Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR)?

If you have been injured, or have been diagnosed with a serious illness—your ability to work is impacted. If you can’t work, then paying your monthly bills can be a serious challenge. In many cases, one has more than just themselves to think about. Not working affects the whole family. Fortunately, in America we have social assistance programs to aid people who are not able to be gainfully employed because of illness or injury.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has several programs that can make one’s life easier. The process for receiving such benefits can, at times, be a lengthy and involved process. It often requires enlisting the help of an attorney who is skilled in Social Security disability law.

Being Denied By Social Security

If you have applied for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), it is possible that you were denied. If that is the case, you can appeal the SSA decision. Anyone who requires benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), is going to want to appeal such a decision. If you are in legitimate need of assistance, then you cannot afford to do otherwise.

In the United States, the appeals process involves the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, or ODAR for short. ODAR is one of the largest administrative adjudication systems in the world, according to the SSA. Headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, across the country ODAR has:
  • 10 Regional Offices
  • 166 Hearing Offices (including 2 Satellite Offices)
  • 5 National Hearing Centers
  • 4 National Case Assistance Centers
With more than 1,500 administrative law judges (ALJ) across the country, and over 636,285 decisions at the hearing level are made each year. For more information about your local ODAR office, please click here and click on the area of the map at the bottom where you reside.

Help With SSA Benefits

The process for applying for benefits can be challenging, and you will not always get approved on the first try. Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you with appealing your decision, serving ODAR offices in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Please contact us to today for a free consultation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Social Security Education Toolkit

No one has any way of knowing what the future holds. With the blink of an eye one’s life can get flipped upside down. And as a result, the need for assistance can be great. Which is why the Social Security Administration (SSA) and all its many programs are of the utmost importance. When life throws you a curve ball, such as an injury or other misfortune, Americans can turn to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Without access to SSDI and SSI it would be nearly impossible for millions of Americans and their families to get by in life.

We all hear lot of talk about Social Security. It is a hot button topic among politicians on both sides of the aisle. There are a number of things said about SSA programs, and the organization as whole, that are not based in reality. So, it is important that Americans apprise themselves about Social Security, so they can make informed decisions about their future.

While the SSA offers several social welfare programs for life’s unexpected events, the meat of the organization deals with retirement. At the age of 66 Americans (born between 1943-1954) can collect full retirement from the SSA. However, individuals can start collecting at the age of 62, but only at 75 percent. The money that Americans receive from the administration is not a gift for being old, we all pay into Social Security over the course of our working career.

Understanding Social Security

Naturally, there are many facets to the organization and understanding the minutiae of the various programs can be difficult. But a failure to grasp Social Security could mean missteps regarding planning for your future and your retirement. Which is why the Social Security Administration launched a new website and created a toolkit to assist educators and advocates in teaching students about Social Security.

As with anything in life, understanding something better comes by grasping why something was created in the first place. The SSA would like students to learn the history of Social Security and why it is so vital, so that they can make informed decisions when planning for the future. The toolkit includes:
  • 2 Lesson Plans with Objectives
  • Infographics and handouts for each lesson plan.
  • Links to web pages and other resources with additional information and resources.
  • Talking Points
  • Quiz Questions and Answers

Help With SSA Benefits

If you have been injured or have a medical condition that prevents you from working, you are eligible to apply for SSDI and/or SSI. The process, however, can be difficult and complicated. Stephanie Merritt Driscoll can help you with the application process or if you have been denied benefits. Please contact us to today.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cutting Funding for SSDI and SSI

What is Right should transcend any and all political affiliations, where you come from should not preclude your access to opportunities afforded to others. Americans who were born with a disability or developed one due to a medical syndrome or by way of injury, should be able to rely on assistance from both Federal and state governments. Without the aid of social welfare programs, people would not be able to get by in life, with any semblance of financial security.

Following this line of thinking, as practicing attorneys, our loyalties can only reside with equality before law. Personal or political beliefs listing one direction or another, should not influence our ability to give people the best defense possible. And speaking out when people are clearly being left behind, disenfranchised or forgotten should be considered a duty.

In the field of Social Security law, undercutting funding (or attempts to) for disability benefits is something we see far too often. Keeping in mind that nearly 10 million Americans rely on such subsidies, even a slight decrease in funding allotted for SSA programs come as huge personal costs to all those concerned. So when, last week, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney presented the administration's 2018 budget and it was revealed what programs like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) could expect in funding in the coming years—cause for concern would be an understatement.

Serious Cuts to SSDI and SSI Funding

Director Mulvaney announced a proposed cut in funding for SSDI and SSI by $72 billion over the next ten years, CBS News reports. It gets worse, the promised slice in funding is part of a $1.74 trillion cut in social welfare funding by the current administration. If proposals come to fruition it could mean a significant number of beneficiaries being expelled from SSA programs they rely on to get by monthly.

"Where are the morals of the people going after people dealing with Stage 4 cancer?" said Heather Block, a 54-year-old former international aid worker from Lewes, Delaware who has been on disability for five years after her cancer spread to her liver and lungs. "The people I know, like me, with advanced cancer — we've wanted to be in the workplace, but we don't have that ability now, so this is our income." 

The Arc, a non-profit advocacy group for people living with disabilities estimates that about 946,000 SSDI people could be booted from SSDI, or barred from eligibility, according to the article. The organization estimates that 2.1 million people could lose out on SSI.

"All evidence is that the agency [SSA] is making every effort to make accurate decisions and to make sure people get the right benefits at the right time," said TJ Sutcliffe, the Arc’s director of income and housing policy. He added, "Cutting people's basic living standards and ability to get by after experiencing the onset of a disability is not a way to help to get people to work."

Concerns Over SSDI Fraud

Even though Carolyn Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration in 2014, testified that that disability fraud was below 1 percent, there is an unfounded belief in the current administration that fraud is a serious problem, the article reports. And that pushing individuals back into the labor force could save the government billions of dollars. Additionally, to disability insurance lawyers and experts, the presentation given by Director Mulvaney revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of SSDI.

Please take a moment to watch a short video on the subject:
If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

At Driscoll Law Corporation, we are hopeful that the administration will rethink the proposed cuts in funding to programs that help people who are, arguably, the most in need of assistance. We will continue to follow any updates about this subject. If you are need help with the process of applying and qualifying for disability benefits, please contact us today.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Garnishing Social Security for Student Loans

social security
Social Security is dear to us at the Driscoll Law Corporation. Our main focus is on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), two programs which fall under the umbrella of the Social Security Administration (SSA). Such programs help both individuals and families stay above water despite being unable to work. But it is important to remember that the SSA is charged with ensuring that Americans have extra income to fall back on when they retire. Something that many Americans are not fully benefiting from due to student loan defaults.

Loans for education are normally associated with young adults in their early twenties, but believe it or not, more and more older Americans are racked with student loan debt. If such people were unable to pay off such debt, a 1996 change in the law allowed earned benefits from Social Security to be garnished. Given that Americans are notoriously bad at saving for retirement, the loss of SSA benefits could mean people might have to live in abject poverty upon retirement.

The Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act

There is a good chance that when reading the above words, you rolled your eyes, or found yourself with an unsettling feeling. Rightly so, people in their 60’s and 70’s who have earned the right to retire are put in a position that could mean having to continue to work. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report which found that the number of seniors whose Social Security checks have been garnished because of student loan defaults has grown by 380% between 2002 (36,000 beneficiaries) and 2015 (173,000 beneficiaries).

Approximately 870,000 seniors, aged 65 and older, holding student debt currently have watched their total debt grow by a factor of 10 over a ten-year period, The Motley Fool reports. From $2 billion to $22 billion. The report showed that seniors who've fallen below the poverty line due to defaulting on their student loans and subsequent garnishments rose from 8,300 in 2004 to 67,300 in 2015.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-Or.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act which would prohibit the federal government from garnishing Social Security retirement and disability benefits to cover a beneficiary's defaulted student loans, according to the article. The bill has many co-sponsors, including Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sen. Ron Wyden said:

"Americans shouldn't see their Social Security checks ripped away because of the increasing burden of student loan debt. People who have worked hard and paid into the program count on these benefits just to survive -- there ought to be basic protections to defend struggling Americans from having their earned Social Security benefits cut by the federal government."

SSA Help

If you, or a loved one could use help with SSA benefits, please contact Stephanie Merritt Driscoll. If you can’t work, have been denied SSA benefits, or are applying for the first time—as a Social Security disability advocate, Attorney Driscoll can help.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

SSA Plain Writing Compliance Report

Plain Writing Act
“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” — Thomas Jefferson 

If you are in need of assistance from one of the various Social Security Administration (SSA) programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the first place you might turn to for information is likely to be the Internet. The SSA website is meant to be guide to help access certain benefits that can make or break one’s ability to keep a roof over your head or food on the table. While that course of action is simple in theory, for years countless people have found the process of applying for social assistance programs utterly confusing, which can hinder some from accessing the help they desperately need.

Naturally, pleading one’s case for SSDI or SSI is a process that takes some time, there are number of requirements that one must fulfill in order to gain access to the benefits they need. How clearly the steps that need to be taken are explained by the SSA can make all the difference. Your average person is probably not familiar with the language employed by most government agencies, let alone one so vital as the Social Security Administration.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010

In an effort to help the average citizen navigate the waters for of any government agency, including social welfare, the Plain Writing Act of 2010 was signed into law. “An act to enhance citizen access to Government information and services by establishing that Government documents issued to the public must be written clearly, and for other purposes.”

Government agencies thus, under the law were required to essentially rewrite, shorten or remove esoteric jargon that might confuse your average American. And in it stead, provide clear and concise information. Information that “the public can understand and use."

SSA benefits are vital to millions of Americans, a number that continues to grow with each year that passes. The agency understands and is committed to improving the readability of its websites, notices, PDFs, and public-facing documents.

2016 Plain Writing Compliance Report

The process of trimming all writing, across multiple platforms is no easy task, requiring thousands of man-hours and the assistance of information technologies. Recently, the SSA released a report highlighting the progress the agency has made and what they will work on moving forward. Notably:
  • Training employees on Plain Writing, business writing and grammar, and effective writing techniques.
  • Completing a one-year pilot of the Acrolinx editing tool, and purchased licenses for FY 2017;
  • Earning a “B+” for the Writing and Information Design grade on the Federal Plain Language Report Card.
“Our 2016 Plain Writing Compliance Report documents this year’s agency-wide compliance activities and accomplishments. One significant action was to pilot the Acrolinx software. Nearly 500 employees took part in this pilot. Acrolinx has become a valuable tool in our efforts to promote Plain Writing and uniformity when complying with the Act throughout the agency.”

Need Help With the SSA

Qualifying for disability benefits can be trying, leading to unneeded stress. If you, or a loved one could use help, please contact Stephanie Merritt Driscoll. If you can’t work, have been denied SSA benefits, or are applying for the first time—as a Social Security disability advocate, Attorney Driscoll can help.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

National Social Security Month

“No greater tragedy exists in modern civilization than the aged, worn-out worker who after a life of ceaseless effort and useful productivity must look forward for his declining years to a poorhouse. A modern social consciousness demands a more humane and efficient arrangement."
—President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (February 28, 1929)

In 1935, President Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. The aim was to help those in need of financial assistance, and over the decades the legislation has kept millions of Americans afloat—particularly older people and the disabled. Without the aid of programs, like Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), multitudes of people would needlessly suffer. Even those who are not struggling with a disability rely heavily on Social Security, benefits that people can begin to collect at 62-years of age.

Social Security is used in reference to the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Whether you work for a company, or are self-employed, some of the taxes you pay every year go towards social security. Funds that can be drawn from later in life, when one’s ability to work or desire to work diminishes. While Social Security benefits can greatly help, it is important to keep in mind that such benefits only replace approximately 40 percent of pre-retirement earnings.

Now, 82-years since FDR made Social Security the law of the land, the Nation is being asked to observe the first National Social Security Month. Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security is asking Americans to takes steps to ensure their financial security, according to an agency press release. Throughout the month of April, the SSA will be providing advice for “developing a sound financial plan that includes Social Security as a foundation.”

On April 20, 2017—Social Security will participate in a Facebook Live Chat, hosted by, at 7:00 p.m. ET. At which time, you, the public, may ask questions about the “5 Steps Toward Financial Security.” Those steps include:
  • Get to know your Social Security
  • Verify your lifetime earnings with a my Social Security account
  • Estimate your future Social Security benefits at my Social Security
  • Apply online for retirement, disability, or Medicare benefits
  • Manage your Social Security benefits
If you would like to be involved, all you have to do is follow and Social Security on Facebook.

“With retirement, disability, and survivors benefits, Social Security helps secure today and tomorrow for millions of people throughout life’s journey,” Acting Commissioner Berryhill said. “By hosting National Social Security Month, we hope to help the public understand their Social Security protections and promote financial education.” 

At Driscoll Law, we are committed to helping you get the social security benefits you require. We would like to ask our readers to take some time this month to observe the first National Social Security Month, and have an active role in your financial security which we all rely heavily on in our golden years.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

SB-575: Patient Access to Health Records

People in California who would like to apply for social service benefits, such as Medi-Cal, to obtain financial assistance, must jump through several hoops and meet certain requirements. Unless you meet certain stipulations, individuals looking for coverage need to show that they do not make over a certain amount of money. For instance, the income limit is calculated as a percentage related to federal poverty guidelines. Right now, that limit is about $1,188 monthly for an individual and $1,603 for a couple. Such limits fluctuate regarding the number of dependents you have. Setting finances aside, you can also qualify for Medi-Cal if you are:
  • 65 or older
  • Blind
  • Disabled
With all that in mind, it is fairly safe to say that the majority of Californians applying for state benefit programs are at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale—impoverished or indigent. They are applying for such programs because they need help to get by in life, no easy task when you are unemployed or are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

When people apply for Medi-Cal they are required to provide medical records to support one’s claims of eligibility. If you have ever had to get copies of medical records, then you are probably aware that there are fees associated with acquiring them. Asking people to pay cash for the medical records to prove their eligibility, when they are already financially struggling to get by, is a burden that should be mitigated. Fortunately, lawmakers are working to do away with such fees.

As things stand right now throughout the state, medical providers are allowed to charge patients up to 25 cents a page for copies and 50 cents for medical records on microfilm, Southern California Public Radio reports. Additionally, clerical fees can also be added to those page costs. SB-575: Patient Access to Health Records, introduced by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), would require medical providers to cover copy costs. The bill is not specific to just Medi-Cal, but all social services, including: Supplemental Security Income (SSI), State Supplemental Payment (SSP) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

"If you have several pages that you need it can be quite costly," said Leyva. "They [providers] can afford to absorb these costs. The poor people who are trying to receive their records cannot." 

Patient Access to Health Records, if passed, would also waive the medical record copy fees for people applying for:
  • In-Home Supportive Services
  • California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWORKs)
  • CalFresh
As of April 3, 2017, SB-575 has passed the Senate Health committee and was referred back to the Senate Judiciary committee. 

If you have additional questions regarding the SSI and SSDI application processes, let our office help you through the lengthy and complicated process of applying and qualifying for these social security disability benefits. Call Driscoll Law Corporation at 949-359-1370 to receive your free consultation.