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Monday, February 22, 2016

Fighting for Job-Related Disability Payments -- an NYPD Cop's Long Struggle

Being injured on the job may not guarantee a full disability pension without a fight.

Newspapers often seize upon scandalous stories of policemen or firefighters who, while receiving a full disability pension, perform feats of physical strength, such as running a marathon. Less often do they focus on the struggles of those who, while injured on the job, must fight for years to get a disability pension approved.

An exception is a recent account of how retired NYPD Detective Sara Salerno of the Bronx has waged an eight-year battle against the Police Pension Fund and the City of New York, which have opposed her request at every turn.

Salerno had a 12-year career with the NYPD, making more than100 arrests while working in patrol, anti-crime and internal affairs. She tore her meniscus during training for a bicycle patrol at the 40th precinct in the Bronx.

In addition, according to court filings, she served at Ground Zero, responding to the attacks and working there for many days.Technically she was on restricted duty, so her name was not recorded in the roll call. The city's Law Department contests her claim that she was there and says she cannot show that her disabling respiratory ailments and immune system problems are connected to working at the WTC site. Her supervisors and fellow officers, however, have confirmed in writing that she was there.

The case is on appeal. Meanwhile Salerno receives a regular disability pension, which is 50 percent of her salary and is taxable. A full disability pension would mean 75 percent of her last salary, tax-free.

The case is a reminder that recovering one's rightful pension can be an obstacle course. Even with a strong claim, retirees with job-related injuries need a vigorous legal advocate in their corner to receive appropriate disability payments.


Thursday, February 18, 2016

FAQ: Understanding Recent Changes to Social Security Claiming Strategies

What changes were made by Congress to Social Security "files and suspend" claims?

In 2015, Congress voted to make some sweeping changes to Social Security laws – primarily those impacting retiring Baby Boomers and their portfolios. The following answers some general questions about the changes.

What are the two major areas impacted by the new legislation?

Under the new Social Security laws, two concepts known as “file and suspend” and “restricted application” will be eliminated as of May 1, 2016. These are known as “claiming strategies,” and are alternatives for retirees who do not wish to fully engage their benefits immediately upon reaching the age of eligibility.

What is “file and suspend?”

File and suspend is a claiming strategy in which one claimant files for full benefits at age 66, but opts to suspend the receipt of the first payment until some point thereafter – accruing retirement credits in the meantime. The option was popular with married couples, as it allowed one spouse to receive heightened monthly benefits while the other’s benefits lingered in suspension. Once the suspended benefits entered distribution, the second spouse would be eligible for a higher monthly payment.

What is a restricted application?

A restricted application is one in which a spouse files for full benefits at age 66, but opts only to receive spousal benefits only – thereby allowing the filer’s personal benefits to grow until age 70.

Are these options totally eliminated?

Anyone having already elected the “file and suspend” claiming strategy is safe, as the rules do not go into effect until May 1, 2016. At that time, file and suspend claims will no longer be an allowed; however, anyone who has reached full retirement age (66) by May 1 may still elect this option, provided the application is submitted by April 29, 2016.

With regard to restricted applications, claimants born on or before January 1, 1954 will still be eligible to elect this option, whereas all others will be prohibited as of May 1, 2016.

If you have questions or need assistance with filing for social security benefits, you should consult with a qualified attorney.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Social Security Projections Miss the Mark

Is the Social Security Administration giving inaccurate projections?



Now that Congress has punted on any serious measures to reform the Social Security System, critics continue to question the accuracy of the Social Security Administration's funding projections. The concern is that the SSA's figures make the retirement and disability trust funds appear to be healthier than they actually are. One would think that because Social Security is the government's largest program that extra care would be taken by the agency to ensure that their figures are realistic.

The program is funded by payroll taxes and income taxes on benefits and these proceeds pay benefits and administrative costs. Further complicating the issue is the fact that more and more members of the Baby Boomer generation are retiring and this is putting a strain on the system. The result is a widening gap between revenue going into the funds and the amount of money being paid out.

In 2015, about 60 million people received benefits totaling $877 billion. Of those recipients, 40 million were retirees who received an average of $1,335 per month. The programs' Board of Trustees has released reports of different projections, but the long and short of it is that the asset reserves of the retirement and disability funds will be depleted by 2034.

As for the accuracy of the projections, a recent independent study outlined a number of problems with the Agency's methods. One is that The SSA does not meet the same standards in scientific evaluation procedures that other government agencies and private sector businesses employ. The errors in forecasting most likely occurred because the agency lacks formal statistical methods used to create forecasts.

There are also other problems plaguing the Social Security Disability Insurance Program, and long-term funding has still not been resolved. Currently, more than 10 million Americans are now on SSDI, at an annual cost of more than $140 billion. Some contend that the SSDI eligibility standards need to be updated as they currently rely on data that is 30 years old. In any event, the budget compromise struck between the White House and Congress last December, was only a short-term fix.

Given the fact that Congressional lawmakers have oversight over the Social Security Administration, these elected officials need to insist on greater transparency and accuracy, since their policy decisions are based on the administration's forecasts. In the meantime, if you have become disabled and are unable to work, a qualified attorney can help you secure disability benefits.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Safety Net for Society’s Neediest

What does the Social Security Disability Insurance program cover?

Since the 1950s, the federal government has provided a safety net to people who are considered disabled, and are unable to work and support themselves and their dependents. The Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income system provides care for people who are terminally ill or disabled to the point that it is unlikely that they will ever be able to work again.  

Nearly since its inception, the government has worried about how much money this program will cost. Providing financial support to someone for the rest of their life could get quite expensive, especially considering people are living longer today than ever before. In order to control costs, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has put a rather strict definition of “disabled” in place to limit the number of people who can enroll in the program.

The SSA definition of disability is a complex one. In order to be considered disabled by the Administration:

“you must not be able to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) because of a medically-determinable physical or mental impairment(s):

  • That is expected to result in death, or
  • That has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.”

The key to determining if you are eligible for disability usually rests not on the disability part of this definition, but on the substantial gainful activity part.

According to the SSA, “Work is ‘substantial’ if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both.” This definition means even part-time, very low wage/low skill work counts.

“’Gainful’ work activity is:

  • Work performed for pay or profit; or
  • Work of a nature generally performed for pay or profit; or
  • Work intended for profit, whether or not a profit is realized.”

The government looks at what you could expect to earn from the amount of “substantial,” “gainful” work you can do, and compares that to earnings guidelines it has developed. If you fall below a certain amount, presumably an amount necessary to support yourself, you qualify.

The earnings guidelines change each year, and it seems like the SAA’s ideas about what “substantial” and “gainful” do as well (even though the letter of the law does not change). So working with an attorney who has experience dealing with the SSA is advised.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Urban Legend of Disability Fraud

Is the number of social security disability fraud claims overestimated?

Rumors of Social Security Disability fraud have been greatly exaggerated. While there are cases of people scamming the system, fraud is not nearly as widespread as some would suggest.

There is a growing narrative that the solution to fraud is to make it more difficult for people to qualify for disability. Currently, however, it is not that easy to go on disability. In fact, about 60 percent of disability applicants are denied, primarily because they have not worked long enough. A person must have worked at least one quarter of his or her adult life and also have worked 5 of the last 10 years to qualify. There must also be bona fide medical reasons: a physical or mental illness severe enough that it will either last for 12 months or end in death.

And it's not as easy to fake a disability as some contend. While some physical disabilities like back problems and mental illness are not easy to see, this is not to say they are being faked. The main causes of disability are chronic physical disorders, and many psychiatric disorders are also debilitating.

Contrary to what some believe, disability claims are not skyrocketing. While the age group of those likely to go on disability is growing (50 to 64 years old), the actual percentage of workers on disability has only slightly increased since the year 2000. Moreover, older women are more likely to qualify for disability than in years past.

Despite the calls for more stringent requirements to qualify for disability, the U.S. already has more stringent requirements than most advanced economies. The real solution to disability fraud is to detect and prevent fraudulent claims. That being said, Congress has not adequately funded the Social Security Administration's fraud prevention unit.

The fact that a person entering the work force today has a one in three chance of dying or qualifying for disability before retirement age is reason enough to ensure that disability funds continue to be available to those who qualify. If you are suffering from a debilitating physical or mental illness, a qualified attorney can help you secure disability insurance.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Study Demonstrates Hiring Bias Against Disabled

What can I do if I was denied a job I was otherwise qualified for on the basis of my disability?

The New York Times ran an article this week about a study recently presented by Syracuse and Rutgers Universities demonstrating that there is significant discrimination taking place when it comes to disabled job seekers. It is important to be aware that there is legal recourse available for disabled applicants who experience discrimination during their job hunting.

The study mentioned was organized in the following way:

Cover letter and resumes were sent in response to job opening ads. The applications were for fictitious candidates. There were two different resumes sent for each position, one for an experienced candidate, and one for a qualified candidate with little experience. Three different cover letters -- one purporting to be from a non-disabled applicant, one from an applicant with a spinal cord injury, and one from an applicant with Asperger’s syndrome were sent with each resume.

The researchers found that for the experienced candidates, responses from employers were significantly more likely when the employer was responding to the application of the non-disabled person. Employers were 34 percent less likely to show an interest in the disabled applicants. Researchers commented that they hypothesized this result, but that they did not foresee such a drastic outcome. The researchers also found that responses were 15 percent less likely for disabled applicants among the applicants that were not experienced, but nonetheless qualified.

Researchers were hoping to explain the steep drop off in employment rate for disabled workers. Statistics show that 34 percent of people with disabilities are employed as of 2013, whereas 74 percent of those without a disability are employed. It seems very likely that bias is a contributing factor in these hiring statistics. Particularly disturbing is that the gap is greater for people with disabilities who have more education, experience, and qualification.

For those who are disabled and experience discrimination relative to hiring or in the workplace, there are law firms that specialize both in disability and discrimination cases. If you are disabled and feel you have been discriminated against because of your disability, you should contact an attorney who specializes in disability to investigate the legal options available to you.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

How the Social Security Administration Classifies Disability Based on Respiratory Disease or Injury

I have chronic asthma and suffer from frequent attacks. Could I be eligible for Social Security disability benefits?

With any evaluation of Social Security disability benefits, the SSA will review the applicant’s occupational information as well as the medical condition from which he or she is suffering. Generally speaking, benefits may be awarded to one who – due to both the nature of the job and the severity of the illness – is unable to continue working at their current place of employment without enduring a substantial health risk. Accordingly, the results of an application for benefits may vary – even within a group of applicants suffering from the same condition. However, when reviewing a claim involving a condition like a chronic respiratory issue, the SSA will take a look at certain factors across the board.

Respiratory disorders

Asthma, COPD, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis (bronchial inflammation) fall under the umbrella of chronic respiratory disorders. When reviewing claims involving these conditions, the SSA will refer to the list of qualifying symptoms as found in its Blue Book, which details the symptoms and effects of nearly all qualifying conditions recognized by the SSA. If a condition meets the symptoms listed in the Blue Book, the SSA will approve the application for benefits automatically. Nonetheless, proving that the symptoms interfere with patient functioning is not always easy.

  • Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency

    Meeting this test requires a spirometry test showing that the volume of air exhaled in one second is equal to or less than a certain amount given the applicant’s height. An alternative test may be necessary for applicants suffering from a condition impacting the oxygenation levels in the blood.

  • Asthma

    To automatically qualify as an asthmatic, an applicant must show evidence of an asthma attack at least once every two months or six times per year, lasting longer than 24 hours, and requiring hospitalization.

  • Cystic Fibrosis

When evaluating applicants with cystic fibrosis, the SSA will review the frequency of respiratory infections, lung capacity, and/or the number of annual episodes requiring medical intervention.

Though a patient may be troubled by respiratory difficulties, unless the patient meets the above conditions, he or she will not qualify as disabled under government guidelines. 


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Richard Seelig Selected as 2015 Super Lawyers Rising Star

How does an attorney get selected as a Super Lawyers Rising Star?

We at Seelig Law Offices in New York City are very pleased to announce that one of our partners, Richard Seelig, has recently been selected as a 2015 Super Lawyers "Rising Star" for his outstanding work in the legal field. In order to be culled as a Super Lawyer, Richard had to go through a rigorous selection process, involving nomination, independent research, peer recognition of professional achievement and a final selection. In addition, in order to be deemed a "Rising Star," he had to meet the requirement of either being 40 years old or younger, or being in practice for a maximum of 10 years.  While up to 5 percent of the lawyers in the state are named as Super Lawyers, no more than 2.5 percent are named to the Rising Stars list. We are proud to see Richard achieve such a pinnacle of success.

Richard emphasizes his practice in Social Security claims, disability pensions, criminal matters and unemployment insurance claims. He has helped hundreds of clients to obtain the pensions and disability benefits they deserve and assisted countless others in bringing their legal troubles to a satisfactory conclusion. He has been part of Seelig Law Offices since the firm's inception. Prior to that, he interned at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and the New York City Police Department Advocate's Office.  He also spent one year as a student Assistant District Attorney at the Bronx County District Attorney's Office and served on the Executive Board of the Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute at St. John's Law School.

Even as a very young man, Richard had his eyes on the stars.  After obtaining his B.S. degree from Cornell University, Richard received his J.D. from St. John's School of Law. He is now a member of both the American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association.

If you are having trouble obtaining disability or Social Security benefits in the New York City area, or are experiencing other legal difficulties, please don't hesitate to contact Richard Seelig or one of our other fine attorneys at Seelig Law Offices by contacting us as 212.766.0600.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Social Security Disability: General Qualification Information

How do I know whether I qualify for Social Security Disability?

Generally speaking, those who qualify for Social Security Disability will have worked at a qualifying job for a certain number of years and have a medical condition that qualifies as a “disability” under Social Security rules. The “disability” will have to be one that renders the recipient unable to work for a year or more. Benefits will continue until the recipient is able to work again on a regular basis. What actually qualifies as the appropriate amount of work and what qualifies as a “disability” can get tricky.

As far as the work requirement goes -- you must have worked for a certain period of time to qualify for benefits. Social Security counts the amount of work you have done and how recently you have done it to compute the benefits you are entitled to. Generally, recipients will need 40 “credits” to qualify, 20 of which were earned in the past 10 years. Each “credit” corresponds to a value of earnings. Such values change over the years. For example, in 2015, $1220 of earnings counted as 1 credit.

The trickier part is determining what qualifies as a disability. Social Security Disability recipients must have a total disability, not a partial or temporary one. Social Security will determine if the disability prevents you from being able to work and whether such inability will last for a year or longer. Social Security will also determine whether the disability prevents you from adjusting to other types of work. The method that Social Security uses is a bit complicated. They maintain a list of conditions that qualify as total disabilities. If the recipient has one of these conditions, they qualify. If not, Social Security will attempt to relate the recipient’s condition to one of those on the list. If they are similar enough, the recipient will qualify.

If you are having trouble qualifying for Social Security Disability, or interacting with the Social Security Administration, you should retain an experienced advocate from the Seelig Law Offices. Serving clients in the greater New York City metropolitan area, we can be reached at: 212-766-0600.


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bronx Woman Files Discrimination Allegations Over Transit Authority's Refusal to Allow Therapy Dog Onboard

What are my options when facing unlawful discrimination by the public transportation system?

As an agency of the state – and leading provider of public accommodation – public transit systems are required to adhere to the tenets of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), equal protection laws, and all state and municipal regulations pertaining to accommodations for those with a disability.

When it comes to service animals, the ADA has set forth clear guidelines requiring accommodations and allowances for such animals – even in areas where pets are generally not allowed. For instance, a pet-free apartment complex is required to make an accommodation for any tenant relying on the assistance of a service animal, regardless of the animal’s size or breed. Likewise, a public transportation system must ensure its disabled clientele are able to board and disembark safely and with the help of a service animal if needed.

Earlier this year, a New York City woman filed a grievance with the city after the public transportation system allegedly refused to allow her to board with an animal designated as a “therapy” dog. In her complaint, the woman accused several Bronx-area bus drivers of turning her away, berating her, and even calling the police about her. According to her allegations, she suffers from severe depression and anxiety, as well as substantial vision problems. To remedy these conditions, she travels with the help of a support animal that is able to calm her fears, help her avoid dangerous situations, and even remind her to take her medication.

Currently, there is a differential between a “service animal” as covered by the ADA, and an emotional support or therapy animal. In the former, the animal has been trained to specifically address the unique mental or physical needs of its handler – who must suffer from a documented disabling condition. The latter, while considered an important component to mental health treatment, is not always considered within the guise of a service animal, and many individuals have experienced harassment and discrimination by uninformed shopkeepers, landlords, and the like.

If you are facing a situation involving disability discrimination in the five boroughs of New York City and you would like to discuss your options with a reputable legal professional, please contact the Seelig Law Offices LLC: 212-766-0600.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Congress Considers Proposal to Raise Social Security Benefits

What are the proposed changes concerning Social Security benefits being considered by federal lawmakers?

Social Security benefits are a vital component of the retirement portfolio of millions of Americans. Accordingly, a Congressman from Florida recently requested a memo from the Congressional Research Service in order to determine whether America’s seniors are receiving adequate and fair benefits given the current economy and the amount they have paid in over the years. More specifically, the memo looked at the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) used in calculating benefits to evaluate whether it reflected an accurate financial picture in light of what it truly costs America’s seniors to live in today’s economy.

Historically, retirement benefits have been calculated using a figure known as the Consumer Price Index – Clerical Worker’s (CPI-W) as opposed to a separate figure known as the Consumer Price Index – Elderly (CPI-E). According to the research memo, seniors would reap greater benefits if the CPI-E were included in the calculation of the Social Security COLA as opposed to the CPI-W. This prompted the introduction of the “Seniors Deserve a Raise Act.”

The Act, which will be formally presented once Congress reconvenes, requests a 0.2% increase in benefits per recipient – a figure which more adequately reflects the actual costs of living for America’s seniors. Overall, the act requests $388 billion in additional funding for retirement benefit recipients, and, according to sponsor Congressman Grayson (FL), “protects the purchasing power of seniors’ earned benefits against inflation. The CPI-E does this while the CPI-W does not.”

The changes do not take into account the funding and payment issues affecting Social Security Disability, however. Over the past several years, more and more Americans have experienced debilitating accidents and injuries, requiring additional funds from the heavily burdened system. Hopefully, Congress will continue to consider options for increasing funding for both programs, ensuring that retirement and disability benefits will be available to all who are eligible.

If you are concerned about your Social Security benefits, please do not hesitate to contact the knowledgeable attorneys  at Seelig Law Offices, LLC today. Serving the greater New York City metropolitan area, we can be reached at: 212-766-0600.


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