Tuesday, August 22, 2017

SSA Inspector General Fraud Warning

SSN Fraud
If you are a recipient of Social Security benefits, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), news that you might be eligible to get more money would likely be welcomed. After all, the amount of money that the average recipient receives each month (while helpful) is not a whole lot of money. So, if you were to receive a phone call from somebody working for the SSA, you may not hesitate to answer any questions, if it were a means to a greater financial end.

Please be advised that if you receive a call from someone claiming to be a Social Security employee, it may be a fraudulent scam. Someone attempting to phish information out of you, such as your social security number (SSN). Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General, Gale Stallworth Stone, has issued two scam alerts for SSA benefits recipients.


SSA Is Not On the Other End


The Inspector General would like all recipients to be vigilantly cautious about anyone who calls claiming to be employed by the administration. With one scammer luring people to divulge personal information by enticing them with a 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase of their Social Security benefits. Calling from a "323" area code, according to Forbes, the imposter attempts to get victims to verify their personal information, including:
  • Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Parents’ Name
  • Social Security Number
  • Any Other Personal Information
If the SSA imposter succeeds, they will use the information to alter victim’s direct deposit, address, and telephone information. Thus, scamming them out of their benefits. The second fraudulent act occurring right now involves former clients of Kentucky disability attorney Eric C. Conn. The Inspector General warns that the calls come from 202-681-5115, and the scammer will offer victims $9,000 from a “Conn Client Compensation Fund” (nonexistent) if they send $200 to the “Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”


Protecting Yourself from Fraud


You can learn how to protect yourself and your clients, here. But below you will find three tips from the Inspector General:
  • Understand the threats. Be wary of scammers who may impersonate government officials or seek advance payment for services.
  • Exercise caution. In general, no government agency or reputable company will solicit your personal information over the phone or by email, or request an advance fee.
  • Secure your information. Store your Social Security number in a safe location — don’t carry it with you. Shred documents that include your personal information.


Moving forward...


If you live in the Orange County area of California and you believe you might have responded to a scam call regarding your Social Security information, please take the time to contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll of Driscoll Law Corporation. We may be able to assist you in reaching out to the appropriate Social Security Administration department to alert the SSA of a possible scam.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Orange County Homeless Czar Shows Promise

Homelessness is a major concern across the United States, and California is not exempt. In major cities across the state, thousands of people are without home or employment to pay for the core necessities. Orange County’s homeless population, in many cases, is living in conditions of squalor. Living in tents and storm drains, due to a serious lack of homeless shelters. Many people living in such conditions have serious mental and physical health problems, making their ability to find employment untenable.

While many of such people would qualify for state assistance, the process for applying for Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance benefits is too much to take on without help. These benefits could, in fact, make all the difference in changing one’s situation.

In an effort to gain control of the ever-growing homeless problem in Orange County, a call went out to the Board of Supervisors and other county officials to step up their efforts, The Orange County Register reports. The call was answered by the appointment of “Homeless Czar” Susan Price, at the end of May 2016. By October, Price had helped with efforts to open The Courtyard homeless shelter, providing emergency housing for as many as 400 people. Next year, renovations will be completed on Bridges at Kraemer in Anaheim, which will be able to assist 200 people, offering health services, employment counseling and other resources like SOAR.

“When I arrived, the board had already laid the groundwork,” Price said. “Look what’s happened in the last year.”

SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery



As was mentioned above, with the aid of certain benefits a number of people could get back on their feet and acquire permanent housing. But, they need help. SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) involves county workers trained to help the homeless successfully fill out applications for SSI and SSDI, according to the article. The little bit of extra help is what many need, but have been unable to get.

“It’s a critical component,” Price said. “Trying to negotiate that system on your own is not realistic. It doesn’t happen successfully. We have to do it with and for them, in some cases.”

SOAR is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency that believes mental illness recovery rests on having a safe place to live. Given that a significant number of homeless men and women have mental health concerns, SOAR can have a dramatic impact on reducing the homeless population.

“This is about benefits,” she explained. “The primary thing is connecting people to income and benefits that they’re eligible for.”

SSDI and SSI Help



At Driscoll Law Corporation, we can help you or a loved one navigate the process of Social Security benefits, like SSI and SSDI. If a denial was received, we can help you with the appeals process. Please contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll, today.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Electronic Medical Records Speed Up Benefits Process

SSA
In the 21st Century there is a hardly a thing in our lives that has not been digitized. Meaning, pretty much anything you previously did by hand and paper can now be accomplished over the internet. Rather than send a letter, we email it. We balance our checkbooks, pay our bills online. Many households, today, are paper-free. There are fewer instances when a hard copy is needed to accomplish something.

As the world becomes more streamlined, seemingly more efficient with each year that passes, life appears easier for all concerned parties. Unfortunately, one field that has been slow to go electronic is the health care system. The exchange of health medical records between offices and doctors, is in many cases done electronically. However, communicating between doctor’s offices and federal agencies is in most cases still accomplished manually using mail and fax.

This archaic method of communique can significantly impact people’s lives, especially those who are awaiting decisions about Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Individuals are often required to wait months for a decision, because of the slow exchange of patient information. The longer one waits, the longer they go without the benefits they need to get by while being unable to work.


Social Security Administration Health IT


In an effort to speed up the decision process for people with disability, the SSA has begun partnering-up with hospitals across the country to securely exchange medical records for patients applying for benefits. In California, Cedars-Sinai and Kaiser Permanente are eFiling with the SSA. Recently, the agency announced that Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, MD, is now on the list of partners sharing medical records electronically, according to a press release. This will not only save money, it will save an exponential amount of time for the agency to reach decisions about people applying for benefits. Monica Miles from the Health IT Program office at the Social Security Administration, says:

“Now, here is how the process works: The DDS [Disability Determination Services] sends requests for medical information to the healthcare providers identified by the claimant in the application process. When the DDS receives the medical information, they evaluate it and make the disability determination. In the majority of cases, this is still a manual process that is slow and cumbersome. It takes on average about 90 days to process a claim with most of that time spent waiting for the medical information to be received."

“By using Health IT to automate this process, we send an electronic request to the healthcare provider system, and information is returned in a standardized Health IT format within seconds or minutes rather than weeks or months."

You can watch a video on how the process works, here.


SSDI and SSI Help


If you or a loved one has been injured recently, or been diagnosed with a debilitating illness, there is a good chance that assistance will be required. The process to apply for benefits can be both time consuming and confusing. And, in the end, you may not get the decision you were looking for. If you have been denied, or are applying for the first time please contact The Driscoll Law Corporation, we can help.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR)?

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

SSA
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

SSDI
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.