Social Security has slight increase in Substantial Gainful Activity in 2018

Each year, the Social Security Administration publishes the monetary amount that is considered for Disability and Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) and 20148 will see a slight increase.

SSD Benefits

Mooney & Associates representing social security clients through Pennsylvania and Maryland

First, what is SGA?  With reference to financial eligibility for Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits, an applicant for benefits must be unable to perform SGA.   An applicant who earns more than a certain monthly amount is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA, and therefore, not eligible for SSDI benefits.  The SGA amount published includes two figures, one for regular disabilities and one for blindness disabilities, which is slightly higher.  Additionally, If you are receiving SSDI benefits and your earnings are below what the SGA, then your benefits will neither stop nor be reduced because of earnings.   So yes, you can work part-time while receiving SSDI.  In essence, SGA is important for both eligibility and maintaining SSDI benefits.

Here are the rates for 2018:

For Non-Blind:  $1,080 per month (represents an increase of $10, as the 2017 rate was $1,070/mo)

Blind:  $1,970 per month (represents an increase of $20/mo as the rate was $1,950/mo)

It is important to understand in the application process that you have to be under SGA.  If you are over the SGA amounts in monthly income, then SSA will not even have to make a determination on whether you are disabled or not, because you would not be financially eligible for benefits.  So before even determining whether your disabilities meet Social Security’s definition of  disability, you have to meet two financial requirements.

1.  You must be below SGA,a s stated above.

2.  You must be insured for SSDI purposes.  Insured status means you’ve paid taxes into the system for the required number of years and your insurance hasn’t expired because you stopped working too long ago.   That’s it in a brief nutshell.

Applying for and winning social security disability benefits is not easy.  That is precisely why you should call an experienced Social Security Disability attorney to help guide you through the application and to ultimately represent you in an appeal hearing, should your application be denied.  At Mooney & Associates, we submit applications on behalf of applicants and represent clients who are denied at the application level.  We represent disabled clients throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Call us today for a FREE consultation or FREE application submission at 717-200-HELP or 1-877-632-4656.  You can also visit our website at https://www.mooney4law.com/personal-injury/disability/

After multiple denials, you can win Social Security Benefits

There is a misnomer out there that obtaining Social Security Disability (SSD) or Social Security Supplemental Income benefits (SSI) is easy.  We all ‘know’ a neighbor or friend that has SSD or SSI benefits, but hey, they look fine to me.  Remember one important thing, you don’t know their story.

Fact is — it isn’t easy.   Just take a look at these numbers.  The current approval rate at the initial application level is 36%.  That means if you apply for SSD benefits, you only have a 36% chance that you will be approved.   Much of that can be dictated by age as well.  The older you are, the more likely you may be approved at the initial application level.

However, after denial, the approval rates nationally at the hearing level is 45%.  In Pennsylvania, the statewide average approval rate at the hearing level is slightly below the national average at 42%.  The Harrisburg appeals office has the same average approval rate of 42%.  Again, it is not easy to win SSD/SSI benefits.

Recently, I took a case for an individual out of compassion.  She was under the age of 40 and homeless.  Her alleged disabilities were mental impairments, undefined heart condition, and a chronic kidney condition.  Essentially, she had two strikes against her.  Her young age made it more difficult to win benefits.  However, through the intake process, I also found out that she had been denied benefits on EIGHT prior attempts, several at the hearing level, and with different attorneys representing her.  It was an easy case to turn away.

But, I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  She needed help.  She came to me for a fresh new look at her case and a fresh new attempt.  She needed her break to get off the streets and find a place to live.  She truly was in a desperate situation and had been for a few years.

Despite several other attorneys failing to win her benefits in the past, I figured I would do my best to shape the argument, explain her conditions, and describe why they were so disabling.   We had our day in front of an ALJ in early November.  We argued.  We described.  We explained.  And, We WON!

It was a proud win for me individually.  It was an SSI case, so the attorney fee was small.  That was not what it was about.  It was about compassion.  It was about giving a helping hand.   It was about serving.  It was about representation.  After eight unsuccessful prior attempts with others, I was proud to have contributed to helping her get back on her feet, gain dignity back, and get a warm place to live and sleep.  It was one of those cases that I will always remember.

The point is — sometimes it takes more than one, two, or even three, tries to get social security disability benefits.  For people who truly can’t work, have debilitating disabilities, it can certainly be frustrating.  Others feel your frustration.

If you have questions about applying for SSD or SSI benefits, or have been recently denied such benefits, call Mooney & Associates today at 717-200-HELP or 1-877-632-4656 for a FREE consultation.  We represent disabled clients throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Social Security Disability Consultative Exam: What is it?

Some Social Security Disability applicants are sent for a consultative examination while others are not.  What is a consultative examination?

SSD Benefits

Mooney & Associates representing social security clients – 717-200-HELP – http://www.mooney4law.com

 

Essentially, it is a medical examination scheduled by Social Security with a physician they choose.  It can range from a general internal medicine (family) doctor, to a specialist, such as an Orthopedic, to a pain management doctor to a Psychiatrist.  It really depends on the medical conditions you are alleging to cause you to be disabled.  If Social Security feels the need for a consultative examination for determination of your application, you will receive written notification from social security. Continue reading

Social Security Disability Hearings Tips

Here we provide social security disability hearing tips and advice.  Many of my clients express anxiety, stress, fear, and nervousness toward their upcoming hearing for Social Security Disability benefits.  Unlike Workers Compensation, where an injured worker may testify twice, with social security disability hearings, there is one hearing.  Claimants have one shot to convince an otherwise skeptical administrative law judge that they are indeed disabled and unable to work full time.

Here are some tips we provide to our clients as they prepare for their disability hearing.

  1. Relax.  The ALJ’s at the Harrisburg Office of Disability and Adjudication Review (ODAR) hearings office are nice individuals.  They are not going to attack you personally, attack your credibility, or make you feel uncomfortable.  They are going to ask you questions that you can answer.  There is no need to be nervous that you will be treated poorly.  It will not happen nor should your counsel allow it to happen.  Just relax.
  2. Answer the Question that is Asked.  Listen to the question that you are asked, then provide a direct answer.  Seems simple.  Often times though, a claimant may not fully understand the question, but yet, they try an answer what they think the question really was that was asked.   Other times, claimants may be quite nervous, and not really hear or listen to the full question.  If you do not understand a question, simply ask the ALJ or your attorney to repeat the question.  Asking to have a question repeated is much better than providing an inappropriate answer that doe snot addressed the question that was asked.  If you think taking notes on the questions being asked by the ALJ or your attorney would be helpful, then do so.  You may be asked some tough questions about your condition, about what is in your medical records, about your past employment, etc . . . Avoiding to answer a question is a sure way to sink your case.  ALJ’s will pick up on the fact you are trying to avoid giving an answer.  Don’t do it.  Just answer the question.
  3. Be clear and concise.  Do not ramble on, go off subject, or try and give a long winded answer that you think will be impressive.  Straying a way from the actual question asked will likely bore the ALJ, which will not be good for your case.  You should prepare yourself to answer questions.  We meet with our clients to prepare for hearings and review the types of questions that you could be expected to have to answer. Being nervous can cause a person to ramble on.  Practice with a friend, family member, or your attorney.  We prepare our clients.
  4. Be clear on symptoms and limitations.  It’s critical to specify your pain levels, symptoms, limitations, and functional deficits in your testimony.  Vague answers will sink your case.  Let’s use an example.  When an ALJ asks you to describe your pain, a response like, ‘it hurts’, isn’t acceptable.  Be descriptive.  Specify where it hurts.  Is the pain centered in your low back only?  Does it run into either or both legs?  Does it cause any other problems?  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most severe, describe your daily pain.  Saying your daily pain level is a 10, everyday, is likely not going to be persuasive to an ALJ.  Answering questions with details will help draw a more clear picture of you and your struggles for the ALJ.  Use detail for questions about your functional limitations.  As an example, if an ALJ asks you how long you can sit for a period of time, a bad response would be “not long’.  That tells the ALJ absolutely nothing.  Be specific.  Can you only sit for 15 minutes at a time?  If so, then what happens?  Do you have to then stand up?  Do you have to walk around?  If so, for how long before you can sit again?  The way I describe testimony to my client is for them to think of themselves as an artist.  The testimony of the claimant paints a detailed picture of the claimant’s disability and its impact on their daily life.  In order for another, such as the ALJ, to know what picture is suppose to be, the picture must have detail.  In other words, good details to explain what the picture is and what it is not.  It is your painting of your disability.  Generalized answers like ‘it hurts’ or I can’t lift much” or I can’t sit long” do nothing to full in the details.
  5. Be ready for to explain medical records.  Let me explain.  I do not mean that it is your responsibility to explain your medical records in detail.  You likely do not even understand medical records.  However, if there has been a significant gap in medical treatment, be ready to explain it.  Perhaps you had no health insurance, no money, no transportation, and therefore could not treat.  Be honest. Giving untruthful answers is the quickest way to sink your claim.  Always remember, the ALJ has reviewed all your medical records.  So making things up, like facts and symptoms, just isn’t a wise thing to do.  If there is a period of time you were telling your doctor you were feeling better, then explain it.  Perhaps you had a brief time where your symptoms were a bit better.   Perhaps you just had an injection that provided temporary relief.  There isn’t anything wrong with that.  However, lying about it is a sure way to get your claim denied.  If your doctor has talked to you about pain medication abuse or has denied you pain medicine, you need to be prepared to address that issue.  You need to speak with your attorney about that.
  6. You will be asked about an average day.  Nearly in every case, since claimants are not working, the question will be asked, ‘tell me about your average day’.  You need to think about this question.  Don’t be afraid to write down notes to refresh your memory on things you may want to say in response to this question. You will be asked to describe what you do around the house.  Do you cook, do laundry, clean?  To say NO to all of these types things generally won’t be believable.  Describe hobbies you used to be able to do, but your disabilities have caused you to cease those type of activities.  Does someone help you on a daily or weekly basis to perform certain tasks, like laundry and groceries?   These questions are important because it helps to fill in that detail of your picture of your disability.
  7. Do not exaggerate.  This is important.  ALJs have heard hundreds, if not thousands, of cases.  Do not make your symptoms sound worse than what they are.  Your medical records, history you provided, physical examination results, and diagnostic tests are well documented in medical records the ALJ has reviewed.  Exaggerations beyond findings will undermine your credibility.  ALJs are well-trained to determine whether an individual is magnifying or exaggerating their symptoms.  Just be honest with your answers.  Additionally, avoid answers that indicate you are in pain ‘all the time’, ‘everyday’ ‘always’, ‘my pain is a 10 all the time’.  ALJs just won’t believe that testimony.  Additionally, do no exaggerate your limitations of what you can and can’t do.

The point here is to relax, answer the questions clearly, and be honest.  Those are the keys to painting a much clearer picture of your disability and limitations because of your disability.

Going to your social security disability hearing without legal counsel is not a smart idea.  We understand the process, we know your ALJs, and we [are[pare our clients for their one shot hearings.  If you have applied for and been denied social security disability benefits, we can help.  We handle social security cases in both Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Call Mooney & Associates today for a FREE CONSULTATION at 717-200-HELP or 1-877-632-4656.  Additionally, if you have not applied for disability benefits yet, call us.  We handle the application process for you.

Mooney Is A Full Service Social Security Disability Practice

Mooney & Associates has beefed up our Social Security disability staff.  We always filed appeals to denials and effectively represent our clients in appeal hearings in front of the Office of Adjudication and Review (ODAR) in Harrisburg. However, with staffing changes, we are now able to expand that practice.

Not only can Mooney represent you in your appeal hearing for your denial, but we now can do the initial application process as well.  You will always stand a better chance of winning your appeal hearing with legal expertise and with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney on your side, fighting for you.

However, the one question we get from many people is how to file the initial application for Social Security Disability benefits.  They simply do not know how.  We addressed the ways to apply right here.  It is even easier now.  If you believe you are disabled and believe you have adequate medical provider support, call Mooney & Associates today at 717-200-HELP.  We can now take your initial application for you and get it filed with SSA.  We represent disabled clients through Pennsylvania and Maryland for Social Security Disability.  You can also check out the video below in which Attorney Buterbaugh discussed Social Security Disability with Channel ABC-27 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

 

Workers Comp Settlement and Social Security Disability

Is there any interplay between a lump sum workers compensation settlement and social security disability benefits?  Yes, there is.  And your workers compensation attorney better be aware of it.

Social Security is still entitled to an offset.  It is statutory, meaning, it is a legal requirement.  So what is the best process to deal with a potential offset when settling a workers compensation case?  Your attorney should ensure that any future offsets are either minimal or eliminated.  It should be done by spreading your settlement over your lifetime expectancy.  This is done through special social security offset language in Paragraph 13 of the Compromise and Release Agreement, otherwise known as the “Sciarotta Allocation.”  The allocation is based on the case Sciarotta v. BowenContinue reading

Why is a Vocational Expert at my Social Security Disability Hearing?

SSD Benefits

Mooney & Associates representing social security clients in Pennsylvania and Maryland

So why is a Vocational Expert at my social security hearing?  When you go to a Social Security Disability hearing, in most normal circumstances, besides myself and you, also in the hearing room is the Judge, a Court Reporter, who records all testimony, and a Vocational Expert.  A what?

Purpose of a Vocational Expert

A Vocational Expert (here in referred to as the ‘VE’) is called by the Social Security Administration to be an expert in your hearing.  There are several purposes for a VE.

First, the VE helps the Judge classify your past relevant work.  That is specifically work you have performed over the past 15 years.  It is important to classify it correctly.  The work you performed  will be classified not only as ‘customarily’ performed, but also as ACTUALLY performed.  For example, a job you may have performed in the past may be classified as Light work, but you may have actually performed the job as medium, depending on how heavy you had to perform the job.  That classification can be critical.  I can of course help solidify proper classification. Continue reading

What will be my Social Security Disability amount each month?

A common question that I am asked is what will be my social security disability amount of  benefits?  It is a question that I am frequently asked, and an important one, at that.  Most individuals I represent for Social Security Disability can no longer work because of their medical condition(s), so the amount of social security disability benefits is important to them.

img_0050

We provide legal expertise in winning Social Security Disability benefits in Pennsylvania and Maryland

So how are amounts calculated?

Online Help

First, you can link over to the Social Security website and apply for Online Services.  You can do many things regarding social security benefits through that portal.  You can request an annual benefit statement that lists current SSA retirement and disability rates.  There is also a tab there to calculate future social security benefits.  Those are two key areas to start your research into estimated Social Security Disability amounts.

After Winning Benefits

SSD Benefits

Mooney & Associates representing social security clients

If you apply for Social Security Disability benefits and are approved at the application level, you will receive a letter advising you that your claim has been approved and the letter will be called “Notice of Award.”  If you are not approved at the application level, but subsequently are awarded benefits through the hearing process, you will receive the same Notice of Award.  The Notice of Award in this situation will list four very specific things that are important to you.

  1. Will list the back payment that is due to you.
  2. It will list the dates of the back payment, usually, the day you are awarded benefits and back to the date the ALJ found you to be disabled.
  3. It will list when your first monthly check is due
  4. It will list the monthly benefits you will receive.

How is your Social Security Disability Amount Calculated

Calculations are based on the amount of income you have paid into the Social Security system.  The calculation is through a complex formula.  Essentially, Social Security bases your social security disability amount on the amount of Social Security taxes you’ve paid, which is base don your earnings.  These are titled  “covered earnings.”  Your average covered earnings over a period of years is known as your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). A formula is then applied to your AIME to calculate your insurance amount , which is the base figure that Social Security uses in setting your Social Security Disability amount.  In other words, the higher your career earning, the higher your benefit amount.

That certainly is not a simple explanation, but is the best I could do.

Not Covered Income

Unfortunately, I have run across individuals who have had several jobs over years in which they were paid ‘under the table’.  Seems like a brilliant idea at the time, although it really isn’t because it is illegal.  It is called tax evasion and has significant financial and criminal repercussions.  Another significant repercussion is those earnings are not reportable income for social security disability purposes, since no taxes were paid.  I have seen clients come in, who have worked very hard for years, but unfortunately not in a reportable job, and then they are clearly disabled, yet not eligible for ANY benefits.   It is completely devastating.   You do not pay in, you do not get credit.  It is that simple.

If you have applied for Social Security Disability benefits and have been denied, do not hesitate to contact us right away.  You only have a short amount of time to file an appeal from the date of your denial letter.  Your consultation is FREE OF CHARGE.   Help us help you win Social Security Disability benefits that you may be entitled to.  Contact me today.  We represent individuals in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Why you need an Attorney for your Social Security Disability Appeal

I was recently a guest on ABC 27 in Harrisburg on Good Day PA to discuss Social Security Disability.  Specifically, I discussed with Amy Kehm, the host of Good Day PA, why applicants for Social Security Disability benefits who have been denied benefits, needs experienced attorney to represent them before the Social Security Administrative Law Judge.

Contrary to popular opinion, winning Social Security Disability cases is no east task.  Pressure is on Social Security ALJs to deny benefits.  You can check out Harrisburg Judge ratings on approving benefits here.  It is not easy.  However, you stand a much better chance of winning benefits with an experienced Social Security Disability Attorney that understands the arguments, your work history, your medical conditions, and what the ALJs are looking for inorder to grant benefits.  It is also critical to address potential weaknesses in your case or medical records and handle them in a manner that can still win you benefits. Social Security Disability is a different process than most areas of law.  You have one shot before an ALJ to make your case for Disability.

Mooney & Associates has 14 offices spread throughout Central and South Central Pennsylvania.  If you have been denied social security disability benefits, you can meet a Social Security Disability attorney at the closest office near you.

Social Security Disability Attorney

Our Social Security Disabilities enjoy success winning out clients benefits.

I represent individuals who have been denied social security disability benefits throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland.  With our new Greencastle office, which is located at 145 East Baltimore Street, we can also meet individuals who have been denied benefits in Hagerstown, Maryland and surrounding areas.   If you have been denied Social Security Disability benefits and would like a FREE consultation, simply give us a call at 717-200-HURT or toll-free at 1-877-632-4656.  Otherwise, you can contact me right here on this Blog.

Harrisburg Social Security Disability Office has long hearing wait, adds new Judges

I hear from every client their disbelief of the wait time to receive a hearing on their Social Security Disability appeal.  It is frightening for folks who have no income or limited income and can’t function normally or work. However, it is also a reality.  And, it is not just the Harrisburg Office of Adjudication and Review, which handles Social Security Disability appeals, that has the backlog wait time.  It is a national problem.

Mooney & Associates representing social security clients

Mooney & Associates representing social security clients

Here are the current numbers. (As of July 2016)

HEARING LOCATION HEARING WAIT TIME
Elkins Park, PA 20.0 Months
Harrisburg 19.3 Months
Johnstown 19 Months
Philadelphia 20.5 Months
Philadelphia East 20 Months
Pittsburgh 21 Months
Seven Field, PA 18 Months
Wilkes Barre 16.5 Months
Pennsylvania State Average 19.3 Months
Baltimore, MD 21 Months
NHC Baltimore 19 Months
Maryland State Average 20 Months

As you can see, the Harrisburg ODAR office is trending right near the Pennsylvania state average, but above the National average.  There may be some relief in sight though.  Harrisburg has recently added three new Administrative Law Judges, which should help reduce the wait time to around the National average.  Bottom line is, even with new ALJ’s on the way, if you have been denied Social Security Disability and you appeal, you SHOULD NOT expect to have a hearing for at least 16 months. Continue reading