Consultative Evaluator (CE), who is hired by DDS to examine you.

Read More: The Value and Cost of Medical Records in a Social Security Case

If the claim is denied at Initial, a Request for Reconsideration (Recon) must be filed within 60 days. At Recon, SSA again sends the case to DDS, to be reviewed by a different Adjudicator and MC/PC.

If the claim is denied at Recon, a Request for Hearing must be filed within 60 days, and the file is sent to the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO). This is a new name for this office, which until last month was called the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR). People who have been doing this work for a few years recall when OHO/ODAR was called the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA). The only thing more fun than obscure acronyms is randomly shifting acronyms.

At the disability hearing at OHO, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may call on the services of a Vocational Expert (VE) and/or a Medical Expert (ME, which in the past has also been dubbed a Medical Advisor or MA). As with MC/PCs, the VE/MEs have never met you. The ALJ is required to make a finding of Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) and to determine if you are capable of Past Relevant Work (PRW). If your RFC is inconsistent with PRW, the ALJ will determine (with the assistance of the VE) if there are any other jobs you can perform – often referred to as a Step 5 finding.

Assuming you are found disabled by an ALJ, be aware that most claims are reviewed every 3-7 years. This is called a Continuing Disability Review (CDR). If your claim is denied by an ALJ, you may file an appeal with the Appeals Council (AC), and possibly Federal District Court (FDC).

Hopefully, this will guide you through the fundamentals of SSA-speak. A qualified representative can translate the more advanced acronyms – or, like my bewildered client, you can simply ask everyone to speak English.

Have more questions about social security and disability? Give us a call. We are here to answer your questions and assist with all your legal benefits needs.

More information:

How to provide for yourself while waiting for social security benefits

Factors that can end social security benefits

 

2017 Numbers from the Social Security Administration (SSA)

Most years the cost of living increases, which results in slight changes in the numbers used by SSA in its disability programs, and it is important to use the correct numbers. The following is a chart of some of the changes between 2016 and 2017:

  2016   2017
 Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) monthly earnings
 If you are not blind $1130  $1170
 If you are blind  $1820 $1950
 Trial Work Period (TWP) level of monthly earnings $810 $840
 Supplemental Security Income (SSI) monthly benefit amount
 For an individual  $733 $735
 For a couple living together who are both disabled $1100 $1103
 Quarter of Coverage earnings amount $1260 $1300

 

 

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)2017 Numbers from the Social Security Administration (SSA)

Step 1 of the disability determination process is whether or not you are “working.” SSA defines work as the ability to engage in SGA. Unless you are self-employed, this is simply measured as a dollar amount. So, in 2017, if you are working and able to earn $1170 (gross, before taxes are taken out of your paycheck), you are engaged in SGA and SSA will determine you are not disabled without analyzing your impairments. If you are working, but earning less than $1170, you are not earning SGA, and your case will proceed to Step 2.

If you are blind, you may earn up to $1950 before SSA determines that you are engaged in SGA.

Special rules apply to self-employed individuals. If you are self-employed but believe that you are disabled, you should bring your income information to your local SSA district office. They can determine if your self-employment is SGA, and advise you about the income rules that apply in your particular situation.

If you are able to work only because of special devices, medications and/or assistance that you pay for out-of-pocket, the cost of these IRWEs (impairment-related work expenses) will be deducted from your income when SGA is determined. For example, if you earn $1500 per month, but have to rent a wheelchair for $200 per month and pay $200 per month for medications to control your symptoms well enough to work, SSA will consider your monthly income to be $1100. Since this is less than $1170, you are not engaged in SGA.

Trial Work Period (TWP)

If you have been disabled for at least 12 months, and then return to work, you are eligible for a TWP. During a TWP, you can both receive your Social Security Disability benefits and keep your paycheck regardless of the amount. You can receive up to 9 TWP months. A TWP month is counted only when your income exceeds $840 (in 2017). If you earn less than this, the month is not counted in your 9-month TWP. After your ninth TWP month, your disability will cease in the next month you earn SGA ($1170).

If you start working while receiving Social Security Disability benefits, you should notify SSA of the dates and amount of your income, in writing, and get a receipt for the notice. SSA will let you know what your reporting requirements are, depending on the amount of your income, and will track your TWP. A receipt of the notice may be important down the road, if SSA loses the information and later assesses you with an overpayment. If you can prove that you notified SSA of the income, it will be easier to claim a waiver of overpayment.

If you start working while you are in the process of applying for Social Security Disability benefits, provide SSA with copies of your paystubs. If you are represented, be sure to notify your representative of your work activity. If you are able to earn at SGA levels within 12 months of your alleged onset date, your claim will be denied. If it has been longer than 12 months since you last worked, you may be eligible for a closed period of disability or a TWP.

TWP does not apply in SSI-only cases.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

SSI is a needs-based disability program, available for disabled people without significant income or liquid resources, and who do not have an adequate earnings record to qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. The SSI benefit amount is the same for everybody, and in 2017 it is $735/month. If you and your spouse live together and are both disabled and financially eligible for SSI, you can receive a total of $1103. This is because SSA assumes you share expenses and therefore need less than twice the single rate.

Quarters of Coverage

To qualify for Social Security Disability benefits, you must be “insured” for them. This means that during the 40 quarters prior to the onset date of disability, you worked and paid taxes for 20 quarters. A “quarter” of coverage is measured as a dollar amount, and you can earn four quarters per year. In 2017, a quarter of coverage is defined as $1300 in income. So, if you earn at least $5200, you get all four quarters for the year – regardless of how long it took you to earn that amount.

If you believe you are disabled and eligible for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits, please call Maddox & Laffoon for a free consultation.

Factors That Can End Social Security Disability Benefits

Most people who are found disabled will receive SSI or Social Security disability benefits for many years, but there are six factors that can lead to a discontinuation of those benefits:

  • Return to workFactors That Can End Social Security Disability Benefits
  • Receipt of income or resources
  • Fraud
  • Medical improvement
  • Incarceration or institutionalization
  • Change in age category

Return to Work

Disability is defined as an inability to work. Therefore, if you return to work, your disability benefits might end. “Work” or “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA) is a term of art used by SSA, to describe work activity over and above a certain level.  In 2017 SGA is $1,170/month gross income (before taxes are taken out), or $1,950/month for blind persons.

If you are receiving Social Security Disability benefits (NOT SSI), you may be eligible for a “trial work period” (TWP) of up to 9 months. During a TWP you can work and keep both your paycheck and your disability benefit. If you earn $840 per month (in 2017), this will count as a trial work month. If you earn less, it will not count. The 9 months of trial work do not have to be consecutive, but after you have exhausted those 9 months, your disability will cease the next month that you earn SGA. You will then get two more months of benefits and then they will end. If, within 3 years of the end of your TWP, you have to stop working again because of your impairments, SSA may turn them back on again. This is your Extended Period of Eligibility, and you will need to ask for it when you apply.

The most important thing to remember is to advise SSA if you return to work, at any level. Do it in writing, and have them date-stamp a copy of the notice, in case you later need to prove you told them about it. If you do not report earned income, you may have a fraud problem.

Receipt of Income or Resources (SSI)

SSI is a needs based program (in contrast with Social Security Disability). If you are receiving SSI and you OR YOUR SPOUSE come into some money, through work, inheritance, lottery, tax return, gambling, legal settlement or gift (etc), you should go in and speak with SSA immediately. The same is true of anything of significant value, such as stocks, bonds, automobiles, real estate (etc) that could be liquidated.

Unearned income will reduce your SSI benefit dollar for dollar. Earned income will reduce your SSI benefit $1 for every $2 earned.

If you have resources in excess of $2,000, you do not qualify for any SSI that month. SSA can help you understand the rules and how they apply to your unique circumstances.

[Read More: Should I Try and Work During a SSD Review Process?]

Fraud

If you do not report income or resources, you may be found to have engaged in welfare fraud. In that event, your benefits will end, you will be assessed an overpayment, and you should contact a criminal attorney.

Medical Improvement

SSA will periodically review your case. This typically happens every 3 to 7 years, and is known as a “continuing disability review” (CDR). A CDR is usually less rigorous than the original application process, but if SSA determines that your condition has improved, and that you are now able to work, your benefits will end.

If you receive a CDR notice that you are no longer disabled, you may appeal that decision by filing a request for reconsideration within 60 days. If you wish to continue receiving your benefits while the appeal is pending, however, you must file it within 10 days.

The best way to stave off a discontinuation of benefits through CDR is to continue getting appropriate medical and/or mental health treatment for your disabling conditions. If you are not getting treatment, there will be an assumption that you do not need it because your conditions have improved.

[Read more: Social Security and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia]

Incarceration or Institutionalization

If you end up in prison or in an institution for 30 days or more, your benefits will be placed in suspension. If you are released within 12 months, the benefits can be reinstated, but if it is longer than 12 months you must reapply.

Change in Age Category

Turning 18: Children receiving SSI benefits will have their condition re-evaluated upon turning 18 according to adult eligibility requirement standards which can result in loss of benefits.

Reaching Retirement Age: When you reach normal retirement age, your Social Security Disability benefits (DIB) will be changed to Social Security Retirement benefits (RIB). You should not see much of a change, although depending on the circumstances of your work history, your RIB may be significantly different than the SSI benefit amount.

Most factors leading to a cessation of SSI or Social Security Disability benefits are fact-based, and are properly addressed by the SSA District Office. If you have any questions or concerns about the possible cessation of your benefits, or believe that SSA has made an error, you should contact an experienced  Social Security Disability Lawyer.