Attorney Lager to Speak at Walnut Creek Healthcare and Rehabilitation

We at Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager are proud to announce that Attorney Matthew Lager has been invited to speak about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits at Walnut Creek Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center on Thursday, May 16, 2019, from 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., as part of the Erie County Bar Association’s Speaker’s Bureau, which provides speakers for local groups and organizations at no cost.

Attorney Lager’s speech will include a crash-course in the basics of Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income. This will include the difference between the two programs, how they overlap, who is eligible for benefits under the programs, and how to apply! If you or a loved one is unable to work because of a health condition, you should consider attending and learning the basics.

Attorney Lager has been with our firm since 2012 and has been a partner since 2017. He focuses his practice on Car Accidents, Workers’ Compensation, and Social Security Disability / SSI, and has previously been named one of Erie’s Top 40 Under 40.

Long Term Disability Insurance Making Me Apply for Social Security Disability

Long-term disability and Social Security Disability

If you receive long-term disability insurance in Pennsylvania, your long-term disability insurance carrier will frequently make you apply for Social Security Disability. As Erie, PA Social Security Disability Lawyers, we frequently get calls asking about letters people have received from their insurance carriers threatening to cut off their benefits if they don’t apply for Social Security Disability. In this article, we will explain how these policies typically work and what your rights are. In short, you should probably file for disability and you should definitely hire your own lawyer to help—not the insurance company’s “lawyer” or “advocate.”

Your long-term disability insurer can make you apply for Social Security Disability

If you order a full copy of your long-term disability policy, you will most likely finding a clause that requires you to file for Social Security Disability. Failure to do so can often lead to your benefits being terminated, so it’s important to stay on top of this and find a skilled Social Security Disability lawyer to help you through the process. Although applying for Social Security Disability is most likely in your best interest, your insurance company requires you to apply for a very selfish reason: it reduces the amount of benefits the insurance company needs pay you (directly), because most policies allow the insurer to take an offset for any benefits paid to you by the Social Security Administration. As a practical matter, this offset is dollar-for-dollar, so you still receive the same amount of money at the end of the day: it just comes from two different sources (one check from the insurance company, and another check from the Social Security Administration). Be careful, though: if you win Social Security, your insurance company will most likely be entitled to all your past-due benefits. Be careful not to spend the past-due benefit check (however tempting it might be) and to check your policy to be sure who owns the money.

Can I hire my own Social Security Disability Lawyer if I’m on Long-Term Disability Insurance?

If you’re receiving long-term disability insurance, you are most likely being inundated with solicitations and letters from various “advocacy groups” offering to help you file for Social Security Disability benefits. Please be aware that you do not have to hire these groups: you can and should hire your own lawyer to look out for you and your rights. These “advocates” are disability mills and do not care about you, your family, or your case. They enter into contracts with insurance companies and do mass volume work. You won’t meet your “lawyer” until the day of the hearing and you’ll never speak to the same person twice (in fact, you’ll spend most of your time navigating phone menus and waiting “on hold”). When these companies lose your case, they’ll cut you loose and so will your insurance company, leaving you holding the bag. Instead of calling one of the groups that sent you a letter, call our Erie, PA Law Firm instead.

What will it cost to hire my own lawyer?

If you’re receiving long-term disability insurance and your insurer is requiring you to file or Social Security Disability, it likely won’t cost you anything to hire our law firm. Because we typically work on a contingent basis for a portion of your past-due benefits (nothing from your ongoing benefits), and because your long-term insurance carrier is most likely entitled to your past due benefits, our fee ends up coming out of the insurance company’s pocket—not yours. If you’re on long-term disability insurance need to apply (or have applied) for Social Security Disability benefits, you should call our lawyers today at 814-452-6232. We can help protect your rights and make sure your case is handled the right way. If you’re undecided, we offer free consultations.

Joint Bank Accounts and Supplemental Security Income “SSI” Benefits

Social Security Administration

At Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager, our Erie, PA law firm handles a large number of SSI cases. In this practice, our lawyers frequently see issues with SSI recipients losing their benefits due to joint bank accounts with boyfriends, girlfriends, or other significant others and family members. If you receive SSI benefits, it is almost never a good idea to share a bank account with anyone other than your spouse. In this article, I will briefly explain some of the issues with co-ownership of bank accounts and SSI benefits. Please note that this article applies only to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, not Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Supplemental Security Income is a needs-based program where entitlement to benefits is based partially on financial eligibility, whereas Social Security Disability Insurance is a work-credit based system that has nothing to do with your assets, only your work history. Social Security Disability beneficiaries are free to share their funds with whomever they desire. If you are unsure whether or not you are receiving SSDI or SSI benefits, and are considering a joint bank account, you should consult with an attorney first.

SSI Qualifications and Joint Accounts

In addition to being disabled, in order to qualify for SSI benefits, you must meet certain financial eligibility requirements as to your “countable resources.” This not only includes your income, but also resources that are available to you, not counting certain excludable resources. If your countable resources ever exceed the total allowable amount, you will become ineligible for SSI and potentially other welfare benefits, like health insurance and food stamps. When you chose to open a joint bank account with another individual, the Social Security Administration presumes that you share ownership of these funds. When your co-ownership of this bank account is discovered, if your personal funds in addition to the shared funds exceeds the total allowable amount, you will be kicked off your SSI benefits. When that happens, it is almost always advisable to immediately get separate bank accounts so this problem does not continue occurring.

If you find yourself having your SSI benefits terminated due to the co-ownership of a bank account you should contact an attorney immediately, as it is sometimes possible to rebut ownership of a joint account. In order to do this, you must be able to prove that the funds in the joint account were not available to you personally. This can be extremely difficult. While our firm has had success rebutting ownership of funds in a joint account, it is by no means the norm. Regardless, it still makes sense to speak with an attorney to determine whether or not this is possible in your case.

It is imperative that you follow this advise and never open a joint bank account with another individual without first consulting with an attorney if you are in pursuit of SSI benefits. We have seen situations where people fought years for SSI benefits, won in front of an administrative law judge, only to have their claim later denied due to a joint bank account opened with a significant other several years prior. This can be tragic and often times irreversible. Even worse, sometimes the Social Security Administration does not notice that you have this joint bank account for several years after they have been paying you SSI benefits; this can lead to what is called an “overpayment,” where Social Security comes after you to be repaid all the benefits they have paid to you. We have seen situations where Social Security is claiming they are owed upwards of $20,000.00. if you find yourself on the receiving end of an overpayment, you should contact a lawyer immediately to discuss your options.

What about Payees?

One common pitfall where individuals wrongly think its okay to have a joint bank account with an SSI recipient is when said individual is a payee for a disabled person receiving SSI benefits. Even if you are the payee for a disabled SSI recipient, you should not co-own a bank account with the disabled individual, as doing so can cause the disabled individual to be kicked off their SSI benefits should the funds in that bank account end up exceeding the amount of allowable countable resources for SSI recipients. This can be an innocent mistake with tragic results. In short, it almost never a good idea to have a jointly owned bank account if you are an SSI recipient or are co-owning a bank account with an SSI recipient. If you believe your situation is unique, you should strongly consider consulting with an attorney before opening any joint bank accounts to determine whether or not doing so will affect your entitlement to benefits.

If you are in the process of looking for a disability lawyer, call our Erie, PA Disability lawyers for a free consultation at 814-452-6232.

Social Security Disability and Early Retirement

Social Security AdministrationIf you are in your 60s and believe you are unable to continue working full time due to health problems, you may be considering filing for Social Security Retirement benefits.  But, before you do so, it may be worthwhile to consider Social Security Disability as an alternative option that may save you thousands of dollars. Frequently, you an file a joint application that gives you the best of both worlds. If, after reading this post, you decide to file for disability, know that our Social Security Disability lawyers can help and offer free consultations.

Social Security Retirement Age

Historically, the full retirement age for Social Security Retirement was the age of 65.  However, in recent years the full retirement age has begun to slowly increase over time.  If you were born before 1954, your full retirement age is considered to be 66 years. If you were born between 1955 and 1959, the full retirement age gradually increases for each year. For those born in 1955 the age is 66 years and 2 months, for 1956 the age is 66 years and 4 months.  Individual born in 1957 reach full retirement age at 66 years and 6 months, for 1958 full retirement age is reached at 66 years and 8 months, and for 1959 full retirement is achieved at 66 years and 10 months.  Finally, for any individual born in 1967 or later, the full retirement age for Social Security is 67 years.

Social Security Early Retirement

If you have not yet reached full retirement age, but are considering collecting Social Security because of health problems that prevent you from working full time, there is the option to take early retirement.  Unlike the full retirement age, the early retirement age has not increased gradually, instead it is still possible to take early retirement at age 62.  By doing so, an individual receives a reduced amount of benefits instead of receiving their full amount of benefits.  For individuals born after 1960, taking early retirement at age 62 will mean receiving 70 percent of the full benefit they would receive if they waited until reaching full retirement age.  The Social Security retirement age calculator can help determine the exact amount of reduced benefits an individual may receive if they were born between 1955 and 1959.

Social Security Disability

However, while Social Security early retirement may be an option if you are unable to continue to work full time due to health problems, it may not be the best option.  In fact, by taking early retirement benefits, you may people giving away thousands of dollars in Social Security benefits by taking the reduced rate.  Instead of taking early retirement benefits, it may be worthwhile instead to consider applying for Social Security Disability.  Individuals who receive Social Security Disability benefits receive the same amount as they would receive in full, unreduced retirement age benefits.  And, once an individual reaches full retirement age, the Social Security Disability benefits automatically convert from disability benefits to retirement benefits.

Navigating Social Security benefits and deciding what the best option is for you can be a difficult and complicated process.  Every case has its own circumstances and facts that may determine which option is right for you.  Due to this, if you are considering early retirement due to health problems, you should contact an experienced Social Security disability attorney prior to making any decision.  Our office will do everything in our power to aid you in the process of obtaining Social Security disability benefits.  Contact one of our attorneys today for a free consultation.

Our New Social Security Disability Commercial

At Bernard Stuczynski Barnett & Lager,, we strive to provide excellent representation to our clients. We provide this excellent representation by working hard, drawing from our experience, and believing in our cause. When we began working with our designers on our new Social Security Disability commercial, we sought to tap into the most fundamental part of the Social Security System: Patriotism and the uniquely American notion of “no man left behind.”

As Americans, our work defines us.

We’ve given our lives to our trades.

We pay into our system so those of us who get hurt won’t be left behind.

If you’re disabled, refusing to allow your disability to define you…

Is just as important as where you turn. Erie’s Social Security Disability Attorneys.

If you have questions about Social Security Disability, our attorneys can help. Call us for a free consultation.

What is Date Last Insured for a Social Security Disability Claim

What does “Date Last Insured” mean?

Date Last Insured, Social Security DisabilityFor any individual considering applying for Social Security Disability, there are a number of different factors that must be taken into consideration.  One of the most important factors is an individual’s “date last insured,” often abbreviated as  “DLI.”  This date can determine whether an individual is eligible to obtain Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) or if they are only potentially eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

Social Security Disability and Date Last Insured

In order to be eligible for Social Security Disability (SSDI), an individual must have obtained enough quarters of coverage to be considered insured under the program.  A person earns a quarter of coverage by working in a given quarter during a calendar year and paying Social Security and Medicare taxes and a person can earn up to four quarters of coverage in one year.  Once a person has obtained a quarter of coverage, she is eligible for coverage under the SSDI program up until a certain point in time.  This point in time where the coverage for SSDI lapses is referred to as the “date last insured.”  After the date last insured passes, a person is no longer eligible for the SSDI program if their disability begins after that date because that person no longer has coverage under the program.

Due to this, it is very important for an individual to be aware of his or her date last insured when applying for Social Security Disability Benefits.  If a person’s disability begins before his or her Date Last Insured, then he or she can be eligible for SSDI benefits.  An individual can apply and obtain SSDI benefits after his or her date last insured has passed but, in order to do so, he or she must prove that his or her disability began before the date last insured had passed.

What if my Date Last Insured has passed?

If your date last insured has passed and you are unable to prove that your disability began prior to the date last insured, you will not be eligible to receive SSDI benefits.  However, this does not necessarily mean that you will be unable to obtain disability benefits. Depending upon your income and assets, you may be eligible for SSI benefits, as the SSI program is a separately administered program with its own eligibility requirements.

Because there is so much complexity and so many factors involved in obtaining Social Security Disability Income, it is important to obtain an experienced Social Security Disability attorney in the event you are seeking to obtain disability benefits.  Our office will do everything in our power to aid you in the process of obtaining Social Security Disability benefits.  Contact one of our attorneys today for a free consultation.

Can I work while on Social Security Disability?

Can I work a part-time job while on Social Security Disability?

Social Security AdministrationIndividuals who are currently on Social Security Disability often ask if they are able to work and earn money while remaining on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  The general answer to this question is “yes, it is possible to earn some money while still retaining disability benefits.”  But there are important conditions and rules that must be taken into account whenever an individual is considering whether or not to work while receiving disability benefits.  One of the most important factors to take into account is whether the amount of earnings will be considered “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) by the Social Security Administration.

Substantial Gainful Activity

The Social Security Administration considers substantial gainful activity to generally be any work that results in earnings over a certain amount.  For each year the dollar amount required to be considered substantial gainful activity will change.  For 2017, the amount for substantial gainful activity is $1,170.00 for non-blind individuals and $1,950.00 for blind individuals.  Because of this, if an individual who is not blind earns more than $1,170.00 per month, they will generally be considered to be participating in substantial gainful activity.  And, if a person is participating in substantial gainful activity, they are generally considered to not be disabled by the Social Security Administration, as disability is defined as the inability to perform substantial gainful activity.

*The amount of money that qualifies as “substantial gainful activity” changes every year. This article was written in 2017 and provides 2017 numbers only. For an updated amount, please check the Social Security Administration’s website on Substantial Gainful Activity.

Other Factors

There are however many circumstances and conditions that may lead to the Social Security Administration to determine that a person making less than $1,170.00 is performing substantial gainful activity and there are circumstances that can lead the Social Security Administration to determine that a person making more than $1,170.00 is still not performing substantial gainful activity.  For example, if a person is making less than $1,170.00 but is performing volunteer work that would normally be an activity that a person would be paid for, then Social Security may consider such activity to be substantial gainful activity.  Or, a person who is earning more than $1,170.00 but was provided with special equipment to aid them in the job or given work specifically to accommodate the individual’s disability may not be considered to be performing substantial gainful activity if it can be shown that the person’s income would have been less but for those circumstances.

What about my specific circumstances?

Due to these factors, along with other exceptions that Social Security provides that may allow for an individual to earn more than $1,170.00 a month such as a trial work period or the ticket to work program, it is important to speak with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney prior to accepting a job while on Social Security Disability benefits.  There are numerous rules, regulations and factors that must be considered in any individual case and it is important to understand all of your options before you make a decision. Call our office today for a free consultation to speak with one of our experienced Social Security Disability Attorneys.

Social Security Beneficiaries get a Raise in 2018!

Social Security Beneficiaries get a raise in 2018!

Social Security AdministrationThere is finally good news on the horizon for those who rely on Social Security Benefits: The Social Security Administration has announced a 2% Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) to take place in the beginning of 2018. This 2% raise will affect both Social Security and SSI recipients. Although this is the largest increase in Social Security benefits since 2012, it only comes out to about $25.00 per month for the average Social Security beneficiary.

For more information, take a look at the Social Security Administration’s cost-of-living adjustment website.

If you or a loved one is interested in apply for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), call our law firm for a free consultation.


Should I hire a Social Security Disability Attorney?

When you should Hire a Disability Lawyer

Should you hire a Social Security Disability Attorney?

Many people wonder if they should hire a Social Security Disability attorney. If your and your family’s livelihood depends on winning your case for disability benefits, it’s not a question of if you should hire a Social Security Disability attorney, it’s a question of when you should hire a Social Security Disability attorney. Unfortunately, many individuals wait too long before contacting an attorney about their claim for Social Security Disability benefits.  There are two rules to follow if you are considering or have already applied for Social Security Disability benefits:

Contact an experienced Social Security Disability Attorney before applying for Social Security Disability benefits.

Not every individual needs to have an attorney represent them when making their initial application for Social Security benefits.  However, in some cases, retaining counsel at the initial application level can improve an individual’s chances for being approved.  Regardless of which category an individual falls into, speaking with an experienced Social Security Disability attorney prior to making the application will allow an applicant to obtain advice in avoiding common pit falls that can result in an initial application being denied.  Such pit falls include applying for benefits too soon or too late, failing to allege an appropriate onset date for disability benefits, and applying for benefits before having sufficient medical documentation to support your allegations of disability.

If you receive a Notice of Decision denying your initial application for Social Security Disability benefits, contact an experienced Social Security Disability Attorney immediately.

If your claim for Social Security Disability benefits was denied, not only do you have a limited time period in which to appeal the denial of your initial application for benefits, but it is important to have an attorney review the basis for the Social Security Administration’s denial of your claim as soon as possible.  Do not wait until your hearing has been scheduled to seek legal representation.  Although it can take up to 24 months or more before your appeal will be heard by an Administrative Law Judge, retaining an attorney right away will ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to further document your medical condition and win your case.

Our experienced Social Security Disability attorneys would be happy to provide you with a free review of your Social Security Disability claim. Call our office at 814-452-6232 for a free consultation!

What is the difference between Disability and SSI?


What is the difference between Social Security Disability Income (SSDI or SSD) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

If you are thinking of applying for Social Security Disability or have already applied, you may be wondering what the difference between SSD and SSI is.  Although the two programs are both administered by the Social Security Administration and the criteria to obtain benefits under either program are substantially similar, it is important to note that SSD and SSI are two separate and independent programs with different eligibility requirements.

What is Social Security Disability Income (SSDI)?

Social Security Disability Income, or SSD, provides disability benefits to individuals who are insured through their contributions to the Social Security trust fund.  Workers contribute to this fund through FICA Social Security taxes that are taken in the form of payroll taxes when a person is working.  In exchange for this, an individual who is working obtains work credits through Social Security.  These work credits are used to determine if an individual is eligible for SSD benefits.  Each individual who stops working will have a date last insured, which is the last date that the work credits they have earned will allow them to remain insured and eligible for SSD benefits.  Once this date last insured has passed, it is no longer possible to obtain SSD benefits and because of this, it is very important to obtain an experienced Social Security Disability attorney to help you protect your rights and benefits.

In addition, the amount of SSD benefits an individual can earn is dependent upon a worker’s lifetime average earnings covered by Social Security.  And, if an individual obtains SSD benefits they will become eligible for Medicare after receiving SSD benefits for two years.

What is Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is not an insurance program like SSD.  Instead, SSI is a means-tested program that is administered by Social Security based solely upon an individual’s needs according to income and assets.  SSI is not funded through payroll taxes but instead is funded through general tax revenues.  In order to be eligible for SSI benefits an individual must not exceed the asset limit that is determined by Social Security and you must not exceed a certain monthly income rate.

SSI benefits are not calculated based upon the earnings that an individual has made but instead they are calculated based upon a set rate that deducts any countable income that an individual may be earning.  Additionally, an individual who is receiving SSI benefits is not eligible for Medicare like an individual who is receiving SSD benefits, instead, SSI recipients are eligible to receive Medicaid.

How do I apply for SSD or SSI?

Because there are many differences between SSD and SSI it is important to obtain an experienced Social Security Disability attorney in the event that you are seeking to obtain disability benefits from Social Security.  Our office will do everything in our power to aid you in the process of obtaining Social Security disability benefits.  Contact one of our attorneys today for a free consultation.