Social Security Q and A #1
POSTED BY jon . March 12, 2018
Jon Corra: Alright everyone. Welcome to our live Q & A with attorney Yvonne Costelloe. We’re taking Social Security questions today, so if you’re interested in something with Social Security please don’t hesitate to make a comment and we will try to answer that as quickly as possible. Yvonne’s been with us for quite a while, seven years if I’m not mistaken.
Yvonne Costelloe: It’s going to be six-
Jon Corra: … Six years, and you’ve only been a social security attorney right? Your whole career.
Yvonne Costelloe: Well, for legal purposes yeah, I’ve worked solely with Jan Dils as a Social Security disability attorney.
Jon Corra: Where did you go to school?
Yvonne Costelloe: I went to law school at the University of Dayton, School of Law, and undergrad I went to Mercy First University, which is in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Jon Corra: What has it meant … I know you’re passionate, I think every one of your clients would say you’re passionate about Social Security, and you could have chosen any type of law. What made you decide Social Security was the way to go?
Yvonne Costelloe: I came from a background working a lot with social services, working with developmentally disabled, dual-diagnosis in the mental health field, community outreach and I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed helping people in their everyday lives, working directly with them, and so, an opportunity like this to be able to, hopefully, step up and really help people financially bring in that income, and who are deserving its just a great fit for me. I am able to do more for the same type of individuals and help get the benefits that they really deserve and that they need for them and their families.
Jon Corra: How awesome, I think we can agree that a lot of people in our firm especially are just driven to help people that’s why we have so many people who stay here for so long. So once again, if you have a question about Social Security do not hesitate to put it down in the comments. We are going to try to answer as many questions as we can today. We do have a few that were submitted ahead of time, and since Yvonne’s an attorney we haven’t actually done a Q & A with one of our attorneys yet. I personally want to know what can someone expect when they go to a hearing? What is it like? What’s the dynamic there? Is it like what they see on Judge Judy or is it completely different?
Yvonne Costelloe: It’s funny you say that because the first thing I say to almost every one of my clients when we talk about what to expect is not Judge Judy. This isn’t the People’s Court, that’s kind of my citation with everything. This isn’t what you think when you watch TV or you watch movies, it’s more of a conference. There’s two different ways the hearing will take place; it’ll either be by video where you’ll go into a room, like a conference room, and when you go there’ll be a big flat screen TV and the judge will be on the TV screen and he may have his expert on there, or the expert will be by phone, and then you’ll be in a room with your attorney and then also with a court reporter, or a hearing reporter. That person’s job is really solely just to record the hearing. They won’t ask anything, and then everything will go by video. Or, if you’re in person, if you’re at one of the locations like in Charleston or in Dayton or in one of the locations where there is a hearing office, then you’ll be in person with the judge and it will be you, the judge, your attorney, and then the vocational expert.
Yvonne Costelloe: When you go in, there is some formalities, you have to swear in. They’ll have you raise your right hand, swear in that you’re gonna tell the truth. This is a court hearing so you have to be honest. And then from there, every judge is a little bit different. Most of the time an attorney will have the opportunity to make an opening statement, talk a little bit about what to expect, or talk a little bit about what … talk a little bit about your record and argue the outline of what’s going on in your situation and your case. From there, most judges will either have the attorney ask questions, or you’ll ask questions, or they’ll ask questions. And these will be things you’ll talk about at the pre-hearing.
Yvonne Costelloe: They want to know how your conditions affect you. They want to hear it directly from your mouth, and how your pain effects you, or how your mental health symptoms impact your daily activities. Do you have a hard time standing or walking? Are you unable to engage in activities with your family? And a lot of that we talk with the clients ahead of time at the pre-hearing and that’s why sometimes the pre-hearings are a bit challenging but that’s why we do it. We want to ask you those questions when its just you and I on the phone, or in person so you know what to expect. And then from there the judge may have some followup or the attorney may have some followup and then we go to the vocational expert.
Yvonne Costelloe: Sometimes there’s medical experts at a hearing and they won’t … they’re not going to examine you during the hearing or ask you any questions but they’re gonna go through and look at … they’ll have looked at your medical records and make an opinion about what they see in the medical records to help the judge and your attorney. The vocational expert is going to testify about jobs. In order to be found disabled, in pretty much every case, we have to prove that you can’t do any work in the economy. So, it’s not like other claims like workers comp, where maybe you just have to prove that you can’t do the work you used to do, we have to get rid of all jobs and that’s why the vocational expert’s there. And so the judge and the attorney will ask them what’s called hypotheticals.
Yvonne Costelloe: So they’ll say, you know for example, John, if you were going into a hearing and maybe you had had an amputation, you lost an arm in an accident or something, then a hypothetical could be, you know, if we had somebody at the same age and education as John, the claimant, and they lost a limb, is there jobs they could perform and the vocational expert will say yes or no, and if they say yes, they’ll give examples. And that’s the most confusing part of the hearing for most people because they’re listing numbers and jobs and they’ve never heard of these jobs before but, your attorney is well equipped to handle that and will handle it. They’re not going to expect you to respond to that. At the very end the judge may give [inaudible 00:05:36] an opportunity to close out and make a closing. Some do, some don’t, every judge is different. But then the one thing that’s most important, that most people are not aware of coming in is that you don’t get a decision that day. The attorney may have an inclination of what’s going to happen or the judge may say, yeah, I think I’m going to find you disabled but nothing’s final until it comes in writing.
Yvonne Costelloe: We always, even when the judge says in a hearing that yes, you are gonna be found disabled or I am gonna find you favorably, I still tell the client, I give you a 99.9 because we wanna get it in writing, we want to see it come in the mail.
Jon Corra: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Yvonne Costelloe: And usually that takes 30 to 60 days, it can take up to four months after the hearing is over. So, that’s pretty much, kind of in a nutshell, how it goes and what to expect but, definitely, not like the People’s Court, there’s no yelling or gavel slamming or anything like that going on.
Jon Corra: And they don’t … most people don’t receive a judgment that day, correct?
Yvonne Costelloe: Exactly. Yeah, we expect it to come in writing so even if the judge does say they’re gonna find you disabled, we still have to get it in writing because it’s not final until it comes in writing.
Jon Corra: Okay. One of the questions we get asked quite a bit is about grid rules and I’ve done some personal research about this and I personally find it confusing. I know all of our clients, I believe, find it confusing as well. Can you describe what grid rules are and how they affect Social Security?
Yvonne Costelloe: Right, so the grid rules are a special set of regulations that come into play because the Social Security office or the Administration takes into consideration your age, your education, and the type of work you used to do. Technically, the grid rules can apply when you’re young but they’re not helpful until you’re generally about 50 years old.
Yvonne Costelloe: I always tell clients that generally 50 and 55 are the magic numbers where a lot of things can change. There’s some exceptions to that and that’s getting a little complicated. But, what starts to happen is when you turn 50 and then when you turn 55 they start to recognize that you don’t have the same ability to step back into certain types of work. So, what they’ll look at is they’ll look at your age, the type of education you have will affect you. If you have a high school diploma or not, or if you have a college degree or not and then the type of work you used to do.
Yvonne Costelloe: And this becomes a big issue or really comes into play a lot of times when I have clients that change age categories so you go from being 49 to 50 or you go from being 54 to 55. That can make a huge difference in your claim. So, for example, if I have somebody, let’s say, 48 when they applied for benefits and they’re past work, they did all heavy work, we’ll say they’re a coal miner, we work with a lot of coal miners. They’ve only ever been a coal miner and Social Security said, okay, we know you’ve only been a coal miner but we think you can do sit down work. We know you’ve got some back issues and neck issues but you can do sit down work.
Yvonne Costelloe: Well, maybe by the time they get to hearing, they’ve turned 50, at that point they may be then found disabled because Social Security doesn’t expect a 50-year-old who’s never done sit down work or never had a job where there’s skills they can do that would be equivalent to sit down work and they’re limited to sit down work, they understand that you’re gonna have a really difficult time finding a sit down job and so you … if that’s the situation, you can be found disabled.
Yvonne Costelloe: And I think that comes up a lot when I have clients say, okay, you know, you’ve changed age categories or sometimes judges will offer to say, listen, I think you’re disabled but I don’t think you became disabled until you turned 55 and that’s really confusing but that’s because of those grid rules and they’re very powerful and it can be … it’s one of the more solid aspects of the disability claim where we can say, hey, this and this apply and therefore this person should be found disabled but that’s why age is so important and can make such a big difference especially if you’re changing age categories during your claim.
Jon Corra: One thing I think a lot of people don’t realize is how complicated Social Security is as a whole. One thing, if it was easy, everyone would do it and if it was easy it wouldn’t take so long.
Jon Corra: We do have a quick question from one of our audience members, Mr. Davis, and you may not know the answer to this but, you know how people get the statement from Social Security every year saying if you became disabled this year you would make X amount of dollars …
Yvonne Costelloe: Correct.
Jon Corra: He wants to know if those are completely accurate and how much they come into play?
Yvonne Costelloe: They’re pretty accurate so when we look at somebody that is Title II eligible, meaning that they’ve worked and they’ve paid into Social Security, they’ve paid taxes, they’re building almost like an insurance plan where, if they become disabled, they’re gonna get paid back and the more you pay into it, I guess, the more will make and the longer you work the more you’re gonna be able to get back from that.
Yvonne Costelloe: I think the maximum is $25 or $2,600 dollars and what happens is when they send you that statement, that’s what I always tell clients, is a rough estimate. So it’s … What happens is if you’re found disabled, they do go back and recalculate and make sure everything is correct but, generally, it’s gonna be really, really close to that number. It does go up a little bit each year due to cost of living and things like that, adjustments, but pretty much that’s pretty much about what you’re gonna expect, somewhere very close to that range.
Jon Corra: And I think it probably goes back to because we’re the one paying into the Social Security tax each year. They base it off that, it’s not just … they’re not just pulling anything …
Yvonne Costelloe: Nope, it’s based on your work history and also how much you’re making so the only time I’ve really seen people come and get a $25 or $26 … I think it’s $2,500 dollar, we call it the PIA, is when they’ve made significant earnings over an extended period of time.
Jon Corra: Okay. Mr. Davis, thank you so much for your question.
Yvonne Costelloe: Yes. Thank you.
Jon Corra: If anyone else has a question, please do not hesitate whatsoever to chime in, we’ve got our iPhone’s here, our watches and everything so we can catch your questions. One thing I want to ask you because I’m always thrown off by the alphabet soup that is Social Security and I’m sure if you have anyone who’s getting the aid, disability, watching, same problem there, all these acronyms confuse you.
Jon Corra: So, there’s two things that you’ll see, almost everyone will see in a case, that’s an ALJ and a DE, or a disability examiner, and of course, ALJ is an administrative law judge. What’s the difference between those two because they have similar jobs, correct?
Yvonne Costelloe: Well, kind of. When we’re looking at a disability examiner, that’s somebody that generally is just looking at the opinions that are made by the doctors so, when you apply for disability what Social Security will do is send your medical records to one of their examiners who will review it and they’ll make an opinion. So, sometimes clients say, oh, I got a decision and they’re talking about Dr. Joe and I don’t know who Dr. Joe is, I never saw him. And it’s usually one of the doctors that Social Security has reviewed your case. And what’ll happen then is they’ll review that, they’ll have a vocational specialist who will review your work history and then the examiners come in and they’ll make a decision on what your capacity is based on those two things combined on whether or not a finding of disability should be established.
Yvonne Costelloe: The difference between them and an ALJ is an administrative law judge is the one that you’re actually gonna go in front of with your attorney. Most of the time you don’t go in front of a disability examiner but with the ALJ they have … they can, they’re not bound by the prior decisions. They’re gonna make their own independent decision so, although those decisions are there, they’re not, they don’t have to follow them. They’re also gonna have additional evidence and also, when you’re before an ALJ, that’s the first time your attorney has an opportunity to really discuss the medical records with the judge, to make comments about what was found by them.
Yvonne Costelloe: Oftentimes, when I look back and the first step I always do when finding if a client is disabled is to look at what happened, why did they get denied and that’s the first way before court, is you gotta plug the holes in the boat, is what I always say so, I look for those holes. Why did this client get denied and is that accurate? And to look back and say, hey your honor, you know I understand that they found this but, that’s not correct or we have this new information and the ALJ is able to make those determinations and the ALJ determination is really more final.
Yvonne Costelloe: At that point, you know, then we’re looking at appealing up to the Appeals Council or federal district court after that.
Jon Corra: Awesome, thank you for that, for sure. Once again, anyone, if you have questions please don’t hesitate to ask. I see we have several people watching right now. Thanks to everyone who’s tuned in. We do have a few more questions asked of Ms. Costelloe here though.
Jon Corra: One thing that we’ve discussed a lot downstairs, by that meaning if you’re not in the office of Social Security is because downstairs mostly, VA’s upstairs … Auxiliary benefits, I hear that word thrown around quite a bit, especially after people get approved but, I think, if you’re not in the system you might not know what auxiliary benefits are. Can you describe that to us?
Yvonne Costelloe: Auxiliary … and the question leads in perfectly when the gentleman earlier was asking about the amount that they’d get paid, what happens is there’s two amounts. There’s one amount that’s kinda the individual PIA and then there’s something called a family max and he may have seen that on his statement if he was looking at it. The difference between those two is the auxiliary benefit amount. And what happens at that point is if you have a child that’s a minor, and by minor we mean a child that’s under the age of 18 or if they are up to age 19 and still in high school, then they can qualify to get these auxiliary benefits. It’s essentially divided evenly between all your dependent children.
Yvonne Costelloe: So, if you have 10 dependent children or one dependent child, it’s the equal amount and that is divided evenly between those children and there are times where step-children and some other situations can also be qualified and that’s kind of an individual situation that we can address if need be but, that amount would be distributed if the child … Essentially it’s distributed to the child’s caretaker so if the child is at home, then it would come into the home or if the child is living at a separate residence then whoever that child’s guardian or custodial parent is and that is just another way for them to understand, or for I guess, for Social Security to understand that there needs to be additional funds for that minor child and that’s essentially what auxiliary benefits, what they do for your family and the eligibility of those.
Jon Corra: Okay, great. Donna has an interesting question. Donna, thanks for commenting. She said that she received her first check on December 1st, obviously, she was approved and congratulations on that, so she received her first check December 1st, she has not received her back pay yet. So, on average, how long does it take for an individual to receive back pay?
Yvonne Costelloe: So, back pay is done on two different levels. If somebody is gonna get SSI back pay, that’s generally done at the state level and if they’re getting SSDI back pay, and I know this is getting a little complicated but, that’s generally done at the federal level. So, it just depends on how fast, usually, somebody’s gonna have their back pay by the time they get their first payment and if there’s a delay then there can be a couple of different reasons why. It could that there’s some kind of processing issue or it could be that there’s, there could be a lien or something like that, that could be affecting it.
Yvonne Costelloe: The best thing to do is if you’ve got … started getting your payments and you’re still wondering where that’s at, you can certainly contact our office and there’s oftentimes where there are delays and then our case managers will work directly with you to see why there’s delays and what we can do. But, generally, you should see your back pay, I think it’s generally up to 120 days after your decision is pretty typical but, again, things happen and it wouldn’t be … and that’s what we’re, again, still here for you, still here to work with you even though we’ve been able to get you a favorable decision, we do continue to work with you and our case managers are excellent at that.
Yvonne Costelloe: So, Donna, the best thing I would suggest is if it’s been more than that, contact your case manager and discuss that with them and they can certainly look into that for you no problem at all.
Jon Corra: And we want to remember, sometimes, most days get mangled so …
Yvonne Costelloe: Never been heard of, John. It does happen and we continue and that’s all included in our representation. We’re not gonna send you a separate bill or anything for that so, certainly call in and we will work with you.
Jon Corra: We apologize for the technical difficulties there. Of course, you know when you have a Social Security claim, you’re gonna have all kinds of issues along the way so, this is no different, we’re used to little hiccups along the way.
Jon Corra: One last question we wanted to ask. Yvonne wanted to ask, just explain in more detail. Why is the backlog taking so long for so many people?
Yvonne Costelloe: And that’s a big one, that’s the biggest complaint from every single client and not just from the clients but for us, as your representatives, and the frustration of it is that it does take a long time. In general, the average wait time from hearing is about 600 plus days and that’s nationwide and a lot of that has to do with the Administration and I think it’s really important to clarify that it’s not your firm, especially for us, it’s not us, that we’re not ready to go and we’re not willing to go, it’s a matter of getting Social Security to get those hearings scheduled. Jan, and everyone in the firm has been great about making sure we have attorneys ready to go and ready to take … participate in these hearings but, what happens is they have, currently have a backlog with regard to hiring, with judges and those that need to process the claims in the Administration and they also have a budget that really hasn’t changed from my understanding and so there’s a lot of complications there.
Yvonne Costelloe: The Social Security office is the one that decides when the hearings are generally gonna be scheduled and the hearings are pretty much scheduled based on, for the most part, your application date and your initial reconsideration determination. There’s some exceptions to that and there is some opportunities where we can try to get that sped up. We do, do everything we can internally, as attorneys, for our claimant that if we think that somebody meets special requirements, either because of the dire need, it’s called Dire Need Application where there are issues of homelessness or bills being shut off. We try to get those processed or if somebody has a condition that meets a certain level of severity. Now every one of our clients has severe, significant medical issues that they’re going through but, in some circumstances, where that person has certain criteria that Social Security has something called a book of listing and in some circumstances where somebody has a very, very cut and dry condition, if they have cancer that’s metastasized or if they have certain findings on a pulmonary function test or sometimes things of those natures that we will try to get those approved ahead of time as well. But other than that, general rule, it is taking up to two years in some cases, if not longer.
Yvonne Costelloe: Same thing with the Appeals’ Council, if they just go in the order they are received and the Administration has to process those applications and have to prep those cases to a certain point before they’ll even approach us about getting it scheduled but we, generally, one of the good things about the way our firm functions and the way the support staff that we have here is once they say we’re ready to schedule, we’re generally ready to schedule. We take these hearings and we do everything we can to make sure that we have attorneys available in a wide variety of areas to make sure that we can get those clients up and running when their hearing is scheduled. We always make sure we can get there and make sure that’s taken care of. I think we’ve done an excellent job of that as a firm and making sure people get in there and doing everything we can to make sure we’re 100% ready to go and the important part about that, for everybody watching, and if you’re watching, you’re probably not going to be the one that might have issues with this, is staying in communication with us because once we get that hearing, once we get the hearing date scheduled, we know generally before you do and that’s when things really start moving fast.
Yvonne Costelloe: We have a special development team that’s going to make sure we have all your medical records before you even talk to your attorney. There’s a lot of different wheels that start moving very fast. But, for the most part, the frustration is with the agency and I want people to really understand that the attorneys that are out there, and if another attorney promises you that they can get a hearing faster or generally, that’s not going to be accurate and think that’s a big misconception that floats around of why that wait time is delayed.
Yvonne Costelloe: I certainly think it’s really unfair given the circumstances and what individuals are facing when they are waiting for applications. This isn’t an easy time. This is a time when people are going through financial issues, they have health issues and they’re facing this added stress of not having a determination decision on their case and it’s really unfair but we’re gonna do everything we can to speed that up the way we can or any way that we could and make sure that when it comes time to go to your hearing that we wind up ready to go, ready to get everything moving at that point.
Jon Corra: Mr. Davis has another question and I can field this one. He wanted to know if once he gets approved if he can file for VA disability. We’re happy to give a consultation for that, for sure. We have the staff here that’s prepared to answer that question. There is no general yes or no, we always like to take everyone on a case by case basis so, just be sure to give us a call at that point and we’ll be happy to give you that consultation. We might be able to help you with that.
Yvonne Costelloe: And we have a lot of clients that have both claims moving at once. I handle a lot of clients where we’ve gotten their VA disability approved and now we’re working on their Social Security disability. Those are kind of two different beasts but certainly, if you have questions, we have a great intake team that can answer those questions and we’ll be able to address that.
Jon Corra: Awesome. Well, everyone, thank you so much for tuning in today. For those who asked questions, we appreciate it. We’ll be doing this again in February so look for a date and time soon and, once again, thanks so much for watching. Have a good day.