***CORONAVIRUS NOTICE***

Out of an abundance of caution and necessity with regard to COVID-19, Halpern Law Group’s physical office is closed at this time. All of our staff, however, are working remotely and HLG is operating at a 100% capacity.

Until further notice, we are not conducting any in-office appointments at this time, but we will be doing them by phone instead.

If you have something to drop off, please put it in the locked drop box outside our front door and call the office number to notify us, and we will come and get it from the box. Alternatively, you can still mail, fax, or email us things.

As of the date this notice was posted, all Social Security offices are closed to the public. Therefore, all claimants who currently have a hearing scheduled are being given the option to have their hearings held telephonically or postponed to a later date. If you are one of our clients with a hearing scheduled in the near future, we will be in contact with you to discuss the pros and cons of each option. If you choose to keep your currently-scheduled hearing date and have your hearing conducted telephonically, we will let you know what the arrangements will be to make that happen. Please call us if you have any questions about an upcoming hearing.

Our primary concern is the health and safety of our clients and their families, our staff and their families, and the general public. We are sorry for any inconvenience but are doing out best to still take care of our clients’ needs.

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Scam Alert!

Would it be nice if our caller ID showed us this?

In recent months there has been a rash of scam calls made to unsuspecting people all across the nation.  In these calls, the callers are saying they are from the Social Security Administration and using threatening or frightening language to try to get personal information from their victims.  We even got such a call on our office phone line.  The one we received was a recorded message that said, “This call is from the department of Social Security Administration.  The reason you have received this phone call from our department is to inform you that we just suspended your Social Security number because we found some suspicious activity. So if you want to know about this case, just press 1.  Thank you.”

The victims of these calls, fearing they are going to get in trouble with a federal agency, may be tempted to provide the information the caller asks for.  If you get such a call, don’t provide any personal information! You should hang up and then call and report the details of the call to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271.  Or you can report the call online at OIG.SSA.gov/report.

If you have an attorney representing you in your Social Security disability claim, then the Social Security Administration, the office of Disability Determination Services, and the Office of Hearings Operations, should all communicate with your attorney about your claim instead of calling you directly. There are a couple of exceptions, but if they call you directly, they will already have your social security number and other personal information, so will not ask you to give it to them over the phone.  If you are ever in doubt whether a call you are receiving is legitimately from the Social Security Administration, you can always hang up and call your local Social Security office and confirm with them whether someone from their office is trying to reach you.

It’s unfortunate that there are people out there perpetuating these types of scams on innocent victims. The best one can do it is to be careful when it comes to their personal information.  It’s better to be overly cautious than to have to deal with the headache of identity theft.

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The SSA Is Experiencing It’s Biggest Backlog in History

The SSA Is Experiencing It's Biggest Backlog in History

Every year, millions of American’s who are unable to work due to disabling physical and mental conditions apply for Social Security Disability and/or Supplemental Security Income. Awaiting approval on an application and navigating the appeals process can take years, which for many applicants can be financially arduous since they typically have little to no source of income while they wait. Much of the prolonged delay is due to the fact that the Social Security Administration is facing the largest hearings backlog in its agency’s history. As of March 2015, the Office of the Inspector General reported that the SSA had about 1 million people awaiting a decision at the hearing level.1 That’s equivalent to the entire combined populations of Vermont & Wyoming.

The breaking point for this slow-building backlog began in 2007 when the SSA’s pending level was 743,800 cases with an average processing time (APT) at the hearing level of 512 days. (Please note: this is the time from when a claimant requests a hearing, which is the third step in the process if the claimant was denied at the first two steps. The first two steps alone can take up to a year.) The SSA announced a plan to reduce the number of pending hearings to 466,000 and reduce the APT to 270 days by the end of the 2013 fiscal year. 1 Fast-forward to today – the national average is 1 million pending cases with an APT of 450 days.  As of October 2015, the APT for the Eugene hearings office, which serves all of Central Oregon claimants, was 500 days.2 Therefore Central Oregon claimants, when combining the wait time at the first two steps of the process, may wait up to two and a half years to have a hearing with a judge. Consequently, it’s clear that the SSA’s efforts to eliminate the hearing backlog have been unsuccessful, and we are once again approaching new record high wait times.

So Now What?

The SSA still plans to achieve their goal of reducing the backlog of pending hearings to 270 days by 2020. They hope to achieve their goal by increasing the number of judges, making use of new technology and allowing new leadership to tackle the problem. In the meantime, claimants should visit their local department of human services to learn about other avenues of assistance in their immediate area, like qualifying for food stamps, privately run assistance programs and charitable organizations. A great place to start is Oregon.gov. Or, feel free to contact Halpern Law Group if you want more information.

Sources:

1 http://oig.ssa.gov/sites/default/files/audit/summary/pdf/Summary%2015005.pdf

https://www.ssa.gov/appeals/DataSets/05_Average_Processing_Time_Report.html

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Integrative Law: A Holistic Legal System

Integrative Law: A Holistic Legal System

Lawyers often help their clients deal with complicated & stressful issues. Creating a healthy work-life balance in any profession, including the legal profession, is essential to one’s mental and physical health. At Halpern Law Group we believe that when we as lawyers create balance for ourselves, we perform better at work, our employees are happier, and we are more beneficial to our clients and our community as a whole.

At HLG we strive to cultivate an integrative law environment. Cutting Edge Law defines integrative law, or holistic law, is an emerging worldwide movement to create a legal system that grants dignity and voice to everyone that interacts with the legal system. We are committed to the same values of integrative law as cited by J. Kim Wright such as nonviolent communication, empathy, compassion, integrity, and transparency.

One specific example of how HLG attempts to exemplify this is based on our belief that the best possible outcome for our clients’ disability case is for them to be able to return to wellness, so that they can begin working again. Another important part of our integrative mission is making sure their case is handled with the attention and compassion they deserve, in accordance with their unique individual circumstances. No one chooses to be disabled, and everyone deserves to be treated with compassion and understanding, regardless of his or her circumstances.

 

Sources:

Cutting Edge Law: Integrative Law Movement Introduction

Kosmos Journal: Transforming a Dysfunctional Legal System

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