Thursday, March 15, 2012

Information About the Compassionate Allowances Program

We hear a lot about the long waits and the initial denials that Social Security Disability applicants experience. However, a few claimants do not suffer these delays. The Social Security Administration has a fast track program, called Compassionate Allowances, to identify and process SSD applications arising from very specific conditions and injuries.

Information About the Compassionate Allowances Program

We hear a lot about the long waits and the initial denials that SSD applicants experience. However, a few claimants do not suffer these delays. The Social Security Administration has a fast track program, called Compassionate Allowances, to identify and process applications arising from very specific conditions and injuries.

The conditions and illnesses that qualify applicants for the Compassionate Allowances program are those that are almost always approved. It allows the SSA to target applications from those who are most seriously disabled. Generally, rare diseases, cancers, traumatic brain injury (TBI), stroke, early-onset Alzheimer's disease, dementias, schizophrenia, cardiovascular disease, recipients of multiple organ transplants and autoimmune diseases.

In the fall of 2011, new conditions were added to the Compassionate Allowances list. These are:

• Angelman Syndrome
• Lewy Body Dementia
• Lowe Syndrome
• Malignant Multiple Sclerosis
• Multicentric Castleman Disease
• Multiple System Atrophy
• Paraneoplastic Pemphigus
• Patau Syndrome (Trisomy 13)
• Peritoneal Mesothelioma
• Pleural Mesothelioma
• Pompe Disease - Infantile
• Primary Cardiac Amyloidosis
• Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma
• Primary Effusion Lymphoma
• Primary Progressive Aphasia
• Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy
• Progressive Supranuclear Palsy
• Pulmonary Atresia
• Pulmonary Kaposi Sarcoma
• The ALS/Parkinsonism Dementia Complex

In all, 113 illnesses and conditions qualify applicants for the Compassionate Allowances program. The program was launched in 2008 with 50 qualifying conditions and illnesses; new qualifying conditions are added every year. Sometimes it only takes days to be approved for benefits, rather than the months or years often required.

Because eligibility for the Compassionate Allowances program changes frequently, it is important to consult an advocate with up-to-the-minute information on SSD matters. At Binder & Binder®, a national disability advocacy firm, our disability specialists are trained and knowledgeable about all aspects of Social Security Disability, including the Compassionate Allowances program.

Source: Social Security Online, "Compassionate Allowances," Nov. 28, 2011.

If You Owe Child Support, Your Disability Benefits May Be at Risk

A change in government policy will permit states to take 100 percent of SSD benefits when back child support is owed. Previously, states could seize only 65 percent from parents, primarily men, who owed child support and elected to receive those benefits by paper check.

The change could render as many as 275,000 recipients of SSD benefits destitute and homeless. The change came as a result of the Treasury Department's decision that it would pay all benefits electronically. This includes Social Security Disability benefits, veteran's benefits, and benefits paid to retired workers.
In some cases, the arrears are from many years ago, and the children in question are now grown. Moreover, the debt is often interest and fees, rather than direct support for children. In such cases, the money will go to the states.

Recipients of SSD and other federal benefits will receive their benefits through direct deposit or debit cards. In either case, the states will be able to freeze 100 percent of the amount received. Attorneys and poverty advocates have noted that this change will increase the number of disabled homeless, who will face eviction because they no longer have any income.

By law, states can only take 65 percent of a benefit paid by paper check. However, they can freeze a bank account entirely, making it impossible for a SSD recipient to use the benefits received through direct deposit. Health and Human Services, the federal department that oversees the Social Security Administration, is looking into the matter. The goal behind using direct deposit for all benefits is to save the federal government the expense of sending out checks. It costs only $.10 to deposit money electronically, but $1.00 to write and mail and check.

If you are having trouble obtaining or receiving SSD benefits for any reason, a disability specialist at Binder & Binder®, a national firm of disability advocates, may be able to help.

Source: Washington Post, "Poor who owe child support could lose federal benefits," Feb. 26, 2012.

The Disability Review Process

If you are receiving Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your medical condition periodically to determine whether you still need those benefits. How frequently this occurs depends on the disability for which you receive benefits. If your disability is expected to become less severe, the first review will take place from six to 18 months after you became disabled. Otherwise, your case will be reviewed every three years if some improvement is expected, or every seven years if you are believed to be permanently disabled.

During the review, you will provide documentation about your medical treatment during the period since your last review or decision. This means doctors' names and contact information, and hospitalization information. If you worked at any time during the time you were receiving disability benefits, you will need to provide employment information, including documentation of your income from employment.

After reviewing the information you provided, the Disability Determination Services office in your state will issue a decision about whether you should continue to receive benefits. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal. There are four levels of appeal. Having an advocate from a firm such as Binder & Binder ® can help you get through the appeal process.

The stages of appeal are:

Reconsideration: The reconsideration process involves a review by a panel that had no involvement in the original decision.

Hearing: You can request a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

Appeals Council: If you wish to contest the ALJ's decision, you may ask the Appeals Council to review the previous determination.

Federal court: You have the right to bring a civil action in federal court if you disagree with the Appeals Council or if it declines to hear your case.

Source: Social Security Online, "What You Need To Know: Reviewing Your Disability," Jan. 2005.

Don't Give Up - Get Help With an SSD Appeal

If you had to appeal a negative Social Security Disability (SSD) decision, you are not alone. The Social Security Administration (SSA) reported that 2011 saw the highest number of SSD appeals. In 2011, the SSA received 859, 514 hearing requests, or appeals, and completed around 3.4 million disability claims.

More than have of those claims -at least 1.7 million -- were initially denied. If you do the math, you'll see that around half of the people who were denied actually took the next step and appealed the negative decision.
Applicants who enlist the help of an advocate such as Binder & Binder stand a better chance of succeeding on appeal. Applicants can also give themselves other advantages. Some tips:
  • Don't give up. File an appeal.
  • Show up for appointments and meet deadlines.
  • Provide complete information and updates.
  • Don't waste time trying to correct the initial claim.
  • Don't minimize the extent of your disability. Don't be proud.
  • Get help. Around 75 percent of claimants who appeal have professional assistance.
Because the SSD system is so large, and because there are so many applications, individual claimants can get lost in the shuffle through no fault of their own. Following these rules and getting needed assistance when filing and appealing may tip the scales in the applicant's favor.

Source: Houston Chronicle, "Social Security Disability Appeals Reached New Record in 2011," February 7, 2012.

Getting Married Could Cut SSI Benefits

An Idaho couple has learned the hard way that getting married might have been a bad idea, at least financially. They knew that they wouldn't be living a lavish life style - Trina was receiving SSI benefits, Alex was receiving SSD benefits, and both received food stamps. And before they got married in May, 2011, they checked with their local Social Security office to learn whether their benefits would be affected by marriage.

They were told that the consequences of getting married would be minimal - maybe five or ten dollars. However, the reality was quite different. A month after their wedding, Trina received a letter informing her that her benefit was going to be cut from $674 a month to $369. In addition, the couple was told in January that their food stamps were going to be cut from $400 a month to $275.

Alex's disability benefits are not affected by his marriage because SSD is based on how many years the recipient worked and how much was paid into the system. However, SSI is a need-based program, and other income, such as that received by a spouse, will be included when calculating the amount of the benefit.

Both Alex and Trina are unable to work because of bi-polar disorder. In addition, Trina has seizures and other mental issues that make it very difficult for her to go outside. Trina says, "We probably wouldn't have gotten married," if they had known what it would cost them. Neither the Social Security Administration nor the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare would comment on the specifics of Trina and Alex's case.

Source: CDA Press, "The Cost of Marriage," By Alecia Warren, Feb. 6, 2012.

If You Live in Rural America, Your Chances of Relying on SSD Are Greater

It turns out that if you live in a rural area, you are more likely to rely on Social Security Disability benefits. The reasons for this are complex. However, a recent article in the Kansas City Star reported that while 1 in 20 people receive SSD in Kansas City, the number increases to 1 in 8 when you get into the rural counties of southern Kansas.

One of the reasons is that much of the work available in rural areas, such as farming, road work and manufacturing, requires a certain level of stamina and health. If you're disabled and cannot do these types of jobs, there isn't much else for you. "You find higher rates in counties historically reliant on extraction industries - mining, agriculture, forestry," said Tim Marema of the Center for Rural Strategies. Jobs in these industries typically require significant strength and function. And when these industries leave an area, there is often no other work, especially for a disabled individual.

Another reason is that rural areas are poorer, and poverty has been shown to increase rates of poor health and disability. Yet another cause of this phenomenon is that medical care - the kind of care that might be able to prevent illness and disability - is usually limited in rural areas. And rural areas seldom have public transportation, making it ever harder to get to the few doctors who do practice in rural areas or get to the kind of job where disability is not a problem.

Residents of rural counties are less likely to have health insurance, further limiting their ability to receive appropriate and timely medical care and increasing their risk of being unable to work. They are less likely to have high school diplomas, making them ineligible for the few doable jobs that may exist.

Whatever the causes of their disabilities, people in rural parts of Kansas and Missouri receive SSD benefits for a host of reasons, including chronic diseases such as muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, back pain, heart disease, mood disorders, and work and war-related injuries.

Source: Kansas City Star, "Rural communities have strongest reliance on disability benefits", by Rick Montgomery, Jan. 29, 2012.

Increase for Recipients of SSI Benefits in 2012

After two years of no increases in the benefit amount for recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the government announced last fall that individuals receiving that benefit would see a cost of living increase. The increase took effect in the last days of December 2011.

The increase - 3.6 percent -- will affect the more than eight million people currently receiving SSI benefits. SSI is a federal program for the blind and disabled, as well as seniors who are ineligible for regular Social Security benefits for the elderly. Children who are blind or disabled may also be eligible to receive SSI benefits.

After the increase, the maximum amount available through the SSI program in 2012 is $698 for an individual and $1,048 for a couple. However, some states will add money to this amount and it may be possible to receive a higher benefit, depending on where the recipient lives.

The increased benefit amount is a cost of living adjustment (COLA) and is determined by the third quarter increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over that of the previous third quarter. The preliminary amount of the benefit increase was announced in October after the CPI had been calculated.

Source: Social Security Administration Press Office, Social Security Announces 3.6 Percent Benefit Increase for 2012, Oct, 19, 2012.