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5 THINGS TO LOOK FOR BEFORE HIRING A SOCIAL SECURITY LAWYER

Scarcely a month goes by without my hearing the following sad mantra from a social security disability applicant regarding their appeal to the Appeals Council or the Federal Court after denial of a claim:

“I saw/heard a very professional looking/sounding ad on TV/Radio/Internet, called them and signed up. They seemed to be very concerned about my case.  I met my lawyer for the first time a year later, just before the hearing (or, he appeared at the hearing by phone because they were out of State). He* didn’t say much to the Judge. I don’t think he knew anything about my case. I was denied benefits. When I called the lawyer to find out what he could do to help me, I was advised that they don’t do appeals and to find another lawyer.”

The consequences of losing at the hearing level can be catastrophic. You may no longer be  insured if you have to reapply. At very least, benefits will be delayed for several years.

When looking for a Social Security Disability attorney, apply the following safeguards:

 

  1. Go to the advertiser’s website. If you see the following at the bottom of the home page, think twice before signing up.

          “Talk to an attorney right now!”

or

          “Not RealName.org is not a lawyer or law firm.”      

 These are not law firms. They are advertising services paid for by the lawyers and advocates  whose names are forwarded in response to user requests.  The lawyer you will be referred to is probably selected because he pays for the referral, not necessarily because he is competent.

  1. Never hire a lawyer until you first meet him, face to face. If it doesn’t feel right at the meeting, it probably isn’t.
  2. Hire a local attorney. He will be familiar with the Judge’s idiosyncrasies and will act accordingly. Additionally, you can schedule in person appointments without boarding a plane.
  3. Hire an attorney who is member of NOSSCR. NOSSCR is the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives. The organization is committed to keeping members current on the law and changes to it and is committed to supporting a membership that provides high quality representation for claimants.
  4. Check the content on the prospective attorney’s website. If it is informative and helpful, it is worth a call and an office visit.

The delays once you file an initial application or an appeal are challenging enough so make sure the attorney you hire is by your side along the way.

*he means he or she.

[Read more…]

Past Work Experience For Social Security In Florida

When the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes a determination of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) eligibility, it evaluates an individual claim using a 5-step process. One of the steps (specifically, the fourth step) in the process asks whether the individual can perform any of their past relevant work. When looking at an individual’s previous work experience, and making a determination as to whether it applies or is relevant, the SSA considers:

  1. Recency – whether the individual performed the work within the last 15 years
  2. Duration – whether the work lasted long enough for the individual to learn to do it
  3. Substantial Gainful Activity – whether the work was paid to the degree that it created “substantial gainful activity”
Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by rt48state ff via flickr

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by rt48state ff via flickr

When looking at each of these, the following guidance comes into play:

Recency

In considering an individual’s past work experience, the work being considered must be recent enough to be relevant. This is meant to recognize the fact that, in many of today’s industries, a gradual change in skills happens in most jobs after a decade or more. To determine if an individual’s prior experience is recent, the SSA typically considers only that work which the individual performed within the past 15 years. Skills, proficiencies, and abilities acquired in a particular job from more than 15 years ago are not expected to be applicable or relevant in the current labor market. The exception to this guideline, however, is in the case of work performed more than 15 years where the continuity of skills, knowledge, and processes learned outside of the 15-year window connect to more recent experience.

Duration

This refers to the length of time that an individual worked in a position and gained job experience. The length of time in a position needs to be long enough for the individual to have come to understand the requirements of the job, learned the skills and techniques needed to perform the job, and to develop the talents needed by a typical worker to give an average performance in the job situation. The length of time it takes an individual to gain this level of functioning at a particular job depends on the nature and complexity of the job itself, but it typically means the individual worked at least 3 months in the position.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

Benefits eligibility under SSD requires that an individual show that he or she is unable to engage in “substantial gainful activity.” According to the SSA, a person who earns more than a certain monthly amount (excluding impairment-related work experiences) generally is considered to be able to perform SGA. The particular amount of monthly earnings that qualifies as SGA depends on the nature of a person’s disability. The Social Security Act outlines that blind individuals can earn a higher SGA than non-blind individuals. Both SGA amounts are tied to the national average wage index, which for 2015 is $1,820 per month for individuals who qualify as statutorily blind and $1,090 per month for non-blind individuals.

SSDI Help In Dade, Broward, And Monroe Counties

Because of the complicated rules involved in applying for SSDI, many applicants are confused and unsure what information is necessary to complete an application benefits. Other individuals are unsure what to do if their applications are denied but they believe they qualify for benefits. Having an experienced Florida social security disability attorney in your corner can level the playing field and help you to present your case in a way that significantly improves your chances for receiving the benefits you deserve.

At Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A., we help our clients to gather adequate documentation about their past work, including factual information about those work demands that have a bearing on the individual’s medically established limitations. We also help gather detailed information about the strength, endurance, manipulative ability, mental demands, and other job requirements involved in an individual’s past jobs, in order to support the individual’s current level of fitness for work, if at all. If you have questions about your eligibility for SSDI benefits, please call our office today at (305) 653-5555 or use our online contact form to have one of our skilled Dade, Broward, or Monroe County disability attorneys contact you.

 

Filing for Social Security Based on Mental Disorders

According to the United States Social Security Administration (SSA), individuals diagnosed with certain mental disorders are eligible to receive social security disability benefits. For those who suffer with mental health issues, this income can provide a degree of relief in an otherwise difficult situation by aiding the recipient financially while their focus is on treatment. The SSA uses Section 12.00 of their guidelines on mental disorders to evaluate social security disability claims based on mental illness.

Mental Illness Guidelines

According to the SSA’s guidelines, a successful claim filed due to a mental disorder requires specific records/documentation of a “determinable impairment.” In addition to the actual medical records related to the issue, the guidelines also call for an analysis of how the medical issue actually impairs the claimant’s life, particularly in relation to their work ability. The length of time the condition is expected to limit the claimant is also a factor in approving or denying a claim, as the guidelines require that limitations be expected to last for at least twelve months.

Depression

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by darkwood67 ff via flickr

The SSA divides the mental health concerns that can be used for a claim into nine categories. Each category comes with “sub factors” that are also part of the application and consideration process.

An attorney can explain specifically how the guidelines may apply in your case. However, a closer look at two common mental health issues triggering disability benefits can help explain the process. Consider depression and bipolar disorder–both of which are included in the subsection on affective disorders.

Depression

Medical professionals describe depression as a unique combination of intense negative emotions–a form of sadness with feelings of hopeless and worthlessness. A key aspect to the problem is the feeling that the negative state will last indefinitely, preventing normal, daily functioning. Under Section 12.04 of the guidelines, to receive benefits for depression, several of the following factors/characteristics must be present:

  • Lost interest in daily activities
  • Extreme energy depletion
  • Trouble eating or sleeping
  • Concentration failure
  • Inability to perform physical activities
  • Helpless and hopeless feelings
  • Thoughts about suicide

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is also classified as an affective disorder for disability benefit consideration. Usually, to receive benefits, an applicant must experience oscillating emotions of depression and “mania.” An individual seeking social security disability benefits based on a diagnosis of bipolar disorder must also demonstrate a history of episodes that illustrate these oscillating periods of mania and periods of depression.

Additional Requirements

For both depression and bipolar disorder, applicants seeking benefits must also show that the conditions present very real challenges to daily life and normal social functioning. Alternatively, an applicant can show that the condition has led to “episodes of decompensation” which is repeated experiences of worsening symptoms.

An individual who does not meet the requirements outlined above may have additional options in filing for disability based on a mental disorder. For instance, if the individual can show a history of the affective disorder for a period of at least two years that caused a significant limitation in their ability to perform basic work activities, and meet additional requirements, they may still be able to receive benefits.

Social Security Disability Attorney

In order to get the most accurate information regarding your social security disability claim, it is best to consult with an experienced attorney about the facts of your particular case. The attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. have been handling social security cases for a number of years, and have the skill and experience to expertly handle your case as well. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. Our offices are located in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties.

Social Security Returns to Mailing Statements

Many people in the state of Florida and across the country apply for Social Security and Disability benefits. Whether an individual applies to the Social Security Disability (SSD) insurance program or the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, certain requirements must be met before benefits are paid out. There is a specific process to abide by in applying for benefits, and an experienced Social Security and Disability attorney can help his or her clients navigate the process and take any steps necessary to reach a positive result.

Social Security Card Image

Image Source (CC BY 2.0) by 401(K) 2012 via flickr

Changes to Social Security Procedure

People should know of changes to the law and procedure when filing for and receiving Social Security and Disability benefits. While not all members of the public stay informed of any changes, an attorney who regularly practices in this area of law is responsible for doing so. An online news article recently reported of one such change. The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced on September 16th that it plans to periodically mail out paper statements to those who receive benefits. This action was previously done away with in 2011 in an attempt to save on costs. The decision to rely mostly on online tracking of earnings and future benefits was estimated to save the SSA approximately $70 million in printing and mailing costs every year. Even though millions of recipients reportedly maintain online accounts to track their benefits, complaints about the new procedure started almost immediately. In 2013, Congress stepped in and passed a bill requiring SSA to once again mail the statements in order to provide an easy and efficient way to access an estimate of one’s Social Security benefits. Depending on a recipient’s age, one can expect to receive a statement once a year or once every five years.

Applying for Benefits

The change refers to procedures followed by the SSA for those already receiving benefits. However, it is important for others to know what to expect once their application for benefits is approved. The application process can often be difficult and complex, and it is advisable to obtain the assistance of legal counsel when applying for Social Security benefits.

Social Security and Disability Attorney

If you or someone you know is considering applying for Social Security or Disability benefits in the state of Florida, it helps to consult with an experienced attorney who can take on your case and assist you in the process. The team of attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. have decades of experience successfully representing clients in their Social Security and Disability applications. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your case. Our offices are conveniently located in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties.

Are You Disabled? How A Judge Decides Your Social Security Disability Claim

When your claim comes up for hearing, the Social Security Judge will go through a 5 step “sequential evaluation process” to decide whether you meet Social Security’s definition of disability.

Step 1

  • Whether you are working and, if so,
  • Whether the work the claimant is doing constitutes substantial gainful activity (SGA). Substantial Gainful Activity is generally work that brings in over a certain dollar amount per month. In 2013, that amount is $1,040 for non-blind disabled applicants, and $1,740 for blind applicants.

If you are working, your claim will be denied. If you are not working (SGA), the Judge will go to Step 2. [Read more…]