Fresno, CA Attorney Blog

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.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Going Back To Work After Receiving SSDI

What will happen to my SSDI benefits if I go back to work?

 It is a common misconception that those who receive Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits are lazy and don’t want to work. This is far from true. In fact, SSDI only provides a small monthly cash benefit which is hardly enough for one person to live on without any other income.  For this reason, and many others, a large number of SSDI recipients want to get back into the workforce.  But, many of these people are confused about what will happen to their benefits if they decide to re-enter the workforce. Here is how it works.

As long as a person has not already worked while collecting SSDI benefits, he or she is entitled to these benefits for a 12-month period after returning to work. The period is 12-months because the person is entitled to a 9-month trial work period followed by a 3-month grace period. It does not matter how much the person earns during this 12-month period. After the 12-months is up, if the person continues to work and earns over a certain amount per month (currently $1,330), his or her benefits are suspended. The person is still considered eligible for benefits during this extended period of eligibility, but benefits are determined on a month-by-month basis.  Therefore, if the person earns less than $1,330 in a month, he or she will be provided with benefits for that month.

Many SSDI recipients are also worried about their eligibility for Medicare after returning to work. Medicare benefits are provided after the age of 65. If the person is younger than 65 and he or she was once eligible for these benefits, he or she will remain eligible for 7 years after returning to work.

If you have become disabled but are considering retuning to work, you need an experienced disability attorney by your side.At the Fresno, CA offices of Peña & Bromberg we regularly assist our clients in demystifying the SSDI process.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Social Security Disability Payments and Pension

How does your pension affect your SSD payments?

If you are a worker who suffers from a disability that leaves you unable to work, you can receive disability payments from the Social Security Administration. These payments are calculated by agency's review of your work history, but they may be reduced if you have other types of income. Some pension payments will lessen the amount of the SSD benefit check you receive.

Receiving Pensions While Receiving SSD

For most individuals receiving SSD benefits, pensions will not t alter the SSD payments they receive. As long as you had to pay Social Security withholding taxes on the earnings that now qualify you for a pension, your benefits will not be impacted by your receipt of pension payments.

There are, however, some government employers, particularly those from state and local government agencies, that don't have to withhold Social Security taxes from employees' wages. In such cases, something called the Windfall Elimination Provision can effectively reduce your SSD payments. Figuring out what your reduction in payments will be can be complicated since it is determined by how many years you have worked in jobs in which you were not subject to Social Security taxes. If you have worked for 30 or more years in jobs in which you did have Social Security tax withheld, your SSD benefit checks won't be reduced at all.

Effects on Spousal Benefits

Similar rules apply if you are not disabled, but your spouse is. In cases where you qualify for spousal benefits under SSD, while those benefits aren't subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision, they may be subjected to the Government Pension Offset regulation. This will occur if you are receiving a pension from a job in which you didn't pay Social Security withholding tax.
The calculations for the Government Pension Offset are simpler that the Windfall Elimination Provision. Typically, your Social Security spousal or survivor benefits will be reduced by two-thirds of your pension. In some cases, that may prevent you from receiving a Social Security check at all, because there is no maximum amount for the reduction.

If you are among the great majority of people collecting Social Security Disability payments, your SSD benefits will not be impacted by any pension you collect. It is only if you have spent at least part of your earning years working at jobs in which you paid no withholding tax into the Social Security system that you will have to be concerned about your pension checks reducing your disability income.

Because of the complexities of the Social Security Disability system, you should take the time to consult with a highly qualified Social Security Disability attorney who will be able to guide you through the process of procuring and maintaining the benefits to which you are entitled.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Disability for Depression

Can I receive disability benefits if I suffer from severe depression?

Depression is a feeling of sadness, helplessness or worthlessness that continues over an extended period of time.  Depression can take many forms and cause a wide variety of symptoms.  It is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States affecting approximately 7 percent of adults in the country.

According to the DSM-V a person is clinically depressed when they experience five or more of the following symptoms at the same time:

  • Sadness throughout the day
  • Fatigue or feelings of low energy
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Insomnia or excess sleepiness
  • Inability to enjoy previously enjoyable activities, e.g. sex
  • Restlessness
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Suicidal thoughts

While many people believe depression is within a person’s control, this is not the case.  Depression can cause a person to have difficulty functioning normally and can impair a person’s ability to work. Luckily, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) are available to individuals suffering from depression.

There are two ways a person can qualify for SSDI or SSI -- proving that he or she meets the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) requirements listed in the impairment manual or by being granted a medical vocational allowance.

The Social Security Administration maintains a manual of disorders that lists criteria for each of the recognized ailments.  In order to be considered depressed, you must be found to have at least four of the symptoms listed in the manual.  These include lack of enjoyment, appetite disturbance resulting in loss or gain of weight, insomnia or excess sleep, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating or thinking, suicidal thoughts and hallucinations, delusions or paranoia. To qualify an individual for benefits, these symptoms must interfere with daily functioning.

If a person does not meet the criteria outlined in the impairment manual, he or she may still qualify for disability under a medical-vocational allowance. In order to qualify in this way, the SSA must make a determination as to how the person’s depression affects his or her ability to work.

As with any impairment, your chances of getting disability benefits depend on the thoroughness of your application. It is in your best interest to retain a qualified disability attorney before filing an application for SSDI or SSI benefits.


Friday, November 27, 2015

New Federal Budget Includes Several "Fixes" to SSDI System

Are there any new updates to Social Security laws?

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a vital component of the Social Security system, and provides much-needed financial support to Americans facing debilitating illnesses that render them unable to work. Under the current timeline, applicants for SSDI benefits are generally required to endure a predetermined waiting period, which can be up to 5 months in some cases. Over time, however, it has become increasingly clear that a waiting period for SSDI benefits creates an unconscionable obstacle to those applicants relying on efficiency and timeliness: the terminally ill.

Currently, patients facing a terminal illness are subject to the same SSDI wait times as all other applicants, which has proven especially problematic for family members hoping to focus less on the household bills and more on what matters – their ailing loved one.

Under the provisions of a new bill introduced in September of this year, any applicant for SSDI benefits who is also facing a terminal illness would have the wait period waived, and could begin receiving benefits the same month as the diagnosis. Under the terms of the bill, a “terminal illness” is described as any illness likely to result in the death of the patient within 6 months. To qualify for the expedited processing, the applicant must submit affidavits from at least two physicians certifying that the condition is, in fact, terminal in nature.

In a statement by the bill’s sponsor (Barasso, R-WY), “[t]he last thing Americans facing end-of-life decisions should be concerned about is navigating Washington red tape . . . Our bipartisan bill will ensure that people with terminal illnesses receive benefits in a timely manner while still preserving the integrity of the system….”

If you are facing a difficult situation involving Social Security benefits, you would be well-advised to consult with a reputable attorney to help guide you through the bureaucratic maze. Call Peña & Bromberg, PLC, fresno SSDI and SSI attorneys.  We are here to help you get the benefits you deserve.

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Peña & Bromberg, a Professional Law Corporation serves clients throughout Central Valley CA including San Francisco Bay, Oakland, Bakersfield, Madera, Stockton, Fresno, Sacramento, & Modesto.

The office assists Social Security Disability & Veterans Disability clients nationwide.

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| Phone: 559-644-0031

Social Security Disability Insurance Overview | Social Security Disability Insurance- Physical Impairments | Social Security Disability Law | Social Security Disability Insurance- Mental Disorders | Veterans Disability & Benefits | Resources | Consult Request


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© 2015 Peña & Bromberg, PLC | Disclaimer
5740 N Palm Ave, Suite 103, Fresno, CA 93704
| Phone: 559-439-9700 | 866-282-6811

Social Security Disability Insurance Overview | Social Security Disability Insurance- Physical Impairments | Social Security Disability Law | Social Security Disability Insurance- Mental Disorders | Veterans Disability & Benefits | Resources | Consult Request | SSDI News


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