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.
Individuals who are 55 and older are treated differently under Social Security’s rules for disability than younger individuals. Essentially it becomes easier to win a disability case for an older individual. This is because Social Security recognizes advanced age as an adverse vocational factor. Social Security defines “advanced age” as someone who is 55 or older. When looking to see if there are other jobs that a person can perform, Social Security recognizes that the older you are, the harder it is to learn new skills.
There is a special medical – vocational profile for a person of 55. If a person is aged 55 and meets other requirements discussed below, he or she will be found disabled. I have not had a client fit this profile until today. I am going to write in some detail about this type of case because as our national age gets older (or at least as I get older), it seems to me there will be more people who may fit this profile and not know it. The rule is found in SSR 82-63
I have often sent my clients to the local Vallejo Social Security field office to obtain a benefit verification letter. It is no longer necessary to go in person to obtain a letter and in fact, by October 2014, it will no longer be possible to obtain it in person. One can access this information and obtain a statement immediately by going online and creating an online account at My Social Security.
It is a shame that the local office will no longer be providing letters to people who come in. It disadvantages those people who are not computer literate. For those people in that situation, Social Security will continue to take requests by telephone.
As a result of this policy, I will now help my clients set up an online account so that they may access their information after they have been awarded benefits.