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Archive for the ‘Disability’ Category

Supreme Court Will Decide In Vitro Benefits Cases

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) provides much-needed benefits to the spouses and children of deceased workers. The level of survivors benefits depends on the amount of money that a worker has earned and how many years he or she worked before passing away. About 10 percent of Social Security benefits are in the form of survivors benefits, with the average benefit being around $1,000. For families who lost their primary wage earner, these benefits go a long way.

The Supreme Court decided last week to hear a case about survivors benefits that involves 21st century technology and the 1935 law that created Social Security. There are more than 100 cases pending before the SSA involving survivors benefits for children who were conceived via in vitro fertilization after the death of their working father. Many of these families use in vitro fertilization after finding out that the husband has cancer, still wanting to have children even after the father’s death. The problem is that the SSA and the courts are not sure how to handle this situation.

Federal appeals courts on the west and east coasts said that such children meet the definitions of the 1935 Social Security Act so that they should be able to receive benefits. Southern federal courts, on the other hand, disagree, ruling that such children do not qualify for survivors benefits. The SSA has been taking a third approach, arguing that whether state law lets such children inherit property if there was no will is the determining factor.

A decision from the Supreme Court should be out by next summer. Are you in a situation like this? Have you been denied benefits for your in vitro child?

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability attorneys

Baby Boomers Stress Retirement and Disability Pay Outs

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

The typical conversation about Baby Boomers and Social Security involves the increase in retirees who are going to make Social Security insolvent, since retiring Baby Boomers outnumber those currently paying into the system. Baby Boomers will put a strain on Social Security retirement benefits, but another impact they are already having is on Social Security disability benefits.

The basic numbers behind Social Security disability benefits show that we have more and more applicants each year with fewer and fewer approved cases. During the 2006 fiscal year for the federal government, 2,524,550 workers applied for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) approved 35.2 percent of those applications. In the most recent fiscal year, which ended in September, there were 3,243,079 applicants, with the SSA approving 33.5 of them.

As we age, we are more likely to suffer a severe injury that jeopardizes our ability to work. The rough economic times pose an additional burden, as older Americans face longer unemployment periods than their younger counterparts. The Baby Boomer demographic is thus increasingly likely to suffer an injury, come down with a severe malady or endure employment troubles. As their troubles rise, so do the number of people applying for disability benefits.

If you are of the Baby Boomer generation, do any of these concerns ring true for you?

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability lawyers

Alternate Payees Need More Careful Scrutiny

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Last week we mentioned how the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) could have played an important role in catching the criminals involved in the Philadelphia disability benefits theft/human trafficking case. The payee arrangements should have set off alarms.

Payees are those to whom the SSA pays benefits – normally the person directly, but sometimes an alternate person. In the Philadelphia case, disability benefits were going to a convicted felon on behalf of the victims. A recent editorial appearing in The Dallas Morning News argued for the same fix we suggested last week regarding better checks on alternate payees.

The problem is not with having alternate payees in general. This sort of arrangement is often quite useful (and necessary) for disability beneficiaries. For example, those suffering from severe mental disabilities may live in a group home; they may not be able to manage their finances without assistance, so their disability benefits would be payable to a representative of the home.

Most of these alternate payees are honest, good people – they take out the money that goes towards the patient’s group home costs and medical expenses, and then remit the remainder to the patient or his or her family guardian. Less scrupulous alternate payees take all the beneficiary’s money and may give him or her nothing, or just a few dollars a week to live.

The ringleader of the Philadelphia scam – Linda Weston – appears to have been taking all her victims’ benefits. Linda Weston was convicted of murder in 1983 for starving her sister’s boyfriend. Under no circumstances should she have been receiving disability benefits on behalf of anyone.

Do you have experience with an alternate payee set up for disability benefits? Do you suspect that a loved one’s alternate payee is violating his or her duties? If so, report your concern to the Social Security Administration.

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability attorneys

Death Master File and Ancestry.com Make Identity Theft Easy

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

The Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) Death Master File –their compilation of all Americans who pass away each year – exemplifies the sort of tug-and-pull that the SSA faces in trying to eliminate Social Security fraud that takes much-needed benefits from disabled Americans. On the one hand, the File enables employers and the SSA to easily verify whether a person should be receiving benefits. On the other hand, the list is enormous (it has nearly 100 million deaths); SSA workers sometimes enter data incorrectly, and anyone can use it to obtain important information like a person’s full name, date of birth, Social Security number and zip code for his or her last residence.

Some members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the publicly available information that the SSA provides in the Death Master File. These calls are coming in the wake of investigative journalism that revealed how thieves were stealing Social Security numbers and submitting false tax returns.

The schemes, it turns out, are not terribly complicated. Thieves use information from the Death Master File and from popular websites like Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org to file tax returns. The criminals are particularly egregious in that they often use the identities of deceased children, claiming them as dependents on their tax returns. Deceased children make ideal targets, according to one Congressman, because they have no debt history and their credit records would not turn up any red flags. According to the Internal Revenue Service, during this past tax season, people filed $1.25 billion in false claims for dead Americans.

With the ease of finding information electronically, it is becoming all the more important to safeguard private information like Social Security numbers. Have you had any experience with identity theft that affected your Social Security benefits?

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability lawyers