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"Transcript - Integrated Benefits, Incorporated (IBI)" 

Brian Therrien:  How are you today?  For everybody that doesn’t know, Barbara Mountain doesn’t live actually too far from me.  You’re down in New Hampshire, right?

Barbara Mountain:  I am.  I’m in southern New Hampshire.

Brian Therrien:  Southern New Hampshire.  All we need is a little snow and life would be good for us all up here.  Barb has had an extensive background and experience in dealing with Social Security, Social Security Disability, and it’s nice to have you come out and speak to our group today.  But, so that everybody understands a little bit about your background, you spent 16+ years in this business, right?

Barbara Mountain:  I have.

Brian Therrien:  I was reading what you’ve done.  You’ve gone through everything from working with actual Social Security Disability claims to customer satisfaction to service, quality control, training and you’ve actually been -- you work for the Social Security Administration, itself, correct?

Barbara Mountain:  Yes, I did.  Yes, I did.  For seven years.

Brian Therrien:  Seven years and then came out of that and went into the private sector, let’s call it, and worked on the, you know, what we call our member side or direct-to-consumer, people trying to get their disability benefits and actually established a program that had a 90 percent or 99 percent success rate of getting people approved.  That is remarkable.

Barbara Mountain:  Right, yep, and the company that I work for now.  That’s what we do.  We focus on helping people get on Social Security Disability.  That’s the only type of people we work with.

Brian Therrien:  And now you work for IBI in Missouri?

Barbara Mountain:  That’s right.

Brian Therrien:  Integrated Benefits, Incorporated.

Barbara Mountain:  Integrated Benefits, Incorporated.  

Brian Therrien:  Very nice.  And so we’re anxious to learn all about you folks and what you do and the great work that you’ve done, but, you know, not to pick apart your -- what you’ve done in the past but, just out of curiosity and for the audience as well as myself, when you were working with the Social Security Administration as a Social Insurance Specialist, what is that?

Barbara Mountain:  That is the person that you talk to when you go to Social Security and you want to file for benefits, whether it be retired benefits, widow’s benefits, or disability benefits.  It’s the person who’s going to take the application with you to make sure you meet all factors of entitlement other than the medical condition.  So it’s who you talk to on the phone if you file by phone, it’s who you sit and talk with when you file in person in the office.  And then they’re the people that, once the claim -- the medical decision’s been made by DDS, Disability Determination Services, it goes back to the Social Security Field Office and it’s that Social Security employee that then will process the claim into pay or process the claim to a denial.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  So you have a -- so from this and, obviously, all the work that you’ve done in having a 99 percent success rate in the program, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what is going to be a valid claim and not, right?

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah.

Brian Therrien:  I would expect.

Barbara Mountain:  Yep.

Brian Therrien:  Okay, good. So for those of you in the audience, regardless if you’re approved for Social Security Disability or not or somewhere in between, this really is a great opportunity, with Barb’s experience, to learn everything you need to know to get through the process and I also have a big chunk of questions for Barb today about those that are already approved and what the future of the program is.  So sit back, relax, and let’s get into some stuff here.  Let’s start with the basics.  What is -- what is Social Security?  Let’s start -- let’s pull it all the way back to that and what are the advantages of receiving a check or advantages of Social Security besides the monetary check that a lot of people may not be aware of?

Barbara Mountain:  Well, Social Security is an insurance program.  A lot of people don’t think of it as insurance, but that’s what it is.  It’s insurance for workers.  So the only way you pay into Social Security is, basically, by working and your premiums are your FICA taxes.  So you pay FICA on your wages or your debt from self-employment and that is how you get the coverage -- you get this insurance coverage.  Now Social Security Disability is an income replacement program for people who are unable to work.  That’s -- that’s what it was designed to do.  The definition of disability for Social Security is a disability that’s expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death.  So you’re unable to work and you have a condition that’s going to last for at least 12 months is what they’re looking for.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  In terms of the advantages, you know, obviously the monetary check is important.  That’s the basic foundation of the benefit you’re getting.  But there’s a whole lot more that a lot of people realize why it’s important to file for disability benefits with Social Security benefits if you’re out.  You know, one, you’re probably aware of Medicare.  To have that extra health insurance even if you already have current coverage, you’re entitled to Medicare 24 months after your date of entitlement to Social Security Disability.  The only exceptions to that are if you had end-stage renal disease or ALS.  In those cases you can get Medicare almost immediately, within three months, but for everybody else you do have to wait two full years beyond when you’re first entitled to disability to get that Medicare.  Another benefit, and this is probably --

Brian Therrien: Can I pause you there, Barb.  You just said something --

Barbara Mountain:  Sure, go right ahead.

Brian Therrien:  You just said something that I was not aware of and I want to make sure I get it.  What are the two conditions that would allow you to get Medicare right away?

Barbara Mountain:  End-stage renal disease.  So if you need a kidney transplant, if you’re on self-dialysis, that can get you Medicare right away.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.

Barbara Mountain:  And ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.  ALS has been added to that list.  That’s relatively new in the past, I’d say, three or four years.

Brian Therrien:  Are both of these relatively new?

Barbara Mountain:  No.  End-stage renal’s been around a long, long time.  Since before I started, so over 16 years --

Brian Therrien:  Okay.

Barbara Mountain:  -- since before I came into it.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  Well, didn’t know that.  That’s great.  Okay.  Sorry to interrupt.

Barbara Mountain:  Nope, go right ahead.  The disability freeze provision.  This is probably one of the most important reasons to file for disability benefits and most people do not -- do not know what this means or are even aware of this.  But when you’re out on disability, typically you’re not working, but every year you’ve got earnings going into your earnings record with Social Security.  So if you’re not working, you’ve got zero going into your earnings record.  Well, when you file for Social Security benefits at any point, whether it be a disability benefit in the future or it’s your retirement benefit, the way they calculate your benefit is they take your lifetime’s worth of earnings, it’s not your top three, it’s not your high five, it’s your lifetime, so when you file for retirement benefits, they’re going to take your top 35 years.  What they do with that is they add up all your wages, they divide it by 420, which is the amount of months in 35 years, and they come up with your average monthly wage over your lifetime.  It’s that figure that then goes into the formula that comes up with your benefit amount.  So the higher that average monthly wage over your lifetime, the higher your Social Security benefit will be.  But if you’re not working --

Brian Therrien:  Now, we’re talking Social Security retirement, now, right?

Barbara Mountain:  -- we’re talking retirement when we say 35 years, but it would work the same --

Brian Therrien:  Okay.

Barbara Mountain:  -- even if you were filing for disability.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.

Barbara Mountain:  It’s based on a lifetime’s worth of earnings and it’s coming up with an average monthly wage.  So when you’re not working, you’re out of disability, you’ve got zeros going into your earnings record.  Well down the road, that’s going to affect your Social Security benefit.  Your zeros for a whole year is certainly going to bring down your average monthly wage.  But if you’re on Social Security disability, the years that you’re on Social Security disability will be frozen out of any future computation.  So if you’re on disability for five years, those five years you were not working will not be included when coming up with that average monthly wage.  So instead of taking the top 35 years, they’ll take the top 30 years you’re actually working to come up with that average monthly wage.  So what you’re doing, in essence, is you’re protecting any future benefit with Social Security from being eroded due to years when you were not working.  But the only way you have this happen is you have to be approved for Social Security disability --

Brian Therrien:  I gotcha.

Barbara Mountain:  -- and those years that you’re approved will not be included in that future computation.

Brian Therrien:  So this would be applicable for somebody that’s got, you know, a situation condition that would be four or five years let’s say.  For example, they know they’re going to be optimistically be able to go back to work sometime --

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm.

Brian Therrien:  -- but they could either slug it out during their 401k or go this route, which has advantages as you outlined, right?

Barbara Mountain:  Absolutely, yep.  If they go back to work, they’re protecting it and, of course, you know, the individual that never filed Social Security disability, doesn’t get approved, you know, they’re going to have a dramatic affect on reducing any future benefit they’d be entitled to.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  You know, it’s particularly important for those people that have recurrent conditions.  They have a condition, they can’t work, they go back to work, and it recurs.  Now, that second time they come on Social Security disability, it’s going to be a dramatically higher benefit if they’re able to eliminate those zero years.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  But the most successful disability [inaudible 08:48] and making sure that you don’t have those zeros, because the less years of work you have to work with the more zero is going bring down that future benefit.

Brian Therrien:  That’s a great strategy.

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, yeah.  It’s important.  Other benefits include family benefits.  The fact that if you become disabled or you file for retirement benefits, there’s other family members in your household that could be eligible for a benefit.  There’s your children.  Children under the age of 18.  Spouse can be eligible depending on the situation.  There’s aged spouse, if your spouse is 62 or older, or there’s a benefit to a spouse if you have children under 16 in the household.  So it’s not just yourself that can be entitled to a check.  There’s other people in your household that can also be eligible.  And it’s Social Security’s job to look for those benefits for you.

Brian Therrien:  The key is you go to work.

Barbara Mountain:  Yes, yes.  Also cost of living increases.  I mean I used to be able to say every single year Social Security gives a cost of living increase.  Unfortunately, this year’s the first year in over 30 years that you can’t say that.  There’s not going to be a cost of living increase this year but you know, typically, there are and they range from -- I think the lowest I saw was 1.3 percent.  In the 80s they were up to about 13, 14, 15 percent.  On average they’re usually 3 to 4 percent per year that your benefit amount will be increased.

Brian Therrien: Yep.  Recipients’ are going to have to be creative this year.

Barbara Mountain:  Right, yeah.

Brian Therrien:  So --

Barbara Mountain:  The last thing I mentioned are work incentives.  I mean for those that that aren’t able to work but the goal is they hope that, eventually, they will be able to, Social Security has some great work incentives that people aren’t aware of that they encourage you to go back to work and you don’t have to risk losing your benefits to try it out.  I’m a big proponent of that.  I think that, you know, a lot of people that are out on disability, if there’s something they can do, they’d like to do it.  I mean, obviously, for the income alone, but Social Security really does encourage that and they really do have a great program, so I can talk more about that later if anyone had any questions, but if you are interested in returning to work and you’re on or you’re thinking, you know, down the road maybe if you got -- if things improved and you got to the point you could return to work, it’s something to definitely talk to Social Security about and inquire about.

Brian Therrien:  Sure.  Let’s zero in on that.  I have a few questions set aside that I’d like to learn more about from your perspective on that.  May I ask a few questions regarding the general, you know, the general scheme of things for Social Security?  Well, actually, more specific questions.  One is one of the common things that we see is you have a stay-at-home mom, right?  Raised kids, did everything great, left the workplace.

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm.

Brian Therrien:  Been out for, you know, eight, nine, ten years.

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm.

Brian Therrien:  So, in that instance, the work history is not there.

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm.

Brian Therrien:  And I know this is a problem in the system, but do you have -- I mean is there any -- any insight that you have for those that fall into that sector of the audience?

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, what happens there is for Social Security disability different from retirement benefits.  Retirement benefits, to be eligible, you have to have worked and earned 40 -- what’s called 40 quarters over your lifetime.  You can earn a maximum of four quarters in a year, so it’s really just ten years of work and it doesn’t matter when you earned it.  You may have worked from age 20 to 30 and you never worked again, but at 62, you would be eligible for retirement benefits.  Disability is a little different in that not only do you have to be what’s called fully insured, it means you’ve worked enough over your lifetime based on your age, you have to be what’s called disability insured.  That means you have to have worked in the recent past from the point you became disabled.  What they look at is they look at -- they go back ten years and you have to have worked at least five of those ten years and you get technical.  What it means is they look back 40 quarters and you have to have worked at least 20 quarters during the prior ten years.

Brian Therrien:  And paid your taxes.

Barbara Mountain:  Right, right, and the FICA taxes have been paid in.

Brian Therrien:  Yep.  That is part of the deal.

Barbara Mountain:  Yep.  To get -- right exactly, if you weren’t, you know, you weren’t paying -- you were working but not paying those taxes; you’re not going to have the coverage.  It’s not going to show up.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, yeah, okay.

Barbara Mountain:  For those people, there is SSI, which is Supplemental Security Income, and that’s a disability program that is administered by Social Security.  It is not Social Security.  It is super confusing for people because you go to the Social Security office and that’s where you file for it, but it’s not a Social Security program.  It is actually funded by general tax revenues and it’s based on income.  So when they start asking you what do you have in resources, what do you have in the bank, how much money do you make?  They’re asking, because they’re looking at the SSI program for you.  Social Security -- it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank, it doesn’t matter if you won the lottery.  It’s an entitlement program that you paid for, but the SSI program is based on need.  So -- and for that individual who has not paid into Social Security and is not eligible, they’re going to want to look at that and look at your income and resources and it’s a monthly benefit that you’re entitled to, but it is pretty limited.  It’s certainly not enough that anyone can live on, but it is a disability benefit that’s out there.

Brian Therrien:  Somebody could get both, correct?

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, you can get both.  SSI is reduced.  Based on any other income you have, it will be reduced.  So the Social Security benefit you have is going to reduce the SSI benefit.  In order to get both, your Social Security benefit would actually have to be less than the SSI benefit so you have that offset amount.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.  Good to know.  On the other end of the work/aid spectrum, there’s a lot of question and confusion around somebody that is approaching early retirement, age 62.  The questions are, and a lot of people I don’t think are aware, that if you’re 62, 3, 4, all the way up to your 65th birthday, they can apply for Social Security disability.

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm.

Brian Therrien:  But could you outline, you know, some of the advantages of that and how it relates to the check amount.  Are the check amounts the same?  Are they different?  What happens when you turn 65?

Barbara Mountain:  Okay, great.  All right.  Yeah, this is confusing and it’s something really important to know if you’re up towards the age 62 or beyond.  What a lot of people don’t realize, is when you file for Social Security disability, the benefit amount you get is what you get if you were at your full retirement age.  So if I filed to disability benefits today, my benefit amount would be what I get when I hit 67.  That’s my full retirement age.  So if I file for disability today and I continue to receive it and I continue to receive it the rest of my life, nothing’s going to change for me when I hit 67 or 65.  It’s not going to change because I’m already getting my maximum amount.  Now, when a person is approaching 62 or they’re already 62 or they’re 63 or they’re 64 and they go in to file for disability benefits, Social Security is going to advise them to do this.  They’re going to say is what we should for you is we should start taking a retirement application for you today and let’s file for disability.  The reason they’re going to take a retirement benefit for you is they can start paying you checks right away because you’re eligible based on your age.  Now, when you take retirement early it is reduced.  It’s reduced for every month you take it prior to your full retirement age.  So it’s going to be a reduced amount.  The reason you’re filing for disability at the same time is if you’re approved for disability benefits, the benefit amount is going to be up at the full amount.  You’re not going to have that reduction that you take at retirement and you’ll get paid the difference.  So if you get awarded the disability benefits and they’ve paid you $1,200 but you’re due $1,600 as a disabled individual, once you’re awarded, you’re going to get that $300 difference for those months.

Brian Therrien:  Okay, that’s great.  So, so from a monetary perspective, if somebody is clearly disabled, financially it’s better for them to pursue disability?

Barbara Mountain:  Right, it is.  File for retirement if you need the income right now and then file for disability at the same time and if you get the disability, it will wipe out any reduction that you have as long as that date of disability is prior to when you started receiving retirement.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  Now, Barbara, what happens to the individual if, you know, we’ll use the -- their standard retirement check was $1,200, their disability check is $1,600.  What happens when they turn 65?  What’s their check amount?

Barbara Mountain:  When they hit 65, it’s going to -- as long as they’ve been approved for disability, they’re already at the higher amount, so they’ll already be receiving the higher amount, which means nothing will change.

Brian Therrien:  So they’ll be at -- so they’ll -- okay, so they’ll be at --

Barbara Mountain:  They’ll have already gone up.  So once they get awarded, they were getting the $1,200, as soon as they get awarded disability, they’re gone up to the higher amount, the $1,600 and it’s just going to stay at that rate.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  So if this -- see if I get this.  If this -- in this example which is, I’m sure is a little vague, if this individual had waited until they were 65 just to collect their regular disability, a regular retirement check, would have check have been the same amount as their disability check?  $1,600?

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, yeah.  In most cases it will be the same.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.

Barbara Mountain:  It could be slightly different.  Something called a benchmark year.  That could change based on retirement year versus the disability year but, yeah, pretty much will be about the same.  But they’ll look at how much money they’ll have given out that they could have gotten earlier by getting on disability and the Medicare.

Brian Therrien:  Sure.

Barbara Mountain:  You can get Medicare early.  So if you file at 62, you can get the Medicare, potentially, at 64 versus having to wait until 65.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  The other thing to think about is most people, today, if their full retirement age is not 65 anymore.  You know, it’s moved out based on your year of birth, so most people’s retirement age now is around 66.

 

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  Sixty-five in ten months, even longer they have to wait to get that full amount.  In essence, there’s no disadvantage to doing it unless you really wanted that full amount and you file for retirement and disability and your disability claim was denied.  Then you’re stuck with that reduced retirement amount you took.  Once you take --

Brian Therrien:  Oh right, okay.

Barbara Mountain:  -- the reduction ...  Okay?

Brian Therrien:  Boy, I’ll tell you.  You’ve got to really think it through.  Well, thanks for sharing that with us.

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah.

Brian Therrien:  Is there any -- I’ve heard of some people said, listen, I took an early retirement at 59½.

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm.

Brian Therrien:  Is that -- is that a real deal?

Barbara Mountain:  They didn’t -- they didn’t take it from Social Security.  They’re probably talking about with their own employer.

Brian Therrien:  Oh.

Barbara Mountain:  You can’t get -- you cannot get retirement earlier than 62.

Brian Therrien:  Okay, all right.

Barbara Mountain:  They might be talking about -- well, no, they wouldn’t even be getting widows -- widows or widowers benefits starts at the age of 60.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  But disabled widow’s benefits or widower’s benefits you can get as early as age 50.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  But that means you’re filling for disability, but you’re actually filing on your deceased spouse’s record and you still have to get a medical decision, but you can actually get that as early as age 50.

Brian Therrien:  That’s interesting.  How do you get -- you have a deceased spouse --

Barbara Mountain:  You have a deceased spouse.

Brian Therrien:  -- and you’re going to get a disability payment based on their medical record.

Barbara Mountain:  Based on your medical record.  You’re disabled.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  On your -- okay.  I was going to say, how are you going to get a -- how are you going to get a decision based on somebody --

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah.

Brian Therrien:  -- okay.  I gotcha.  I’m with ya.  All right.  So I’m sure the folks in the audience out there that haven’t applied or going through the process are like, you know, on the edge of their seat saying, well, how long’s it going to take?  You know, what do you have to say to them?  That’s one of the common concerns oftentimes.  It prevents people from filing because they’re like just, oh my God, you know, Johnny down the street tried to get it and it took him three years.

Barbara Mountain: I mean there’s no doubt it’s frustrating.  I mean Social Security is not expedient, not timely.  They are making some changes, trying to improve some things.  But right now, the outlook isn’t that great.  Let me give you just some -- some Social Security statistics, okay?  This is Social Security’s national statistics on award rate.  At the initial level, only 36 percent of everyone who files is going to be awarded and it’s going to take about 108 days to get awarded.  So, you know, we usually say three to six months for that initial claim decision.  The reconsideration level, and that’s the first level of appeal, so everyone who’s denied the initial level files the appeal for the reconsideration.  Only 14 percent of everyone who files for that reconsideration are going to be awarded.  So not many are awarded at the recon level.  And, again, it’s about three to six months to get that decision.  It’s pretty similar to the timeframe for the initial level.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  Denied at the reconsideration level, you’re going to go to a hearing in front of an adjudicative law judge and the award rate is 63 percent and that’s the best chance of being awarded.  So the best advice is just keep going.  Get to that hearing level, get to where you’re going before the judge because that’s your best chance your best chance of being awarded.  However the rub here is by the time you get that hearing decision, that hearing is going to take probably at least a year to get the hearing date.  Some cases you’re upwards to two years to get that hearing decision.  So it is, without a doubt, a lengthy process, you know, but some people do get awarded and there’s things that you can do to improve your chances of getting awarded.  I mean it is a -- it is a factual statistic that having a representative can greatly increase your chances of getting awarded at the initial level.  I recently saw a statistic from the National Organization of Social Security Claims Reps and showed they can increase your award rate, at the initial level, from 36 percent, which is the national average, to, I believe, it was 62 percent.

Brian Therrien:  Depending it’s the right rep.

Barbara Mountain:  Right, it’s the right rep.  You know, I can tell you that our company, IBI, we have a 67 percent award rate at the initial level.

Brian Therrien:  At the initial, that’s fantastic. Yeah.  The -- well, those statistics certainly are intimidating, but I would -- I’m -- my sense is is that is the overall percentage, right?

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm, yeah.

Brian Therrien:  And if you look at the overall -- the typical American has this, you know, diner wisdom that they’re going to go apply on their own, one, because that’s what everybody else they know has done; two, they don’t know the other options unless they’ve, you know, either met you or come to the Disability Digest.  So they apply on their own, they don’t do it right commonly, unfortunately, and they get denied, so if you look at that then certainly that makes, you know, I can -- I can see that and then when you get to the hearing, likely, they don’t go on their own.  So, all right --

Barbara Mountain:  That’s exactly the situation.  As a matter of fact, if you go into a hearing unrepresented, they’ll actually -- Social Security will try and stop it and say don’t you want to reschedule and here’s a list of attorney’s that can work with you.  They don’t want people to come into --

Brian Therrien:  Yeah.

Barbara Mountain:  -- a disability hearing without representation.

Brain Therrien:  Yeah.  It’s not fair for them, but they can do it.  So well that’s -- that’s good.  So you shared a little bit of, you know, the bad news, but there is -- there is some good news for folks and for everybody listening to this.  You know, you’re in the right place to get the right resources to --

Barbara Mountain:  Right.  There is some good news.  They’re making some changes.  I mean they have what is now quick disability determination process and something else called compassionate allowances and they’re really --

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  -- trying to beef those up and those are the claimant’s, you know, sever disabilities and the idea is let’s get them awarded really quickly.  You know, we shouldn’t have to be spending a lot of time on these claims.  Let’s award them, get them done, and move on to the claims that we need to do a little more development on and they’re increasing those from last year, about 2.7 percent of all claims went through that and this year they expect to be over 4 percent of claims and that’s -- when you’re talking about three million people filing for disability a year --

Brian Therrien:  Sure.

Barbara Mountain:  -- that’s a pretty good percentage.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, that --

Barbara Mountain:  The goal there is they make those decisions within ten days.

Brian Therrien:  Certainly it’s a step in the right direction.

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm.

Brian Therrien: I want to go on to the next question and talk about, you know, I don’t want you to give away all your trade secrets, Barb, but I want to ask you a few things that your team at IBI does that allows and helps with, you know, the member or claimants get through the 62 percent that you’re mentioning, but before I do, I just want to outline to the audience that IBI is what I view or call this, kind of coin this phrase, a full-service disability representative and what most people do is file on their own from the very beginning and there is advantages to it and our position here at the Disability Digest is we don’t advocate either way.  We just -- we advocate that you understand that that’s an option, explore it, and compare that versus, you know, filing your own claim and then make up your own mind based on an educated decision.  With that being said, the statistics that you’re sharing are really brilliant for somebody getting through at the -- at the initial application and so to do that am I correct in understanding that the work that you do is, you know, somebody has to sign initial representation papers, they agree to work with you as their representative, and you will work with them to groom and put together their initial application.  That if they were to do it on their own and do the paper version, it would be 100+ forms, right?

Barbara Mountain:  Right.  Basically what we do is we fill out the forms with them on the phone so we work nationally.  We work with anyone.  So we’re --we’re are asking them all the questions and filling out those applications for them, making sure that we’re answering everything completely, we’re not missing out on any potential entitlements that they might be eligible for, other people in their family for example, getting that date of onset right, which is really important.  You know, date of onset sounds easy.  You know, what date were you disabled?  You know, when was the last date you worked?  But, you know, for a lot of people, that’s not a clear cut date.  They may have had a condition that they went out of work then they went back to work and then they went back out of work again and Social Security has some regulations that allow you to move that onset date back.  It’s called an unsuccessful work attempt.  But you need to know that and you also need to know that there’s additional forms to be filled out to do that and so we’re going to do that with them and make sure that we fill all that out correctly and one other thing that makes this a little easy is that we hire at this -- we have three teams and the team that does this, that takes these applications are all former Social Security employees like myself.  But that’s what we were trained to do.  So we hire those employees.  Who better to, basically, complete the application for you than what Social Security -- using Social Security’s knowledge to make sure you’re filling it out correctly, in essence?

Brian Therrien:  Sure.

Barbara Mountain:  What we also do is -- then once we got the application, we’re then going to gather the medical evidence and that’s the key to this.  You want to make sure you have your medical evidence and you want to make sure you’re flagging the important pieces and you’re showing how you meet the regulations.  You’re showing how you meet Social Security standard based on your age and your work history that proves that you can’t work and earn what’s referred to as substantial, gainful activity.  For Social Security, in the year 2009, that means you can’t work and earn more than $980 a month.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  And the team that we use to do this are all former DDS employees and DDS is Disability Determination Services.  These are the folks that are making the medical decision for Social Security.  So we hire those employees to come work for us because they know exactly what needs to be seen and so when we put together the claim, we’re setting it up and we’re positioning it exactly as they need to see it in order to get it awarded and that’s what helps us get claims awarded and that’s what helps us get claims awarded quickly which is -- you know half the battle with Social Security is not just to get awarded, it’s how long it’s going to take you to get awarded and our goal is, obviously, to get them awarded as soon as possible at the appropriate time.

Brian Therrien:  Well, you know, I’m the guy standing here in the middle.  You know, I’ve got a group of members and then you folks out there but I look at it and I think the effort to get these awarded quickly without going to hearing is of everybody’s best interest.  I mean, first of all, you don’t have to spend a day of travel or go somewhere or do all the preparation work and so you can do it and do it right the first time and get it approved and that means that the member or the claimant would get their money quicker and you might not make as much as if it went to hearing, but you don’t have to go to the hearing.

Barbara Mountain:  Right.  That’s exactly --

Brian Therrien:  But not many people to get it, sorry to interrupt you, but small town, you know -- I had somebody the other day, I’ll just share my -- this is my vent for the day, okay, which totally drives me crazy -- this poor lady.  She’s clearly, in my opinion, should have been approved a long time ago.  But she had hired a local disability attorney who had her sign the forms for representation and he told her, he said go file the initial claim, you’re going to get denied.  Then when you get denied, you come back into the office and I’ll help you fill out the next step.  And that happens.  And for anybody out there in the crowd, I would just call around to 10 or 12 different local folks and you’ll find that that still goes on, which is a total disservice to people, but they don’t get it.  So that’s my --

Barbara Mountain:  See one of the things that that we try to do is actually trying to prevent a person who’s filling out an application on their own from doing or saying something that they don’t realize is detrimental to their claim.  I mean you might say something you don’t -- you just -- you don’t recognize that that’s going to cause you another hurdle to overcome to get awarded.  You know, for example, I used to take claims and I can remember a person coming in, I can remember it happening several times, individual saying I’m filing for Social Security disability.  My insurance company’s making me file.

Brian Therrien:  Oh, yeah.

Barbara Mountain: And that is noted on the application because it implies, oh the claimant doesn’t think they’re disabled when maybe that’s not what the claimant meant at all.  They just meant, you know, yeah they have to file additional requirement because of their long-term disability policy, but it -- it’s the idea comes across that they don’t think they’re disabled and that is just another hurdle they’re going to have to overcome to get awarded.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  So, you know, having a person file on their own I -- and then just say I’ll help you when it gets to hearing’s level, I think that they’re missing the point of how much help they can actually provide early on, the early stages.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, yeah.  Well, you know, and a lot of people -- there are people that certainly have others that they can -- that can help them and they can file and they can take the time and study.  We’ve got endless people that have done it that way.  But there are those that are clearly sick and they just, you know, the value of having somebody that’s there to help you is, you know, from the very beginning is priceless.

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, the idea should be that they’re taking the work out of process for you.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, right, right.

Barbara Mountain:  The other thing I’d recommend is negotiate.  Social Security -- one thing you need to know is that Social Security must approve any fee that a representative is going to charge and there’s a standard fee that is pretty much anytime you go anywhere they’re going to tell you what the fee is.  It’s 25 percent of past due benefits up to a cap of $6,000.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  That’s what they’re going to say they’re going to charge you.  But there’s no reason why they can’t charge you less than that.  I’ll tell you, my company we don’t charge the full amount.  We actually do charge -- we go with less, so you don’t have to have that cap of $6,000.  They may choose a different cap for you, so we’ll take 25 percent of past due benefits up to a smaller cap.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  So, you know, you’ve got some negotiating power there.  Just ask; ask the question.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.  That’s a good point.  Yeah, and most people just say well, you know, it’s in writing and it’s what it is and okay.  Well, that’s, that’s great.  So I guess one of the key things that I found from the very beginning at least to interview a representative like somebody at the IBI team, is if they can spot the onset date and move it back, you know, five or six months then they could -- they can make a huge difference in the benefit check or that back benefit check when awarded.

Barbara Mountain:  Right, yep, absolutely.

Brian Therrien:  Among others, so, okay.  So let’s talk about going into a hearing.  So, you know, goes through that.  What are some of the benefits of using a representative to go through at the hearing process?

Barbara Mountain:  Well, a representative is going to help you prepare the claim.  I mean, they’re going to complete the forms with you, gather the medical evidence, and prepare the case.  One of the big advantages and, you know, I hate saying this.  I’m a proponent of Social Security.  It’s a great program.  It’s incredibly necessary.  I think they do a lot right.  Unfortunately they also -- there’s a lot of areas they need to have some work.  One of the problems with Social Security, at the hearings level, is you’ve got judges making decisions and the judges are all supposed to be following the same laws.  However, it’s obvious, based on statistics that have come out, and basically what we know, my company’s been around for 30 years, we’re national, we’ve seen everybody, we know all the judges, some judges have a tendency to deny and other judges have a tendency more to allow and I think that’s a big problem.  It should be consistent, but it’s not.  I just recently read an article in the, oh what was it?  The News Journal of Delaware, I believe, where they looked at three judges and they were three judges from three different parts of the country and they looked at their denial rates.  One just had a 56 percent denial rate, one judge had a less than 1 percent denial rate, and one judge had a 93 percent denial rate.  And there’s just no way their dockets could differ that greatly.  So one of the things a representative is going to bring to you, one that knows the judges in your area, is what is this judge that you are assigned to -- what are his tendencies?  And it just better prepares you to go in and how you’re going to present that case --

Brian Therrien:  Sure.

Barbara Mountain:  -- to know that.

Brian Therrien:  Wow.

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, it’s -- that’s a sad statement.  I hate to say it, but that is the reality.

Brian Therrien:  It is the game; you just have to play it, right?

Barbara Mountain:  It is and, you know, even if you look at the initial levels, look at your state.  There’s, you know, you can go online and you can see what the awards and denial rates are for you state.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  You know if they’re following -- every state is following the same guidelines, you know, there’s differences. 

Brian Therrien:  So if you -- if you’ve got a state, sorry to interrupt, but if you’ve got a state that has a high denial rate at hearing level, you really want to work your tail off to nail that at initial or recon?

Barbara Mountain:  Right or, you know, you look at judges.  The judges will all -- will vary differently.  That’s hard to get those statistics because -- but I’m saying even at the initial and recon level, they have the statistics by state, because those are state DDS --

Brian Therrien:  Yeah.

Barbara Mountain:  -- DDSs that are making those decisions and, you know, some states it is easier to get awarded at than other states.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.

Barbara Mountain:  You know, it isn’t a great commentary.

Brian Therrien: Here’s a -- here’s a big issue.  Social Security regulations state that you can work and earn up to $980.00 and still apply for Social Security, right?

Barbara Mountain:  Mm-hmm.

Brian Therrien:  You know this.  I don’t need to tell you that, but for the audience, clarification.  Those are the regulations and there’s kind of a mixed message out there about working and applying.  There’s one side that says, you know, for -- certainly from the person, from the claimant or a member, people have to survive, right?  The other side of it is, from Social Security, when they look at that, there’s an argument that says well, you know, somebody can work 15 hours a week and earn $900, maybe with some modifications to their job or a change in treatment, they could work more and they’re not disabled.  So the big question here is, I mean, what is your take?  Is it a disadvantage to work when you’re applying?  Can you get these claims approved?

Barbara Mountain:  Well, you can get them approved and, you know, like you said you -- applicants should not be punished for working and earning under the limit.  However, when these claims get to the hearings level, this is where judges will look at it differently.  Some judges will have no problem with it.  Other judges will look at it and look at it suspect because like you said, you know what, maybe this person does have the capacity to work more than that.  The suggestion that I would make is if you are working and earning under SGA, if you get a letter from your physician that’s very specific and outlines why you can’t work more or why you have the modifications you have to have, it’s very clear, that can help, that can go a long way.  Even doing that very early on at the initial level or the reconsideration level, including that as a statement of, yes I’m working, but this is why I can’t work and earn more.  I think that’s one of the best things you can do going forward.

Brian Therrien:  Great, great.

Barbara Mountain:  Also, there are times when it can actually help your case.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  Would you try to go back to work and you haven’t been successful.  That can actually -- some judges look upon that very favorably because it shows, you know, this person really tried to do it and they weren’t able to for XYZ reasons.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, you know, for the most part, people are just good, hardworking Americans and they would rather work and it’s -- there’s a lot of confusion about that, so that’s -- that’s very encouraging news and a great tip for the letter.  So really, again, to recap this, if you’re at the initial phase and you’re working, then the key is get a letter from your doctor stating that you can’t work more, which you need the doctor’s support anyway, right?

Barbara Mountain:  Right.

Brian Therrien:  And include that in your application?

Barbara Mountain:  Right.

Brian Therrien:  Okay, okay.  All right.  On the working topic, let’s bounce around a little bit here, once somebody is approved, being the fact that you’ve outlined that you’re a proponent of Social Security and there’s some work incentives, what are some of the highlights?  What are some of the key things that you think are really keen in the program that would be helpful for members to know more about?

Barbara Mountain:  Sure.  The first one is anybody who’s been approved for Social Security disability is entitled to what’s called the trial work period and what that means is that you can go back to work and no matter how much you earn, you still get your full Social Security check and this trial work period is nine months.  So for nine months you can go back to work and, you know, you got a job earning $10,000 a month, you get your full pay check and you also get your full Social Security check and you’re at no risk of losing your benefits.  These nine months don’t have to be consecutive, so you may work for two months and it doesn’t work out and a year later you try it again, you work for three months.  Well, now you’ve used up five of your trial work months.  Social Security sees this as an opportunity for you to test it out, see if you’re going to be successful without any fear of it affecting your check or affecting your benefits.  So --

Brian Therrien:  So that’s not -- pardon me Barb, but it’s nine cumulative months?

Barbara Mountain:  Exactly, nine months.

Brian Therrien:  At any point in time?  Okay.

Barbara Mountain:  Yep, yep.  When that nine months ends -- so you’ve used up your nine months, that next month you enter a new period of time with Social Security that they refer to as your extended period of eligibility, your EPE, Social Security loves acronyms.  So during your extended period of eligibility, which is three years in length, so it starts when you finish that ninth month, for the next three years any month you earn more than FGA, whatever FGA is that year and this year it’s $980, they’re not going to pay you your check.  Any month you earn less than FGA, you are going to get your check, the full check.  Social Security with disability doesn’t pay partial checks; it’s either all or none.

Brian Therrien: Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  So you either are going to begin paying or you’re going to be in what’s called work suspense.  But the key here is you’re not terminated, so you can come right back on at any time.  So it’s a three year period of time where you may be in pay or not in pay, depending upon what’s going on with your work situation.  But you’re not terminated.  So Social Security is saying, we know how long it took you to get on, we know you probably don’t want to risk losing your benefits, but we’re going to give you four years, when you look at the trial work period plus the extended period of eligibility, to try it out and feel successful without risk of losing your benefits.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  A lot of people aren’t aware of that.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, that’s -- that’s nice.

Barbara Mountain:  There’s also Medicare continuation.  A lot of people don’t realize how long Medicare can continue.  Medicare can continue for at least eight and-a-half years beyond when you return to work.  So even if you come off Social Security disability, you can keep your Medicare for eight and-a-half years, which is a great advantage.  That was linked into, let me think how long ago that was now, I think that was the work opportunity back in 1999 that it got extended to how long you can keep your Medicare.

Brian Therrien:  So if the trial work period, is that tied to ticket to work?

Barbara Mountain:  No.  It’s actually -- it’s just this whole separate program that’s always been there.  Ticket to work is a physical ticket that you’re actually sent once you’re awarded and with this ticket you can use it to take it to a whole list of companies that will provide you with free vocational rehabilitation services.  These companies, if they decide to work with you, if they’re successful in getting you back to work, get paid by Social Security, but it doesn’t cost you anything.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  The whole point of the program was to give claimant’s choice in who they go to to get voc rehab services and allow private industry to get involved versus just using state voc rehab, which is what they had always done in the past.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, yeah.  You know, and --

Barbara Mountain:  And one -- oh, go right ahead.

Brian Therrien:  -- the concept, well, actually please finish and then I’ll go on because my point is a little different than the topic we’re on.

Barbara Mountain:  I was just -- I was actually going to mention one other benefit is if you are eventually terminated from Social Security because of work, if you become disabled again any time within the next five years from termination, when you go back to file for Social Security benefits, they will start paying you immediately.  They’ll pay you while making the new decision.  You actually can get six months worth of checks while waiting for that new decision to come in and if the claims comes back and you’re awarded, then the checks will just continue, and if the claims come back denied, you actually don’t have to pay that money back.  It’s kind of -- it’s something called their expedited or reinstatement of benefits.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.  The -- now, now for the audience, you can earn up to $980 a month and that’s below SGA and that would not apply to these programs, is my understanding, right?

Barbara Mountain:  Well, the trial -- right.  Trial work period, if you earn over $700 a month, you’ve used up one of your trial work period months.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah.

Barbara Mountain:  So it’s actually a little bit less than the SGA figure, but when you’re in the extended period of eligibility, if you’re earning less than SGA, you’re entitled to your full check.  So as long as you’re earning under SGA, you’re going to continue to receive checks.

Brian Therrien:  Okay, okay.  What -- in your opinion, why is it that -- why is it that the percentage of people that are disabled that go back to work or do any work, even below the SGA, is so low?

Barbara Mountain:  You know, I think for a lot of people it’s fear of becoming overpaid by Social Security.  Not understanding the rules and regulations.  I think people aren’t willing to take that risk.  Because it hooks -- for most people it was a struggle to get on Social Security and without the fear of knowing if they’re going to be successful coming out of it, they’re not willing to take that risk.

Brian Therrien:  Exactly.  I concur.

Barbara Mountain:  I feel if Social Security does, and I felt this when I was in administration, they’re not good at public relations, they are not good a communicating and letting people be aware of how things work and people -- a lot of people aren’t even aware of them.  A lot of people are not -- that are on Social Security disability don’t even know that Social Security has these work incentives or understand that.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, yeah, yeah.  Okay.  I said we’re going to bounce around, so let’s go back to the getting approved side and oftentimes, as I’m sure you know, that especially for people that are -- well, when they’re going through the application process, a lot of people that are not employed or haven’t been employed by a large company, haven’t had insurance.  A lot of people that have been independent contractors, owned their own businesses.  So the point is of my question is they can’t afford treatment as their health continues to go down and they’re not able to work and their insurance lapses.  How and can somebody -- can they get approved without having consistent treatment?

Barbara Mountain: Yes.  I mean, I think --

Brian Therrien:  Is there a general --

Barbara Mountain:  -- you know you can get awarded with limited medicals, however, it’s harder.  I mean, no doubt about it, it’s more difficult because Social Security is looking for evidence.  I mean they’re looking for empirical evidence that more than just your testimony that you don’t have the ability to work.  You know, a suggestion there would be try, you know, try and get whatever you can.  Look for free clinics, negotiate with physicians.  There’s some doctors out there that will negotiate for lower rates to try and get something to back up -- to back up or substantiate, you know, your testimony and what you’re saying about your condition.  So you are going to have to have something.  Social Security will send you for a consultative exam, so they will pay to have a doctor evaluate you.  I will tell you we hear a lot of claimants that aren’t pleased with these consultative exams.  They don’t feel like the doctor fully evaluated them or really got to understand what their issues were.  Honestly, sometimes we see consultative exams at the initial and reconsideration level used more to deny a claim than help the claim.  But if that’s the only option to get somebody to look at you, then that -- then at least you have that.  I guess I’d say that going forward.  I don’t think it’s the ideal case, but Social Security does need something to base their decision on besides just verbal testimony.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.  Good point and for the members there’s a whole host of low-cost, no-cost treatment options that are in the members area.  If you’re looking at the screen now, that’s the member’s areas, you can see the address.  Just go to our home page and look at the top right-hand corner.  There’s also, regarding the medical exams as we’ve gotten some tips from others about if you do go for an exam, there are some some strategies that you can implement when you go to the exam like simply take notes and -- not you taking notes, but bring somebody that will take notes -- and ask the doctor if you can record it and usually -- and follow the other steps that are in our work, but what that does is it really -- it holds them accountable and typically, when they are held accountable, they’ll -- they tend to do a better job, so a few quick tips for the audience.  I don’t know if you have any more for anybody that’s got to go for a medical exam, Barb?

Barbara Mountain:  I think -- I think what you’ve said is actually the best idea is to have written down exactly what happens at that consultative exam so things can’t be taken out of context.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, yeah.  And don’t record it without knowing the regulation and the doctor, because there are some -- there are some problems with that.  Problems with the law, yep.  Okay.  So kind of wrap up this whole applying for disability, could you kind of boil down maybe three or four tips for applicants that are, you know, pursuing the application process now?

Barbara Mountain:  Sure.  I think the first thing I mentioned early is be prudent in what you say and how you answer questions.  Make sure you’re very clear in what you can and what you can’t do.  Being vague, can often times, works against you and sometimes what you meant is not how it came across and even one little statement can undo a claim.  So, you know, just be careful and make sure that you, you know, you are clear.  I think being clear and concise and to -- so they understand exactly what you mean is really important.  I say collect your own medical records.  You know, the agency is going to send away -- they have you sign medical release forms and they tell you that they’re going to get your medical records from your doctors and your hospital.  However, it can make a lot more sense if you get those medical records and submit them for a couple of reasons.  One is because you know that your file’s complete.  You know they have everything they should look at.  The agency is not going to go out of their way to get information.  In addition, it’s going to cut down on time.  There’s a huge time delay when they are sending out for medical records and having to wait for those medical records to come back.  So by you providing that, you might be able to shave a little bit of time off of this potentially lengthy process.  In terms of gathering medical evidence, the onise is really on you especially when you get to that hearing level.  And the last thing I’d say is learn the regulations or at least the standards that apply to your age or work history.  The information is available on the internet for free, so, you know, do your homework otherwise you’re going to be at a big disadvantage.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  Good tips.  As far as being prudent, see if I get this and maybe you can confirm or expand upon it.  What we find when we talk to people that are applying for disability is we ask a question that says, you know, explain to me in two sentences or less why you can’t do any job in the United States, five days a week, 40 hours a week including, you know, being a greeter at Wal*Mart or a ticket taker at a movie theatre?  So the common response that we get is, I have XYZ condition and I hurt and I don’t sleep well and got lupus or fibromyalgia on the mind.  But when you say be prudent are you saying express how those conditions limit your ability to work?  Is that the direction that you’re going?

Barbara Mountain: Yes.  I say, yeah, don’t -- make there be a point to everything that you’re saying.  I almost say don’t ramble.  Just be clear going in at the points you need to get across.  What’s important?  Sometimes when you say a whole lot, maybe the real important piece can get lost in that, and when you’re even filling out the forms, you know, focus on -- what are they looking at with Social Security?  They’re looking to see why you can’t work, so focus on how your condition is preventing you from being able to work.  What makes sense in that area?  How can I show -- I, you know, my pain is affecting my ability to think clearly.

Brian Therrien:  Or, one, if not able to stand for more than 15 minutes and then they’ve got to sit down and they only can sit for 10 minutes and then they’ve got to reposition themselves and they can’t lift a gallon of milk or climb 20 steps or all those things, right?

Barbara Mountain:  Exactly.  Right, exactly.  Because when they’re looking at that at vocational, what needs to do in the vocational world, that’s where that’s really important.  Because you’re showing them.  You know, you have so many modifications that would have to be made to make it a viable situation.  That’s what’s going to help you get awarded.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, great.  Regarding the medical records, another great point is when one goes to collect the medical records, there -- what’s -- are there charges associated with that in some or all cases or what do you find?

Barbara Mountain:  It depends.  There can be charges and they can charge and, I think, most of the time you do find doctor’s offices will charge.  Some -- if some they get you to file and they let you do it yourself, you know, they won’t.  So it does vary, but for the most part I’d say that you do see you have to pay for it in a lot of situations.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, yeah, okay.  So real quickly, before we take a few questions, and I’ll actually peruse questions while I’m going through this, you know, there’s all this news out there, Barb, about Social Security’s going to be bankrupt, it’s not going to be around for me, etc., etc.  Can you -- what’s your take on that?  What can you -- any comforting thoughts that you can share with the audience?

Barbara Mountain:  Actually, I think I can.  I used to do -- I used to do public relations work for the administration.  I used to do solvency discussions.  Social Security is not going anywhere and the reason why I can say that is it’s too important to this country.  Last year there were 51 million Americans receiving Social Security benefits.  That included nine million disable individuals.  It provides so much income into this country that the country could really go bankrupt without the amount of money that gets pumped in on a monthly basis based on Social Security.  So I can tell you it’s not going anywhere.  However, with that said, it can’t stay in its existing form.  There are changes that need to be made.  Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system, which means those that are working today are paying for those that are receiving and what happening is we’ve got more people that are receiving that are working now and that’s what’s causing this problem.  Currently, in the year 2016, they will no longer be taking enough in to pay out the full benefit, so they’re going to have to start dipping into their surplus and they’ll start dipping into that surplus and that will continue it, right now they’re saying until 2037, and in 2037, the surplus is gone.  So at that point, they’ll still be able to pay out benefits, but only 75 percent of the current benefit you’re entitled to.  That’s the estimates with today’s figures.  So that’s a problem, but it’s not the dire doomsday that I think that the news might want you to hear.  What it does mean is that there needs to be some changes to the program.  But Social Security is a constantly evolving program.  It changes daily.  There are daily changes to this program.  A lot of people just don’t -- they’re so small they don’t -- it doesn’t impact them that they don’t see that.  Some changes are larger than others.  Back in the 1980s there were some rather large changes.  Children used to be able to receive benefits through college.  Now kids can only receive benefits until the age of 18 or 19 if they’re still in high school.  That was a relatively large change.  I see changes like that that are going to occur.  They’re going to have to change, you know, maybe who’s entitled to a certain type of benefit or when benefits start may change or how they calculate a certain benefit may change.  Clearly some things are going to change, but in terms of it going away, I just don’t even think it’s feasible.  I don’t think it’s something that could even be considered.

Brian Therrien: Yeah, I concur.  At least in -- well, at least in this administration.

Barbara Mountain:  Right.

Brian Therrien:  What’s -- what is your -- what’s your opinion on the 24-month wait for Medicare?  That’s a big problem.  I hear a lot of pain with our members.  You know, this is when people really need to be treated.  You see any movement in that?

Barbara Mountain:  Well, I think that there was a pretty good push going on for awhile, but the problem right now is Medicare is funding -- is even probably in a more dire situation than the monetary benefit and I think that’s preventing there from being any real progress.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  I have seen more movement towards getting some other conditions included in what can get awarded with -- before the 24 months, like the end-stage renal and the Lou Gehrig’s disease.  I’m trying to think of what I -- what I recently I heard, what condition was being thought of getting put in there.  A lot of that has to do with lobby groups, though.  How well you can lobby Congress.

Brian Therrien:  Doesn’t it though?

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah.  You know there’s been something put forward about eliminating the Medicare over a period of time, reducing it.  I just -- I just don’t think they can even tackle that right now.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  You know given the cost of healthcare.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, yeah.

Barbara Mountain:  I think that they want to go that way, but I don’t think we’re going to see it for a long time.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  Yeah, I won’t go any further into it.  It’s a very, you know, it’s -- there’s what we want to see and then there’s all the politics involved, so.  Let’s take a few questions here and, you know, maybe stretch our time maybe five minutes or so, if you don’t mind.  For those of you that are in the audience and want to ask a question that -- to Barb, you can type it in the question box, I’ll monitor that or you can raise your hand, use the raise-hand feature.  So we’ll have time to take four or five questions.  Michelle, have you logged on?

Michelle Toole:  Sure am.

Brian Therrien:  Nice to have you.  Michelle meet Barbara, Barbara Mountain.

Michelle Toole:  Hi Barbara.

Barbara Mountain:  Hi Michelle.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  I have a question here from Charlene.  I’ve been waiting appeal for months.  Was told in September that my case is waiting to get on the judge’s calendar.  Can I do anything to speed it up?  Thanks.

Barbara Mountain:  Not really.  Unfortunately.  I mean, you can call the hearing office on a regular basis.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease --

Brian Therrien:  Yeah.

Barbara Mountain:  -- to see if there’s anything that they can do, but, if it was, I’m going to say, just this past September, you know, on average, you’re probably waiting at least a year before you’re going to get that hearing date.  One of the things, I don’t know if you’re represented, but if you are, what they should be going for is what’s called an on-the-record decision and that’s where they write up a legal brief and they submit it and they try to get it awarded without the need for a hearing and we do that on just about every single case we get and we have great success in getting claimants awarded.  That’s another way we don’t have to go to a hearing, is we get them to look at the facts and then they determine that can be awarded without having everybody go before the judge.

Brian Therrien:  What about playing the on-the-record -- not on-the-record card, the dire-need card?  I mean, does that have any -- is that working?

Barbara Mountain:  It can, but you have to provide a lot of, you know, a lot of proof.  You’ve got to prove that you -- that you aren’t going to have housing or you’re going to, you know, you’re having trouble putting food on the table.  I mean you have to supply a lot of paperwork and proof to show that you really do meet that criteria.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.  What about kids?  Does that play into it if there’s children involved?

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, it can.  It can.  But, again, you’ve got to show it.  You’ve got to be able to show that you are going to be without a home or that you can’t put food on the table.  It’s your --

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  -- basically those essential items for survival are at risk.  It can happen, it can.  But, again, a lot of it depends on where you are?  Who -- where are we talking about?  Some places treat things a little bit differently.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, okay.  Can you read the questions that are in the --

Barbara Mountain:  I can’t actually.  I’m not sure if there’s something I need to...

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  I’ll read them for you.  I’m just going to find another one.  I have one here.  This might be hard for me to struggle through.  I have a son that is ADHD, but after all the meds he has tried; he says pot is the only thing that gives him relief.  Twenty-one, been arrested many times, my other son is 29, refuses to come out of the room.  Trying to get to the question here.  Bear with me a minute.  I cannot afford to support all three on an SSI check.  Any suggestions?

Barbara Mountain: Wow.

Brian Therrien:  I wonder if these children are on SSI.

Barbara Mountain:  Are the child -- the children on SSI?

Brian Therrien:  It doesn’t say.

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, because it sounds like, at least the 21-year-old, if he has never worked, then he only Social security isn’t really going to be able to help.  One thought, I’m not sure how old you are, but when you are eligible for retirement benefits or if you happen to be receiving Social Security disability, your children can be eligible for a benefit based on your record.  What they’re called are adult-disabled children and as long as they were disabled prior to the age of 21, it has to be proven that they were disabled prior to the age of 21; they can receive benefits under your records under Social Security, not SSI.  With Social Security it can be a little easier to deal with and it would be 50 percent of whatever you’re receiving.  That’s call the disabled adult child benefit.

Brian Therrien:  That’s a good tip.  So for local resources, I would go into our member’s area and go down to Section 8, start with the Center for Independent Living and see what might be available for local assistance especially if you’re living in a -- like here in Vermont in a cold climate, you know, there’s fuel assistance and all kinds of stuff that you can fine.  Okay.  Sammy, I just -- you raised your hand and I gave you the power to speak, so if you can hear us, try asking your question and then we have a question here from Delores.  Why does a person receiving -- oh, okay.  Why does a person receive qualification letters from both SSDI and SSI?

Barbara Mountain:  Because -- it’s actually interesting.  Social Security, a lot of field offices, are required to take both applications.  Whether you are potentially -- even if you went in and just filed for Social Security and no interest in SSI, they’re going to take an SSI application, in a lot of cases, just to rule it out and show that they checked and then you’re going to get -- you’re going to get, you know, your denial letter if you’re not eligible, but they should be always checking for both programs.  If it’s clear that your Social Security benefit would be so high that you wouldn’t be eligible for anything on SSI, then they’re doing it, you know, this is kind of an internal reason, because they get what’s called work credit for it.  The more applications they take the more work credit that office gets and the more credits they get it actually is tied to whether they can get more staffing.  So some offices have requirements saying, even if you know they’re not eligible, just take a quick denial.  So that could be a reason why you’re getting it.  But they do need to check, they do need to make sure that they’re not missing out on any potential benefits for you.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.  Good tip.  Here’s a commonly asked question from Delores.  How long does it actually -- how long does it take to actually receive your benefits once you’ve gotten the thumbs up, favorable decision from the ALJ?

Barbara Mountain:  It’s usually 60 to 90 days and, unfortunately, it usually takes that long from the time you know the judge is going to award it --

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm.

Barbara Mountain:  -- because then he has to input his decision, the decision has to be written up, then it has to go to payment center and they have to process the pay and, unfortunately, it can take that.  I would say 60 days is probably most, on average, how long you’re going to have to wait.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.

Barbara Mountain:  They’re hoping to -- one of the things they’re going to is electronic signatures, allowing the judges to sign off on decisions electronically and that is, hopefully, going to shave off some time.

Brian Therrien:  Here’s a general one.  Good question, but I’ll run it by you anyway.  I’m 45 years old, have a chronic illness that will not allow me to work.  My doctor made me quite work due to my medical condition worsening.  I have a hearing date scheduled.  What are my chances of being awarded?  What was it, statistically, you said, Barb?  Sixty-three percent, yeah.

Barbara Mountain:  Statistically, Social Security statistics are 63 percent if you’re represented.  I would certainly hope that it’s higher than that.  We have a 98 percent award rate.

Brian Therrien:  At hearing?

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah.

Brian Therrien:  Wow.  Okay, so I guess a lot of it has to do with -- well, what I also say to members sometimes is if you are going into -- if you’re going into a hearing, I’m just going to presume that this person is represented, is do your research and find out who’s representing them and what they’re track record is and how many cases they’ve had like yours and what their success rate is and if you don’t get good results, then you might want to raise a flag.

Barbara Mountain:  Right.  What do they know about this judge?  Are they familiar with this judge and what do you know about him and what should I know going in, because you should be prepared.  When you go in you want to make sure that somebody’s gone over what questions you might be asked and how’s the best way to position the answers, things like that.

Brian Therrien: Yeah, yeah, okay.  I just want to wrap up the application process and then we want to -- we’ll get on here, but first before I do that I want to thank you.  This has been great information and going through -- I’ve learned a ton doing this and so I trust everybody else has as well, Barb.  For the audience, if you’re applying or looking to advance your case, the strategy that we have used is consistent with what Barb has communicated and the folks at IBI do, is really just explore your options and what we mean by that in our strategy and the whole long list of testimonials of people that have used it and gotten approved quickly is understand what it’s like, by using our mini course, to go through the system and prepare your case and get your medical records and what you’re going to need, say, and do.  You need to do that anyway because even if you use a representative, the more you know about the system the better it’s going to be to help you work with your representative to get approved.  But one of the key strategies in helping you build or advance your case is to interview a representative.  Get on the phone and talk to them and you can do this for free.  They’ll talk to you and they’ll go through your case and not advocating that you need to use them.  It’s not my point here or what we do here at the Disability Digest.  We want you to make the decision and here’s really where I’m going with this.  If you interview a representative and, you know, the few moments that we spent with Barb here, she’s outlined a lot of reasons why you would want to do that.  First of all, if you’ve got a 62 percent success rate at initial application, I would expect, Barb, that your team could talk to somebody and say, well, you know what, I think we’ve got a pretty good crack at making this work.  We could accept your case and if you do accept their case and their initial application, that tells the member right away, well, I’ve got a 62 percent chance of getting this through, right?  Or, what was your overall rate?  Ninety-some odd?

Barbara Mountain:  Yeah, we get over, I mean, we look at everything.  We get about 99 percent of our claimants awarded.

Brian Therrien:  Ninety-nine percent.  So if you’re accepted by a representative and in this instance IBI, then you’ve got a 99 percent chance of being approved.  So that’s the key thing.  The other thing is take a look at your onset date.  If you do it yourself and you kind of think you got it right or you’re talking to somebody at Social Security, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to come out and say well listen, we owe you five months more benefits.  I haven’t heard that happen a whole lot, but you can get that uncovered with a representative and formulate your case, right, and maybe discover that there’s other, you know, diagnosed conditions that would be important in your application, but there’s a whole host of things.  So that --

Barbara Mountain:  One other thing I’d ask is I’d ask them how long -- what’s their average time to get a claimant awarded?  Because you want to know that and you want to work with somebody who, you know, they have a good success rate in getting claims awarded quickly, because you don’t want to be sitting around and waiting forever.  So that’s just another important question when you’re interviewing a representative.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, great point.  So on this page that everybody’s looking at there is, if you scroll down, you’ll see that there is a request form that you can complete and request an interview with a representative and will review that information for you and somebody will likely contact you and ask a few more questions to see if you even qualify for an interview with a representative.  So just scroll down, have a look at that, and you can take advantage of that and hopefully we can help you get through this process in a quick fashion and like we tell everybody, once you get awarded and you’ve gone through and do that, make sure you let us know so we can do our soon to be famous Disability Victory Dance. 

Thanks for taking the time and we hope that you hang out for the few minutes of our program here.  Give you a better understanding of what we do and some of the stuff that we do for our members here.  So, Michelle, welcome.

Michelle Toole:  Thank you.

Brian Therrien: Great.  Let’s start with this.  We are going to go forward and announce the winners of the website start up kit contest that we ran and for the audience that’s out there, maybe you were aware of this and didn’t participate or maybe you were not.  I’ll just give you some background on how this all came about.  We have started a course for our members.  That’s a free course that you can take that will help you understand if building a website is a vehicle for you to help you supplement your income.  And the course is available in the member’s area.  You can go into the member’s area and sign up for it, you go through and Michelle Toole’s, with us here today, has put an immense amount of effort into building this and Michelle has been successful at supplementing her income through her disability and has done a great job at this as well as giving time back.  So what we did is we took and developed a contest around the whole course that we watched and one of the reasons is is that we understand that even with the free course, if you’re going to start a business online, there are some start up costs and you do need the right tools to make it work and to short cut it and streamline the process and living on disability check oftentimes has limitations.  So we wanted to give a little bit back, run a contest, and, you know, award some folks the ability to get started and pay for the whole shebang right up front.  So that’s what we did.  Did I miss anything Michelle?

Michelle Toole:  The only thing you forgot to add is the 45 minutes coaching time they get with me with the package.

Brian Therrien:  Perfect.  That is priceless.  Okay.  So the contest was run and why don’t you tell -- give some background on the contest and what we did and how we, you know, came about choosing the winners.  That’s up on the screen here Michelle.

Michelle Toole:  Well, you know, first of all it was a lot of fun.  I was glad to see people jump in and getting involved and take the bull by the horn and start to formulate their ideas and to learn a little bit about ecommerce, which was a big part of the goal is to get a better understanding, like you said, if the internet is actually a vehicle for an individual to use.  They’re made for earning money on the internet or do they need to find another viable resource for themselves?  So it was a lot of fun to see what effort people put into it, read a little bit about their stories, and some of their needs and some of their goals.  What we did was we kind of formulated an idea of how we would go about choosing the winners and there were a couple sets of criteria that we used.  The first one is that someone would follow through and see the project to fruition even with challenges.  Somebody that had that initiative, somebody that was tenacious enough to go ahead and battle through some of the challenges it takes to learn a new language and a new way of doing business, which varies from the offline world.  Also someone who’s willing to share their experience with others.  That’s something that’s really important to all of us in this community is that we give and take and be able to build off of each other’s successes and help each other out.  Its sometimes only a matter of five minutes sharing our ideas or some of the knowledge that we’ve gained where it could be an immense help to others and lifesaving to some.  So that was a criteria. 

And another one was that someone had showed us, in their entry, that they had the basic set of skills necessary to create an online business.  Some basic writing skills, nothing advanced, just your basic.  Can follow instructions.  That was a real important one.  Basic understanding of computers, basically enough just to get on the forum, get signed on, and post a blog, and had a good grasp of either already had a good understanding of ecommerce through some of the materials we suggested that you read or showed a real eagerness or willingness to learn and that you were resourceful.  That if you needed more information, you went ahead and sought it out or sought Brian or myself to be able to find that information. 

And the last set of criteria, which was a real important part of the decision making, which someone that really fully read the instructions, took the time to listen to the contest question and answer interviews and the SBI tour that Brian and I put together as well as took the time to read over some of the materials that we suggested you read with SBI to get a better understanding of what you can anticipate if you were to build a business.  So that’s kind of the outline we used to make a decision.  In reading through all of the entries and it took a little bit of time.  Brian came up with a great kind of tool to help us decide and, like I said, it was a lot of fun.  I don’t know -- I would be willing to do it again and again if we can get as many people that are interested on board to have this experience.  I think that outlines everything Brian.

Brian Therrien:  That’s exactly it.  So that being said, shall we proceed?

Michelle Toole:  I think so.  I’m excited.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.  So we went through and chose the winners and we’ve got them outlined here on the screen and so before we start, my -- I’ve got some assistance from my kids today to announce the winners.  I have a five-year-old son who likes drums so he let me borrow his drums so I could do the drum roll before we announce the first place winner.  So we ready?

Michelle Toole: Ready.  Let’s go.

Drum roll

Brian Therrien:  First place winner is?

Michelle Toole:  Gracie G.

Brian Therrien:  All right.  And I’m going to show the profile on the -- and that is the --

Michelle Toole:  Not everybody gave me their names.

Brian Therrien:  Okay.

Michelle Toole:  So I decided to just go by community names and they should know who they are.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah.  So if you’re in attendance or listening to the replay, you have come in first place.  So that includes one full year of SBI and a coaching session with Michelle.  Congratulations.

Michelle Toole:  Yah.

Brian Therrien:  All right.

Michelle Toole:  This was really well done and anybody that wants to kind of get -- help themselves get motivated with the process, take some time to read over Grace’s entry.  I think it was great.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, it was, it was.  And so second, third, and fourth place also receive the like prize.  So the second place winner.

Michelle Toole:  Faith Works.

Brian Therrien:  Faith Works and Faith was under the gun actually finishing this from, if I remember correctly, she was finishing this from her hospital bed.

Michelle Toole:  That’s right.  She said she was doing everything she could to get this entry in.  With tech problems and all and having a hard time connecting to the internet from the hospital.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, yeah.  Well, one of the neat things is -- with these entries is really understanding the people and a little bit about their background and what they went through and, you know, it’s interesting.  A lot of people have tried for years to find a reliable way to supplement their income and, unfortunately, haven’t been able to, so hopefully this will be the answer.  So for third place.

Michelle Toole:  Venom King 420.

Brian Therrien:  Venom King 420 had actually an entry -- I think we’ve got an awful slow internet service.  So 41, he has children.  This was a great entry.  Very entertaining.  Job well done.  Congratulations.

Michelle Toole:  Yeah, he was actually the first entry in.

Brian Therrien:  Mm-hmm, yep.  Okay.  And we’re on to fourth place.

Michelle Toole:  Fourth place, Crowetta.

Brian Therrien:  Crowetta, congratulations.  So we had a lot of entries to go through.  This was actually Curt Rowetta?  Did I pronounce that correctly?  Fifty-one years old in Marion, Ohio.  Congratulations.  So those are your four winners.  Now, we have an honorable mention and for the honorable mention that we’re going to load up on the screen here, that is -- how would you pronounce that Michelle?

Michelle Toole:  RenoFXRS.

Brian Therrien:  Reno.  Here’s what I would say.  It was a tough one as it always is, but if you choose to go forward and use SBI, email your purchase receipt to me, Brian at the Disability Digest, and I will pay for the first two months.  So usually if you use SBI and follow it correctly, you can be profitable in what, four or five months?

Michelle Toole:  Yeah, yeah, and SBI just started a new monthly payment system that they’re testing out.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah.

Michelle Toole:  So you can purchase the whole thing or try it out for a couple of months.

Brian Therrien:  Yeah, so for the honorable mention, job well done, send me your receipt.  I’ll be glad to do that for you.  So, at any rate, that was fun.  It was exciting.  Again for those of you who are in the audience that are listening that didn’t partake, would like to partake or learn if building a business online is for you, just go into our member’s area and you can scroll down into the jobs and income section and you’ll see that you can register for the course and get started and there’s tons of free information and audios and videos and I don’t know how many hours we have in there Michelle, but a lot.  So that’s great.  Michelle, thanks for all that you do in putting this together.  That was -- that was great.

Michelle Toole:  Well, it was a pleasure.  Just make sure -- I’m going to be sending a note to the winner.

Brian Therrien: Yep, yep, and for the winners, this is a -- this is a 12-month membership and it was purchased for you on Monday.  So timing is of the essence, so when Michelle contacts you, you know, get the information back so you can take full advantage of this.  So great.  Let’s just do a quick recap.  Barb, thanks, once again, for coming out and spending your time and sharing all this valuable information with us today.  Certainly appreciate that.  And for those of you who are in the application process and looking to advance your case, just you can look at the page on your screen and the address or scroll down, if you’re listening to the replay, and you can request an interview with a representative and we’ll certainly review that and help you do the very best that we can from our position to help you move your case forward.  So, and Michelle, again, thank you.  We’ll have to do this again.  That was fun.

Michelle Toole:  That was fun.  Thanks for everybody.

Brian Therrien:  Yep, thanks.  So if you’re listening, there will be a replay of this circulated in about a week, so if you missed something, you can listen to the replay and if you’re listening to the replay, thanks for listening to the replay.  We’ll be back.  We do these webinars usually the first Wednesday of every month, so we look forward to having you back next month.  Thanks everybody.  Have a great day.

{end of the interview}