Michael Hiltzik sums it up very well in his article in the LA Times entitled "An awful idea: Hammer the disabled to pay for unemployment benefits."  It amazes me that the disabled have become the target of smear campaigns of various media outlets or the new answer to budget woes.  While I agree that fraud occurs and is despicable (reporting about it also sells newspapers and TV advertisement), perhaps some stories should be written about disabled individuals who paid into the system for years and then had to wait 2-3 years without any income or healthcare before they were rightfully found disabled and began receiving disability payments.  We should not be so quick to place the burden on the disabled to bail out Congress for its incompetence.

If you are disabled and are in need of medical care, click our list of free and low incomes clinics links below:

--Greater Lafayette and surrounding areas

--South Bend, Mishawaka and Elkhart areas
A New York Times article discusses new guidelines for the treatment of high blood pressure (hypertension) in those individuals 60 years of age and older.  See also The Journal of the American Medical Association

If you are getting long-term disability (LTD) benefits from an employer, most often you are required to file for a claim Social Security disability benefits by the LTD carrier because in most cases the LTD policy that you have seeks to reduce the benefit paid to you with an off-set from the benefits you receive from Social Security.  Often, LTD carriers will contact the benefit recipient (you) to inform you that it has a lawyer or representative to help you with your Social Security disability claim.  Do you have to hire that lawyer or representative?  the answer is --NO!!!!  And, you should not hire them.  Why?  Those lawyers and representatives are effectively working for the LTD carrier and not you.  It is an absolute conflict of interest and it is, in my humble opinion, unethical.

The answer is yes.  However, a claimant must meet certain requirements. [1]  In order to qualify for disability benefits under a this type of a claim, a claimant must be: 

  • between ages 50 - 59; and
  • disabled under Social Security's rules; and
  • disabled within 7 years of the death of the spouse; and
  • unmarried; or married again after attaining age 50, and met the disability requirements at the time of the remarriage.
  • If the marriage lasted 10 years or longer, a divorced spouse still qualifies.
A widow’s claim is a viable option if the above requirements can be met.. One should consider a widow’s claim where 1) the claimant may not otherwise qualify for disability insurance benefits; or 2) where a claimant may have a lower monthly benefit[2] than a deceased spouse.

[1] 20 C.F.R. 404.335

[2] SSA actually calls this your primary insured amount or PIA which the amount of your monthly benefit, should you retire or become disabled.   Your PIA depends on how much you have paid into the system based upon a formula used by the Social Security Administration.  If you want to know your monthly benefit will be, go online to www.ssa.gov and then to My Social Security to check out your social security statement.

The 60 Minutes piece on the Social Security Disability system was unfortunately so one-sided as to send 60 minutes into the realm of sensationalistic TV broadcasting.  While I agree that the lawyer and administrative law judge should probably be investigated, we should not allow an isolated incident to paint broad strokes to portray the rest of us who strive to be ethical and professional in our dealings with SSA.  I represent disabled persons who are desperate and would love to be working.  Sure, I don't like Binder & Binder for a moment.  I am disgusted by their "business model." I am disgusted by those firms who run a similar model.  But, I don't understand why the poor and the disabled have become the targets for the likes of a Senator from Oklahoma and others like him such as my congressman, Todd Rokita.  

An article in the LA Times provides a great discussion of the 60 Minutes story and what is really, in my mind, going on.  Here is the link to the story "'60 Minutes'' Shameful Attack on the Disabled," by Michael Hiltzik (by the way, thanks Michael Hiltzik, for real journalism):  www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-disabled-20131007,0,7195237.story#!  
Starting January 1, 2013, there will be a new maximum Federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment amount. SSI amounts for 2013 are $710 for an eligible individual, $1,066 for an eligible individual with an eligible spouse, and $356 for an essential person.

This new maximum is due to the Cost-of-Living (COLA) set to take effect the first of the year.
I am hearing more and more horror stories about persons hiring lawyers and non-attorney representatives only for them to find out that they are doing almost all of the work required to pursue their case or in some instances even providing vital identity information to persons over the phone or through the internet whom they have never met.  Some persons have even thought they were applying for social security disability online only to find out later that the information was being providing to a national disability law firm or "advocates" group.  FYI -- if you want to apply on your own for social security disability benefits, go to the official Social Security Administration website and APPLY FOR SOCIAL SECURITY.   If a person hires us to help with an application for social security disability benefits, we will do this in person.

That being said, what does it mean to be a smart consumer of legal services?  I think it is important for everyone to understand that there are a lot of lawyers and disability advocates groups out there casting large nets (literally from one coast to the other) trying to lure in as many disabled clients as possible.  They do this over the internet or by advertising toll free numbers in countless phone books.  

To be a smart consumer of legal services you should be knowledgeable of the person or law firm you are hiring. You can become knowledgeable by asking the lawyer or advocate some simple questions like the following:

1.  How much experience do you have doing social security disability cases?  Watch out for those who "dabble" in social security disability law or aren't actually lawyers.
2.  Do you practice in other areas of the law?  Be warned here that if a lawyer gives a laundry list of other areas of practice, you can probably bet that they spend most of their time doing family and/or criminal law and simply "dabble" in social security disability law. 

3.  Do you carry malpractice insurance?  Believe it or not most states do not require lawyers to carry malpractice insurance, but ethical lawyers will always carry malpractice insurance.

4.  Do you get continuing legal education to keep up with latest changes in the law or policies
affecting social security disability claims?
 The laws and policies affecting social security disability is changes regularly and your lawyer should be knowledgeable of these changes.

5.  Do you meet with clients more than once and prepare them well for hearings, or, am I simply going to be working with an assistant and never be able to talk to you?  Remember, you are not hiring an assistant.  You are hiring a lawyer and the lawyer should be available to speak with you within a reasonable time.  While it is not unusual to speak to an assistant regarding administrative matters like updating them on your medical condition, the lawyer should be available to speak with you if you wish.  Unfortunately, I have been told by many persons that when they have hired large national disability firms or groups that they do not even meet or speak to a lawyer until the day of hearing and only for about 10 to 20 minutes.

6.  Do you advance costs to get medical records and the like for your clients to prepare the case? While we do this in every case, many social security disability lawyers do not do this.  I personally do not want to rely upon my client's ability or inability to pay for medical records to have an impact on presenting their case.  Therefore, I advance these costs in every case and have my assistants order the medical records.  Additionally, many of my clients simply cannot afford the cost to get medical records.  Part of representing a disabled client is to take as much burden out the process as I can for my clients.

7.  Where are you located?   If you cannot drive to the lawyer's office within a reasonable amount of time and meet with your lawyer, then they are too far away.  

8.  Are you a lawyer?  Not all persons that represent social security disability claimants are lawyers.  While there are some good "non-attorney" representatives out there, only lawyers are bound by state ethics rules, can be disciplined by state legal disciplinary commissions for violating ethics rules and have been issued a law license after having gone through years of law school and passed a rigorous bar exam.  I personally would not hire a "non-attorney" representative if I could hired an experienced lawyer.

9.  Who are you, really?  Be wary of providing vital "identity" information (ie., social security numbers, dates of birth) before actually meeting with the lawyer.  While a lawyer may want to get some information to further help him or her evaluate your case before the first meeting, it is not necessary to have your social security number or date of birth before you hire that lawyer.  Think about it.  How do you know the person you are talking to is who they say they are?  Would you really give out your social security number to someone over the internet or telephone without really knowing who they are?  Believe it or not, there are identity thieves out there and they swim the waters of the internet just like sharks swim the waters of the ocean looking for prey.  There are also countless identity thieves out there trying to obtain social security numbers and other vital information from you.  The point is --  BE CAREFUL! 

These are only some suggestions for you to consider.  Please use common sense.

A prospective client called the other day and said that he was thinking about filing an application for Social Security disability benefits and had some questions since he was also thinking about filing for unemployment benefits.

Prospective Client:    “A friend told me that I should try to get unemployment benefits while I apply for Social Security disability benefits.  What do you think?” 

Me:   “Look, people who are to the point where they don’t feel that they can work anymore and are considering applying for Social Security Disability probably should not try to collect unemployment benefits.”

Prospective Client:      “Why not?”

Me:  “There is a simple reason for this.  When a person in the State of Indiana, for instance, applies for unemployment benefits, that person is representing that he or she is physically and mentally able, available and actively seeking full-time work.   When a person applies for Social Security disability benefits, he or she is representing that he or she has been unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA) for at least 12 months or won’t be able to engage SGA for at least 12 months, due to a mental or physical impairment.”

Prospective Client:     “What is SGA?”

Me:  “SGA refers to a situation where person is currently working and earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses).  For persons who are blind, the monthly SGA amount is $1690 for 2012. For persons who are not blind, the monthly SGA amount is $1010 in 2012.

Prospective Client:    “Well, another friend of mine said that Social Security allows you collect unemployment and disability benefits. Is that true?”

Me:   “Well, the Social Security Administration takes the official position that receiving unemployment benefits does not necessarily prevent a person from receiving disability benefits.”

Prospective Client:   “Then my friend is right!”

Me:    “No, not really.  In reality, collecting unemployment benefits can substantially affect your claim for Social Security disability benefits.”

Prospective Client:   “Ok, now you have totally lost me.  Why is this so?”

Me:   “Despite its official position, the Social Security Administration does permit an Administrative Law Judge, for instance, to consider whether someone is collecting unemployment benefits as a factor in determining if a claimant is disabled.  Therefore, if you collect unemployment benefits and also are seeking disability benefits from Social Security you should know that ultimately, an Administrative Law Judge will likely 1) find you not disabled because you have stated in you unemployment application that you are physically and mentally able, available and actively seeking full-time work, or 2) find you disabled, but only as of the date you stopped collecting unemployment and not before."

Prospective Client:   “Thanks.”

Me:   “I hope our conversation has been helpful.  Remember, as well meaning as friends are, there can be many pitfalls to friendly advice, especially when we are discussing the topic of Social Security disability.  I am glad you called.  Let me know if I can be of further help.”

Let's say Sam, age 60, became disabled on January 1, 2010. He wants to apply for Social Security Disability and he has no other source of income. If he wins his disability case, he would receive $1,500 a month until he reaches full retirement age at age 65. At full retirement age his benefit would be $1,750 per month. If he were to take early retirement, his retirement benefit would be $1,250 per month. Should he take early retirement and also apply for Social Security Disability benefits?

If Sam is ultimately successful with his disability claim, the short answer is YES. He should. In fact, while the early retirement benefit is lower than if Sam waits until full retirement age, the early retirement will likely provide a much needed source of income while he is waiting for a decision from Social Security on his disability claim.

What happens if Sam wins his disability claim? In this situation, Sam will have begin receive the disability benefit and the early retirement benefit will no longer be paid. Sam will also receive a back benefit for the difference between the disability benefit amount and the early retirement amount for each month where he was entitled to the disability benefit and did not receive it. This is because the disability benefit tends to be higher than the early retirement benefit. But, better yet, Sam's full retirement benefit will be reinstated when he reaches full retirement age. At full retirement age, the disability benefit stops and the full retirement benefit begins.

What happens if Sam loses his disability claim? In this situation, Sam will at least have his early retirement paid to him on a monthly basis. But, the drawback of course, is that Sam will now be stuck with the lower monthly early retirement benefit instead of his full retirement benefit.