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Pilot program aims to safeguard disability payments

After qualifying for disability benefits with the assistance of an attorney, individuals may think they no longer require legal representation. Unfortunately, several recent stories remind us that individuals who are no longer able to work may also be easy targets for being swindled out of their benefit payments.

For example, severely disabled individuals may receive assistance from a variety of federal and state programs. Individuals who qualify for Social Security disability insurance generally also qualify for Medicare benefits. The terms of each program can be confusing, even for an individual whose level of impairment still permits them to have control of their finances.  Small wonder, then, that individuals who have appointed a representative to handle their disability payments may not be in a position to detect fraud or misappropriation.

There have been shocking accounts in the media of individuals abusing the SSDI program, at the possible expense of the many hardworking Americans who have paid into the system over the course of their careers and need to rely on it when hardship strikes. In one particularly egregious example, police rescued four mentally disabled people from a basement where they had been held captive so that their captors could steal their Social Security benefits.

In an effort to ensure that disability payments reach their deserving recipients, the Social Security Administration recently launched a new pilot program. The program essentially consists of an automatic criminal background check for individuals who are designated as the representative payees of disability beneficiaries. Under the new approach, individuals who have been convicted of any of 12 different crimes will be ineligible to collect disability benefits on behalf of others. The crimes include fraud, sexual assault, forgery, identity theft, false imprisonment and first-degree homicide.

Source: Philly.com, "Social Security expands background checks," Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, Philadelphia Daily News, March 3, 2014

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