I am seeing in more and more of my cases that the Social Security Earnings Record is an issue in and of itself. It isn’t that Social Security is getting it wrong. It is that the individuals have not checked to see that it is right. Having an incorrect earnings record can hurt in many ways. In a SSDI case, a claimant needs to be “insured” (have sufficient quarters of coverage from earnings) in order to be found eligible to collect disability insurance. If your earnings record does not accurately reflect all of your earnings, you may not be considered insured and therefore lose out on a benefit that you might otherwise be eligible for.
In both SSI and SSDI cases, the issue of earnings arises at the first step of the disability evaluation. The adjudicator is required to determine if the claimant is working and if so, to determine whether it is substantial gainful activity. (In 2014, substantial gainful activity is equivalent to earnings of $1070 a month, for a non-blind person.) It is not uncommon in a disability case for a claimant to have stopped working but then again resume working at a reduced level of hours. If the person is making over $1070 a month, he or she is not considered disabled. (There are exceptions to this, of course.) The adjudicator will look to the earnings record as well as other earnings information to make this determination.
The earnings record also comes up at the third step in disability evaluation when the adjudicator is trying to determine what kind of work you did in the past. The adjudicator will look back to the last 15 years. I have now seen cases in which employment was listed that my client did not perform or vice versa, employment was not listed but my client had performed it.
I tend to be somewhat critical of the Social Security Administration but I give them credit when it is due. This time around, I am critical of them. They recently announced on their website that they have created a new mobile optimized site for smartphone mobile users. If you go to their site: www.ssa.gov using your smartphone, you now should find it easier to navigate. Users can access frequently asked questions, instructions on how to obtain a new SSN card and mobile publications which users can listen to on their phones.
This is all great if you have an unlimited data plan and you feel like spending your time cruising around the Social Security website. Of course, if you try to call their 800 number using a smartphone, you will use up all your minutes and then incur additional charges. Despite all of the advances in technology they have not found a way to help you when you call. You will be placed on indefinite hold and then when you reach a live person, you are unlikely to obtain a real answer to your question. Perhaps they should place their limited resources in assisting the public the “old-fashioned” way, by talking to people when they call.
Now that we are well into summer I thought I would highlight an item that people with disabilities may obtain to enjoy the national parks for free. This item is called an “Access Pass.” This is a lifetime pass that is available to permanent residents or U.S. Citizens of the United States who have been medically determined to have a permanent disability.
A permanent disability (for the purpose of obtaining this pass) is a permanent physical, mental, or sensory impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
Proving permanent disability for an Access Pass seems to be easier than proving it to obtain Social Security, understandably. In order to prove disability, you may submit:
- A statement by a licensed physician;
- Document issued by Federal agency such as the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Disability Income, or Supplemental Security Income;
- Document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency.
An Access Pass allows the holder and guests (those accompanying the holder in one vehicle, up to an additional three people), free entrance into the national park as well as discounts on expanded amenity fees such as swimming, boat launching, and guided tours.
There is a $10.00 fee to obtain the Access Pass but it is good for life.
Even with our government’s current budget problems, it is nice to know that people with disabilities are given the opportunity to enjoy our parks for free. For more information about the Access Pass, go to the website for the National Parks and Federal Recreation Land Pass.