Scott Kolligian is a disability attorney located in Akron Ohio serving residents of Northeast Ohio.
We sat down with Scott recently to discuss Social Security Disability (SSD), ERISA Disability and PERS and STRS Disability issues people need to know when in need of the disability benefit.
This article focuses on the SSD also known as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) disability benefit.
One of the most startlingly facts we learned is that about two-thirds of Social Security disability (SSD and SSDI) claims are initially denied.
Think about that fact…people only have a one-in-three chance of successfully getting your application approved right from the get-go.
What Makes Scott Kolligian Unique
When people schedule an appointment they will actually meet with Scott.
In addition, all meetings and hearing are done with Scott personally; not an associate or other attorney.
That means that Scott knows you and your case before the hearing and not introducing himself for the first time at the hearing.
This is a big deal and a level of personal attention and professional service which is important to not only the client, but also to Scott himself.
Social Security Disability
Akron Business Leaders (ABL): What is the difference between SSD and SSI?
Scott Kolligian (SK): Social Security Disability, or SSD, is your disability benefit based on the work record that you have in place.
The typical rule is you have to have worked five out of the ten years prior to your disability beginning, but there are obviously exceptions to that rule.
SSI is the exact same test from a medical standpoint for disability, but SSI is a welfare based disability program for people that don’t have those five years out of the last ten and for people who meet certain welfare requirements, similar to a Medicaid type of a standard.
ABL: What are some of the scenarios that someone would be eligible under Social Security Disability to talk to you?
SK: What I like to tell people is, anytime somebody’s struggling with work because of an illness, injury, some sort of health condition, and is potentially looking for a transition out of work because they are either being disciplined by the employer, they have excessive absences, people at work have taken notice that there’s a drop in production and you are in danger of being terminated from employment or being forced out on a leave, that’s a good opportunity to at least call me, and let’s go over the facts and let’s see if there’s something that needs to be done at that time.
ABL: These are health and medical issues not caused by a work environment?
SK: It can be either. If you have a workers’ comp claim, which is the type of claim that’s based on an injury at work, that workers’ comp claim can work at the same time your Social Security Disability or SSI claim is pending.
With Social Security rules, your Social Security benefit is reduced by any money that you receive from workers’ compensation, but I often coordinate with the workers’ comp attorney just to make sure that Social Security is there as your safety net in case workers’ comp doesn’t go through, in case workers’ comp only pays for the medical treatment and there’s no monetary benefit, things like that.
SSD Denial Factors
ABL: What are some of the biggest factors that are going to hurt someone’s case of being successful?
SK: Credibility is just crucial in these cases.
By credibility I mean people who aren’t listening to what their doctors tell them to do.
A doctor says, “Here’s your Percocet for pain“, but then you’re going in and you’re getting random drug screens from your doctor, which is required often by Ohio law, and those drug screens either come up that you have too much in your system or too little.
Either way is a sign that you’re not listening to your doctor, you’re not trying to do everything possible to get healthy and get back in the workforce.
Other things are telling Social Security, telling the government that you can’t do anything.
These blanket statements are very detrimental.
When you say that you can’t stand for more than five minutes, when you say that you can’t sit for more than fives minutes, but then you go into your doctor and you report that you’re a little bit more sore today because yesterday you sat at your son’s basketball game for two-and-a-half hours and you were on the bleachers and it’s a little bit sore on your back, those kind of contradictory statements can come back to bite you.
Even two years later when you’re at a hearing in front of a judge, the judge could use that statement from your application date years before and say, “I’m just not buying all of her claims.”
ABL: How long does it take from when a person makes a claim to when a decision is made?
SK: Typically right now your application until you get your first decision will take anywhere between three and five months. That’s on average.
Disability Denial Appeal Process
SK: If you are denied, you have sixty days to appeal plus a little bit of time for mailing, but I don’t like to mess with that extra buffer for mailing, so sixty days from the date of your denial.
Once you get that in, you’re going to what’s called the reconsideration level.
That takes about four to six months at reconsideration.
You still haven’t had a hearing at that point.
You haven’t really met with anybody other than maybe one of Social Security’s doctors they send you to.
If you get denied at the reconsideration level, again you have sixty days to appeal, and then you wait in line for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.
That wait right now in Northeast Ohio is approximately fifteen months or more long, and that’s after you’ve gotten through those first two stages.
We’re talking about over two years from date of application until the time you have a hearing, which is a big problem.
ABL: Why is it so long?
SK: A ton of political reasons, but for the most part, lack of staffing and just too many claims for the judges and the administrative level initial decision makers, reconsideration decision makers to handle.
ABL: Just too much workload?
ABL: Brings the question of fraud. Is there a certain amount of fraud in the Social Security Disability system?
SK: I think that I would be ignorant to say there is not fraud.
I think that when you have a system as large as Social Security, you’re going to have bits and pieces of fraud, but I will say that it is nowhere near as widespread as what most people make it out to be.
Neighbors love to rat on neighbors, and if they know of a neighbor that’s applying or receiving Social Security but is doing side work out of their home, people call and report them to Social Security, and then Social Security has internal procedures. They send out an individual from the Office of Inspector General, and then it could result in potentially criminal charges. There’s a lot there. There are a lot of safety nets in place.
All that being said, there are still some people that probably are on benefits that shouldn’t be. I admit that.
The one luxury I have with my disability appeal practice is I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough of a client base that if I don’t truly, one-hundred-percent believe in your case, I don’t have to jump on board.
When I’m taking a case it’s because I really believe in the case, because I really believe that this person under the law deserves the benefits.
ABJ: Parting advice for the reader?
SK: Make sure you hire an attorney you can work with and you can trust for a long period of time, because there are a lot of frustrations.