Social Security Audit Shows Agency Has Overpaid $1.3 Billion in Disability Benefits

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Social Security Administration (SSA) has made significant overpayments to some recipients of Social Security Disability Insurance, causing some of those individuals a great deal of trouble. The SSA is reluctant to admit the mistakes, but worker advocacy groups and beneficiaries’ attorneys say the agency is to blame.

The GAO recently conducted an audit that shows the SSA overpaid $1.3 billion in benefits over a two-year span. While some portion of that figure may be attributed to fraud, many innocent beneficiaries have received erroneous payments and have either tried to stop them or have not realized what was happening.

Steve Lord, a director at the GAO in charge of investigations and audits, says that the SSA should reallocate its resources to prevent such mistakes.

“Right now getting people off the [disability] rolls is secondary,” Lord told CNN. “They have to balance their resources between getting people off the rolls and getting people on the rolls.”

The SSA touts the accuracy of its accounting as nearly perfect, despite tight funding and an increased workload. The agency has lost approximately 11,000 employees since 2011. Meanwhile, as Baby Boomers age and become more prone to disability, the beneficiary rolls and applications have swelled.

Recent high-profile stories by media outlets such as NPR’s “This American Life” and CBS’s “60 Minutes” have highlighted limited instances of fraud within the Social Security Disability Insurance program. It is possible that these programs have left the public with a skewed understanding of the scope of the problem. Unfortunately, the SSA’s own response to concerns about the overpayments may be contributing to a narrative of widespread fraud and abuse.

Cheryl Bates-Harris of the National Disability Rights Network says the agency is quick to attribute the errors to malicious intent on the part of beneficiaries.

“It doesn’t want to admit it’s culpable, so it throws the responsibility on the beneficiaries . . . but there are critical failures within its system,” Bates-Harris told CNN.

In cases where the SSA makes an overpayment, the administration is likely to catch the mistake at a later date and then tell the recipient they must pay back the difference. This can be a serious setback for financially struggling families, who are very likely to have spent all available income on their living expenses already.

To avoid overpayments, be sure to report a change of income or a new job to the SSA right away. If you know you are being overpaid, notify the agency and keep a careful record of the amounts overpaid. If possible, keep the funds in a separate account.

If you receive a notice of overpayment that you believe to be erroneous, you may request a reconsideration. If you know you were overpaid, but you believe you were not at fault or you cannot repay the money, you can request a waiver. Whatever decision the agency renders in these procedures may be appealed, which is often a lengthy process. In all cases, when in doubt, consult with an experienced Social Security disability attorney.

Posted on Monday, November 25th, 2013. Filed under Serious Injury, Social Security Disability.

Social Security Disability Adds 13 Conditions to Compassionate Allowances Program

The Social Security Administration recently added 13 new conditions to the Compassionate Allowances program that fast-tracks disability decisions within the agency.

The new conditions were introduced in December as part of an ongoing effort to innovate and streamline the agency’s work, according to Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue.

The conditions that were added to the list mostly are immune system, mental and neurological disorders, according to a press release from the agency. They include the following:

• Malignant Multiple Sclerosis

• ALS or Parkinsonism Dementia Complex

• Pulmonary Kaposi Sarcoma

• Angelman Syndrome

• Paraneoplastic Pemphigus

• Multicentric Castleman Disease

• Progressive Supranuclear Palsy

• Lewy Body Dementia

• Primary Effusion Lymphoma

• Corticobasal Degeneration

• Lowe Syndrome

• Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma

• Multiple System Atrophy

The SSA’s Compassionate Allowances program spots conditions that always meet the standard of disability for the purpose of Social Security Disability Insurance. This way, once an individual is diagnosed with the specific condition, their case can be moved more quickly through the system.

“We need to keep innovating and making our work more efficient,” Astrue said in a press release. “With our Compassionate Allowances program, we quickly approved disability benefits for more than 60,000 people with severe disabilities in the past fiscal year. We have made significant improvements, but we can always do more.”

The Compassionate Allowances program began in 2008 with only 50 conditions. The original list included cancers, rare genetic disorders, adult brain disorders and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. With the addition of 13 in December, the program now lists 113 conditions that can be moved through the agency with less stress for the individual, according to the release.

New technologies made available to the agency allow for faster identification of individuals with Compassionate Allowances so that quick decisions can be made.

The agency is committed to the relatively young program as an efficient upgrade of protocol. In the fall, the Social Security Administration launched a grant program available to graduate students to help the agency improve its list. The agency already awarded a grant worth $1.5 million over the course of five years to a group called Policy Research Inc.

The Disability Determination Process Small Grant Program is designed to improve the disability process. The program is actively looking for graduate students to apply for grant stipends for relevant research that is innovative in the field of disabilities.

The agency also recently upgraded the disability application online for individuals with conditions on the Compassionate Allowances list.

Posted on Friday, March 16th, 2012. Filed under News & Press, Serious Injury.

Nursing Home Falls Affect Many Seniors

For people over the age of 65, falls cause the most deaths. Fatal falls cost $179 million and nonfatal incidents with injuries total $19 billion in medical bills for seniors each year. Falling can cause hip fractures, head and brain trauma, and, unfortunately, sometimes a seniors’ death.

Especially for the elderly that live in nursing homes or long-term care centers, it is important to be mindful of tripping hazards and use railings to get around a busy facility. Falls can also be reduced when regular exercise is done to maintain strength and improve your balance. A senior should get their eyes examined to make sure they have the best glasses and medications should be monitored for causing abnormal drowsiness or lightheadedness.

The average nursing home has 100 to 200 falls each year, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dying from fall-related injuries is all too common. Nursing home staff should be educated on preventing falls. For at-risk patients, a nursing home facility should have alarmed devices to alert staff of patients getting out of bed without calling for help. Many long-term care centers use grab bars, hip pads and adjust bed and toilet heights to help residents.

Falls that do not cause deaths are shown to decrease a senior’s quality of life as it can start a functional decline and even cause a disability. Nursing homes can be liable if an environmental hazard was ignored or staff was careless about how the resident was being taken care of. A qualified serious injury attorney will help the individual and their loved ones investigate whether it was a wet floor, unmaintained wheelchair, bad lighting, or improper use of medication, for example, which caused the fall and subsequent injuries.

Serious injury lawsuits will help a senior get compensation for their medical bills, pain and suffering, and other costs. Nursing home costs already are expensive enough without the elevated bills that come from extensive falling injuries or an unwarranted death. A serious injury attorney will deal with the guilty party’s insurance company to get your expenses paid for in a timely manner.

In Florida, Zephyrhills serious injury attorney Robert Alston counsels seniors and their families who are dealing with a nursing home fall. THe Disability Law Firm is known for upholding their client’s rights against an insurance company and the individual or facility that caused the injury.

Posted on Monday, October 17th, 2011. Filed under News & Press, Serious Injury.

Drop Side Crib Ban Takes Effect in 2011 Due to Serious Injuries and Death

Tampa, Fla. – By June of this year, drop side cribs will be banned. Manufacturers will have to make cribs with stationary sides that cannot be dropped.

Many of the drop side cribs have been recalled and some of them even led to deaths. These cribs were originally made with convenience in mind, so that parents and caregivers could drop down one side and easily lift their child. But the Consumer Protection Agency has ruled that they are less structurally sound, and the side that moves up and down has a tendency to break, deform or detach. This creates a dangerous gap between the crib mattress and dropped side, causing injury and at least 32 deaths over the last decade.

Even Tampa childcare centers, hotels, and other facilities must replace drop-side cribs with a crib that has fixed sides. A Tampa serious injury lawyer can help clients determine what recourse there is against the manufacturer, and depending on whether the injury occurred from falling, strangulation, or entrapment, assess who is responsible and what rights the child and parent have to compensation and medical care.

More than nine million drop-side cribs have been recalled, and new crib standards will involve rigorous testing that will mimic having a child in the crib. “Sadly, products are manufactured and sold that are dangerous to infants and kids,” said Robert Alston, serious injury lawyer at The Disability Law Firm. “A parent must always be on the lookout for defective furniture, toys, clothing, and other consumer products.”

The Disability Law Firm handles serious injuries and seeks the best result for their clients. They counsel clients on their rights and possible insurance and medical compensation. “The law holds irresponsible entities accountable for their actions, and victims are due adequate compensation for medical bills as well as pain and suffering,” said Alston, who has more than 10 years of experience in serious injury law. “A good serious injury lawyer will help you understand your rights and fight for the money you and your child need and deserve.”

Posted on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011. Filed under News & Press, Serious Injury.