Fresno, CA Attorney Blog

Monday, June 27, 2016

Social Security Disability Insurance—Do You Qualify?

There are generally five questions that are used to determine whether you are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  The Disability Determination Service (DDS) for your particular state will evaluate these issues when the Social Security Administration (SSA) forwards your case to DDS. The inquiries may consist of the following:

  1. “Are You Engaged in Substantial Gainful Activity?”
  2. “How Severe Are Your Impairments?”
  3. “Do You Meet the Listing of Impairments?”
  4. “Can You Do Your Prior Job?”
  5. “Can You Do Any Other Job?”

Even if you would otherwise qualify for a disability, there are specific monetary cut-offs that may still disqualify you from obtaining SSDI.  Generally, the monthly monetary amount that may be classified as “substantial gainful activity” is a minimum of $1,130, as reported in 2016.

Read more . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2016

When a Disabled Child Receives Parental Benefits in Adulthood

Can a person disabled in childhood be covered by his or her parent's Social Security in adulthood?

There is often discussion of the benefits of individuals who become disabled and are then entitled to SSDI benefits, and also of benefits due to the family members who depend on their income. We rarely hear, however, about individuals who were disabled as children and are therefore eligible to receive their parents' benefits during their own adulthoods.

Circumstances under which Children Receive Social Security Benefits

When a parent becomes disabled, his or her child may also qualify for benefits on the parent's record of employment. This applies not only to a parent's biological child, but to an adopted child, a stepchild, or a dependent grandchild. The child receives up to one-half of the parent's full disability benefit, but in order to receive benefits in this situation the child must be:

  • Under the age of 18 or
  • 18-19 years of age and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12) or
  • 18 or older and have a disability that started before the age of 22

When it is the child, not the parent who is disabled, however, the rules change.

Read more . . .

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Social Security Disability for Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes Sufferers

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 29 million people in the United States suffer from diabetes -- or 9.3 percent of the total population. For many, the symptoms of diabetes -- whether Type 1 or Type 2 -- can be debilitating, often related to difficulty managing blood-glucose levels. Oftentimes, severe cases of diabetes can prevent a sufferer from maintaining employment, quickly creating a dire financial need in the family.

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has expanded its understanding of this disease, and offers disability benefits to those whose symptoms meet the established criteria.

Read more . . .

Sunday, May 29, 2016

New York Man Almost Loses Home Due to Delayed Disability Benefits

What can happen when Social Security Disability Insurance payments aren't processed promptly?

People usually assume that, if they are unfortunate enough to become disabled as a result of illness or injury, and are no longer able to work, they will be able to fall back on Social Security Disability Insurance, a cushion they have been paying into for all their working years. Nonetheless, as with other bureaucratic government agencies, the Social Security Disability system doesn't always work.

Six years ago, a man in Port Washington, New York, the breadwinner of his family, suffered a severe heart attack. Mitch Cohen, a successful electrical engineer working at the One World Trade Center building until his cardiac event, recovered, but remained quite debilitated. His doctor told him he would only be able to work part-time.

Read more . . .

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Government Extends Student Loan Forgiveness to Those Enduring Total Disability

In a historic move by the federal government, student loan forgiveness may be available for hundreds of thousands of disabled Americans -- to the tune of nearly $7.7 billion. At the center of the decision was the recognition that many disabled individuals were being unfairly forced to accept lower monthly disability benefits due to garnishments and deductions imposed under the Treasury Offset Program. Specifically, the Department of Education was relying on the program to garnish the disability benefits of those who had defaulted on their student loans -- which was by and large caused by the borrower’s disability in the first place. In response to this non-sensical system, the Department of Education has vowed to proactively alert borrowers if they are eligible for a Total and Permanent Disability discharge (TPD), which will help ensure greater financial security for an estimated 387,000 Americans.

Read more . . .

Monday, April 25, 2016

Getting Disability Benefits for PTSD in California

Is it possible to receive disability benefits for PTSD in California?

As an increasingly large percentage of the population is well aware, post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD) can be an extremely disabling condition. Whether the result of domestic abuse, a catastrophic event, or military action, PTSD can cause:

  • Problems with concentration
  • Extreme anxiety and/or hypervigilance
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Night terrors
  • Panic attacks and/or exaggerated startle response
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Flashbacks
  • Aggressive, criminal or suicidal behavior
  • Emotional numbness or complete withdrawal

How to Get Disability Benefits in California for PTSD

If you are a resident of California with documented PTSD that prevents you from earning a living, you may be able to collect disability benefits through:

  • Short-term disability benefits from the State of California
  • Social Security disability benefits from the federal government
  • Veterans' disability compensation from the U.S. government
  • Disability retirement benefits for federal employees
  • California workers' compensation benefits from private insurer if PTSD is work-related
  • Short- or long-term disability benefits from employer-provided insurance policy

Disability Benefits from Social Security Administration (SSA)

The Social Security Administration dispenses two varieties of Read more . . .

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Funding Multiple Sclerosis with SSDI

Can individuals with multiple sclerosis qualify for SSDI?

Treating multiple sclerosis (MS) involved prescriptions drugs, physical therapy, speech therapy, and the use of mobility aids. The costs for MS healthcare, moreover, can be quite high, ranging from $8,500 to over $50,000 per year. Prescription drugs account for a large percentage of these costs.

While some individuals with MS have better access to private health insurance coverage, Medicare and/or Medicaid, as a result of the Affordable Care Act reforms, have given many patients financial challenges like high deductibles and co-payments which can make paying for healthcare difficult. For those who are unable to work, this problem is even greater.

Why are costs for treating MS rising?

The primary reason that treating MS is becoming more expensive is the rising cost of MS drugs which have outpaced the rate of inflation. In fact, a recent study revealed that the current cost of so-called first-generation, disease-modifying MS medications is $60,000 per year, compared to about $8,000 to $11,000 back in the 1990s.

According to experts, the challenges faced by individuals afflicted with the disease in covering healthcare expenses has led some to take shortcuts in their treatment by skipping doses or taking "drug holidays." Other compromises, such as cutting other costs and eliminating "luxuries" are also common.

Paying for MS Treatment

Individuals with MS typically pay for treatment with employer-sponsored health insurance, individual health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or other programs. Private insurance companies typically provide advice to enrollees with chronic conditions, such as MS, on healthcare coverage and costs. However, life changes such as losing a job can limit health insurance options. Individuals with MS who cannot work due to MS-related disability, however, may be entitled to Social Security Disability Benefits (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits.

Obviously, coping with multiple sclerosis is a challenge that is compounded by the costs of healthcare and medications. There are a number of foundations, government organizations, and other assistance programs that available for those afflicted with this disease. There may also be local services that can offer assistance with transportation, meals, and other needs.  At the same time, navigating the complexities of the SSDI program requires a fierce advocate to guide you through the process. If you or a loved one is suffering from a chronic illness and cannot work, you should engage the services of an attorney with expertise in the SSDI program.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Accommodating Employees with Psychiatric Disabilities

What accommodations must employers make for employees with psychiatric disabilities?

Since 1990, when The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, people with disabilities are more and more present in the American workplace. While some disabilities prevent people from working all together, there are a good number of disabled parties, even those receiving SSDI (Social Security Disability benefits) who are able to be productive members of the work force. Some of these people have psychiatric, rather than physical, disabilities. There is a limit to the amount of money a person receiving SSD benefits can earn while still working -- $1130 per month in 2016 (or $1820 if you're blind).

Definition of, and Reasons for, Accommodations for the Psychiatrically Disabled

Accommodations in the workplace are designed to assist employees with disabilities in performing the essential functions of their jobs. For the most part, such adjustments involve just a bit of planning and thought, and little, if any, expenditure. These accommodations are not just acts of kindness; they are profitable for employers since they result in quickly assimilating workers after any necessary leave and increasing productivity of disabled employees. They are also a key to the recruitment and retention of qualified employees. For workers, these accommodations can provide not only much needed funds, but an increased sense of self-worth.

What are some of the reasonable accommodations made to accommodate employees with psychiatric disabilities?

While some psychiatrically disabled workers require little in the way of accommodations, for many, one or more of the following may mean the difference between being able to work and having to survive on SSDI benefits alone. Employers compliant with the ADA should be prepared to provide:

  • Flexible workplace -- possibly including telecommuting or other work-at-home arrangements
  • Flexible hours -- part-time, job sharing, varied start/end times, ability to make up missed work
  • Leaves -- sick leaves for mental health, such as breaks for therapy and doctor appointments
  • Flexible breaks -- time-outs to regroup or call professionals for assistance
  • Beverage or food exceptions to mitigate medication side effects
  • Removal or reduction of work area distractions, such as loud music
  • Room dividers, partitions, private space enclosures or offices
  • Increased natural lighting
  • Headset (with or without music) to block out loud noises or a white noise machine

Accommodations to workers with psychiatric issues may also include altered interactions between the employer or supervisor and the employee, such as:

  • Taping meetings and training session so they can be replayed
  • Modifying job duties, such as dividing large assignments into smaller tasks
  • Providing additional time for orientation and training
  • Implementing more supportive supervision and positive reinforcement
  • Catering to the disabled employees preferred learning style (written, verbal, email)
  • Organizing regularly scheduled meetings to discuss workplace issues and productivity

Not only are such accommodations now legally required, they are common sense approaches to make life in the workplace more palatable for all concerned. If you are an employee and want to know whether you psychiatric disability entitles you to accommodations in the workplace, or if you are eligible for SSDI benefits, get in touch promptly with a reputable and experienced Social Security Disability attorney to find out your options.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Are cancer patients eligible for Social Security disability payments?

For some diagnoses the Social Security Administration may immediately approve a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim

 Few conditions are as serious as cancer. For this reason, a cancer diagnosis usually, but not always, creates a strong basis for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim. Certain cancers are likely to result in the Social Security Administration immediately granting disability payments. These may include brain or spinal cord cancers, breast cancer, mesothelioma, "oat cell" cancer of the lung, primary liver cancer and pancreatic cancer.

The Social Security Administration maintains a list of ailments that qualify for "compassionate allowances," meaning that disability payments can be approved quickly for people whose diagnosis makes their disability eminently clear.

Yet not all cancers are disabling. For the Social Security Administration to approve a claim, the cancer may have to be metastatic, inoperable or otherwise unable to be controlled. For cancers that do not automatically qualify, medical records, blood work, biopsies, X-rays, MRI and CT scans, and doctors' notes can help establish that the cancer is serious enough to render the patient disabled.

If a cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, for example, an applicant may qualify for disability benefits based on the Social Security Administrations criteria for neoplastic disease. If a cancer has not spread widely and has been removed, the SSA may evaluate how much functionality the patient has retained, what is or her work history is, and other factors. Even for cancer patients, a disability judge may weigh "vocational factors" in making the determination.

It is also important to be aware that receiving disability for cancer for some period of time does not necessarily mean such payments will be permanent. If a tumor or metastatic disease recedes and remains in remission for three or more years, recipients of SSDI may no longer satisfy the criteria for disability based on a neoplastic disease. On the other hand, even without meeting those requirements, a patient may still receive disability based on a more general loss of residual functional capacity. Battling cancer takes a toll, and even cancer survivors may suffer lingering disabilities, either because of the illness itself, or because of the treatments they have undergone. In such cases, the patients will remain entitled to benefits.

 Aggressive, malignant cancers may lead to quick eligibility, while individuals with more treatable cancers may face more challenges when seeking disability benefits. Patients must focus on health first, but afterwards, legal counsel can help ensure that they receive the disability payments for which they qualify.

Friday, February 19, 2016

SSDI Cuts are Back on the Table in 2016

What are some of the problems with the SSDI system?

After Congress approved a stop-gap measure to preserve SSDI benefits in last year's budget negotiations, cuts in disability benefits may be back on the table this year. This comes as no surprise in light of the fact that Social Security has long-been a hot button issue on Capitol Hill.

Who Does SSDI Protect?

SSDI provides a safety  net to families who are struggling financially when a family member cannot work due to an injury or illness. The amount of the benefit depends upon a number of factors, such as the  individual's lifetime earnings as well as any other benefits he or she is receiving. While the program is designed to provide financial support, there are a number of problems with the system. The application process can be long and complicated, and many claims are denied for a variety of reasons. These problems add to the Social Security Administration's funding woes that were only temporarily addressed in 2015.

The Proposed Cuts

A report recently released by the SSA trustee indicated that if Congress fails to act this year, beneficiaries may face cuts of almost 20 percent in their payments. Despite lawmakers' budget compromise last year, the trustee contends that the future of the SSDI program is uncertain. As has widely been reported, the disability trust fund will be depleted by the end of this year.

As Congress continues to drag its feet in resolving the problem, the benefits of many disabled individuals are hanging in the balance. Some estimates indicate that cuts to the SSDI program would have an impact on 10.9 million Americans who are currently receiving benefits. Meanwhile, comprehensive Social Security reform remains a hot potato. Given that 2016 is an election year, one would think this would be a leading campaign issue. But the candidates on both sides of the aisle seem to have other priorities.

While current recipients may be facing drastic cuts by the end of 2016, the funding shortfall of SSDI is also a problem for individuals who have applied for benefits or those who may suffer an injury in the future. Given the long delays in SSDI approvals, the frequency of denials, and the potential for cuts to the program, beneficiaries and applicants need an attorney by  their side more than ever.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Veterans Seek Class Action Status over Disability Claims

What recourse do veterans have if they have been denied disability benefits?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, put in place by Congress in 1998, does not hear cases that aggregate veterans' denial of benefit complaints. Now, a group of veterans is arguing that this policy denies them of their right to bring class-action lawsuits to fight grievances.

The group has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of thousands of veterans who have suffered financial and medical hardship because of delayed claims. The overarching issue is whether the court's refusal to hear cases brought on behalf of a class of veterans denies them recourse typically available in most state and federal courts.

What is a Class Action Lawsuit?

A class action lawsuit is one in which a group of people who have suffered the same or similar injuries caused by the same product or action sue the defendant as a group. By combining the suits, thousands of claims can be resolved at the same time, rather than being litigated individually.

In this case, the veterans argue that they have been harmed by delays in the Veterans Administration's response to disability claims. Each of the veterans in the group has waited for more than a year to have disability claims reviewed. By being denied recourse to bring these cases as a class action, the veterans must wait for their cases to be taken up individually, which will only result in further delays, given the backlog of veteran claims.

Backlog of VA disability claims

The VA has reportedly cut its backlog of disability claims over the last two years by 88 percent to 74,955. However, the number of appeals over initial disability decisions has risen during this time: 14.6 percent of disability decisions were appealed. The average appeal can take as long as four years and often involves multiple rounds of appeals.

Meanwhile the VA agrees that the Veterans Appeals Court should block class actions. In fact, at legislative hearings in 2009 and 2001, agency representatives testified that class actions would "divert the court's scarce resources."  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is considering whether the veteran's court should now allow class actions to be heard.

In the meantime, if you have been denied disability benefits by the Veteran's Administration, you should consult with a qualified attorney.


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