Some of Social Security’s Pandemic Service Changes May Become Permanent

Posted May 21, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

The Social Security Administration ramped up virtual meetings with customers over the past year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and that and other changes might be here to stay, according to Commissioner Andrew Saul.

“Like many businesses and organizations, the pandemic has forced us to adapt,” Saul said in a statement released in March.

“As we examine our work in a new light, we are asking which lessons learned could improve service beyond the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.

For example, some meetings do not need to take place in person, but it may still be necessary to get certain documents to the administration. For that, the SSA is testing drop boxes and express appointments in order to let people submit those materials.

For those who only need to replace a lost Social Security card, the agency is testing video appointments. That could continue even after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, Saul said. Replacement cards can also be requested online through a My Social Security account.

For those who were denied benefits and requested an appeal, the SSA ramped up its telephone hearings and added online hearings last year. Those who are still waiting for a hearing are encouraged to consider scheduling a phone or video appointment.

The agency’s communication by telephone became more prevalent last year, with local offices answering 13 million more calls than they did in the 2019 fiscal year. The wait times at those local offices also improved to under three minutes on average, compared to almost 24 minutes in 2019.

The SSA also increased services through its 800 phone number, with its agents handling 1.6 million more calls than they did the year before.

The agency also added 6,000 frontline employees.

In addition, the SSA has increased hiring and overtime at state Disability Determination Services as pending initial disability claims increased. In order to handle that higher number of cases, officials have cut down on the amount of continuing disability reviews they conduct.

“The [Disability Determination Services] have been able to reduce the number of people waiting for a decision on initial disability claims by about 100,000 cases since the height of the pending cases in August 2020,” Saul said.

Going forward, if the SSA continues to include more telework in its processes, it could make sense to reduce office space and free up money to hire more staff and improve online services, Saul said.

Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/18/how-social-securitys-services-have-changed-amid-the-covid-pandemic.html

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Homelessness and Social Security

Posted May 14, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) are lifelines for people experiencing homelessness. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report notes roughly 580,000 people are currently without a home and the National Alliance to End Homelessness found about 25-30 percent have severe physical and mental disabilities.

People who experience homelessness tend to age faster than people who have access to housing because of the stress of living on the street, poor nutrition, social isolation, and the effects of extreme weather and unsanitary conditions. They also often deal with substance use disorders along with severe health issues—including diabetes, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS.

The mental health disorders often also include cognitive problems that make understanding SSA’s terminology and process difficult to navigate. The standard process for applying for SSI and SSDI doesn’t work well for this population. Internet access proves virtually impossible. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the struggle to apply for benefits worse.

Homelessness places limitations on a person’s communication with Social Security. Phone communication (including texts) presents difficulties—as does traditional mail. The limited options for contact and communication often lead to benefit application denial for technical reasons—such as not responding to mail and not keeping appointments. When this happens, individuals continue to re-apply as their health deteriorates and anxiety increases.

Third-party providers and organizations can help people experiencing homelessness navigate the SSI/SSDI process for faster benefit payment decisions. They can assist with taking their benefits applications and provide knowledgeable information and support to this underserved community. Third-party groups include:

  • Legal Services providers.
  • SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR) trained staff.
  • Health Care for the Homeless programs.
  • Community trained case managers and social workers.
  • Protection and Advocacy organizations in each state.

People experiencing homelessness can often start with contacting the Department of Social Services in their state to learn about other service providers who can help. Community behavioral health program providers may also assist homeless individuals to apply for benefits and submit medical information needed for decision-making.

Homelessness doesn’t have to be an ongoing condition for so many of our neighbors. Let’s work together to help those in need and ensure that those who are eligible are approved as early as possible in the process.

Source: https://blog.ssa.gov/homelessness-and-social-security/

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Posted May 7, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

In the month of May alone, approximately 65,000 Americans will experience a stroke, with many individuals unaware that they were even at risk. Less than a third will arrive in the emergency room within three hours, the optimal time period for better outcomes.

A stroke is a “brain attack”. It can happen to anyone at any time. It occurs when blood flow to an area of brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, the abilities that are controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost.

You can use the acronym FAST to remember and identify the most common symptoms of a stroke:

  • FACE – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • ARMS – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • SPEECH – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • TIME – If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

How a person is affected by their stroke depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged. For example, someone who had a small stroke may only have minor problems such as temporary weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes may be permanently paralyzed on one side of their body or lose their ability to speak. Some people recover completely from strokes, but more than 2/3 of survivors will have some type of disability.

If you have suffered a stroke that results in long-term or permanent impairments that make working no longer possible, you may be eligible to receive Social Security disability benefits. For example, you may have difficulty concentrating, remembering details or how to do tasks, or communicating messages or issues to the proper staff. Or, if one side of your body was left paralyzed, you may have to drag your leg or foot, which impacts your mobility and your ability to stand in one position for prolonged timeframes. Or if you have inability to use an arm, you may find yourself unable to lift, carry, or grasp things as you normally would.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

Read more on stroke awareness: https://www.heart.org/en/professional/quality-improvement/stroke-month-2021

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®