Wednesday, December 14, 2016

SSA Ticket to Work

Ticket to Work
Much of who we are can be attributed to the things we do. In many ways, our identity and standing in society is inextricably linked to being employed. Among the many stigmas that are prevalent in America, there has long been a disgrace associated with people who do not work.

Certainly, there are some people who choose not to work, opting to utilize public welfare services as much as possible. And they probably have their reasons for choosing a couch over a desk. However, there are millions of Americans whose ability to work has been hindered by a disability. Those who are unable to work rely heavily on the Social Security Administration (SSA) in order to get by, taking advantage of programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicaid.

If you were to ask people who collect such benefits if they wish they were working, the majority would say "yes." Most of the people who can't work, wish they could. But even if they picked up some part time work to improve the quality of life, many fear that they will lose access to SSA public health programs. While that may be true in some cases, there is a program available from the SSA that gives people the tools for reentering employment and still access their benefits.

Ticket to Work is program that links people with free employment services to help them:
  • Decide if working is right for them.
  • Prepare for work.
  • Find a job or maintain success while they are working.
If you would like to reenter the workforce, we encourage you to investigate Ticket to Work. It could be a life changing experience, bringing with it the fulfillment of having a job and contributing to society once again. Please take a few minutes and watch the video below to learn how it works:

If you are having trouble watch please click here.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who can help you navigate the waters of accessing SSA benefits, such as SSDI or SSI.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Disabled San Diegans Face Long Waits

There are millions of people whose disabilities are too arduous for them to work. The reasons for which are varied, such as mental health disorders or chronic physical ailments. If a person is unable to work, they are unable to earn an income and thus incapable of covering their living expenses. Fortunately, such people can find solace and comfort in the fact that they could qualify to receive benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), which means that they will not lose the roof over their head or be unable to feed their family.

Under the umbrella of the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, people with disabilities who meet the criteria are eligible for state and federal assistance. While such programs can be real lifesavers for well over a million Californians, it turns out that accessing SSA benefits can be a grueling, lengthy process.

In the San Diego area, the average wait to be heard by an administrative law judge for a disability hearing is 18 months (roughly 540 days), The San Diego Union Tribune reports. That being said, you will probably not be too surprised to learn that long waits are a common theme across the country. Nearly 1.1 million Americans are waiting for a disability hearing. SSA data indicates that those who live in Buffalo, New York, can wait as long as 25 months for a disability hearing.

“That is a long time if you believe you’re disabled and not working. You don’t really have an income, you may need medical care and you may not have access to medical care,” said Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges. “I think the American public deserves better than that.” 

In the wake of the “great recession” and rapidly aging “baby boomers,” it is fair to say that more people than ever are in need of such hearings. Just last year alone, Social Security paid out $143 billion to 11 million disabled workers and their dependents.

The problem stems from huge Social Security Administration budget cuts which has led to understaffing, according to the article. Additionally, there are simply not enough administrative law judges nationwide. There are only 11 judges responsible for disability hearings in San Diego, and around 1,500 nationwide. The SSA says that that is simply not enough.

“To us 1.1 million is not just a number; it is a line of people and their families — many of whom are in desperate circumstances,” testified Social Security Deputy Commissioner Theresa Gruber to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “For many of them, long wait times can mean catastrophic consequences, such as losing a home or making agonizing choices between other basic needs.” 

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

VA Gives SSA Access to Electronic Medical Records

SSDI
Every year thousands of American servicemen and women apply for social security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, with the hope of improving the quality of one’s life. Without benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), many Americans would find it extremely difficult to afford their yearly costs.

In order to qualify for such benefits, one must apply which in turn leads to an evaluation process. SSDI processors will sift through millions of medical records each year to determine who qualifies. The process can be time consuming, the SSA has to request copies of patient medical records from various places, and in the meantime applicants have to wait on a decision.

In an effort to streamline the process, both saving time and costs, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) launched a new system, which will allow the two agencies to share medical records electronically, according to a VA press release. Under the Health IT initiative, the SSA will have access to the VA’s VLER Health Exchange under the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) Program.

“VA’s partnership with Social Security will ultimately improve the quality of life for veterans and their dependents by enabling veterans to share their health information within a safe and secure health-related consumer application,” said David Shulkin, VA Health Undersecretary. 

Just to give you an idea of how much time and money the electronic relationship will save, the SSA has to access almost 15 million medical records from various healthcare organizations, the press release reports. Every year the SSA has to process nearly three(3) million disability claims, having direct access to VA medical records could be a game changer for veterans by expediting the evaluation process.

Last Friday was Veterans Day, we at the Driscoll Law Corporation we would like to commend and honor all those who have served in the armed services. The VA’s announcement of the Health IT initiative could not have come at a better time.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Low SSA Benefit Increase

SSA
Millions of retired Americans rely heavily on benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). It is not a whole lot of money, but it can prove to be useful for a number of yearly expenses, allowing people to not dip into their retirement savings. Retired Americans are not the only people who receive benefits from SSA, people with a disability (SSDI) and the impoverished (SSI) collect as well.

Unfortunately, there was not an increase in benefits in 2016 compared to 2015. However, in 2017, SSA benefits are going to increase by .3 percent, being the fifth year in a row of low benefit increases, Fortune reports. The insignificant increase is being attributed to low inflation in the United States.

It is important to keep in mind people who receive social security benefits get, on average, $1,238 per month, according to the article. Which means that .3 percent increase amounts to under four additional dollars per month. When you add to this matter the fact that Medicare Part B premiums are expected to increase in 2017, it means that the slight cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will be canceled out by the higher Medicare premium.

“This loss of anticipated retirement income compounds every year, causing people to spend through retirement savings far more quickly than planned,” said Mary Johnson of the Senior Citizens League. “Over the course of a 25- or 30-year retirement, it reduces anticipated Social Security income by tens of thousands of dollars.”

Inflation being low in the U.S. is mainly the result of lower gas prices, the article reports. Over the last year, the price of gasoline has dropped by 18 percent. Naturally, most people smile about paying less at the pump, but not seniors necessarily. A large number of senior citizens do not drive anymore, so they do not reap the benefits of lower prices, yet it affects how much SSA pays out. On top of that, the cost of medical care has risen by more than 5%.

Here you can watch a short video on the 2017 COLA



Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

SSDI 60th Anniversary

SSDI
If you were born with a disability, or experienced an injury that resulted in one, then there is a good chance you receive benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is linked to the Social Security retirement program, but is for workers who become disabled before retirement age. The program helps millions of Americans and their families, providing support that can greatly improve the quality of one’s life. This year, marks the 60th anniversary of the SSDI program, so we thought it important to share some of the program’s history.

When the SSA was formed in 1935, it did not have any provisions for disability insurance, according to the agency. Social Security Disability Insurance program was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, but it only applied to people age 50 or older. Naturally, the program has evolved and been enhanced with new features over the years, including who is eligible for benefits.

At the onset of the SSDI program, there was a six-month waiting period and there were no benefits payable to spouses or children, The Tribune Star reports. Today, people who receive SSDI benefits can receive Medicare coverage, incentives to go back to work and their dependents may be eligible to receive benefits on their earnings records.

Ever since the inception of the SSA, the process to be awarded benefits for the disabled has been arduous. The agency continues to do whatever it can to assist everyone who needs help, and we think it is important to see how far SSDI has come, please take a look at the timeline below:
  • 1954—Social Security Amendments of 1954 establish the disability "freeze."
  • 1956—Monthly benefits are provided to disabled workers aged 50–64 and to disabled children (aged 18 or older) of retired or deceased workers.
  • 1958—Benefits are established for the dependents of disabled workers.
  • 1960—The requirement that a worker must be at least 50 years of age to be eligible for disability benefits is eliminated.
  • 1968—Benefits for disabled widow(er)s aged 50 or older are enacted.
  • 1972—Medicare coverage is extended to Disability Insurance beneficiaries after 24 months of entitlement, and the Supplemental Security Income program is established.
  • 1977—A new benefit formula is introduced that "decouples" the cost-of-living adjustment from wage increases in an effort to control spiraling Social Security program costs.
  • 1980—Social Security Amendments of 1980 place a cap on family benefits to disabled workers, require periodic continuing disability reviews, and create work incentives.
  • 1984—Congress requires the development of new criteria for adjudicating claims involving mental impairments and establishes a "medical review standard" for making determinations on continuing disability reviews.
  • 1999—The Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act of 1999 is enacted, enabling disability beneficiaries to seek employment services and other support services needed to help them reduce their dependence on cash benefits.
If you have questions and need assistance in filing for SSDI, contact Stephanie Merritt Driscoll, an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

SSA Updating Mental Disorders Program Criteria

SSDI
People with mental health and/or physical disabilities often have the odds stacked against them with regard to getting by in life. Without question, Americans living with disabilities have a lot with which to contend. And while those who are given the tools and care to foster in today’s society have a fighting chance, there is a significant number of people who have been left behind.

Scientific understanding of the brain and how it functions has come a long way in recent years, shedding light on various disabilities. Increased knowledge has given therapists the ability to better treat mental health disorders, which can greatly improve the quality of one’s life. Many of those living with any mental health illness require assistance in the form of Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

As was mentioned earlier, researchers continue to shine a light on mental illness, which means that those who once did not qualify for benefits may one day in the future. In order to qualify for SSA benefits for mental health disorder, one must meet the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is a tome currently in its fifth edition (DSM-V), which was released in 2013. Now, three years later the SSA is finally updating its medical criteria for evaluating mental disorders program. The new rules are scheduled to go into effect on January 17, 2017.

"Updating our medical criteria for the disability program is a challenging task that has been complicated by deep budgetary cuts in recent years," said Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, in a press release. "We are committed to updating our regulations to reflect up-to-date standards and practices used in the health care community." 

You can view the rule changes, by clicking here.

If you have a family member, whether an adult or child, who has a diagnosed mental disorder and you need more information about these SSA Rule Changes, please contact Stephanie Merritt Driscoll, an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Federal Supplemental Security Income for Foster Youth

SSI
It is fair to say that the transition from adolescence to adulthood can be a tricky. Leaving home for the first time, for the typical young adult, to start your life in the world often involves one having to jump through a number of hoops. Now, in many cases those who are new to independence can still rely on financial support from their parents, giving them a cushion to help ease the transition. But for those who are in the foster care system who are about to “age out,” expecting that type of safety net is rare, which means that time is of the essence to find a stable job and place to reside. If that is not trying enough, people in foster care who have disabilities have a number of other factors with which to contend.

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration(SSA) announced a policy change at the beginning of August of this year (2016), aimed at helping ease the transition of people with disabilities who are aging out of foster care, Youth Today reports. The policy change allows such people to apply for a federal supplemental security income (SSI) program six months (180 days) prior to leaving foster care, as opposed to only 90 days.

Advocates of the new policy say that the supplemental income is vital for young adults who are going to be on their own for the first time in their lives, according to the article. Providing funds during the six-months, will mitigate the chance of a foster youth having a gap in income while they wait to hear if they qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Without federal assistance the situation for transitioning youth can become dire.

“It could cost you a home, it could cost you a job, it could mean you don’t have enough food to eat that month,” said Claire Grandison, staff attorney and Independence Foundation Fellow at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

Statistics from the Child Trends Databank indicate that foster youth without a disability can face serious challenges upon aging out of foster care, such as finding:
  • Employment
  • Health Care
  • Housing
“We know that foster youth with disabilities face a tremendous uphill battle as they prepare for adulthood and independence,” said Karen Lindell, an attorney at the Juvenile Law Center.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

If you are a foster care parent and have a child in your care who is approaching age 18 with a disability, feel free to contact Attorney Driscoll.

Friday, September 2, 2016

SSA Cell Phone Policy Canceled

SSA
The Social Security Administration (SSA) attempted to make cell phones a necessity for those who receive benefits, but that plan seems to have backfired. Last month, the SSA announced that everyone with an online “mySocialSecurity” account, would need a cellular phone so that they could get security code text messages for logging into their account, The New York Times reports. And, as you might imagine, older Americans were not happy with the administration's new protocol, forcing the SSA to end the new cell phone policy.

“Our aggressive implementation inconvenienced or restricted access to some of our account holders,” said agency spokesman, Mark Hinkle. “We are listening to the public’s concerns and are responding by temporarily rolling back this mandate.” 

People who receive SSA benefits are able to log on to mySocialSecurity to manage their benefits, or make changes (i.e. selecting a bank account for automatic deposit), according to the article. Under the now rescinded plan, in order to log in online a text message security code would be sent to the beneficiaries' cell phones. An extra level of security, probably for the prevention of fraud or unauthorized access. While this is the 21st Century, and most Americans have cell phones, many older adults still use “landlines”—which cannot receive text messages.

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, chairwoman of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, and Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, the ranking minority member, wrote to the SSA about the new policy, the article reports. They expressed that methods for stronger fraud protection “must be considered relative to the needs and circumstances of the target population.” 

“The new policy puts a high burden on American seniors, many of whom may not own a cellphone.” 

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Marriage Effects On SSA Benefits

SSA
It goes without saying that the majority of disabled Americans rely heavily on federal assistance programs such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Those with debilitating conditions often require many things that a healthy adult would not, so it is probably fair to say that every penny counts.

It turns out that if two people get married it can affect the benefits that one receives, or the two receive if they are both disabled. However, if two of them were to just live together but not get married the benefits would stay the same. However, it is against some people’s religious beliefs to live together before marriage which, naturally creates a problem. Such is the case for Sherri Daniel and Bill Adams, who would like to marry, but cannot afford to do so under current laws, The Columbus Dispatch reports. The two are both disabled and rely heavily on federal assistance.

Ms. Daniel has a two conditions, spinal stenosis and achondroplasia (a form of short-limbed dwarfism), for which she receives SSI benefits. Mr. Adams has cerebral palsy, for which he collects Social Security Disability Insurance. If the two were to wed, their benefits would be in jeopardy, making it next to impossible to get by in life. Their beliefs do not permit them to live together before marriage, which means that they can neither live together or afford to get married.

Here is a short video where you can meet Sherri and Bill.


If you are having trouble viewing the video, you can see it here.

“It just doesn’t make any sense why you can live together and share the same bed, and nothing changes,” said Toledo resident Renee Wood, one of the state’s best-known disability-rights advocates. “But as soon as you get married, you lose.” 

As you might expect, Daniel and Adams are doing everything in their power to change the current laws and make their dream of uniting in holy matrimony a reality. They have started a petition which can be found at Change.org, which calls upon the Social Security Administration (SSA) to end its discriminatory marriage penalty. On the petition, Daniel writes:

“Until this marriage penalty is lifted, Bill and I will not be able to get married. We simply cannot afford to lose the money we receive to pay for medical care. Because we have no choice in the matter, this is an issue of equality; of the denial of basic protections that others can receive.” 

Please take a moment to sign the petition, here.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

ALS Disability Insurance Access Act

ALS
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) is a disorder that involves the death of neurons that control voluntary muscles, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The disease progresses rapidly, causing a number of serious health problems, such as losing the ability to speak, swallow or breath on one’s own. There is currently no known cure, but there is a treatment available that can improve the quality and longevity of life.

As you might imagine, those who are diagnosed require serious medical attention which is costly, to say the least. While people with ALS do in fact qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), there is a relatively long waiting period to receive benefits they desperately need. Which is why several lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been fighting to shorten or end SSDI approval waiting periods for ALS patients.

In May, legislation was introduced in Congress that would waive the current 5-month waiting period that ALS patients are subject to before receiving SSDI benefits, ALS News Today reports. The ALS Disability Insurance Access Act would build on former actions taken in Congress 16 years ago.

Back in 2000, Congress passed legislation to waive the 24-month Medicare waiting period for ALS patients, according to the article. However, ALS patients still must wait five months before they can start receiving both SSDI and Medicare benefits. It goes without saying that a life threatening illness puts a heavy toll on the family and can drain saving accounts. The faster an ALS patient begins receiving benefits, the better.

“Congress originally justified the five-month waiting period by saying it allows time for temporary conditions to reverse. Unfortunately, that’s not currently possible for someone with ALS. In fact, nearly 50 percent of people with ALS will die within 16 months of diagnosis,” said Barb Newhouse, the ALS Association’s president and chief executive officer. 

Efforts continue around the world to raise awareness and funds for the development of advanced treatments, and hopefully one day, a cure. The life expectancy after diagnosis is a mere three to four years and the only approved treatment available, riluzole, can extend life by a modest two to three months, BMJ reports.

“People with ALS, who have lost the ability to walk, talk and even breathe on their own and who currently do not have an effective treatment option, should not be forced to wait to receive benefits they deserve and have paid for,” Newhouse, said in a press release. “We applaud Senator Whitehouse and Representatives Moulton and King for their leadership in fighting for people with ALS and working to ensure they have access to the vital health and disability benefits that are so essential to everyone living with ALS and their families.” 

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Denying Children Medicaid Benefits

SSI
Parents who learn that their child has been diagnosed with a debilitating mental health disorder are often times at a loss as to how to proceed. Those who live with mental health conditions often require intensive therapies to mitigate the impact the problem has on their life. Such treatments, while effective, are both time consuming and expensive—costing tens of thousands of dollars. Most hardworking Americans cannot afford to pay for behavioral therapies out-of-pocket, so they will typically turn to private or state health insurance coverage to offset the costs.

State assistance is typically the favored course, and many children who have a disability qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Through SSI children with disabilities may also qualify for Medicaid, as well. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), those eligible for SSI for children benefits must be either blind or disabled. The criteria for which are as follows:
  • If under 18, whether or not married or head of household, the child has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment or impairments which result in marked and severe functional limitations.
  • The impairment(s) has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months or be expected to result in death.
  • If the child is blind, he or she meets the same definition of “blind” as applies for adults. Unlike the requirement for SSI disability benefits, there is no duration requirement for SSI blindness benefits.
SSI benefits are a crucial resource for covering the costs of the evidence based treatments available, therapies which could greatly improve one’s quality of life down the road. It is often recommended that a child who is diagnosed with autism undergo what is known as applied behavior analysis (ABA). A therapy which could go on for years and is extremely costly. Fortunately, in 2014 the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) mandated that all states cover all medically necessary care for Medicaid-eligible children with autism up to age 21.

In California and a number of other states, the CMS mandates have allowed for many children with autism to get ABA treatment, saving parents thousands of dollars each year. Unfortunately, some states have not been so eager to follow the directive. In Texas, for instance, children with autism who have qualified for Medicaid and have been given ABA recommendations, are being denied coverage, Disability Scoop reports. This has forced some parents to get private insurance plans for the children, coverage which carry outrageous deductibles.

While both speech and occupational therapy are covered under the Texas Medicaid program, ABA is not currently a defined benefit. ABA claims are denied despite the fact that research has shown that the therapy can greatly improve the life of a person with autism.

“ABA is based on scientific research,” said Dan Unumb, executive director of the Legal Resource Center at Autism Speaks, a national advocacy group for families. “For many kids it takes upwards of 30 hours a week of intensive therapy to achieve desired results. That sounds like a lot, but when you’re looking at a lifetime of consequence, and at the dramatic difference it can make, it makes sense to comply with the law.” 

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

ABLE Act Moves Forward

While college is worth the time and hard work, it is also very expensive—more so today than just a few years ago. Parents have the ability to open what are called 529 plans for their child, which is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs. By the time their child matures to college age, there will hopefully be a significant amount of funds available to offset the costs of higher learning.

Using 529 as a model, in 2014 President Barack Obama signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act. The legislation allows for a tax free savings plan for American’s with disabilities. The ABLE Act will allow certain individuals with disabilities and their families to set up a tax-exempt savings account. The funds are to be used for:
  • Medical Expenses
  • Maintaining Independence
  • Improving Quality of Life
The ABLE Act mandates each state independently establish and implement ABLE accounts. Now, almost two years later, states are preparing to launch ABLE programs. Nebraska was the first state to offer their version of the program, according to the ABLE National Resource Center. On June 30th, the state began offering ENABLE accounts, people with disabilities can save up to $14,000 a year without having to worry about it affecting their Social Security, other benefits and they can keep their Medicaid cards.

At the moment ENABLE, ABLE TN, and the Ohio STABLE Account program are programs available in the country, but other states are expected to launch their version of ABLE in the coming months. People are signing up for ABLE accounts using online portals.

Leading up to the passing of the ABLE Act, Sara Wolff who lives with Down syndrome wrote an op-ed for Change, she said:

"When the ABLE Act passes into law this year, it will change my life forever. I lost my mother this past year, Connie, to a sudden, rapid illness. With my whole life ahead of me, I need an ABLE account to plan for my future. And, I am not alone, like most individuals with disabilities, people with Down syndrome and other conditions are out living their parents. "

Please take a moment to watch a short video:


If you are having trouble watching the video, please click here. And information about the State of California's upcoming ABLE Act can be found here.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

AB 1584 Increases SSI SSP Benefits

AB 1584
In the 2008, faced with a severe economic recession, cuts were made by the California Legislature and then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger which has had a huge impact on Californians who were aided by Social Security Insurance (SSI) and State Supplemental Payment (SSP). As a result, state assistance program grants were significantly reduced, forcing people who we receiving benefits to live well below the poverty line.

By and large, people receiving SSI and SSP benefits are seniors and other disabled Californians who are not able to work due to a disability. Individuals who are over the age of 65, blind or disabled rely on assistance grants to survive. In an attempt to rectify the situation, Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown (D-San Bernardino) worked tirelessly on AB 1584, the Tri County Sentry reports. The bill could bring an estimated 1.3 million Californians above the poverty line.

AB 1584 would reinstate the cost-of-living adjustment under the SSP and amend the maximum aid payments. Assemblymember Brown received unanimous support on the Assembly Floor and now will move on with the legislation in the Senate, according to the article. Brown said that AB 1584 moves forward after three years of hard work and could not have made it “without the tireless advocacy of California’s seniors.”

“As a society we have a responsibility to ensure that our seniors can age with dignity,” said Assemblymember Brown. “AB 1584 is an incremental step toward full restoration of recession era cuts to the SSI/SSP program, and I would like to thank the numerous organizations and individual advocates who made this victory possible.” 

The cost-of-living adjustment would begin on January 1 of the 2017 calendar year, AB 1584 would also require a maximum aid payment that does not equal or exceed 96% of the 2016 federal poverty level based on family size, or 100% of the 2017 federal poverty level based on family size, to be increased to an amount that equals 96% or 100% of the federal poverty level, respectively.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Compassionate Allowance for Social Security Benefits

Compassionate Allowance
In the United States, there is a significant number of Americans who are unable to work due to both physical impairment and/or mental health disorders. In such cases, adults who meet the criteria will apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Without access to the aforementioned programs, it would be nearly impossible for people with debilitating disabilities to get by in life.

Applying for benefits, is at times, a long and involved process. Figures from the Social Security Administration (SSA) indicate that it can take up to 6 months before one might expect receiving disability benefits. Naturally, there is no way of knowing if you might be stricken with an illness that prohibits your ability to work. One day everything is fine, and the next day you may find yourself with a diagnosis of a life threatening illness.

Last Sunday, June 5, 2016, the nation observed National Cancer Survivors Day. It is a time to honor everyone who has survived cancer and to provide hope for those who have recently been diagnosed. The celebration is also meant to raise awareness about cancer, and encourage people to have regular physical checkups with their doctor.

In cases involving cancer, patients might find themselves unable to work immediately—due to both the symptoms of the cancer itself and the treatments utilized for treating the illness. When that is the case, obviously time is of the essence, and people may find themselves requiring benefits immediately which would mean the approval process would need to be expedited.

The SSA provides services to patients who have been diagnosed with cancer through the agency’s disability program. However, in severe cases where a patient clearly qualifies for social security services, the SSA offers what is known as Compassionate Allowance. If you have an illness that can be found on the Compassionate Allowance list, the process of receiving social security benefits will be expedited.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute reports that in the United States there were almost 14.5 million people living beyond a cancer diagnosis in 2014. By 2024, that number is expected to reach almost 19 million people. At Driscoll Law Corporation, we would like to honor and show our support for those who have survived cancer and for the millions of people worldwide who have been newly diagnosed.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability advocate.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pending Bill Could Benefit SSDI Applicants with ALS


Earlier this month an important bill was introduced in Congress that could eliminate the five-month waiting period for SSDI benefits for people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

The bill—the ALS Disability Insurance Access Act—was introduced with bipartisan support from democrats Seth Moulton, a senator from Rhode Island, and representatives Seth Moulton, a democratic member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts, and Peter King, a republican member of the House of Representatives from New York.

Since 2000, applicants with ALS who are eligible for SSDI may immediately qualify for Medicare because Congress waived the 24-month waiting period for Medicare for people with ALS. However, under current law, those with ALS must still wait five months before they can receive both SSDI and Medicare, regardless of how quickly an SSDI application was approved and irrespective of the severity of the applicant’s disability.

This pending bill would eliminate the five-month waiting period for SSDI benefits for applicants with ALS, which can be a critical for delay for those with ALS. Given the rapid rate with which the crippling neurodegenerative disease can onset, it is reported that nearly 50 percent of people with ALS die within sixteen months of being diagnosed with the disease. This bill would enable the Social Security Administration to administer benefits quickly to persons with ALS more efficiently when the benefits are needed most.

Applications and appeals for SSI or SSDI can be complex and time-consuming. Having a professional assist you with your application or appeal can help. Contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll at 949-359-1370 or online for a free consultation.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice as a Social Security Disability representative.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Representative Payees: What's it All About?

Not all individuals who receive SSI or SSDI benefits are able to manage their benefits on their own. Some beneficiaries require assistance with their finances and paying their bills. Sometimes this is due to the fact that the beneficiary is of advanced age, has a mental or physical disability that precludes them from managing their money, or the recipient is a child.

As the AARP discussed on its website this week, there is a solution to this predicament—a representative payee arrangement. A representative payee helps to manage the personal finances of a recipient of SSI or SSDI who is unable to do so themselves. This generally includes helping the beneficiary pay their bills, make sure their health expenses are covered, and basic expenses like food and shelter are covered.

However, a representative payee’s duties can be a little bit more complicated than just making sure the beneficiary’s bills are paid. For instance, a representative payee must file reports to Social Security about the beneficiary’s account; ensure that the benefits are properly accounted for in the beneficiary’s income tax return; and keep the Social Security Administration abreast of any changes in the beneficiary’s life that could change their eligiblity for benefits.

A representative payee does not have unlimited control over the entirety of a beneficiary’s finances. Instead, a representative payee only has authority to help manage SSI or SSDI benefits, not money that the beneficiary may have from other sources.

To become a representative payee, individuals must complete the necessary paperwork and application provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The SSA will conduct a background check to ensure the applicant is qualified and competent to act in the capacity of a representative payee.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice on Social Security advocacy. If you or someone you know is applying for or has been denied SSI or SSDI benefits, contact Stephanie online or at 949-359-1370 for a free consultation.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Social Security Benefits Critical to Livelihood of Persons with Disabilities

Recipients of Social Security Disability payments rely on their benefits to pay their bills, to keep a roof over their heads, to put food on the table, and live their lives. The benefits provide critical economic support to those unable to work.

The extent of just how vital Social Security benefits can be was evidenced in a news story just this past week from New York. There, an individual living on Long Island suffered a heart attack and was unable to return to his career.

A homeowner, the man was responsible for paying his mortgage, but faced foreclosure after he defaulted on his loan from the bank. With nowhere else to turn for support and unable to work due to a medical condition, he applied for Social Security Disability.

However, the story is far from simple or straightforward. In fact, it reflects the need for an experienced advocate to help shepherd an application, claim, or appeal through the Social Security Administration.

After submitting his application for benefits, the man was initially denied. He appealed. He waited. And he waited some more. Eventually last December, after four years, he won his appeal and started getting benefits. Owed tens of thousands of dollars in back payments, the man was able to pay off his debt to the bank and avoid foreclosure, just in time.

Social Security claims and appeals, as the story shows, can be immensely complicated, long and drawn-out processes. Given how important benefits are to recipients, it is helpful to have an attorney evaluate your claim, prepare your application, and—if necessary—represent you on appeal. 

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice on SSDI and SSI claims and appeals.

If you are applying for or appealing a denial of SSI or SSDI, contact Stephanie online or at 949-359-1370 for a free consultation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

New Student Loan Program Benefits People with Disabilities

Last week the Department of Education announced a new program that is aimed at helping federal student loan borrowers who have disabilities discharge their student loan debt.

The program creates a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) loan discharge for people with disabilities who have federal student loan debt and are unable to pay the loans back due to their total and permanent disability.

While this program obviously benefits individuals by potentially discharging their student loan debt, it should be noted that the program also aims to prevent an offset against the discharged loans by reducing social security disability benefits or federal tax returns.

In other words, in the past, SSDI recipients who qualified for student loan forgiveness potentially saw a change in their SSDI benefits as an offset for the discharge of their federal student loan debt. 

According to the press release from the Department of Education, this new program, which was part of President Obama’s Student Aid Bill of Rights announced in 2015, aims to identify student loan borrowers who are totally and permanently disabled and protect them from a decrease in their Social Security benefits.

The Department of Education announced that such identified borrowers would receive a letter informing them of their eligibility and providing instructions about how to proceed.

For more information about this new program, go to https://disabilitydischarge.com/faqs 

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California who focuses her practice on Social Security law. If you or someone you know is applying for or has been denied SSI or SSDI, contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll online or at 949-359-1370 to schedule a free consultation.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Increase In Children Receiving SSI

Over the past 5 years, the number of children receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits has dramatically increased. According to reports, the number of children receiving SSI benefits has increased over an even longer period of time.

Between 1998 and 2013, the number of children receiving benefits increased 45% so as to include 1.8% of all children in the United States. However, the total percentage of children in poverty has also increased during the same time period, thereby increasing the number of children eligible for SSI benefits.

Many of the children receiving benefits suffer from mental disorders, including ADHD and autism. Children with speech and language disorders constitute about .31% of child SSI beneficiaries, which is a nearly three-fold increase over the past 10 years or so. All told, approximately 1.3 million children with a severe disability receive financial aid from SSI.

According to a report this month from the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General, the government has concerns that the SSI program is vulnerable to fraud. Specifically, the report focuses on families with multiple children who receive SSI benefits as a target for potential abuse of the program.

The Social Security Administration has recently publicized its concerns about fraud and abuse of the SSI and SSDI programs. However, SSI and SSDI programs are primarily utilized by legitimate beneficiaries who depend on the income for vital economic support. Losing benefits or being denied benefits can be severely detrimental to a family or child’s well being.

If you or someone you know is applying for SSI or SSDI, or has been rejected for SSI or SSDI, contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll in Southern California online or at 949-359-1370 for a free consultation.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Possible Increased Scrutiny of SSDI Applications

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides a vital economic lifeline for individuals who are disabled. As more members of the baby boomer generation continue to live longer but encounter injuries and suffer other disability causing events, the demand for SSDI has increased.

As a result of increased SSDI recipients, the federal trust fund that is the source of SSDI began to run low and was reportedly going to be depleted by the end of 2016. Fortunately, that possibility will be avoided as a result of a budget deal between Congress and the Executive Branch last October.

Part of the bill that passed will include new investigatory divisions that will carefully examine suspicious SSDI applications. The effect of these new divisions on SSDI applicants remains to be seen. Will they make it harder for all SSDI applicants to become approved or just those that appear “suspicious”?

According to Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip, the new reforms are designed “to prevent people from abusing [SSDI], from the double-dipping and fraud involved in [SSDI].”

Because of increased scrutiny on SSDI applications, people who are considering applying for SSDI should speak with an advocate who can help prepare and review applications, as well as handle appeals.

If you or a family member is thinking of applying for SSI or SSDI or has been denied SSI or SSDI, contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll online or by telephone at 949-359-1370.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Role of the Social Security Benefits Advocate

The application process for SSI or SSDI benefits is almost always long, typically daunting, and can generally be overwhelming. Moreover, the Social Security Administration rejects many initial applications.

This can deter many potential applicants from applying for benefits or appealing a denial of benefits. However, having a knowledgeable attorney assist with the application and/or appeal enhances one’s chances of being approved for benefits.

It is commonly believed that attorneys charge a significant amount of money up front for their services, and even more on an hourly basis. This is not the case with a social security disability lawyer. Disability attorneys are only paid if their client’s application is approved, with the attorney taking the lesser of twenty-five percent of a client’s disability backpay or $6,000. Very little and sometimes no money is required up front by the client.

In addition to preparing your application, a disability lawyer will represent their client at hearings and appeals. In that scenario, not only can the lawyer deliver a well-organized and fact-based argument, but the lawyer will know the law and regulations controlling Social Security benefits and can use that knowledge to the client’s advantage.

Finally, sometimes it is believed that an applicant should only contact a social security benefits lawyer once their claim has been denied. That is not the case. While a denied applicant can—and should—hire a lawyer to help him or her with their appeal, prospective applicants should speak with a lawyer before submitting their initial application as well.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California whose practice focuses on social security advocacy.

Contact Attorney Driscoll at 949-359-1370 or online for a free consultation.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Presidential Candidates Talk Social Security Benefits

In the midst of a presidential election year, Social Security has yet again proved to be a divisive topic. Since Social Security benefits provide and protect some of our society’s more vulnerable populations, it is important to know what some of the candidates’ current plans are for Social Security.

On Friday, Hillary Clinton promised not to cut Social Security benefits and one of her aides was quoted as stating Clinton planned to expand benefits.

Part of the context of Hillary’s statements on Friday involved a Twitter dialogue with Bernie Sanders’ campaign. The Sanders campaign reportedly asked Clinton to join Sanders in declaring a promise to never cut Social Security.

Despite Clinton’s and Sanders’ promise to expand and not cut Social Security, two progressive organizations—the Social Security Works and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee—still have not endorsed a particular Democratic candidate.

As for the Republicans, Marco Rubio was quoted last week in New Hampshire as wanting to save and preserve Social Security programs without disrupting them. Rubio asserted that his mother was a Social Security beneficiary, but he explained that Social Security must adapt to survive and will likely not look the same in the future.

Other Republican candidates have stated various means tests, increased retirement age requirements, and other policies that they claim are necessary to preserve Social Security for future generations. 

While it is obviously far too early to tell which candidate’s plans will constitute the future of Social Security, it is becoming increasingly clear that Social Security is an important social and fiscal issue in this presidential election.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California whose practice focuses Social Security matters, including disability benefits.

Contact Stephanie today at 949-359-1370 for a free consultation.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Social Security Benefits for Same Sex Couples

Social Security for same sex couples

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented same sex couples from receiving federal benefits. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that laws prohibiting same sex marriage were unconstitutional.

Despite these two significant rulings, the Social Security Administration has been slow to adjust to the new legal climate and many same-sex couples’ claims for benefits are still pending.

While some same-sex spouses’ claims have been processed, many have had their applications rejected or inexplicably delayed for long periods of time.

In response to criticism, the Social Security Administration reported that the agency is processing claims as quickly as possible, but that it has had to update programs, create new instructions, and train their workers on changes in the rules.

One type of benefit that same sex couples have applied for as a result of the striking down of DOMA is survivor benefits. When the higher earning spouse dies before his or her spouse, then the surviving spouse may apply for survivor benefits once they are 60 years of age.

No matter the type of claim, applications for benefits with the Social Security Administration take time and require patience. Having a knowledgeable attorney guide you through the process or defend your denial on appeal can help.

Stephanie Merritt Driscoll is an attorney in Southern California whose practice focuses on Social Security disability benefits. Contact Attorney Stephanie Merritt Driscoll at 949-359-1370.