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Dallas SSDI attorneysA colleague of mine once shared an anecdote about a recent disability case of his that had gone terribly, terribly wrong. The evidence was strong, the judge was fair, and the client's testimony was compelling. The problem? When asked if there was anything else he wanted to share with the judge, the client responded, 'Your honor, if I could work, I would. In fact, I've looked everywhere for work, but I just can't find anything.'

This beautifully illustrates one of the cardinal rules of good advocacy-never ask a question you don't know the answer to. But for purposes of Social Security disability, it also illustrates just how counterintuitive the disability process can be. As this blog explains, disability law often entails more than meets the eye.

By any other measure, looking for work should be helpful to a disability case. After all, doesn't it suggest that the person is genuinely striving to become self-sufficient and avoid dependency on governmental benefits? Well, to a judge, it suggests something very different. In our experience, most judges assume that a disabled person simply knows deep down that he is disabled. Based on this logic, the judge assumes that a person who is looking for work must not believe he is disabled. Interestingly, despite this assumption, The Social Security Administration actually encourages disability recipients to try to return to work through the Ticket to Work program and The Plan to Achieve Self-Support program. Nevertheless, disability judges routinely hold this against claimants who may truly be unable to hold a job.


Why won't you take my SSDI/SSI case?

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Dallas SSDI attorneysEvery month, we are contacted by potential clients all across the nation asking if we can help them with their SSDI/SSI case. We strive to be as selective as possible in taking only the strongest cases up to the federal government. As a result, this means we cannot take every case and we unfortunately have to turn down a large number of potential clients. This inevitably raises a question: 'why won't you take my case?' In this post, we want to discuss some of the more common issues we encounter and give you an idea how we decide whether a case meets our standards for representation.

We first want to stress, however, that our callers are some of the most sincere, deserving individuals, many of whom are suffering terminal and lifelong illnesses that legitimately keep them from working. Unfortunately, not every deserving case is possible to prove in court. As attorneys, we are ethically bound to only take only the cases we reasonably believe will be meritorious. We, therefore, are selective not only by choice, but also by duty.

Also bear in mind that this post is intended only to address the most common issues we see, and none of these factors may be relevant to your case. Every SSDI/SSI case is unique, and deciding whether to take a case involves a careful review of a constellation of different factors.


Dallas SSDI attorneysJust how long do Social Security disability applicants have to wait to appeal their denied claims? According to an alarming report from the Associated Press, as long as two years in some states.

The AP's investigation found that Miami had the longest SSDI waits nationwide, with an average wait of 22 months to see an administrative judge following a claim denial. Brooklyn, Spokane, Fort Myers weren't much better with 20-month waits. Nationally, the average wait to appeal an SSDI denial is 16 months.

These long waits can have devastating effects on applicants who are in desperate need of relief and medical attention. Unable to work and lacking the support they need, many must rely on loved ones to support them until they get to see a judge and make their case for benefits. Others find themselves without crucial medication or insufficient or intermittent medical treatment that leaves them suffering.


Dallas SSDI attorneysAfter months of debate by lawmakers over the future of Social Security Disability Insurance program, the program has been restored with funds that will keep it solvent until 2022. That replenishment comes with President Obama's signing a new federal budget earlier this month that reallocates some federal money to the SSDI program, but also comes with caveats to quell the concerns of the program's opponents.

As MetroNews reports, much of the SSDI debate had been drowned out over other national fiscal concerns, namely the debt ceiling and a possible government shutdown. However, many eyes were on a possible SSDI fix since, earlier this year, SSDI Trustees reported an "urgent threat of reserve depletion." Congress conservatives had opposed to saving the program with Social Security retirement funds, which had been the source of numerous SSDI restorations in the past.

In the new federal budget, however, that is basically how the depleted SSDI program will be replenished-money will once again be shifted from the Social Security retirement fund to the SSDI account. The plan also calls for .57% of the 12.4% payroll tax from 2016 to 2018.


Dallas SSDI attorneysIn report last month from the Social Security trustees, officials confirmed what many economists, lawmakers, and advocates have been predicting for some time: without action from Congress, the Social Security Disability program will be depleted by the end of 2016. The depletion would result in a 19% cut in benefits for the nearly 11 million Americans who depend on them.

AsThe Washington Post reports, the Social Security trustees called for quick action to maintain the program's solvency. "Social Security's Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund now faces an urgent threat of reserve depletion," the new report stated, "requiring prompt corrective action by lawmakers if sudden reductions or interruptions in benefit payments are to be avoided."

For the last 25 years, whenever there has been a looming threat of SSDI depletion, Congress has agreed to replenish the program with funds from the much more robust Social Security retirement program. This year, however, Republicans are taking a hard line against this method and are demanding a new, long-term solution to keep the program funded.


Dallas SSDI attorneysWhile so many of us unable to work are able to benefit for Social Security Disability benefits, not all who apply for them-and truly need them-receive the relief they need. This is due to an extremely stringent and rigorous examination process the Social Security Administration (SSA) must employ to deter fraud and select claims that are actually legitimate. The unfortunate side of this vetting process is that many deserving applicants are denied benefits.

Most of these denials are due to common mistakes applicants may not be aware are frowned upon. Many of these simple mistakes can be caught early and corrected either before applying or after receiving a rejection.

Four common mistakes claimants make with their SSD application include:


Dallas SSDI attorneysAccording to a report from the agency's inspector general, Social Security has overpaid disability benefits recipients by $17 billion over the last decade. The discovery has added fuel to the debate lawmakers are already having concerning the program's future.

AsThe Chicago Tribune reports, the ten-year investigation found that Social Security has continually paid benefits to those who made too much money to qualify for disability. Payments were also regularly issued to those who were no longer disabled, were in prison, or had died. The study also claimed that Social Security was able to recover about $8.1 billion of the accidentally issued money, but that the recouping process can take years to complete.

The new report has already inspired more criticism from Republicans, who want the Social Security Disability system dismantled. "Every dollar that goes to overpayments doesn't help someone in need," Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa told the press. "Given the present financial situation of the Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund, the program cannot sustain billions of dollars lost to waste."


Dallas SSDI attorneysWhen they won a majority in congress during the 2014 mid-term elections, Republicans almost immediately went to work to attack the Social Security Disability program. They moved to block replenishing funds from the Old-Age Survivors Insurance Fund (Social Security Retirement fund) until Democrats agreed to fiscal cuts. Without the transfer of funds between the two accounts, SSDI would run out in 2016, leaving countless citizens without the benefits that they need.

Now, just last month, Democrats have fired back with an unexpected proposal that would end long-standing contention between the two funds: combine them. As Talking Points Memo reports, the proposal to merge Social Security Retirement and Disability funds would not only make Social Security solvent until 2033, but also reap a number of other benefits.

Most notably, experts believe that combining the Social Security programs would help public perception of the programs-which are commonly seen as one body, anyway. "2034 [deadline] is for retirement, 2016 [deadline] is for disability, but way too often the public just hears one number and so for many they don't actually understand that they're two separate programs, they just think it's one program," Jason Fichtner of George Mason University Mercaucs Center told TPM.


Dallas SSDI attorneysSome individuals receiving Social Security benefits must pay federal income taxes. The tax is computed only if you have substantial income. That income can include wages from work, self employment, interest dividends and other income. It is important to note that no one pays taxes on more than 85 percent of their Social Security benefits.

If you file an individual federal tax return, you must pay taxes on some portion of your benefits if your combined income exceeds $25,000. If you file a joint return, you must pay taxes if you and your spouse have combined income of more than $32,000. If you are married and file a separate return, you probably will have to pay taxes on your benefits. You can read more about tax preparation relating to Social Security benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/taxes.htm.

Social Security benefits include retirement, survivor and disability benefits. Those individuals who only receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments do not have to worry about paying federal taxes as SSI benefits are not taxable.

Dallas SSDI attorneysThe Veterans Choice Act was authorized by Congress to address the health care access issues faced by Veterans. The Act authorized a fund to operate for three years to provide Veterans who were enrolled as of August 1, 2014 or who were eligible to enroll as a recently discharged combat Veteran.

The Act would provide Veterans with a Veterans Choice Card. The program was designed to allow Veterans to obtain medical care from private physicians when the Veteran lives at least 40 miles from a VA health care facility OR if they face a wait of more than thirty (30) days for an appointment.

The Veterans Choice, Access and Accountability Act of 2014 was signed into law. Since its enactment, approximately 8.5 million veterans nationwide have received cards. Unfortunately, only 0.37 percent of the Veterans have been authorized access to private care.


Will the VA Reach Its 2015 Goal?

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Dallas SSDI attorneysIn 2013, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported that it had a staggering 600,000 veteran benefits claims backlogged, waiting to be seen and reviewed. The shocking number, attributed to a surge in new claims from Vietnam veterans' Agent Orange claims, grabbed headlines and spurned the agency into setting a lofty goal in 2015: to work through its entire backlog of claims and make sure that the veterans who have applied get the assistance they need.

A new report from the Houston Chronicle details the renewed efforts by the VA to improve its efficiency and eliminate waiting times for veteran applicants. They have reported:

  • They currently has approximately 235,700 back logged claims
  • The VA has processed more than a million claims a year for four years
  • The Houston VA office (serving all of Texas), has reduced its total number of standing claims by 64% since 2013

Still politicians and experts are skeptical that the VA will be able to hit its 2015 goal. As Jim Richman, Director of Claims Representation & Counseling for the Texas Veterans Commission told the Houston Chronicle, achieving the proposed efficiency under the current processing system is "science fiction."


Dallas SSDI attorneysVA Secretary Bob McDonald is under fire as the scandals continue. CBS reports that widows of veterans have not been assisted with burial expenses, nor have they been extended the long tradition of receiving the American flag in honor of their veteran's service.

CBS investigation revealed that the problems with the Veteran's Administration continue to be widespread. Of particular emphasis was the Oakland facility where over 13,000 claims were simply ignored and many of the veteran's with claims had died. Two years after the problems were first reported a follow up found that none of the records regarding these claims could be found. This is part of continuing conduct where the VA destroys records to cover up inefficiencies.

At his appointment, McDonald announced an ambitious reorganization plan for the VA. He planed firings and other discipline, but also better ways to serve the department's customers, the veterans.


Dallas SSDI attorneysIn the latest development in Congress' debate over the future of the Social Security disability program (SSD), the White House has offered a new fiscal plan that would prevent the program from running out of funds in 2016. In the White House's proposed budget, $330 billion dollars would be added to the SSD fund starting in 2016, money that would last until 2033 and result in zero cuts in benefits for those currently covered.

In the past, the SSD fund was replenished periodically by funds from the Social Security retirement program, but recently, Republicans in the House of Representatives have moved to end this practice. Representatives have alleged that not only is this process detrimental to the retirement program, but that the SSD program is riddled with fraudulent claims. Under the Republicans' new restrictions, if the SSD fund was not replenished in 2016, 11 million Americans' SSD insurance benefits would be cut by 20%.

As reported by Politico late last month, details of the White House's new plan are as follows:


Dallas SSDI attorneysLast month, the new, Republican-led session of the House of Representatives shocked everyone by taking aim Social Security disability insurance (SSDI). The new bill, which has passed, stops all replenishing funds reallocated from the Social Security retirement fund. The bill instantly stirred controversy and has mobilized Democratic lawmakers who are decrying the new policy.

The reasoning for the new changes were cited as suspicion of fraud by many SSD beneficiaries, but political analysts are positing that Republicans have greater designs for Social Security disability program.

As it stands, numerous reasons have been given for the bill by Republicans. They claim:


Dallas SSDI attorneysLast month, the new session of the House of Representatives passed a bill that will affect the way that the Social Security disability program will be funded. Under the new changes, the fund will no longer be replenished by tax funds from the Social Security retirement fund. The transfer of tax money between these two funds has kept both programs functioning for years.

According to a recent article from Media Matters For America , Texas' own Representative Sam Johnson and Senator Rand Paul are leading the charge on these changes and continue to perpetuate a deep-seated mistrust of SSD beneficiaries among Republicans. The congressmen cite fraud prevention as the inspiration for the bill and insist that countless citizens who are benefiting from disability insurance are not actually suffering from truly debilitating conditions.

However, as a recent report from the Los Angeles Times points out , applying for and receiving SSD benefits is, in fact, a highly regulated and rigorous process.


If you applied for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits and your claim was denied, you are able to appeal the decision at a Social Security disability hearing. This hearing allows you and your attorney to go before an administrative law judge and to explain why you should be granted disability benefits.

While each disability hearing is different, many take between fifteen minutes and one hour, and are oftentimes more informal than a traditional court appearance would be. Additionally, you may find that your hearing is not even scheduled to be held in a courthouse. Depending on how far you live from the hearing site, your hearing may even occur via videoconference.

The hearing will rely on your personal testimony, a vocational expert's testimony, and any witnesses you choose to bring. Once you have arrived for your hearing, you can expect the following:


The Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits Program is a complex legal endeavor governed by extensive rules and regulations. Requirements are strict and numerous. There are eligibility requirements that must be satisfied before benefits are granted. Those dealing with disabilities, be they physical or mental, often think that they can handle their claim on their own. Nothing could be further from the truth. In order to navigate the disability program, one should seek the legal assistance of an experienced attorney to develop the claim considering all the complex issues.

The sooner you contact an attorney the better. An attorney can review the specific details of a person's disability application. Every detail, even the little ones, can make a huge difference in developing the claim. There are many potential pitfalls present in the application and development process. Oversights in completing the application and submitting evidence can result in mistakes being made and numerous delays. Application mistakes often have unforseeable consequences and can create problems for the disability applicant. In turn, this can lead to delays in decisions made, and could potentially result in a denial on a claim that otherwise would have been approved.

At Coats & Todd, we understand the importance of addressing all necessary details in completing a disability application. When clients come to us as they are filing for benefits, we assist them so that their disability application is well prepared, and so that it addresses the issues the Social Security Administration is looking for in making a determination. Preparing a case properly from the beginning can make a huge difference in resolving our clients' disability claims early.


Good News for Camp LeJeune Veterans

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The Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Tuesday, September 23 that it will soon cover out of pocket health care costs for Marine dependents who contracted cancer and other illnesses from toxic water at Camp LeJeune. In 2012, Congress passed the landmark legislation,Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp LeJeune Families Act . The Act provided health care for Marines and family members who lived on the base near Jacksonville, N.C., from 1957 through 1987, and who suffered from any of 15 illnesses named in the law. Illnesses included cancer related to the lungs, bladder, breasts, kidneys and esophagus, as well as leukemia and problems involving female infertility. During that period, at least two of the water treatment facilities supplying drinking water to the Camp LeJeune Marine base were contaminated with volatile organic compounds that included industrial solvents and benzene from fuels. The chemicals resulted from spills, a dump site on base, leaking underground storage tanks on base, and an off base dry cleaner. The level of perchoroethylene in the base drinking water exceeded acceptable levels. An estimated 750,000 people wer exposed.

In 2005, the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry began a study which suggested evidence of an assoication between chronic exposure to perchoroethylene and the following:

- Kidney Cancer


Veterans claimant service connection for disability based on an inservice personal assault face unique challenges in proving up their claims. Personal assault can include rape, physical assault, domestic battering, robbery, mugging, and stalking. Many think these incidents only involve female veterans, but male veterans are often victims of personal assault. These incidents are often violent. They may lead to PTSD which is secondary to the personal assault.

Assault is offten a personal and extremely sensitive issue. Many incidents of personal assault are not officially reported. Therefore, victims of inservice trauma find it difficult to offer evidence to support the event. Helpful evidence can include records from a counseling facility, a health clinic, family members, roomates, medical reports of treatment immediately following the assault, a chaplin or clergy, fellow service persons, or a personal journal or diary.

Military sexual trauma (MST) includes any sexual activity where one is involved against his or her will. It can be any event where you were forced into sexual activity. Physical force is not required. You may have been coerced or pressured into physical activity. You might have been threatened with negative consequences for refusing to cooperate. You might have been threatened with negative consequences for refusing to cooperate. You might have been offered faster promotions or better treatment in exchange for sex. MST also includes sexual experiences that occurred while you were not able to consent to sexual activity such as being intoxicated. MST can also include unwanted touching or grabbing, threatening, offensive remarks about your body, your sexual activities, or threatening and unwelcome sexual advances. If these experiences occurred while you were on active duty or active duty for training, they are considered MST.


Good News for Veterans and Survivors

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On Tuesday, September 16, the House of Representatives passed legislation that will increase Veterans disability compensation with a cost of living increase matching the rate of Social Security benefits increase. The increase will begin on December 1 of this year.

Veterans benefits are not automatically increased for inflation as are other federal benefits. Congress must introduce legislation, and the bill must be passed by both houses for the increase to take effect. Both houses passed the legislation by voice vote last week. This increase will cover veterans disability compensation, clothing allowance for some disabled veterans, and compensation for some surviving spouses and children.

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