Tag Archives: case backlog

Senate Committee Reveals Trouble with the Quality of Disability ALJ Decisions

Senate Committee Reveals Trouble with the Quality of ALJ Decisions

A recent article in the Washington Times discussed the increasing stress that the Social Security Disability system is operating under and how that stress has led to troubling problems affecting millions of Americans.

Investigators working for a Senate subcommittee examined hundreds of cases in which disability benefits were approved and found that those making the decisions frequently ignored warning signs such as incomplete or inconsistent information. Senators have said this review demonstrates the need for an overhaul of the existing system. One Senator said that the decisions from some administrative law judges (ALJs) were so bad that the final verdict seemed almost entirely arbitrary.

Though the first phase of this investigation involved looking over applications that were approved but should not have been, the Senate committee says it will next turn its attention to those cases that were denied and may have been denied wrongfully. Those in charge say they worry that they will discover the system is not helping many of the people it was designed to protect.

For its part, the Social Security Administration says it has work to do to fix problems in the system. However, they claim that outlier decisions occur far less often than they used to and the decisions of many ALJs are affirmed with much more regularity then ever before.

That may sound good, but problems still abound. The massive report showcased one ALJ from Oklahoma who has issued more than 1,000 decisions each year since 2006. Judge W. Howard O’Bryan Jr. peaked in 2008 with 1,846 decisions and regularly approved 90 percent or more of the claims. This compares to an average ALJ approval rate of about 60 percent. The investigation revealed that his decisions were notable only for their “poor quality” and how Judge O’Bryan often regurgitated the same boilerplate language in each case decision.

One case that apparently prompted the investigation, involved a man living as an adult “baby,” meaning he slept in an adult-sized crib and wore diapers. The man was collecting disability benefits despite having demonstrated carpentry skills and his ability to work with a reality TV show and a website for other adult “babies.”

The case of the adult “baby” highlighted another problem according to the Senate subcommittee and that is how out of date the list of jobs given to ALJs are. The list has not been updated since the 1970s and excludes many computer-related jobs that some people (possibly other adult “babies”) with disabilities might be able to perform.

If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits and have questions, call The Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.

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Can I receive SSI for my spinal stenosis and back pain?

Spinal Stenosis and SSDI benefits
Spinal stenosis is the term for the narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal cord, or narrowing of the openings where spinal nerves leave the spinal column. If the narrowing progresses to the point that the nerves passing through these areas are compressed, this compression can cause severe pain. Spinal stenosis usually occurs as a person ages and the spinal disks become drier and start to bulge. Spinal stenosis may also be caused by arthritis of the spine, bone diseases, congenital birth defects, herniated or slipped disks, severe injuries or even tumors on the spine.

Typically, stenosis symptoms get worse over time and, while they often start by affecting only one side of the body or the other, they can grow to encompass both sides. These symptoms include: numbness, cramping, pain in the back, buttocks, thighs, calves, neck, shoulders, or arms, weakness of part of a leg or arm. Symptoms are more likely to be present or get worse when you stand or walk. They will often lessen or even totally disappear when you sit down. It for this reason that most people with spinal stenosis cannot walk for a long period of time.

Spinal stenosis can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications and pain medications, some of which specifically target nerve pain. Physical therapy and cortisone injections can also be prescribed. In some cases, surgery might be recommended to remove the bony tissue that is compressing the nerves.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) discusses Disorders of the Spine, including spinal stenosis, under Section 1.04 of the Blue Book. In order to meet or medically equal listing 1.04 with respect to obtaining Social Security Disability benefits, your medical records might show the following:

• You must be diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
• Your records must show that your condition has caused nerve root compression and that this compression has resulted in pain, limited range of motion of the spine, and muscle weakness. The SSA will require a straight-leg raising test to prove this.
• You must also demonstrate evidence of pseudoclaudication (leg pain that becomes worse with walking) that is severe enough that it results in an inability to effectively walk, and should include the results of all imaging studies (meaning, an MRI or CT scan).

It’s important that your medical records also document the precise treatments you have received and your reaction to those treatments. It’s critical that your doctor make sure to list all limitations spinal stenosis has caused in your everyday life, further demonstrating the need for disability benefits.

If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits and have questions, call The Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.

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Dayton, Ohio Social Security office among the slowest in the country

Dayton, Ohio Social Security office among the slowest in the country

clockAccording to a recent article in the Dayton Daily News, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown’s state director met with officials from the Social Security Administration to discuss an enormous backlog of appeals for disability benefits.

The paper previously reported that the Social Security Administration’s Dayton hearing office has been ranked the second slowest in the country for the past two fiscal years. The speed relates to the office’s ability to process appeals for disability benefits. The office says it is working to reduce wait times, but Senator Brown says the action has not been sufficient. Those in the SSA are hoping that wait times continue to drop thanks to increasingly prevalent use of electronic medical records and a recently introduced video-hearing option.

Unfortunately, most applications are denied, but some choose to appeal their cases and it’s these people who have suffered due to the lengthy wait times in Dayton. Last year in Ohio some 21,511 people filed appeals for benefits, including 2,188 at the Dayton office.

In 2011, the average wait time for a decision in an appeal at the Dayton office was an astounding 491 days. This compares to a much shorter national average of 345 days. In 2011, only the office in Buffalo, New York was slower than Dayton’s. In 2010 the bottom two rungs were occupied by Dayton and another nearby Ohio city notorious for slow processing: Columbus, Ohio. That year the average wait time in Dayton came in at a whopping 596 days.

The Senator pointed out how important such hearings are, given that many are suffering terrible disabilities and need an answer quickly about whether they can begin receiving benefits. Slow processing times present a special hardship for those who lack income for necessities such as medication and health care. This can mean that some applicants fall even deeper into poverty or become even more disabled than they already were. Tragically, the Wall Street Journal recently discussed how since 2005 some 15,000 people have died while waiting for an administrative law judge to rule on their appeals.

If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits and have questions, call The Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.

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How much does SSI pay per month?

How much will your Supplemental Security Income (SSI)  checks pay each month? Well, it varies as some states award additional income to the base amounts listed below. That being said, here are the amounts for 2012. Keep in mind that these amounts change each year in conjunction with the cost of living adjustment (COLA).

Social Security Administration SSI payout amounts for 2012:

 

Calculation details
Recipient Unrounded annual amounts for— Monthly amounts for 2012
2011 2012 a
Eligible individual $8,095.32 $8,386.75 $698
Eligible couple 12,141.61 12,578.71 1,048
Essential person 4,056.93 4,202.98 350
The unrounded amounts for 2012 equal the unrounded amounts for 2011 increased by 3.6 percent.

 

Payment reduction
Remember, these payouts are lowered depending on your countable income each year. If you are thinking of applying for disability benefits click for a free consultation or call 1-800-596-1533.

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Can I get both worker’s compensation and Social Security disability benefits?

Can I get both worker’s compensation and Social Security disability benefits?

Workers’ compensation pays benefits to employees who suffer an injury at work or experience a work-related illness. Benefits for workers’ compensation include medical treatment and money for the partial replacement of lost wages. For an employee who cannot work while recovering from an injury or work-related illness, workers’ compensation can pay temporary total disability benefits. In cases in which the injury or work-related illness has long-term or permanent consequences, an employee can receive permanent disability benefits. When an employee dies as the result of an injury or work-related illness, then the employee’s dependents can receive survivor benefits. In general, workers’ compensation is a program run by state governments.

Similarly, Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) provides benefits to insured workers with disabilities, or in other words, to those who: (1) have been employed for at least five of the last ten years; (2) have paid FICA (“Federal Insurance Contributions Act”) taxes; and (3) have a “disability” as the Social Security Administration defines the term. A disability, for purposes of Social Security, is a serious medical condition that lasts (or has lasted) for more than a year and prevents someone from being gainfully employed. In addition, SSDI will provide benefits to the disabled children of insured workers, so long as the children became disabled before they reached the age of 22, as well as to the disabled surviving spouses of insured workers who have died. Generally, SSDI is administered by the federal government.

A person can receive workers’ compensation and SSDI benefits at the same time, but workers’ compensation benefits might reduce the amount of SSDI benefits. Under the Social Security Administration’s rules, a person who receives workers’ compensation benefits and Social Security disability benefits at the same time may not receive combined benefits that amount to more than 80 percent of the person’s average current earnings before the person became disabled. For example, if a person earned $4,000.00 per month before becoming disabled, then the person would be eligible to receive $2,200.00 per month in SSDI benefits after becoming disabled. If that same person were also to receive $2,000.00 per month in benefits from workers’ compensation, then the person’s SSDI benefits would be reduced to $200.00 per month to comply with the Social Security Administration’s 80 percent rule.

If you have a current or potential worker’s compensation claim and are interested in applying for SSDI benefits, or if you simply want to be sure that you are receiving the maximum SSDI benefits for which you are eligible, then you should consider speaking with an attorney who has experience with Social Security law in order to minimize the off-set. Call the Nationwide Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.

Posted in Personal Injury, Social Security SSD/SSI | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments