SSA announces 1.7% Cost of Living Increase for 2015

Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) was announced recently for 2015 benefits.  According to the SSA website:

Based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W) from the third quarter of 2013 through the third quarter of 2014, Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will receive a 1.7 percent COLA for 2015.

Part B premium for Medicare will remain unchanged for 2015.  This link provides further details and comparisons of 2014 and 2015 Medicare costs.

Oct 15 – Medicare Open Enrollment Begins

medicare logoSpriteYou don’t have to retire to receive Medicare benefits.  In fact, you can even apply online.  Here is a link to more details and a good article http://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/get-parts-a-and-b/when-sign-up-parts-a-and-b/when-sign-up-parts-a-and-b.html  One feature involving Medicare is “open enrollment.”  That date will be upon us soon – October 15.  For more information about this go to http://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/11219.pdf

Information for Wounded Warriors and Veterans Who Have a Compensation Rating of 100% Permanent & Total (P&T)

I recently read an interesting post on Social Security’s website about disability.  The disability process has an “expedited process” in certain situations, although normally it is a very narrow window of opportunity to be eligible.  Recently the Social Security Administration announced that “Some Wounded Warriors and Veterans Who Have a Compensation Rating of 100% P&T are unaware that Social Security may expedite the processing of their disability claims.”

For more information and to read the complete article go to http://goo.gl/IGqGCZ

SSDI: The truth behind media and political mischaracterizations – a commentary by NOSSCR’s Executive Director Barbara Silverstone

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is an integral part of the Social Security system that provides vital economic security to workers and their families. SSDI provides modest but essential coverage that American workers earn, and protects against the economic devastation that often accompanies life-changing disability. Unfortunately, recent media coverage (including recent opinion pieces in The Hill) has painted a highly inaccurate picture of this program, in an effort to encourage damaging changes that would hurt people with disabilities.

Eligibility criteria for the SSDI program are extremely strict and only people with the most significant disabilities qualify for benefits. An applicant must prove with medical evidence the inability to engage in “substantial gainful activity” (defined as earning less than $1,070 monthly in 2014), due to a physical or mental impairment expected to result in death or last for at least one year. Most applicants are denied; only about 40% are approved, a fact which belies claims that there is a “systematic bias” toward approving applicants who are not actually disabled.

People with disabilities turn to the program as a last resort, often having attempted to continue working after it is no longer healthy to do so and having spent down their savings before applying. There is no evidence that people are leaving the labor force to receive SSDI. While it is true that SSDI applications increased during the recent economic downturn, approval rates also declined. In fact, the current approval rate is the lowest it has been in 40 years.

Growth in the SSDI program has long been predicted by the Social Security Chief Actuary and is due almost entirely to two demographic factors: the aging of the baby boomers and women entering the workforce. According to the SSA, program growth has peaked and is projected to level off.

The SSDI program is complex so it is not surprising that many applicants choose to retain a representative, given the importance of the outcome. Having an experienced professional provide assistance is valuable for people with disabilities. Representatives help ensure that applicants provide SSA with all relevant medical evidence and help the agency make the right decision as early in the process as possible. SSA’s policies and procedures to regulate representatives do a good job of dealing with the very small number of representatives who violate the rules.

Notably, Congress has not uncovered any evidence of fraud in the SSDI program beyond the cases SSA itself uncovered, after several years of investigation. Nor has Congress found any evidence that people who should not be eligible are wrongly approved. Senator Coburn has been quoted on the topic and appears to mischaracterize what his 2012 investigation actually found. That investigation reviewed only 300 appeals decisions from just 3 counties, and his staff questioned the quality of about 25% of the written decisions but did not claim the decisions were wrong. In fact, the investigation did not find that a single individual was approved who should have been denied.

The Social Security Administration does a good job of identifying potential fraud in the program, despite its woefully inadequate recent funding levels and resources. SSA’s administrative budget is only about 1.4 percent of benefits paid out each year. However, Congress has provided nearly $1 billion less than requested over the past three years. SSA’s program integrity work has suffered too, receiving $421 million less than authorized over the last two years. The result? SSA has lost more than 11,000 employees since 2011 – a heavy blow to the agency’s ability to serve the American people.

If Congress is serious about protecting the integrity of this program, it should start by providing SSA with adequate funding to do so. It should enact H.R. 4090, the Social Security Fraud and Prevention Act of 2013, introduced by Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA) earlier this year. It would provide SSA with dedicated mandatory funding for program integrity activities, strengthen fraud detection activities, and increase penalties for people convicted of exploiting the program.

The SSDI program does not need significant changes. It has provided economic security to workers who become disabled, and their families, for more than 50 years. But Congress does need to enact legislative changes to secure the future of Social Security and prevent cuts for SSDI beneficiaries in 2016. A rebalancing of the Old Age Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance trust funds through reallocation of the payroll tax going into each of the funds, approved by Congress multiple times in the past, would account for demographic shifts and solve short-term funding gaps. This program is a key piece of our national social insurance infrastructure and it needs to be kept strong for current and future generations.

Silverstone is executive director of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives. Previously she served as staff attorney for NOSSCR for more than 20 years.

The article can also be accessed on The Hill’s site: http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/healthcare/215601-ssdi-the-truth-behind-media-and-political-mischaracterizations

Social Security Extends Access to Benefit Verification

On Thursday, July 17, 2014 the Social Security Administration announced that local Social Security offices would continue to provide benefit verification letters until further notice. Providing services when and where the public needs them remains central to Social Security’s efforts, while continuing to encourage federal, state, and local agencies to take advantage of Social Security’s data exchange programs that can serve customers more efficiently and effectively.

“We appreciate the feedback from members of Congress, our community stakeholders and agency partners. We want to ensure that we meet the needs of our customers in a way that is convenient for them and also cost-effective and secure for all,” Acting Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin stated. “I believe that government agencies can work closer together to assist our mutual customers.”

Over the last few years, Social Security has invested in technology that allows most government agencies and many other organizations to verify their clients’ Social Security benefits electronically without requiring them to visit a local Social Security office.

“We recognize that some members of the public may require in-person assistance and we will have a presence in local communities,” said Acting Commissioner Colvin. “We also want to ensure that the public is aware that they can access many of our services without making a trip to a local field office.”

Members of the public with Internet access can obtain benefit verification information by creating a my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Verifying your clients’ Social Security benefits is easy! This YouTube webinar is designed for advocates, social service agencies, and other third parties to help promote the use of Social Security’s online service options.

“APPLY RIGHT” – To Apply for Social Security Disability – Make it Easy on Yourself!

I am an attorney. I have handled Social Security Disability cases for over 25 years. At times, I encourage potential clients to apply on their own as the case sounds solid – I do this to save them money from paying me, or another lawyer, and sometimes they call back to say “It worked! Thank-you.”

Sadly, many others call back to say “I was denied.” To prevent that, I now provide this link to this reasonably priced book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AX3Q0KI/ref=cm_cr_rev_prod_title . The amount of information, expertise, wisdom and knowledge that has been shared by Tomasz is mind-boggling. The depth of his experience and his willingness to share it in this book provides an excellent tool.  

The color photos are excellent. There are excellent suggestions on how to answer questions that one would have dismissed as unimportant or answered from the wrong angle.

SSA has made it convenient to apply from the comfort of your home, or another’s home. You can save your work if you need more time or don’t have enough information. http://ssa.gov/pgm/disability.htm

This book is a must for anyone that applies – whether there case is rock solid or iffy – there is just no reason not to use this tool.