May 16, 2013

Social Security Disability, Mental Disorders, and New Classifications




Our brains are wrinkled gray masses of neurons (about 100 billion) firing electrical impulses allowing us to breath, move, think, and feel. Our brains are very strong and agile. And yet our brains are very delicate and any number of neuron miss-firings can occur. Some of these miss-firings translate into clinical mental disorders. The Social Security Administration (SSA) Disability Evaluation lists a number of disorders under their catch-all description of "mental disorders".

Mental Disorders

Mental disorders are divided into nine diagnostic categories: organic mental disorders; schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders; affective disorders; mental retardation; anxiety-related disorders; somatoform disorders; personality disorders; substance addiction disorders; and autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders. The SSA spells out what is included in each diagnostic category and what specific information is required in Social Security Disability (SSD) applications.

DSM-5

Many diagnostic requirements used by the SSA come from what is considered the definitive psychiatric manual of mental disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly known as the DSM. On May 18, 2013, the American Psychiatric Association will formally release the latest edition, the DSM-5. This is the first update in almost 20 years.

On its surface, this sounds like a good thing: use the accumulated science over the past 20 years to update the authoritative source for diagnosing mental problems. And yet currently there is a huge backlash occurring about what is included in this new version. The DSM-5 lists frequent childhood temper tantrums as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder. Then there is the reclassification of what we used to call "senior moments" as mild neurocognitive disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, "The goal of [revising the] DSM is to establish clear criteria for diagnosing mental disorders, not to create medical conditions out of the full range of human behavior and emotions." While the DSM is not intended to identify the course of treatment for an individual, the DSM is considered valuable for diagnosis as it translates into effective treatment.

The use of DSM for Social Security Disability assessments

In general terms, the Social Security Disability eligibility process involves five steps:
1. Are you able to work?
2. Is your medical condition severe?
3. Does your impairment match the list of approved impairments?
4. Can you do your past work?
5. Is there any work that you can do/perform

The new changes to the DSM-5 potentially affect the third eligibility step focusing on whether a mental disability diagnosis matches the list of impairments that are considered approvable for SSD. Because the release of the DSM-5 just happened, there is yet to be a crosswalk between changes proposed in the DSM-5 and the authorized list of mental disorders for SSD applicants.

If you have questions about the status of current SSD mental disabilities categories and your potential rights and eligibility for Social Security Disability, it is important to speak with our SSD attorney in Georgia.

See Related Posts:

How Will Obama's Budget Proposal Affect Social Security?

What You Need to Apply for Supplemental Security Income

May 8, 2013

Peripheral Artery Disease Leading to the Need for Social Security Disability




Peripheral artery disease "is a common circulatory problem in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to an individual's limbs." An individual doesn't receive enough blood flow to legs or arms due to fatty deposits in arteries (atherosclerosis). PAD is known to cause limits to mobility, pain, and poor circulation.

Symptoms

Many people with PAD do not experience any symptoms. Some symptoms that are common are pain or cramping in arms or legs. Sometimes the pain occurs while exercising, called intermittent claudication, while sometimes it occurs during rest, called rest pain. Other symptoms include
· Numbness of the extremities.
· Weakness and atrophy (diminished size and strength) of the calf muscle.
· A feeling of coldness in the legs or feet.
· Changes in the color of the feet; feet turn pale when they are elevated, turn dusky red in dependent position.
· Hair loss over the dorsum of the feet and thickening of the toenails.
· Painful ulcers and/or gangrene in tissue where there is critical ischemia (lack of blood and oxygen), typically in the toes. (See WebMD)

What are some of the risk factors?

Men are more prone to develop PAD than women. The older an individual is, the higher the risk of developing PAD. High LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol are known risks. Cigarette smoking, Diabetes Type1 and Type 2, high blood pressure, and a family history or high blood pressure and/or atherosclerosis are risk factors. Other risk factors include chronic renal failure, being overweight or obese, and physical inactivity.

Diagnosis

A doctor looks for weak or absent artery pulses in arms or legs during a physical examination. Blood pressure differences between limbs while at rest or while exercising is something else doctors look for. Doctors also look for skin color and nail color changes due to lack of blood and oxygen. If a doctor sees any of these physical signs and a full health history is taken, the doctor may order some imaging testing to assist in a proper diagnosis.

One test is a Doppler ultrasound that is used to measure blood pressure behind the knees and at the ankles. A doctor can also use a duplex ultrasound where "ultrasound probes are placed on the skin overlying the arteries and can accurately detect the site of artery" blockage as well as how much blockage. Angiography is also used to study blood vessel occlusions. Angiography is done by inserting a catheter into the arteries through a small incision and viewing the blood vessel walls as the catheter is advanced to the heart. Sometimes an iodine contrast dye is injected into the arteries and then x-ray recorded to give a picture of the location and severity of the blockages. Angiography can also be done with an MRI producing images on a computer and does not expose the patient to x-ray radiation exposure.

How to Get Social Security Disability Approval

The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires complete medical records when submitting an application for Social Security Disability. The SSA spells out medical sources they will accept to prove any diagnosis. An individual claiming loss of function due to PAD must show that one or more personal functions has been limited by PAD.

If you are considering applying for disability benefits in Georgia, you should contact our experienced Atlanta SS attorney.

See Related Posts:

Social Security Disability for Crohn's Disease

May 1, 2013

Social Security Disability for Crohn's Disease




Social Security Disability for Crohn's DiseaseCrohn's disease is a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract. It can be confused with ulcerative colitis, which causes an inflammation of the colon. The difference with Crohn's is that it can be an inflammation anywhere along the digestive tract. Crohn's can cause physical problems to the point where an individual is not able to work.

Symptoms
Crohn's disease can begin suddenly. And the symptoms can vary over time. Symptoms include diarrhea, cramping, or abdominal pain. Inflammation can lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, and nausea. The Mayo Clinic also lists other possible symptoms being:

· Fever
· Fatigue
· Arthritis
· Eye inflammation
· Mouth sores
· Skin disorders
· Inflammation of the liver of bile ducts
· Delayed growth or sexual development in children

Causes
Doctors have not determined a specific cause for Crohn's disease. It was thought that diet and stress triggered Crohn's, but it has been found to be aggravating factors. Doctors are now looking at heredity or a malfunctioning immune system to be the cause.

Risk Factors
There are a number of risk factors other than heredity. Most people who suffer from Crohn's develop it when they are young. Most diagnoses occur in individuals who are younger than 30. The disease is more prevalent in whites, especially those with Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish ancestry increasing the risk. Cigarette smoking is also considered a risk factor. And living in an urban area or an industrialized country has also been determined a risk factor.

Complications
While Crohn's is mostly pain and inflammation, complications can occur. Individuals can develop bowel obstructions, ulcers and fistulas. Crohn's can also lead to "kidney stones, gallstones and, occasionally, inflammation of the bile ducts."

How is Crohn's Disease Diagnosed?
While doctors may run blood tests, there is currently no definitive test for Crohn's. A colonoscopy is used to view the colon and see if there are granulomas, clusters of inflamed cells. A CT scan is useful for determining the exact location of inflamed tissue and determine if there are blockages, abscesses, or fistulas. MRIs are also used to determine inflammation along the digestive tract and diagnosing Crohn's. Another diagnostic tool is the capsule endoscopy. A patient swallows a capsule that has a camera in it. The camera takes pictures throughout the entire digestive tract that are then examined to determine where possible inflammation is. Doctors also take biopsies to give a solid diagnosis of Crohn's.

How Does the Social Security Administration Review Crohn's Disease?
In the Social Security Blue Book, Crohn's is listed as an inflammatory bowel disease in Section 5. The SSA states "Crohn's disease is rarely curable and recurrence may be a lifelong problem, even after surgical resection." Medical records should include endoscopy, biopsy, appropriate medically acceptable imaging, or operative findings that show obstructions requiring hospitalization and occurring twice at least 60 days apart in a 6-month period. If there aren't obstructions requiring hospitalizations, then there is a list of items requiring continuing treatment over a 6-month period.

Keep in mind that when reviewing an individual's history, it is not the fact that the individual has Crohn's Disease, but that the disease limits the individual's personal functions.

If you are considering applying for disability benefits in Georgia, you should contact our experienced Social Security attorney.

April 26, 2013

Social Security Disability and Fibromyalgia




Aches and pains are a general part of life. Stubbing a toe, knocking a funny bone, or knocking one's head into a wall when turning a corner will all cause pain, but that pain will diminish and heal. Those with fibromyalgia experience pain constantly along with other symptoms.

Fibromyalgia is listed as a rheumatic disease. According to WebMD, Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition with symptoms of "pain in the muscles, fatigue, sleep problems, and painful tender points or trigger points at certain parts of the body". Other symptoms include hypersensitivity to cold and/or heat, incontinence, irritable bowl syndrome, difficulty thinking clearly and stiffness. Other common symptoms are depression and anxiety. The Mayo Clinic notes that "fibromyalgia is characterized by additional pain when firm pressure is applied to specific areas of [the] body, called tender points. Tender point locations include: back of the head, between the shoulder blades, top of shoulders, front sides of neck, upper chest, outer elbows, upper hips, sides of hips, and inner knees." The American College of Rheumatology has determined that sensitivity at these tender points are criteria for fibromyalgia. The ACR has determined that fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease, but rather a malfunction of the central nervous system.

Women tend to develop fibromyalgia more often than men. And there is no cure. Those with fibromyalgia can experience symptoms to the point where they miss work, which reduces their income, and can even lose their jobs.

How is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

Fibromyalgia has such a variety of symptoms that it can be mistaken for other illnesses. It is considered a syndrome because it is a set of symptoms. And not everyone who has fibromyalgia has the same exact set of symptoms. There is no one test to diagnose fibromyalgia. Doctors take a complete medical history and make a comprehensive physical exam. As WebMD states, "fibromyalgia is mostly a diagnosis of exclusion." As mentioned above, the ACR has found a set of body points that tend to be painful in those with fibromyalgia. Many doctors use these points to help solidify a diagnosis.

How to Get Approved for Social Security Disability if You Have Fibromyalgia

The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires complete medical records when submitting an application for Social Security Disability. The SSA spells out medical sources they will accept to prove any diagnosis.

One thing to keep in mind is that the SSA doesn't look at specific conditions per se, but at the limitations the condition causes upon the individual. An individual with fibromyalgia must show that the condition has imposed limitations on personal functions, as well as show how long those limitations have been occurring. It is also necessary to list the medications and dosages an individual is taking to deal with the various symptoms, as well as any alternate measures an individual is using to relieve pain or other symptoms.

If you are considering applying for disability benefits in Georgia, you should contact our experienced attorney.

April 18, 2013

How Will Obama's Budget Proposal Effect Social Security?




In the last few weeks, President Obama has provided a budget plan, which among other things, plans for changes for social security benefits. The country is running off of a multitrillion dollar deficit and everyone has been looking for ways to shrink it. Obama's budget calls for both an increase of taxes for those making a certain amount, as well as cutting the amount of money that goes to varies entitlement programs. In the case of social security, the President's budget does not just cut benefits. Instead Obama's budget suggests a different way of calculating benefits so people are getting enough, but not more than necessary.

Every year, social security, retirement as well as disability, benefits are reviewed to make sure people are receiving an appropriate amount of benefits. Right now, when it is necessary, benefits are increased to take into account cost of living increases as established by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI monitors the prices of consumer goods for fluctuation in price. It looks at items in certain areas and compares the costs of like items from two years previous. For example, the cost of bread in New York today would be compared to the cost of bread in New York in 2011 and depending on how much the prices have changed, there may be an increase of benefits. This increase would only apply to New York. Other areas have different price ranges and therefore require their own comparisons, which is part of why benefits are different per person and region. Because CPI is updated only even two years, there are a lot of price fluctuations that are not accounted for.

Under Obama's new budget, social security benefits would be based on an alternate CPI known as the Chained CPI. It is very similar to the currently CPI except for two things. First, unlike the standard CPI, the Chained CPI is updated monthly. This means benefits can be updated more often if necessary to make sure people have the right amount of benefits. The second way the Chained CPI differs from the CPI is that it takes into account changes in purchasing when prices change, unlike the CPI. For example, when the price of beef increases, people are more likely to buy less beef and purchase chicken instead, because it is cheaper. By taking these changes into account, the government can give out less in benefits. This is because although the cost of living may increase by one amount, the increase for an individual should be less assuming they change their habits.

There are mixed feelings on whether using chained CPI is a good plan. Between negotiations, alternate budgets and lobbying efforts, what is ultimately decided regarding the budget and social security could be completely different than Obama's current plan. The implementation of other laws and regulations could also effect your benefits, even if they do not seem related social security. There is a lot of information available and it is constantly changing, but it is not always clear if or how it will relate you. If you are considering applying for disability benefits in Georgia, you should contact our experienced attorney.

See Related Posts:
Back to the Basics: SSI v. SSDI
Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance

April 11, 2013

Applying for Social Security Disability Insurance




Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a government program which helps you if you become disabled. The government will send you cash payments on a monthly basis for the period f time that you are unable to work due to your disability. If your disability lasts into retirement, your disability payment will become your retirement payment.

Qualifications:
Disability determination is based on three factors. First, you must be unable to do the the job you were doing before your injury illness. Second, you must be unable to do other jobs due to your injury or illness. And finally, your disability must last, or be expected to last, for at least one year or be expected to result in your death. Benefits are only given for long term disabilities.

To receive benefits, in addition to being to be disabled, you must have also worked in positions covered by social security for a minimum period of time. The social security office also uses work credits to determine whether or not you qualify under SSDI. Work credits are based on how much you make per year. The amount needed for each work credit changes every year, but you cannot receive more than four credits per year. In determining how many work credits a person needs, the social security office looks at the person's age at the time of filing.

Applying:
The application for disability benefits is made up of three parts: the disability application, a disability report and an authorization form. The disability application looks at whether you meet the basic qualifications, as discussed above. The disability report asks questions regarding health. This is where you will need to list medical information such as your medications and treatments as well as contact information for any medical professionals you have seen in relation to your illness. It also asks about your work history. You will need to give details regarding any positions you held for at least the previous five years. Necessary information includes contact information for your employers, draws of employment, wages during employment and description of duties. The authorization form, is a short form that gives the social security office permission to speak to necessary persons such as previous and current doctors and employers. This is necessary so they can make sure your application is correct and complete and make an accurate disability determination. You may complete your entire application online, over the phone or in person at your local social security office.

It is important to start the your disability application as soon as you believe you make qualify. On average, it takes three to five months for a decision to be made regarding benefits. And often, cases are denied and need to be appealed, making the process last even longer. You are allowed to have help throughout the application and determination process and an experienced attorney familiar with the necessary information can be a great asset. If you are think about applying for disability benefits, you should contact an experienced disability attorney.

See Related Posts:
Top Four Reasons SSD Claims Are Denied
The Appeals Process

April 3, 2013

What You Need to Apply for Supplemental Security Income




Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") is additional income from the government for people who are disabled, blind or over the age of 65. SSI is specifically for those with low incomes and limited resources. Unlike other types of benefits, SSI is not based on work experience.

Applying for SSI benefits is a two part process. First you must fill out a disability report. This report may be done on line or you can visit a social security office in person to have someone help you fill it out. This report has seven parts. The first is an overview of the report. The second requires you to input information about yourself, such as name and address. The third asks for information about your medical history. This includes information about medication, medical procedures and treatments and contact information for doctors or other medical professionals involved in your treatment. The fourth asks for work and education history for the previous fifteen years. Required information includes position title and employer name, hours worked per day and week, pay rate, timeframe at each job, and a general description of your job duties. The fifth section is the remarks section. This section allows you too add any information you believe would help your case for disability benefits. The sixth section is the review section, which allows you to review all of you answer before submitting the report on line. Finally is the submit section, which is the final step of the report. The overview, review and submit sections only apply to the online version of the application, but the rest of the report is the same.

The report is just on step in the application process. If you submit the report online, to complete the application you still must go to a social security office and fill out the rest of the application in person. If you choose to fill out the report in person, you may complete the entire process in one visit. The offices accept appointments or walk-ins, but keep in mind that walk-ins will have to wait for service.

Whether you can get SSI benefits also depends on your income and resources, which requires additional information. In deciding your income the agency looks to your wages, any other social security benefits, and pensions. However, not all of your income is considered income for SSI purposes. For example, if you are disabled, any money used to buy items which help you work, such as a wheel chair or cane to make it easier to get around, will not be included in figuring out your income. Resources are items like real estate, aside from the place you are actually living, bank accounts and stocks and bonds. An individual may have no more than $2,000, a married couple may have up to $3,000, worth or resources. This is important because if you are found to make too much money or have too much in resources, you can be denied benefits.

Getting SSI benefits requires keeping track of a lot of information, which can be confusing and time consuming. Also about 60% of applications are denied the first time, so it is in your best interest to file an appeal. The appeals process has its own set of rules and have someone with experience by your side can make things easier. Please contact us if you are in need of a social security lawyer in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

See related Posts:
The Appeals Process
Backlog Continues for Social Security Disability Benefits

March 27, 2013

The Appeals Process




Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Social Security Income (SSI) are both handled by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Applying for social security benefits can be difficult and time consuming. Up to 60% of applications are denied the first time they are received. Understanding how to file for an appeal is very important as many cases are subsequently won on appeals.

If you plan to file an appeal, it is important to keep in mind that you only have sixty days, from receipt of the denial notice, to ask for an appeal. This time frame applies to every point in the appeal process. If you miss the deadline, there is a possibility you will lose any ability to have your case reviewed, meaning you will be stuck with your denial of benefits. In rare cases, an extension is allowed. To get an extension, in addition to your paperwork, you must include an explanation for your late submittal and it is up to the office whether they will extend the time limit and therefore review your case.

The first step in applying for an appeal is to ask for a reconsideration determination. At this point, a new person would review the information you have already provided and decide the case again. If this second person still chooses to deny your claim, the second step is to ask for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge, using specified forms. Hearings are very similar to other court cases in that you should bring any witness you have to help prove your cases and it is possible that the court may ask for specific witness to be available, such as your doctor. You also may be asked questions directly and anyone questioned is under oath. You will be notified of your hearing date at least twenty days before the hearing. The SSA has many offices and usually schedules hearings within 75 miles of your home, however, there are times when it that is not possible. If travel may be an issue, it is important to contact the SSA as soon as possible to make other arrangements. In some cases video conferencing is available as well as some travel reimbursement. You may also ask for the hearing to go on with you in attendance, however, the judge may deny that request.

If you are denied benefits at the hearing, the third step in the appeal process is a review by the Appeal Council. The Appeals Council reviews every timely case it receives. The Council reviews all information from the hearing as well as any additional information you provide. Then it may (1) deny it, (2) review the case itself or (3) send it to an Administrative Law judge to review it. Once a decision is a made, you should receive a letter in the mail. If you disagree with the Appeals Council's decision, or if the Appeals Council decides not to review your case, you then have one more way to have your case reviewed.

The fourth, and final, appeals option is to file a civil case in a federal district court. If you bring a civil action seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration's final decision, their staff will prepare the record of the claim for filing with the Court. This includes all the documents and evidence SSA relied upon in making the decision or determination. It will be your responsibility to provide copies of the complaint and summons to the SSA and there is fee for filing a civil action in Federal court.

An experienced social security attorney can help you bring your best case forward. Having an attorney during the appeals process, especially when you did not have one for the initial application, can be very helpful at this point because he or she may be able to point out information to add that you may not have realized was important or worth noting. With a complicated set of rules and instructions and strict deadlines and, an attorney can help you keep everything on track for your case. Contact an experienced social security attorney today to discuss your claim.

See Related Blog Posts:
Questions to Expect at Your Social Security Hearing
Top Four Reasons SSD Claims Are Denied

March 22, 2013

Backlog Continues for Social Security Disability Benefits




Are you tired of waiting on your disability claim? For several years now, critics have cited the looming backlog of social security disability benefits. The Wall Street Journal describes this backlog as a result of "high unemployment, an aging population, and a combination of mismanagement and potential fraud within the system." An article in USA Today echoed this assumption, explaining that, with a nation of aging baby boomers and the lingering effects of the recession, "millions are applying for disability benefits, and Social Security can't work through the claims fast enough."

What are the implications of this backlog? If you or a loved one are waiting on social security disability benefits, you may be waiting quite awhile. And these long wait times have negative effects for elder persons, the terminally ill, and others who rely on these benefits for income and care.

What Causes the Delay in Processing Benefits?

Typically, first-time benefits applicants are denied because of a lack of evidence of a disability (i.e., they haven't provided enough documentation that they're actually unable to work, and thus in need of these benefits). After a first rejection, applicants can appeal. After the Social Security Administration (SSA) denies an appeal, applicants must wait for a hearing. These hearings can be confusing and intimidating, and applicants often have to wait a long time before they can even see a judge. USA Today reported that applicants in Arizona, for example, wait an average of 10 to 11 months.

The long wait time is in large part a result of a complex benefits system that seeks to prevent fraud, ensuring that applicants are, in fact, disabled. As well, nearly 11 million people currently receive disability benefits, and more money is paid out than comes in through payroll deductions.

In the past couple of years, the SSA has made a notable effort to take care of some of its older, lingering cases. As a result, the average wait time for benefits has decreased. But still, in Arizona the average wait time for benefits is 316 days--nearly a year. And at the end of 2012, approximately 750,000 Americans nationwide were waiting for a benefits hearing. This long wait time can have serious implications for disabled persons in need of care.

Effects on Injured and Chronically Ill Applicants

In the USA Today article mentioned above, the newspaper emphasized that the very purpose of the Social Security disability program is to "help people who get sick or injured and can no longer work." Yet, a surprising number of Americans who are in those conditions are left waiting--sometimes for years--for access to these benefits.

For example, USA Today described a woman in Arizona suffering from a neurological disorder. She recently waited more than 2 years for her benefits to be approved. In the meantime, she was unable to support herself financially and moved back in with her parents. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal described a case in which a hotel manager in Maryland was robbed and shot, and as a result was unable to work. By late 2011, he had been waiting nearly four years for benefits.

The long wait time has more serious implications for those who in need benefits in order to survive.

Effects on Terminally Ill Applicants

In late 2011, the Wall Street Journal ran an article decrying the backlog of disability benefits and its effects on the terminally ill. The story explained that the SSA created a special coding system, known as "DXDI," for cases in which the applicant actually died while waiting for benefits. Between 2005 and late 2011, the SSA designated over 15,000 cases DXDI.

As a tragic example, the article described a 2009 case in which a former mason, Mr. Dexter E. Penny, died while waiting for his benefits. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in February 2009, and the SSA denied his benefits upon initial application. His appeal was later denied because he "didn't provide enough medical records." Penny appealed to a local Maryland Legal Aid office. While his attorney searched for additional medical records in order to have his claim processed, Penny's condition worsened and he passed away. It was not until December 2010, nine days after Penny's death, that the SSA sent a letter granting benefits.

If you or a loved one are waiting on social security disability benefits, you shouldn't have to wait alone. An experienced attorney can discuss your case with you today.

See Related Blog Posts:
Top Four Reasons SSD Claims Are Denied
SSA Fast-Tracking Rare Disease Claims

March 5, 2013

Back to the Basics: SSI v. SSDI




Discussion about various government agencies and programs can easily get confusing. Things are made worse when acronyms are thrown in and shortened nicknames are tossed about to describes these operations. For those just trying to learn for the first time, it can be daunting. The problem is no different when to social security issues. Most notably, many may not understand the difference between Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. A recent OV article recently tackled the topic, and it is worth checking out.

SSI v. SSDI
SSI and SSDI are common acronyms thrown around during discussions about benefits for those with various needs. What do they refer to and how are they different? Those seeking more specific answers should speak with a social security lawyer to learn more, but some of the basics are outlined below...

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is for those who have sufficient "work credits" and a subsequent disability which limits their ability to work and earn a sufficient income. In most cases, the qualifying work credits which are needed amount to around five years working out of the last ten. Subsequent payments out are then based, in part, on one's previous earnings. Conversely, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a program for those who do not have sufficient "credits," including those who have never worked at all. Qualification for SSI is based, in part, on limited income and assets--often next to nothing.

Qualifying
Actually receiving either SSI or SSDI benefits can be a time-consuming, stressful process. Both programs are administered by the Social Security Administration. One of the most important things to remember, regardless of what program you think you may qualify for, is that it often takes perseverance to get through the process. That is because up to 60% of all applications are denied the first time around. Fortunately, you can appeal your denial, and with proper support, there may be a good chance that the denial will be reversed.

In many cases, reversing s denial requires a better showing of proof of meeting qualifications. A professional working on these matters can explain how proper documentation may make all the difference. Ensure that you obtain copies of all medical records, lists of medications, tax returns, pay stubs, and similar information.

Legal Help
It is important to remember that the comments above represent just a bare bones outline of some basic issues with these programs. The rules surrounding surrounding these social security programs remains quite complex and fact-specific. For that reason it is incumbent to speak with a social security lawyer to understand how these issues apply in your case and whether or not you may receive necessary support. The attorney may then be able to work with you on your actual applications and hearing process to ensure you have the best chance at receiving the aid necessary to get your life back in order.

March 1, 2013

New Regulation for Substance Abuse Disability Benefits




For the past fifteen years, substance abuse largely hasn't been considered a free-standing disability under Social Security disability law. However, no formal regulation made this clear, and often Social Security disability benefits were applied disparately in hearing offices across the country. Just this month, the Social Security Administration published a new regulation in its Federal Register, which gives this policy the force of law. Now, you are not entitled to disability benefits if the only basis for your disability is drug addiction or substance abuse. However, you may still be entitled to benefits if your addiction is linked to other mental health or physical conditions. It's important to know the history of the law and how it can affect you.

History of Substance Abuse and Social Security Disability

The Division of Policy Evaluation at the Social Security Administration recently provided a run-down of the history of substance abuse and eligibility for benefits. Changes to the rules in the last decades actually reflect plans to limits benefits for those with drug addiction and alcoholism.

The Social Security Act Amendments of 1972 were the first laws to restrict eligibility for persons with "drug or alcohol dependencies." These amendments required that drug addicts and alcoholics "receive payments only through a representative payee" and that they "participate in treatment" if appropriate to their condition and available to them.

Between the 1970s and the 1990s, the number of beneficiaries with substance abuse problems rose. As a result, a mid-1990s congressional act limited the amount of time that drug addicts and alcoholics would be eligible for benefits. The Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994 included provisions that "placed a 3-year time limit" on benefits for persons whose "primary impairment was drug addiction or alcoholism."

By 1996, Congress passed the Contract with American Advancement Act, which ended benefits for those whose "primary impairment was drug addiction, alcoholism, or both." The termination of benefits included both Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance. As of January 1, 1997, prior beneficiaries were ineligible for these payments.

Who was affected most? Statistics gathered by the Social Security Administration in 1996 showed that most beneficiaries were male (79 percent), a majority were between the ages of 40-49 (39 percent), and a "disproportionately large share were black" (approximately 40 percent).

Who is Eligible for Benefits Under the New Rule?

There are certain mental and physical conditions that may have been caused by substance abuse but are nonetheless irreversible, regardless of whether an individual stops using drugs or alcohol. The Social Security Administration takes these conditions into account, and certain claimants are still eligible for benefits.

The Social Security Administration goes through a series of questions to determine eligibility for a person who suffers from substance abuse. Primarily, does your drug abuse or alcoholism "materially contribute" to the disability that you're claiming? The government will not provide benefits to persons who would not be disabled if they abstained from substance abuse.

Next, the Social Security Administration will determine if you have a disability listed under the category of "Substance Addiction Disorders," for which you can claim benefits. In order to meet these requirements, you must have changes to your mental or physical health due to your previous substance abuse. You must also have a mental or physical impairment caused by your substance abuse, which include these conditions: organic mental disorders, depression, anxiety, liver damage, gastritis, pancreatitis, seizures, peripheral neuropathies, and personality disorders.

This is a lot of information to take in, but the key thing to remember is that if you have a disabling condition related to substance abuse that persists even though you aren't currently abusing drugs or alcohol, you could still have a claim for disability benefits under the new regulation. Contact an experienced attorney today to discuss your claim.

See Related Blog Posts:
Social Security Disability and Mental Health Problems
Compassionate Allowances and Social Security Disability

February 23, 2013

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Social Security




Next to traumatic brain injuries, "post truamatic stress disorder" (PTSD) is known as one of *the* signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sadly, thousands of service members are dealing with the effects of these injuries, usually caused by their experiences in war. However, PTSD can arise in many different settings--not just those related to war or military combat. Community members who are assaulted, experience domestic violence, and suffer other heart-wrenching experiences may develop PTSD as a result. In fact, the issue is so complex that symptoms may not arise for months or even years later.

Fortunately, public attention to PTSD, originally caused by service member injuries,may ultimately prove helpful to all those suffering from the condition.

What Exactly is PTSD?

While most understand that traumatic incidents may linger in one's mind, it is important to realize that PTSD is more specific than just general ill feelings after a bad experience. It is a diagnosable anxiety disorder caused by both experiencing personally or witnesses events that involve injury or death.

A Hidden Problem?

If you break a leg, you know right away that something is wrong. The same goes for serious brain injuries, cuts, and other harms that have obvious outward physical or obvious cognitive consequences. But injuries like PTSD are far harder to understand and diagnosis--not only for professionals but individuals themselves. In other words, in many cases those who are actually suffering from PTSD do not know it. They likely understand that they are exhibiting the symptoms, but recognizing those symptoms does not automatically mean that one will assume that they are suffering from a very real anxiety disorder.

We all have a tendency to brush off many things as natural or temporary. Yet, it is critical for local community members to be honest with themselves and careful about receiving actual care for possible PTSD issues. What are those symptoms? The National Institute of Health explains that things like flashbacks of the traumatic event, avoidance of certain situations, and arousal to specific stimuli are common signs.

The bottom line: Do not brush these signs and symptoms under the rug. If you may be experiencing these signs in the aftermath of a traumatic event, consider getting support.

Social Security
In some cases it might be appropriate to pursue Social Security support while you deal with the anxiety condition. It can be somewhat complex to pursue this option for PTSD, and so it is important to have the aid of an attorney well versed in these matters for the support your need.

In general, you will be expected to show very specific items before qualifying. Your legal professional can walk you through this process and help ensure you have the appropriate evidence available. For example, your PTSD diagnosis must come from a mental health professional--amateur claims likely won't cut it. You will also need to show that you are undergoing treatment and have complied with doctor's orders during that time. In other words, the disability judge will want to know that you are genuinely working toward recovery as best as you can. Finally, you will likely need to show actual functional disability, or limits to your daily activities as a result of the PTSD. This may be confusing to understand at first, but an attorney can explain how this might be met.

Social Security Lawyer
For experienced help on these matters in our area, consider consulting the Social Security Disability attorney at our firm.

February 17, 2013

Getting the Most Out Of Your Social Security Disability Attorney




It happens to many community members in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. You are injured such that you are unable to complete your traditional daily routines. Your life is thrown in shambles, and you need support to get back on your feet. Fortunately, the Social Security Disability system exists to help. But dealing with the bureaucratic nightmare can often only cause more stress and anxiety without any relief. That is where an experienced social security disability lawyer comes in. These legal professionals work within the system to cut through nonsense and ensure you receive the actual aid you need in as efficient a manner as possible.

Many community members have never had much interaction with attorneys before, and even those who have likely are not familiar with the exact role of a social security disability lawyer. However, so long as you chose a professional with experience in the field, he or she should be able to walk you through the process and explain their role. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your dealing with the lawyer go as smoothly as possible. Some things to consider..

***Don't be afraid to ask questions

The process to obtain social security can be quite confusing, and the information that that is requested might not be clear at first. For this reason, it is incredibly common for applicants to have many questions. Do not be afraid to ask those questions of your attorney--that is what they are there for. However, it is usually best to be organized about the process. Write down your thoughts as they come and ask them in one sitting when meeting with your lawyer. This avoids repeat questions and usually helps you understand how the different parts of the process may come together.

**Ask for Help

Similarly, do not shy away from taking full advantage of your attorney's expertise. Because your lawyer has likely seen others in a similar situation, they may be able to help in other ways beyond just shuffling paperwork through the system. The legal professional may be able to direct you to others who can provide Information on medical care providers, financial savings issues, and similar issues. Your attorney is your advocate, and you should not shy away from asking for support in tangential areas--there is nothing to lose.

***The attorney is on your side--Don't Lie

Because of the nature of the field, you may be skittish about sharing openly and honestly with your lawyer. Whether it is a unique medical history, past job, or other event, never feel like you need to hide information from your legal professional. Never forget: the attorney is your advocate and can only work with what you give him or her. Hidden information that only comes out later can prove the death knell to a successful claim. Be honest, share fairly, and understand that the past is the past.

***Document Everything

The law is all about showing evidence and proving claims. That is no different when it comes to meeting requirements to qualify for benefits. Therefore, be very diligent about saving any documents, letters, bills, emails, reports, or other items that might in any way be connected to your case. Your attorney will provide more specifics, but get in the habit of saving instead of discarding.

For help with these issues in Atlanta, please feel free to contact our social security disability law firm to learn more.

February 10, 2013

Questions to Expect at Your Social Security Hearing




While TV shows and dramatic legal movie make for riveting entertainment, the reality of the legal system is usually much more tame. That is perhaps never more clear than when working through an actual hearing after applying for Social Security Disability. Far from the rows of seats with journalists, intimidating witness stand, and other staples of dramatic entertainment, the actual hearings for these matters are more informal and (hopefully) less intimidating. In most cases the hearing will only include the judge (an "administrative law judge"), you, your attorney, and often some witness--like medical expert.

What will happen?

Essentially the hearing will mostly consist of a lot of questions and answers. You will likely talk more than anyone, explaining your situation. Questions will be asked by your own social security disability attorney to better inform the judge of your situation. The judge will also ask questions that will better answer uncertainties that he or she still might have. Ultimately, the entire purpose is to clarify whether you do or do not meet the definition for disability to qualify for benefits.

What will be asked?

Many different details will be fleshed out. To start, there will likely be questioning about basic background details, i.e. living situation, education, and similar matters. This will eventually involve discussion of your work history. The questioning may be detailed, analyzing your work history for the last fifteen years or more, if applicable. This means that you should be prepared to indicate where you worked and your duties. The judge will want to know what responsibilities you had, if manual labor was involved, who you interacted with, and similar details.

On top of that you will be asked about your medical condition. This seems obvious, and you'll be expected to explain the injury you've suffered. Questions will be asked about treatments, medications, doctor visits, pain, side effects, and similar details. You will share information about the prognosis and long-term plan. If there were "gaps" in treatment, that also might be explored. For example, if there was a period where you did not receive support, the judge will want to know why. If there is a medical witness, they will supplement the information that you share and provide more expert feedback to hep inform the judge of the situation.

Finally, one of the more critical lines of questions will relate to your life now, post injury. The judge will attempt to analyze your limitations and understand how they do or do not impact your usual routine. More than likely, it is at this point when you may be tempted to exaggerate or be less than forthcoming in an effort to position yourself as well as possible to receive benefits. But it is critical to remember that you need to be honest at all times. These judge are well versed in these matters and can usually spot deceit or hidden truth whenever one attempts to be less than forthcoming.

Legal Help
It is important to remember that you do not have to go it alone. At the end of the day a legal professional can properly prepare you for these hearings and answer any questions you might have about what will happen. For help in Atlanta or nearby communities, please contact the experienced attorney at our firm to see how we can help.

February 3, 2013

Veteran's Social Security Disability Claims Increasing




The USA Today reported recently that national payments for veterans with disabilities has risen substantially in the last decade. More specifically, while in 2000 there were annual payments of abut $14.8 billion, by 2011 that total had nearly tripled to just shy of $40 billion annually. It doesn't take much analysis to understand the cause for the rise. In 2000, the U.S. was not at war, but starting in 2001, the country entered two different conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the report, the nation currently has about 22.2 million veterans-about 15% of that group (3.4 million) were disable in some way connected to their service. This includes those who served in all of the nation's conflicts, dating back to the Second World War. Yet, while the total payments include those harmed over the past many decades, the recent rise has been quite significant and tied directly to fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is there more to the story?

The article suggests that the sharp rise in disability claims is not only caused by more service members. Part of the rise is also attributed to compensation being provided for more ailments and veterans who more directly seek to receive the benefits that they have earned. All told, the most recent data suggests that nearly half of veterans who served in the two wars filed claims seeking disability compensation.

An examination of compensation for veterans of different wars shows how our understanding of combat related injuries and expansion of services provided. For example, veterans of the WWII generation generally received support for an average of 2.3 conditions. That rose to an average of 3.5 conditions for those in service during Vietnam. Today veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan average 6 conditions for which they are compensated. All told, this increase led to a 40% rise in annual payouts today as compared to only ten years ago--before the two recent wars.

Understanding Social Security Claims
Many are unfamiliar with how program benefit rules apply in these situations. In general, the compensation is based on specific injury. For example, the USA Today story notes that "the most common conditions reported by current generation vets are joint, ligament and vertebral disc problems from carrying body armor." These all are considered "musculoskeletal impairments" for SS purposes.

That doesn't end the matter though. Once the specific injury is identified, an analysis must be performed to determine the extent that the injury impairs "substantial gainful activity." This essentially means that Social Security disability will only be granted to those who,because of their impairments are unable to earn slightly more than $1,000 a month. This is not necessarily a high bar, and so much confusion and wrangling often centers on this requirement.

Social Security Disability Lawyer
All those who have suffered injury which might qualify them for benefits to help provide support and stability should seek out a SSD attorney for help navigating the system. It is not uncommon to find yourself in a bureaucratic nightmare when working through the process. A legal professional can provide much needed clarity and ensure you are working as efficiently as possible to reach your goal.