Federal Court Reverses SSA Disability Decision

Because of a recent successful Federal Court appeal by Louisiana Social Security disability attorney Matthew D. Lane, Jr., an Administrate Law Judge’s (ALJ) unfavorable decision was reversed and remanded.

 

In 2011, client applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income based on prior cervical spine trauma, osteophytes of the cervical spine, chronic headaches, and bilateral hand numbness and weakness. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied his claim in 2012, and the Appeals Council did not grant review.

In 2013, attorney Matthew Lane filed a civil action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana on client’s behalf seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

In 2015, the Court issued a Judgment reversing the ALJ’s decision. The Court found that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the claimant’s treating source medical opinion under Myers v. Apfel, 238 F.3d 617 (5th Cir. 2001) because it did not analyze the six factors for evaluation of medical opinions in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 (length of treatment, frequency of examination, nature and extent of relationship, support provided by other evidence, consistency of opinion with record, and specialization).

The Court further found that the ALJ did not comply with regulations requiring evaluation of the side effect of claimant’s medications, which included Methadone, Darvocet, Lortab, Neurontin, and Flexeril, on the ability to function despite an opinion from claimant’s treating doctor that he experienced drowsiness, dizziness, and delayed reaction time.

As a result of the successful Federal Court appeal, the client will have another opportunity to prove he was disabled prior to his date last insured (DLI) in 2011. And if successful, the client will be eligible to receive disability insurance benefits and Medicare rather than being restricted to receipt of supplemental security income and Medicaid.

Learn more about representation in the Federal Court appeal process or complete a claim evaluation if you need assistance appealing an unfavorable ALJ decision.

 

Who is potentially eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration?

The Social Security Administration has two programs that provide benefits to individuals found to be disabled under the Act: Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).   For both DIB and SSI, the standard for determining whether a claimant is medically disabled is the same.

Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB)
 are governed by Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) and consist of payments to individuals who are disabled and who are insured under the Act by virtue of their contributions to the Social Security trust fund through Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes. 

There is a five (5) month waiting period for DIB.  In other words, no benefits are paid for the first full five months after a claimant’s onset date.  DIB can be paid up for up to one year prior to the application date, and DIB can be paid for a closed period of disability that lasts at least one year.

DIB recipients become eligible for Medicare benefits after receipt of 24 months of DIB benefits (or 29 months from onset of disability due to the 5 month waiting period).

To be fully insured, a claimant must have one quarter of coverage for every calendar year after the year in which he or she turned 21.  20 C.F.R. §§ 404.101 and 404.132.  In addition, attaining disability insured status for those over 31 years of age requires 20 quarters of coverage out of the 40 calendar quarters before they became disabled.  20 C.F.R. § 404.130.  After 1978, to earn a quarter of coverage, a worker must earn the required minimum amount at any point during the calendar year. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.143 – 146.  For example, if the amount needed to earn a quarter of coverage is $500, and a worker earns $2,000 at any point during the calendar year, the worker has earned four quarters of coverage for that calendar year.  For those workers who become disabled under the age of 31, there are abbreviated requirements regarding quarters of coverage.   20 C.F.R. § 404.130 and POMS RS 00301.140.

Title II also provides for payment of benefits to auxiliary beneficiaries.  To receive auxiliary benefits, the Act requires that you not be entitled to a higher benefit amount based on your own earnings record.  Typically, auxiliary benefits are a reduced percentage of what would be paid to the insured worker.   Below is a summary of the auxiliary beneficiary requirements.

Child’s benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350 – 404.368.
1.  You are the insured’s child (natural, legally adopted, stepchild, grandchild, stepgrandchild, or equitably adopted)
2.  Dependent on the insured
3.  Unmarried
4.  Under age 18 (unless full time student or disabled before age 22)
5.  Available whether insured is alive or dead

Spousal benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.330.
1.  Married for at least one year or natural parents of a child
2.  Age 62 or older (or caring for minor or disabled child)

Divorced spousal benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.331.
1.  Married for at least 10 years
2.  Not currently married
3.  Age 62 or older
4.  Divorced for at least 2 years

Mother’s or father’s benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.339 – 404.342
1.  Married to or divorced from deceased insured
2.  Mother or father of insured’s child
3.  Unmarried
4.  Insured’s child in your care and under 16

Parent’s benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.350 – 404.368
1.  You are parent of a deceased insured
2.  62 or older
3.  You have not married since the insured’s death
4.  You were receiving at least one-half of your support from the insured

Widow’s or widower’s benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.335 – 404.338
1.  Married at least 9 months prior to insured’s death (with exceptions)
2.  Unmarried (or meet exceptions)
3.  Age 60 or at least 50 and disabled
4.  Benefits also available for divorced widows and widowers who were married at least 10 years

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is governed by Title XVI of the Act and provides for payments to individuals who are disabled and have limited income and resources.  SSI may not be paid prior to the date of application; no retroactive benefits are available.  Recipients of SSI benefits are concurrently eligible for Medicaid benefits.

The SSI resource guidelines are quite detailed; however, generally speaking, the current asset limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple.  Several assets are excluded, the most significant of which is a home (any value) and one car (any value) if it is used for work or to obtain medical care.  20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1100 – 416.1266.  Additional excluded resources are listed at POMS SI 01110.210. 

With regard to income, parental income is deemed to disabled children, and a spouse’s income is deemed to the disabled spouse.  Generally speaking, if a family’s income from wages or other benefits (for example, VA benefits) puts them over the resource guidelines, then family members are ineligible for SSI.  SSI benefits are available to both disabled adults and children.