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About the Author

Matthew Lane is the owner and managing attorney of Ziegler & Lane, LLC. He practices solely in the area of and has represented clients at hundreds of Administrative Law Judge hearings.

In addition, he has represented over thirty-five clients in United States District Court seeking appellate review of adverse decisions by the Social Security Administration.

Louisiana Social Security Disability Law Blog

Reduction of SSA Field Office Hours Delays Disability Decisions

Matthew D. Lane, Jr. | Friday, August 15, 2014

On August 7, 2014, the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an Audit Report regarding the effects of SSA's reduction in field office operating hours. As of January 2013, SSA's field offices, which are the primary locations for the public to obtain face-to-face services from SSA, closed to the public one hour earlier each week day and every Wednesday at noon. As a result, field offices are now open to the public 27 hours per week whereas they were previously open 35 hours per week.

As a result of the reduction in hours, the OIG found that "[a]verage public wait times increased." The average field office wait time went from 14.4 minutes in July 2011 to 30.5 minutes in November 2013 - "more than double the wait time before the reduction in hours began. "In addition, reduced hours "created customer lines out the [field office] door because of insufficient lobby seating to handle the increased visitor volume per hour. At times, visitors waited outside in the rain."

The OIG concluded that the reduction in field office hours led to a longer wait time for decisions on disability claims during fiscal year 2013.

I echo and support the sentiments of David Cox, Sr., the President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), who, in a recent Washington Post article, called for proper funding of SSA so that Americans who have earned Social Security benefits through a lifetime of work are fairly and timely served. Individuals of retirement age or with disabilities and who have paid FICA taxes out of every paycheck to fund the Social Security system deserve better treatment from their government. 

When Should Injured Clients Apply for Social Security Disability Benefits

Matthew D. Lane, Jr. | Monday, August 15, 2011

The following article was published in the August 2011 edition of the Promulgator, a publication of the Lafayette Parish Bar Association.

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When Should Injured Clients Apply for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits?

Matthew D. Lane, Jr.

If you represent injured clients in connection with either Workers' Compensation or personal injury claims, the question of whether and when a client should apply for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("Disability Benefits" or "Benefits") is sure to arise.  This article briefly addresses several significant, albeit relatively obscure, federal statutes and regulations that should be considered in deciding when to file an application for Disability Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act").  The Act provides for payment of Disability Insurance Benefits, and just like an insurance contract, the Act has strict parameters limiting coverage.  Failure to consider these parameters can cause an applicant to be time-barred from receipt of Benefits, to sacrifice a period of entitlement to Benefits, or to experience a lengthy delay in Medicare eligibility.

Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., provides for payment of Disability Benefits to individuals who are disabled within the meaning of the Act 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.  In general, to be found disabled under the Act, a claimant must be unable to perform his or her past work or a significant number of other jobs in the national economy because of medically-determinable mental or physical impairments that will last for at least one year. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.  If it appears likely that a client's injuries will keep him or her out of work for a full year, the question then becomes when he or she should file an application for Benefits. 

Workers remain eligible for Benefits for only a limited period of time after leaving the workforce.  20 C.F.R. § 404.130.  To be eligible for Benefits, a worker must be insured under the Act.  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.  Id.  A worker maintains eligibility for Benefits through consistent employment and payment of FICA taxes, but even with consistent employment for the 5 year period prior to being injured, a worker maintains eligibility for Benefits for a maximum of 5 years after leaving the workforce.  Id.  The eligibility period may be shorter for workers who become disabled under the age of 31, have a previous period of disability, have not maintained consistent employment, or have not consistently paid FICA taxes.  If there is any doubt about how long your client remains insured for Benefits, the client can inquire as to the duration of his or her disability insured status at the local Social Security Administration (SSA) office.

Workers who file for Disability Benefits more than 17 months after becoming disabled may sacrifice one or more months of Benefits due to restrictions on retroactive Benefits.  Disability Benefits can be paid up for up to one year prior to the application date.  42 U.S.C. § 423(b).  In addition, there is a 5-month waiting period following the date of disability during which Disability Benefits are not payable.  42 U.S.C. § 423(c)(2).  In other words, for the first 5 months after a worker is deemed disabled, no Benefits are paid.  Benefits start in the sixth full month of disability.  The 5-month waiting period operates with the one-year retroactivity period to create the 17-month filing benchmark, which can cause unaware applicants to sacrifice benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled.  For example, an insured worker who sustains disabling injuries on January 1, 2011, and who files an application for Benefits no later than 17 months thereafter could begin receiving Benefits on June 1, 2011.  In contrast, if the same worker files an application 24 months after the injury, or on January 1, 2013, the worker could begin receiving benefits only as of January 1, 2012.  In the second example, the worker sacrificed 7 months in Benefits due to the delay in filing.

If an injured worker is receiving Workers' Compensation (WC) benefits, then Disability Benefits otherwise due for the same period may be offset or reduced.  20 C.F.R. § 404.408.  The application of the offset provision is a fact-specific inquiry that depends on the worker's past earnings and the amount of WC being received.  Regardless of whether a worker's Disability Benefits would be offset by receipt of WC, it remains important to establish the earliest possible disability onset date with SSA to avoid jeopardizing your client's eligibility for Medicare.

Medicare is government health insurance available to those over 65 years of age or who are disabled under the Act.  After receiving Disability Benefits for 24 months, workers are eligible for Medicare.  42 U.S.C. § 426(b)(2)(A).  Of course, due to the 5-month waiting period for receipt of Disability Benefits, eligibility for Medicare begins 29 months after the established onset of a worker's disability.  Thus, even if the WC offset may reduce a worker's monthly Disability Benefits, it is still important to timely file in order to start the clock on the 29-month waiting period for Medicare eligibility.     

In conclusion, in advising disabled clients when to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits, it is important to know when their disability insured status expires, that filing for Benefits more than 17 months after becoming disabled may lead to the loss of a period of Benefits, and that even if subject to offset, establishing eligibility for Disability Benefits commences the lengthy waiting period for Medicare eligibility.  If you have questions about a client's potential eligibility for Benefits or when to apply, feel free to contact the author at info@zieglerlane.com or (337) 593-4139.

What you need to know about the term "expenses"

Matthew D. Lane, Jr. | Monday, May 02, 2011
Regarding the term "expenses," you need to know the answer to two key questions: (1) what services or items are considered "expenses" by your lawyer, and (2) do you have to repay your lawyer's "expenses" if your disability claim is denied?
 
When you hire a lawyer to handle your Social Security Disability claim, the lawyer will ask you to sign a fee agreement that governs the fees and expenses to be paid to the lawyer.  In a Social Security Disability case, your lawyer's fee is set by law under the Social Security Act.  See 42 U.S.C. §406.  The fee is contingent on recovery, which means that if you are not awarded benefits, then the lawyer does not receive a fee.
 
This is not necessarily true, however, with respect to expenses.  The Social Security Act does not specifically regulate the reimbursement of a lawyer's expenses, and thus, this issue is subject to negotiation between the lawyer and client.  Therefore, as a prospective client, you need to know the answer to two key questions: (1) what services or items are deemed "expenses" by your lawyer, and (2) do you have to repay your lawyer's "expenses" if your disability claim is denied?
 
Some disability lawyers define the term "expenses" quite broadly such that it includes travel costs (airfare, hotel, meals, rental car, and/or mileage charges) or charges for routine office tasks such as faxing, photocopying, and telephone calls.  For example, some lawyers charge clients $.25 per page for every photocopy made in his or her office while the file is being developed.  Such charges can add up to a substantial amount by the end of a case.  Also, if you hire a lawyer from out of state, you need to inquire whether you will obligated to reimburse your lawyer for travel costs, which can be quite high if the lawyer has to fly or drive a long distance.
 
Whether you have to pay your lawyer's "expenses" if he looses your case is an even more important issue.  Some disability lawyers' fee agreements provide that the client must repay expenses regardless of the outcome of the case.  If you hire a lawyer like this, you may end up a year from now with an unfavorable decision by an Administrative Law Judge, no disability benefits, no job, no income, and a bill from your lawyer for "expenses" he or she incurred in losing your case.
 
That is not how we do business at Ziegler & Lane, LLC; if we don't win your case, then you owe us nothing.  We do not bill clients for expenses unless we win.
 
In addition, we define the term "expenses" vary narrowly.  The only expenses for which we seek reimbursement are the actual amounts we pay to providers to acquire your medical records to help prove your case.  In other words, during your case, we pay your doctors an administrative fee to obtain copies of your medical records, which we then provide to the Social Security Administration.  If we win your case, we ask that you reimburse the amount we spent out of pocket to acquire your medical records.
 
Ziegler & Lane, LLC does not charge its clients for travel expenses of any kind and does not charge clients for office expenses such as copying and faxing.  These expenses are part of a law firm's normal overhead and should not be passed on to disability claimants. 

What to ask before you hire a Social Security Disability lawyer

Matthew D. Lane, Jr. | Monday, October 11, 2010

Before hiring a lawyer to handle your Social Security Disability claim, you should ask the following two questions:

  1. Where is the law firm located?
  2. Will your lawyer meet with you before the day of your hearing?

If you are going to meet with your lawyer before the day of your hearing, you need to know where his or her office is located. And if you don't meet with your lawyer before your hearing, then when is your lawyer going to answer your questions?

I practice Social Security Disability law in Louisiana, where I frequently see television ads from out-of-state law firms offering to represent Louisiana residents before the Social Security Administration. As a result of these ads, I caution individuals seeking representation in Social Security Disability matters to always ask where the lawyer or law firm is located. Before hiring a lawyer, you need to know if his or her office is located in another state.

In this inaugural blog post, I want to briefly explain the benefits of hiring a local law firm to handle your Social Security Disability claim. My law firm, Ziegler & Lane, LLC, has its principal office in downtown Lafayette, Louisiana, and a second office in Alexandria, Louisiana. The attorneys and staff of Ziegler & Lane live and work in either Acadiana or Alexandria; we are part of the local community and understand the culture.

As a result, we are able to offer residents of Acadiana and Central Louisiana a level of personal service and individualized attention that is not available from an out-of-state law firm. Most importantly, we meet individually with each of our clients before their administrative hearings. We take the time to explain the controlling law and the hearing process. We also answer our clients' questions and address their individual concerns. Consequently, our clients are prepared for their hearings and know what to expect.

On the other hand, if you hire an out-of-state law firm to handle your disability claim, you likely will not meet your attorney until the day of your hearing. As a result, neither you nor your lawyer will be as prepared for your hearing.

In my experience, being well prepared increases your chances of success. Accordingly, I recommend that if you are seeking representation regarding your Social Security Disability claim, you should hire a local lawyer who will meet with you before the day of your hearing.


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