Don’t be fooled by SSA misinformation

It's important to have all the information when filing for disability benefits.
It’s important to have all the information when filing for disability benefits.

Oftentimes, clients come into the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates discouraged by what the Social Security Administration has told them about their disability benefits. Perhaps there has been a denial of their claim, or perhaps they called a local office and didn’t receive the information they needed.

In any case like this, it is important to consult with an attorney to ensure claimants can get what they deserve from their application for disability benefits.

On PBS’ website, Boston University economist Larry Kotlikoff said he receives emails nearly every day “from people who have been misled or misinformed, sometimes terribly,” by the SSA. In an attempt to clear up some of this confusion, Kotlikoff created a blog post to help cut away at much of the misinformation he has heard over time.

While we recommend visiting PBS’ website to read the entire post, one point pertinent to readers of our site is that it is not necessarily true that disabled workers can collect auxiliary benefits, such as window(er), spouse, divorced spouse or other similar benefits.

“Disabled workers are treated as having filed for their retirement benefits,”  Kotlikoff  writes. “This is true before and after they reach full retirement age, at which point their disability benefit is called their full retirement benefit. Filing for your retirement benefit means that you can never collect an auxiliary benefit by itself while letting your retirement benefit grow. Instead, your auxiliary benefit is transformed into your excess auxiliary benefit.”

If you have other questions or concerns about SSA disability benefits, don’t hesitate to contact our offices for the help you deserve.

Veterans hope VA benefits will pay for in vitro fertilization

There’s a 23-year-old law on the books that deems the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will not pay for in vitro fertilization for injured veterans. However, this law  is being challenged by veterans and lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, according to The Washington Post.

In vitro fertilization help is not offered to U.S. veterans.
In vitro fertilization help is not offered to U.S. veterans.

For veterans with spinal or genital injuries, this could mean a chance to have biological children that would otherwise not be there post-injury.

Previously, the Post said the IVF ban was adopted by the VA and Congress due to conservative opposition of assisted reproduction. However, now the practice is commonplace and has helped start many families. Veterans and lawmakers alike argue that the ban is outdated and should be overturned.

Another argument for the overturn of this law is the use of improvised explosive devices (otherwise known as IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan, which caused a litany of reproductive injuries for troops overseas.

The IVF procedure is expensive, costing upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, and also may take multiple tries. However, many veterans trying to start a family have paid for it with their own dime, taking on a debt and even skipping an education to work in an effort to pay for IVF. Many completely rethink their plans to start a family.

The Post spoke with Army Staff Sgt. Alex Dillmann, who became paralyzed from the abdomen down after a bomb blast during his time in Afghanistan. While Dillmann feels lucky to be alive, part of his life dream was to become a parent.

“But this is a big pill to swallow for all veterans facing combat injuries, which have hurt their chances to have children,” Dillmann said, noting that the upcoming round of IVF he and his wife will undertake will cost approximately $25,000.

Perhaps if Congress was more concerned about the men and women who serve this country, veterans would get the care they require and deserve. While we cannot yet help veterans get money for this treatment, the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates can help ensure veterans we work with can get the full amount of VA benefits they are entitled to receive.

Childhood mental illness tends to go untreated in the US

Although 17 million children in the US suffer from mental illness, less than 35 percent get the help they deserve. (Photo by Shlomit Wolf/Unsplash)
Although 17 million children in the US suffer from mental illness, less than 35 percent get the help they deserve. (Photo by Shlomit Wolf/Unsplash)

Suffering from mental illness is never easy to cope with; for children, it can be downright impossible. However, with treatment, there is always hope. Even so, a recent report from New York’s Child Mind Institute found that more than 17 million children in the U.S. have or have had a diagnosable mental illness, yet most are not treated.

Lack of treatment hurts a child’s development. This is a very serious public health program, according to what Child Mind Institute President Harold Koplewicz, MD, said to Medscape Medical News in a recent interview. He said physical illness, such as peanut allergies, asthma and diabetes are given preference in society today. However, mental illnesses are, unfortunately, far more prevalent.

“What is most troubling is that less than 35 percent of these kids ever get help,” Koplewicz told Medscape. “So it’s not a surprise that 70 percent of kids in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable psychiatric illness, and we are not just talking about symptoms, which affect 50 percent of the population under 18. If we are talking about serious debilitating illness, it’s 22 percent of the population. This is absolutely, truly, a public health crisis.”

The report noted 80 percent of children with anxiety disorders, 40 percent with attention-deficit disorder, and 60 percent with diagnosable depression are not getting the treatment they deserve. Koplewicz called this “tragic,” especially the 80 percent not getting treatment for anxiety, which he said helps prime “the brain for depression in your teen years.”

Treatment may be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. Parents may be able to get monetary assistance through the Social Security Administration by filing for disability benefits for their child, if the illness is serious enough.

It’s the great dirty secret in the that mentally ill children in the U.S., especially the poor, are under served by the mental health system.

Often, children are simply prescribed a regimen of psychotropic drugs that may not be appropriate for the treatment of their particular long term problem. Counseling services are often limited or not available to them due to public aid cutbacks. Since children are the future of our nation, it is critical that federal and state governments step up their assistance for mentally ill children.

While SSI benefits may be available to a child claimant, the reality is that they must have a well documented medical file reflecting at least two marked or one extreme impairment. This has to show that their daily living is impacted. SSA judges then determine if SSI benefits will be granted. It is often a lengthy, arduous process in a time where treatment is essential.

The law offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd. have successfully obtained SSI benefits for it’s child claimant clients.

Adults with disabilities would prefer to work

As Social Security Administration disability benefits have become politicized in the media and by politicians, there has been a popular, yet unfounded, belief that many who receive disability just want to sit at home and not work. A recent report from the Kessler Foundation sets the record straight, finding that more than two-thirds of adults with disabilities are “striving to work” and many are working despite their health troubles.

This, of course, makes complete sense. It’s very rare to encounter a human being who simply wants to sit at home and collect checks. But as this issue has been debated in the open, many politicians have seen fit to cut benefits from those who truly need it due to a perception that some benefit recipients may be just in it for the money.

The Kessler Foundation interviewed 3,000 people and found that fewer than 6 percent of those with disabilities have never worked, while approximately 43 percent are fighting through and continuing to work. Another 9 percent are looking for work and 17 percent have worked since the onset of their disability.

People suffering from disabilities who are currently employed average 35.5 hours of work per week, with more than have working more than 40 hours per week and another 40 stating that they would be willing to work more hours over the course of the week.

Kessler Foundation President Rodger DeRose told The Associated Press that he hopes these results will help the development of better strategies and programs for those with disabilities, such as a fresh look at SSA disability benefits from Congress.

“If you look 10 years into the future, as baby boomers have gone out of the job force … people with disabilities are going to be a population that will finally be recognized as a workforce that can make the transition into the workplace and be successful in overcoming barriers,” DeRose told AP. “This workforce — the disability community — and business have not made the connection yet.”

The Social Security disability benefits program allows for people to successfully transition from benefits to work over a nine month period. Contrary to the belief of many, the program encourages claimants to become employed again as soon as possible. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates has helped many attain the disability benefits they deserve; as we have seen time and again, most can and will go back to work as soon as they can.

Surviving the tough financial times of a disability

It’s never easy to be kept out of work by a disability, especially if your family depends on you for income. However, with some planning and a little bit of help, all is not lost.

Kimberly Palmer of U.S. News and World Report wrote about Debra and Dennis Muth, a couple who dealt with the fallout after a disability forced Dennis to stop working. His pay went from about $1,000 per week to $1,200 per month; Debra had to take a second job and the couple had to cut down on their spending. She called it “a huge challenge.”

For those who are really suffering, it may be a good idea to apply for social security disability benefits through the Social Security Administration. With the assistance of a good attorney, the application and decision process can be made easier. While this may not be much, in Dennis’ case it meant $1,200 per month that he would not otherwise have.

The Council for Disability Awareness said 1-in-4 20 year olds will suffer a disability at some point of their lives, so planning with an emergency fund may be the best way to weather the storm. Set aside a “rainy day” emergency fund that could come in very handy if you’re out of work for an extended period of time. Get disability insurance. Don’t let yourself get down, out and unhealthily out of shape.

Those applying for disability benefits should be aware it can take a year or longer, depending on the local SSA office’s efficiency and backlog, to obtain a favorable decision in a disability case. The SSA is taking longer to decide cases and and more cases are being decided unfavorably. This should not discourage people from pursuing their claims, as the income and medical  benefits can be vital for those who cannot work.

Young veterans suffering from PTSD may also have sleep apnea

Those who have served our country may have a lot more to deal with upon returning home. Veterans of all ages should ensure they get the best possible veterans benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, as early treatment of any disease or illness is essential. A recent study showed that problems can compound as well, as young U.S veterans with post traumatic stress disorder have a higher chance of suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

Medical Xpress reported on a recent study of nearly 200 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who visited a PTSD clinic; 69.2 percent of these participants were at high risk for sleep apnea, a risk that increased with the severity of PTSD symptoms.

Co-principal investigator for the study Sonya Norman, a researcher at the San Diego VA, director of the PTSD Consultation Program at the National Center for PTSD, said younger veterans need to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea, especially those already suffering from PTSD.

“This is critical information because sleep apnea is a risk factor for a long list of health problems such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and psychological problems including depression, worsening PTSD and anxiety,” Normal said.

The Mayo Clinic said obstructed sleep apnea can cause cardiovascular problems, loss of sleep and eye problems, among other issues. Those who suffer should seek treatment as soon as possible to try and fight the ailment early.

It behooves veterans to take advantage of their VA medical benefits to obtain the treatment they require. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates can help make sure veterans get the full amount of benefits they deserve.

Social Security finances may be worse than believed

There have been plenty of money issues at the Social Security Administration over the past decade, but it may actually be worse than the agency is letting on, according to new studies.

A report from two Harvard and one Dartmouth academic printed in the Journal of Economic Perspectives found that the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Actuary has underestimated retirees’ life expectancy and made other errors to make the system look better than it actually is.

Another paper from Political Analysis, authored by political scientist and director of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science Gary King, said predictions since 2000 have been less than spot-on. This is thanks to civil servants within the agency responding to political polarization of the SSA by resisting outside pressures, including technical experts.

“While they’re insulating themselves from the politics, they also insulate themselves from the data and this big change in the world –people started living longer lives,’’ King said in the report. “They need to take that into account and change the forecast as a result of that.”

The actuary for the SSA has underestimated declines in mortality for those 65 and older, as well as overestimating the birth rate and thereby the number of new workers who will be able to pay for benefits in the next two decades. With both SSA’s retirement arm and SSA disability arm already in dire financial straits, this could end very poorly for the agency if it is not fixed quickly.

Prominent Chicago mental health organization to close this month

A blow was struck to the Chicago mental health community this month, as Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4) has announced it will be closing its doors on May 31. This means more than 10,000 patients, including children, will be left without means for mental healthcare.

This will likely also be extremely damaging for those applying for disability benefits via the Social Security Administration, as it is important to establish medical records before applying. Many who went to C4 will have a hard time affording doctors visits and establishing the needed records.

At a rally outside of the C4 center in Chicago, CBS Chicago said Terese Burton was in tears telling the crowd just how much she was helped by the center for the past 24 years.

“They have helped me, support me, raise my children who all had mental health needs,” Burton said. “As a client here, I’ve been able to receive meds, support and I’m an active member of society.”

The closure of C4 comes in the midst of a proposal by Gov. Bruce Rauner to slash $82 million for mental health programs. In addition, Chicago shut down six of its 12 mental health clinics in 2012, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel citing C4 as a place people could turn for their mental health needs.

It appears that a convenient way to balance government budgets is to deny the mentally ill access to treatment. Untreated disease, whether mental or physical, is not the answer to address the conditions of our state’s ills. We should not be surprised at the foreseeable results of such a lack of concern for the welfare and treatment of the mentally ill.

One of the consequences of the government’s failure to provide treatment facilities for the mentally ill is that symptoms may become worse, thereby causing homelessness and problems in the justice system.

It is important for claimants seeking Social Security disability benefits to document the severity of their illness through medical records. Lack of such records could very well result in difficulty prevailing on their claim for benefits.

Autism diagnosis likely ‘passive’ for young children, study finds

In an ideal world, parents with children who have autism will get an immediate diagnosis and the ability to begin treatment right away. In many situations, this will allow them to apply for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration to get additional aid for medical bills. However, a recent study found that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder had 14 percent fewer proactive responses than parents with other development or intellectual disorders.

Dr. Katharine Zuckerman, of Doembecher Children’s Hospital at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, said in a study in the Journal of Pediatrics that proactive responses, such as discussing concerns with the schools, development tests and specialist referrals, were far more rare for children with autism spectrum disorder. Passive response was more likely, which included saying “the child might grow out of it” or that ” it was too early to tell if anything was wrong.”

In addition, Zuckerman and colleagues found that parents of children with autism spectrum disorder often brought their children in to doctors nearly a full year before those with other intellectual disorders. This passive diagnosis could cause a year-plus delay in the proper treatment of the child.

“Each proactive response to parents’ concerns was associated with a reduction in the mean delay between first conversation and ASD diagnosis by at least 1 year,” according to the authors of the study.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd. are experts in presenting medical evidence of autism. We have successfully represented numerous children afflicted with autism before administrative judges of the Social Security Administration.

Many adults with mental illness can’t get help

When trying to obtain disability benefits from the Social Security Administration for a mental illness, doctors visits are essential. The court needs to see that the claimant has been visiting a doctor and receiving treatment while not able to work.

Unfortunately for many who suffer, a recent report from the American Mental Health Counselors of America found that more than a half million adults with serious mental illnesses were not able to visit doctors due to a lack of resources and ineligibility for Medicaid.

A study by AMHCA found that an estimated 568,886 adults aged 17 through 64 were unable to get treatment for their mental illness. To add insult to injury, this likely means that they would not be approved for SSA disability benefits.

Joel Miller, AMHCA’s executive director, said that if all states provided Medicaid coverage, as the option for the Affordable Care Act is available, “the health of hundreds of thousands of people would be improved.”

In Illinois, a mere 31 percent (or 15,584 people) of the uninsured people with a severe mental illness were eligible for Medicaid. AMHCA said those who do not get treatment often end up in jail or homeless. AMHCA found that the majority of those who were mentally ill and wanted treatment were between the ages of 18 and 34 years old, showing that age is not a discriminating factor.

Added coverage for those suffering mental illnesses would not only help people get the treatment they need, it would likely save the U.S. taxpayers a lot of money due to a reduction in homelessness and the incarcerated population.

Claimants seeking SSA disability benefits who struggle to obtain appropriate treatment should still attempt to seek counseling services through social workers. Often times, their notes and reports can be valuable evidence in helping to obtain benefits .

The Law Offices of Harold W Conick & Associates, Ltd. is highly skilled in successfully presenting supportive medical evidence for disability.