One of the most significant – but least thought of- threats to a person’s financial security is suffering a disabling condition and being unable to earn a paycheck. While we all know people who have experienced this, we tend to think it won’t ever happen to us. But the truth is approximately 8 million adults currently have a disability that prevents them from working and more than 375,000 Americans become totally disabled every year.
The consequences of a disability that prevents you from working are considerable: How long could you continue to pay your monthly expenses without a paycheck? How long could you keep your house? It has been estimated that 46% of all foreclosures on conventional mortgages are caused by a disability. Most people that stop working are forced to dip into savings within a few months, which can have a devastating long-term financial impact. Think of it this way: If you have saved 10 percent of your income each year prior to becoming disabled, one year of being totally disabled could wipe out 8 – 10 years of savings (depending on how much you could scale-back your monthly living expenses). Second only to getting medical treatment for the illness or injury that is keeping you from working, the next most important thing you can do is to secure some form of replacement income.
One option available to most Americans who have worked is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). This is a public disability insurance program funded by FICA withholdings from workers’ paychecks and administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA). It pays a monthly benefit if you become totally disabled and aren’t able to work prior to reaching retirement age.
You qualify for SSDI benefits by earning Social Security “work credits” when you work in a job and pay Social Security (FICA) taxes. In 2020, you receive one work credit for each $1,410 of earnings, up to the maximum of four credits per year. Each year the amount of earnings needed for a work credit goes up slightly as average earnings levels increase. In general terms, you must have worked 5 out of the last 10 years to be eligible. However, for younger workers the number of work credits needed to qualify is reduced because of their shorter earnings history.
If you haven’t worked long enough when you become disabled to be eligible for SSDI benefits, and have low income and few assets, you can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) instead. This is a needs-based program that provides a smaller monthly benefit and entitlement to Medicaid.
In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, you must also have a medical condition(s) that meets the SSA’s definition of disability. SSDI benefits are eligible only to those with a severe, long-term, and total disability.
Severe means that your condition must interfere with basic work-related activities. Long-term means that your condition has lasted, or is expected to last, at least one year or result in death. Total disability, to the SSA, means that you aren’t able to perform “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) for at least one year. If you are currently working and make over $1,260 per month in 2020 for disabled applicants, the SSA will find that you’re performing SGA and that you are not disabled enough to qualify for SSDI benefits.
Unfortunately, obtaining SSDI benefits is a complex and frustrating process that can last anywhere from a few months to several years. The Initial Application requires a claimant to complete detailed questions about his or her last 15 years of work history, medical conditions that are preventing full-time work, treatment providers and dates of service, and what the person’s capacity for work is in spite of the disabling conditions. This Initial Application and supporting documents are often more than 30 pages long. It takes SSA an average of nine months to make a decision and more than 75% of Initial Applications are denied!
There are multiple levels of appeal, including filing a Request for Reconsideration of the initial denial (which takes another 6 months on average) and attending a hearing in front of an administrative law judge (an additional 14 months on average). Each level of appeal is increasingly time-consuming and technically challenging.
Claimants can file for benefits on their own, either by calling SSA’s national toll-free number, going down to a local SSA office or filing online at ssa.gov. Or they can hire an attorney or non-attorney advocate to represent them. In fact, a 2017 study on disability conducted by the Martindale-Nolo, a legal publishing firm, found that having professional representation by a qualified attorney nearly doubles a person’s chances of winning SSDI benefits and makes the process much less stressful.
How to Choose an Attorney
So how do you choose an attorney to represent you in your quest for SSDI benefits? According to Victor Arruda, managing partner at Social Security Law Group, a 25-year old firm that has helped more than 55,000 people across the country obtain SSDI benefits, “It boils down to Specialization, Experience and Credentials.”
While an attorney that handles personal injury and workers’ compensation claims in addition to SSDI cases may be a competent lawyer, he or she probably hasn’t developed the focused-expertise of someone who specializes in only SSDI. Says Atty. Arruda, “Social Security is a unique and highly-specialized area of law. To really understand all the procedures, regulations and case law that apply, and to use that insight to your client’s advantage, requires years of study and real-world practice.”
You want to select a lawyer who has assisted dozens, if not hundreds, of claimants with getting SSDI benefits over several years. “There’s a reason they call it ‘practicing’ law. Learning the finer points of any legal specialty takes time and practice,” according to Mr. Arruda. “After doing this for over 25 years, I know a whole lot more about the nuances of getting someone awarded SSDI than I did when I first began practicing law.”
You also want to choose someone who is properly credentialed. Look for someone who is a member in good standing of the legal bar. Check to see if they have any complaints against them filed with the legal bar or the Better Business Bureau. And look for membership in the SSDI legal specialty’s organizations of choice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimant Representatives or the National Association of Disability Representatives. “If an attorney isn’t a member of at least one of these organizations, I’d have concerns. They provide on-going education specific to Social Security representation, establish best practices, and try to ensure the highest standards of conduct among their members,” says Atty. Arruda.
Reckless Driving in the State of Virginia
The state of Virginia is strict in its enforcement of laws against reckless driving. According to section 46.2-852 of the Virginia Code, reckless driving is listed as a criminal offense. In addition, the Virginia Code categorizes all driving that endangers the life and property of others as reckless.
Several behaviors that motorists exhibit while behind the wheels can qualify as reckless driving in Virginia. “Reckless driving causes nearly a third of all deaths involving major car accidents, which are more than 13,000 each year,” explains attorney Karin Riley Porter. As a result, you can be charged by an officer and can be found guilty or not guilty by a judge.
Types of Reckless Driving
Reckless driving is in different forms and includes:
1. Driving a vehicle with a mechanical fault
Va. Code § 46.2-853 considers driving a vehicle with faulty brakes as a reckless driving offense. Therefore, if a driver cannot maintain proper vehicle control, the driver will be held liable for reckless driving. However, if a driver could prove that they didn’t have prior knowledge that the vehicle was faulty, it would be possible to avoid conviction.
2. Not giving out the right signals when required
Not giving out a signal while driving on Virginia road is an offense under section 46.2-860 of the Virginia Code. Motorists are required to start signaling 50 feet away from the place they would be turning where the speed limit is not above 35 mph. In situations where the speed limit is above 35 mph, drivers are required to signal 100 feet away from where they would take a turn.
3. Driving alongside another vehicle on a single lane road
In Virginia, driving two vehicles abreast on a one-lane road is considered a reckless driving offense. This rule, however, only applies to vehicles and has no implications on motorcycles and bikes. If found liable, the offender will face charges.
Different Virginia roads are subject to variable speed limits. A driver can face charges for reckless driving if they exceed the speed limit specified by law on each road network. According to the Va. Code §46.2-862, a driver can face convictions for reckless driving if they exceed the specified speed limit by 20 mph or drive above 80 mph.
5. Driving with an impaired view
Some drivers overload their cars or carry passengers who prevent them from seeing all sides of the road. Overloading is most common in trucks. If the passenger’s sitting position in any way obstructs the driver’s view, then the driver can be charged for reckless driving.
6. Racing on Public Property
Section 46.2-865 of the Virginia Code considers car racing on any property that is open to the members of the public without authorization as reckless driving. If found guilty, the state can withdraw the license of the driver for up to six months.
Penalties for Reckless Driving in Virginia
A reckless driving conviction may attract different penalties to the offender, some of which may include:
- A suspension of the driver’s license for six months or more
- Up to one-year jail term
- Fine amounting to $2,500
- Increase in auto insurance
- Ineligibility for car rentals
- Possibility of permanent seizure of vehicle if found guilty of unauthorized car racing
Reckless driving is a severe offense in Virginia. If you are charged with the crime and convicted, it can stay in your driving records for up to 11 years. However, with the help of an experienced Virginia traffic attorney, you can get a lesser charge for the offense.
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