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Executive Order Aims to Transform Social Security’s Customer Service

Posted January 7, 2022 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

In late December, President Biden released an Executive Order (EO) titled Transforming Federal Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government with the broad goal of using technology to modernize Government services so that they are “simple to use, accessible, equitable, protective, transparent, and responsive for all people of the United States.”

Several of the EO’s directives are specific to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Acting Commissioner Dr. Kilolo Kijakazi Kijazi has been given 120 days to provide the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) with a report that that analyzes all of SSA’s services that “require original or physical documentation or in-person appearance as an element of identity or evidence authentication, and that identifies potential opportunities for policy reforms that can support modernized customer experiences while ensuring original or physical documentation requirements remain where there is a statutory or strong policy rationale.”

There are no set time frames for the other SSA directives in the EO, which are:

  • develop a mobile-accessible, online process so that any individual applying for or receiving services from the Social Security Administration can upload forms, documentation, evidence, or correspondence associated with their transaction without the need for service-specific tools or traveling to a field office;
  • consistent with applicable law and to the extent practicable, maintain a public policy of technology neutrality with respect to acceptable forms of electronic signatures;
  • consistent with applicable law and to the extent practicable, revise any necessary regulations, forms, instructions, or other sources of guidance (to include the Program Operations Manual System of the Social Security Administration) to remove requirements that members of the public provide physical signatures;
  • and to the maximum extent permitted by law, support applicants and beneficiaries to identify other benefits for which they may be eligible and integrate Social Security Administration data and processes with those of other Federal and State entities whenever possible.

In addition, OMB is tasked with coordinating efforts to improve user experiences across various agencies. The EO does not provide additional funding to carry out these activities. Although President Biden may include money for these efforts in his proposed Fiscal Year 2023 budget, which will likely be released in early 2022, Congress will ultimately determine how much money different agencies receive to carry out the EO and perform their other tasks.

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®

Student Loan Forgiveness Based on Disability

Posted December 17, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

If you have federal student loans, you may be eligible to have your loans canceled through a “total and permanent disability” (TPD) discharge. A discharge means that you don’t have to repay the loans (with some exceptions—see below).

Which loans are eligible for discharge?

You can get a TPD discharge for William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program loans, Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans, Federal Perkins Loans, or Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant service obligations. Other loan programs and private loans have their own discharge rules.

Who is eligible for a discharge?

The rules for a federal TPD discharge are similar to Social Security’s eligibility rules, but are even more difficult to meet. Being approved for Social Security disability benefits does not necessarily mean that you will be approved for a TPD discharge. 

For a TPD discharge, you must be unable to do any “substantial gainful activity” (work involving significant physical and/or mental actives) because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment that has lasted 60 months, can be expected to last for 60 months, is expected to result in death, or is due to a 100% military-service-connected disability.

There are two differences between this definition of disability and Social Security’s definition. First, Social Security requires that your inability to work last, or be expected to last, only one year, not five years. Second, Social Security doesn’t automatically grant disability for service-connected disabilities.

However, those who receive a Social Security disability award with a five-to-seven year review date, meaning that they are classified in a group called “Medical Improvement Not Expected” (MINE), should automatically qualify for a federal loan discharge.

If you do not qualify for Social Security or Veteran’s disability benefits for technical reasons, you can still qualify for a TPD discharge if your doctor certifies that  you are totally and permanently disabled, and that your disability has lasted continuously for five years, is expected to continue for five years, or could result in death. The physician who certifies your TPD discharge application must be a doctor of medicine (MD) or doctor of osteopathy/osteopathic medicine (DO) who is licensed to practice in the United States.

How do I apply for a discharge?

If you are currently receiving disability benefits from Social Security, you no longer need to apply for forgiveness for your federal student loans. The U.S. Education Department will do a data match with the Social Security Administration (SSA), and those already receiving disability benefits will automatically have their loans forgiven.

If you are not receiving disability benefits from the SSA, to apply for a TPD discharge you must complete a TPD Discharge Application. Your doctor has to fill out a section of the application stating your diagnosis, the severity of your condition, and the limitations caused by your condition. You submit the application to your loan servicer; you must submit an application for each loan holder. 

Are there any negative effects of applying for a discharge? 

You will have to jump through a few hoops to get federal student loans in the future, and if you request a new loan within three years of your discharge, you will have to resume payments on the discharged loan.

All discharges are now free from federal taxes (until 2025 when Congress will consider renewing the tax provision), but your state might tax you on the amount of the discharged loans. (Contact your state tax office for more information.)

As of March 2021, you are no longer subject to a three-year monitoring period during which your income is monitored. In the past, if you earned over a certain amount of income during the three years after your discharge (not counting disability payments), your obligation to repay the loan could be reinstated. (The level of income allowed was your state’s poverty guidelines for a family of two.) The waiver of the post-discharge monitoring period is expected to remain in place until the end of the COVID-19 emergency relief period on January 31, 2022. The post-discharge monitoring period does not apply to veterans who are 100% disabled.

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

By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Social Security Disability for Autoimmune Disorders

Posted December 10, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

December 1st was World AIDS Day, an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease. 

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections. The virus can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen, or vaginal fluids. Within a few weeks of HIV infection, flu-like symptoms such as fever, sore throat, and fatigue can occur. Then the disease is usually asymptomatic until it progresses to AIDS. AIDS symptoms include weight loss, fever or night sweats, fatigue, and recurrent infections.

No cure exists for AIDS, but strict adherence to anti-retroviral therapy (ART) can dramatically slow the disease’s progress, prevent secondary infections and complications, and prolong life.

HIV/AIDS and other autoimmune disorders can often greatly impact an individual’s ability to work, and many people who suffer from such illnesses may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits. 

Autoimmune diseases cause the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack and destroy healthy body tissue. The immune system helps protect the body by attacking potentially harmful antigens, such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins. in people who have autoimmune diseases, the immune system is unable to determine a difference between harmful antigens and healthy body tissue and attacks otherwise healthy body tissue and antigens. 

Treatment for many individuals involves taking immunosuppressants, which can cause a surge of worsening symptoms once they are discontinued, such as: severe fatigue, joint pain, inflammation, recurrent infections and skin rashes are some of the symptoms my clients inform me of. 

Because there are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases, the Social Security evaluation process is dependent on the specific autoimmune disease. Social Security has an entire category of “blue book” listings for various types of autoimmune disorders, including lupus, vasculitis, HIV, and inflammatory arthritis. (https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/14.00-Immune-Adult.htm)

If you do not meet one of the SSA’s listings, you may still be found disabled if you are unable to perform your past work on a full-time basis. The SSA will consider the combined effect of all of your impairments, including the symptoms of your disease, side effects of medications, and symptoms or limitations from any other conditions you may suffers from. Obtaining an opinion from your doctor about your inability to work will generally help as well.

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

By: Thomas Klint of Premier Disability Services, LLC®