A new study by the National Academy of Social Insurance, finds that a majority of Americans polled, favor paying more for Social Security, in order to insure the solvency of the program. The opinions expressed in the survey were equally true of both Democratic and Republican participants. Majorities of those polled, oppose reduction of benefits, as a mechanism of balancing future finances.
In an effort to streamline and expedite the wait for Social Security Disability hearings, the Social Security Administration has expanded use of remote video hearings before Administrative Law Judges. The result is that a Social Security Disability claimant living in Ft. Lauderdale, may have his or her case heard by an Administrative Law Judge in St. Louis, Missouri or elsewhere. This physical distance from the Administrative Law Judge, could have a profound impact on the outcome of the claimant's case. Many argue, that without the ability of the Judge to physically observe and asses the claimant, the probability increases that the decision will be unfavorable.
On June 25, 2014, SSA published final rules explaining how a claimant may object to appearing at a hearing via teleconferencing, or to the time and place of a hearing. These rules provide that prior to scheduling a hearing, SSA will notify the claimant that it may schedule the appearance by video teleconferencing. These rules went into effect on September 6, 2014. The claimant will have 30 days after receiving notice of the teleconferencing, to object and request an in-person hearing with a Judge. In the event that the claimant relocates to another State or jurisdiction, prior to the hearing, the Judge will decide how the claimant will appear, including via video conferencing. The Social Security Administration is clearly concerned that claimants report a change in residence, so that the case is assigned to a hearing office with a higher allowance rate. This is often called "venue shopping," which SSA is trying to quash.
The 2014 Board of Trustees report for the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds was released on July 28, 2014. The report concludes that even if no further Congressional action is taken, the combined Social Security Trust Funds will be able to pay 100% of scheduled benefits until 2033! After the year 2033, even without further funding changes, benefits would still be payable at the rate of 77% using incoming payroll tax revenue. However, the Report concluded that the need to remedy the Disability Insurance Trust Fund is more immediate, with depletion of the reserves projected to occur in 2016, the same year as found in the 2013 report.
After serving as Acting Commissioner since February 2013, Carolyn Colvin was nominated by President Barack Obama to the the Commissioner of Social Security, for a term that ends in early 2019. Ms. Colvin has been the Acting Commissioner since the term of the prior Commissioner, Michael J. Astrue, ended in early 2013. Prior to that, she was the Principal Deputy Commissioner of SSA for two years, having been confirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate Finance Committee.
Ms. Colvin was hired in 1963 at SSA as a clerk stenographer and has spent her entire career in public service at the local, state and federal government levels. At hearing, Ms. Colvin discussed current anti-fraud efforts underway at SSA, including use of "data analytics" to root out potential fraud.
The Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General recently found that the Disability Determination Services did not always develop all available medical evidence before making a disability determination. The report found that although DDS generally followed policy, sometimes evidence at the initial and reconsideration levels was absent either because the Claimant did not provide the information or the medical source did not respond to requests for the medical data. It was found that DDS staff did not always follow the regulations and policies to make every reasonable effort to obtain evidence and document the attempts in the disability folder.
The Inspector General estimated that about 214,500 cases contained medical evidence at the hearing level that DDS staff could have obtained at the initial decision level but did not. Additionally, the Inspector General estimated that about 235,000 claimants reported medical sources when requesting a hearing, but that SSA staff did not obtain the medical evidence for them.
Between 1981 and 1984, the Social Security Administration terminated the benefits of almost 500,000 disabled Americans, including tens of thousand of beneficiaries with severe mental impairments. Congress became involved, in order to standardize the chaotic means by which benefits were being ceased. The legislative outcome adopted in 1984 was entitled the
Medical Improvement Review Standard. This standard is best described as follows:
There is "substantial evidence" that an individual has improved medically, enabling the individual to engage in "substantial gainful activity." Social Security will assess the impairments that the individual had at the time of the last disability decision.
Several exceptions to utilization of the above standard also exist in the law, which do not utilize the Medical Improvement Review Standard:
1. If the initial determination finding disability was "on its face" an error of fact or law.
2. If material evidence demonstrating the disability is missing or absent.
Judge Cueto of the Dade County 11th Circuit Court, has declared that the Florida Workers' Compensation law, Florida Statutes 440.00, is unconstitutional in part. Specifically, the Court found that the current Florida Workers' Compensation law is an inadequate remedy as a substitute in cases of personal injury or negligence by the Employer. The Court found that dramatic changes made to the workers' compensation law, especially in 2003, have dramatically reduced benefits available to injured Florida workers. The most significant cut of benefits was in the area of permanent disability, which are now a trickle compared to most other States. For example, in the State of Virginia, injured workers are entitled up to 500 weeks of benefits due to an injury, even after the Claimant has reached a medical plateau, known as "maximum medical improvement." In Florida, the maximum temporary benefits allowed is 102 weeks and after maximum medical improvement, the benefits paid are only 2 weeks for every percentage of impairment attributable to the injury. Most States are similar to Virginia and only a handful, including Texas and Florida (thanks to the Bush brothers) have decimated benefits for working people.
The Social Security Administration, per the court case of Brock v. Astrue, has issued a ruling requiring a vocational expert to testify in hearings which involve an application for Social Security Disability, based on a "severe" mental impairment. This term "severe" mental impairment can include many diagnoses, such as Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); bi-polar disorder and major depressive disorder.
The reasoning of the Court is that if a claimant seeking Social Security Disability benefits suffers from a severe mental impairment, only a vocational expert can ascertain whether the individual has the functional capacity to perform jobs which may exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Specifically, mental impairment can impact an individual claimant's capacity to function at work. For example, although such individual may be physically capable to work, a mental disability often impacts the ability to concentrate; focus; follow instructions and properly interact with co-workers or the public, is vital evidence as to whether someone is disabled. This is vital information for a Social Security Judge to understand in making a ruling on a case for Social Security Disability
The Social Security Administration has proposed several changes to the "listed" impairments, which can qualify an individual to receive Social Security Disability Income.
The listing for "epilepsy", under section 11.02 and 11.03. Currently, non-convulsive epilepsy requires a seizure pattern occurring more frequently than once weekly in spite of at least 3 months of prescribed treatment. The proposed listings describe seizure frequency depending on the type of epilepsy, in terms of "occurring at least once a month for at least 3 consecutive months, at least once a week for at least 3 consecutive months or at least once every 2 months for at least 4 consecutive months. This would appear to be more limiting than the current listing, which allows for "averaging" seizures during a 3 month period. The proposed changes seem to require that the seizures occur on a more regular basis.
The proposed changes to listing 11.09 regarding multiple sclerosis would rely on two categories, rather than the current three. Current listing 11.09A deals with "Disorganization of motor function as described in 11.04B," and Significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements or gait and station. In contrast, the proposed listing 11.09 would provide for extreme limitation...in the ability to stand up, balance, walk or perform fine and gross motor movements.
Ft. Lauderdale Social Security Disability Attorney Randy Zeldin, Esq., assists individuals with epilepsy and multiple sclerosis to obtain Social Security Disability benefits.
The Social Security Administration has announced that effective March 17, 2014, it will expedited disability claims for veterans receiving VA service-connected compensation benefits and who have a rating of 100% "permanent and total" disability from the Veterans Administration. According to a recent press release, the VA rating can only expedites Social Security disability claims processing and does not guarantee an allowance for Social Security Disability benefits. Veterans must still meet Social Security eligibility and entitlement requirements fora disability allowance
The Social Security Administration has announced that it has instituted a new policy aimed at speeding up applications of wounded warriors. The new process applies only to Veterans who were injured after October 1, 2001.
Veterans may still be eligible for Social Security disability, even if they are still actively receiving military salaries. This is particularly true when a Veteran is in active medical rehabilitation or on limited duty.
The website for application by Veterans for Social Security Disability is
www.socialsecurity.gov/wounded warriors. Applications can be done via telephone or at the Veteran's local Social Security Disability office. Social Security Disability attorney Randy Zeldin, Esq. of Boca Raton, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is available to assist U.S. Veterans in the application or appeal of a Social Security Disability claim.
Under the current regulations, a Veteran may remain on active duty, yet receive Social Security Disability. If there is a permanent change of station for a Veteran, it is important to notify the Social Security Administration.
It is not well known, but "obesity" can be a disability and form the legal basis for entitlement to Social Security Disability benefits. Claimants may not recognize themselves as "obese" and not realize that it is a medical condition. Several years ago, the formal Listing 9.09 for obesity was deleted from the law. Since that time, assessments of obesity are "hit and miss" and lead to inconsistent findings by Social Security Disability adjudicators and Administrative Law Judges.
There are several ideas brewing to reform and standardize the obesity standard, which include the following:
1. A new medical listing should focus on the Body Mass Index (BMI) and particularly target individuals with a BMI greater than 48.
2. The adoption of stricter guidance as to when obesity must be evaluated as a severe impairment and must be specifically addressed by a Social Security Judge.
3. Use of other measures if BMI does not capture the composition of a claimant's weight. The BMI is not considered a perfect measurement and is more problematic with females.
Randy Zeldin, Esq. is a Social Security Disability Attorney representing Claimants in Ft. Lauderdale; Boca Raton; West Palm Beach and throughout South Florida.