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.

Vietnam veteran files class action lawsuit against VA

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has long experienced a hellishly deep backlog that has caused severe delays of veterans benefits for those in need. One Vietnam veteran has decided to take matters into his own hands, filing a class action lawsuit against the VA.

Conley Monk Jr., the lead plaintiff in the case, is a Marine veteran who said he has waited for years for disability benefits stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder and exposure to toxic chemicals. He said he came under fire in 1969 and 1970 and was exposed to Agent Orange during his time in the war.

The New York Times said he was diagnosed with PTSD and diabetes (sometimes related to exposure of Agent Orange) in 2011 and was denied VA benefits. After appealing that decision in 2013, he has yet to hear anything from the VA on his disability benefits. Monk told the Times that it has been frustrating to “be stuck in limbo.”

“It’s been hard to make ends meet,” Monk told the Times. “And we Vietnam veterans are getting older. We can’t wait forever.”

Reducing the number of claims of claims in the VA backlog has been a focus of VA, but the Times reports that appeals are at an all time high at nearly 300,000. That means much like Monk, many others may be suffering as they wait for a decision on their veterans benefits from VA.

In the opinion of attorney Harold W. Conick, the VA’s backlog could be trimmed by converting the Veterans  paper records to an electronic platform. The VA is apparently in the process of doing this, but it is taking far too long.

Additionally, it would be helpful if VA personnel were more open and cooperative with counsel for veterans in attempting to resolve claims. This is not currently being done; the system is very adversarial to both the veteran and their counsel. “Stone walling” is standard operating procedure at the VA and delays the adjudication of claims. This needs to change to better serve the U.S. veterans in the benefit claims process.

‘Band-Aids’ not enough to keep SSA disability running

There has been a stated level of confusion on how disability benefits through the Social Security Administration will be funded; this level of confusion has not been seen before. Some of the confusion impacts the general public’s perception of SSA disability, but perhaps more importantly, the confounding dilemma of benefit funding may also throw off those in positions of power.

Jason Fichtner, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, wrote on MarketWatch that this confusion has meant the steps to reform, vital to the survival of the SSA, have not been taken. Instead, he said there has just been a “financial Band-Aid” put on the SSA time and again.

Last year’s Social Security Trustee report found that the disability trust fund could potentially run out in 2016, making SSA disability benefits a likely presidential election issue.

One option Ficther pointed out is “to allow the disability trust fund to borrow from the retirement trust fund for a temporary period. This interfund borrowing would provide the short-term financial patch necessary to ensure that those receiving disability benefits would continue to receive full benefits.” However, this would simply be another Band-Aid for SSA disability. To fully fix the program, there would need to be an honest look in the mirror as a country to see how we want and need to move forward with disability benefits.

In the past, Congress  has allowed the disability and retirement programs to borrow from each other as needed. Recently, there has been Congressional action to stop this transfer of funds, thereby placing the disability program in crisis. This is purely a political move and is not only ill considered, but harmful to a program that many people, who cannot work, depend on to pay for the basic necessities of life.

Since the disability program potentially serves all Americans, it should not be used as a political football. Perhaps a solution to help continue to run the retirement and disability programs is to lift the ceiling on the Social Security income tax cap. This way, higher income individuals pay their fair share into the system and maintain its solvency.

VA accused of changing dates on disability claims

After U.S. veterans return home from stints in battle overseas, many suffer from physical injuries, mental illness and other debilitating symptoms that need to be treated. Sometimes, they simply need a helping hand to get restarted in life; the Department of Veterans Affairs is supposed to be there for them to provide veterans benefits. However, a recent report from the inspector general found that at least one VA office has been changing the dates on claims to make it appear as though the department was moving through its growing backlog at a quicker rate.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, staff said they have been following orders from VA administration to change the dates of on the files in backlog. The inspector general said an average of 20 months passed between when the VA received the documents and acted on it in at least 43 of the cases.

One case, which was made to look as though it was 14 days old, was actually two decades old, meaning the veteran in question may have fallen even more ill or even died while waiting for benefits.

“Right now it’s incumbent upon VA leaders to ensure the claims of veterans affected by this scheme are correctly processed while moving swiftly to hold the responsible employees accountable,” according to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla. “Although I believe Secretary McDonald is trying hard to correct VA’s course, the fact that incidents like this are still occurring highlights the scope of the challenges he is facing.”

If this is happening in one state, under instruction of the VA administration, it is not hard to draw conclusions that it may be happening to veterans in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and other areas near and dear to our law firm’s heart.

It is still too early to know if these reforms will make the VA medical system credible and effective. However, there can be no doubt that the mission of the VA medical system is critical to the care and welfare of U.S. veterans.

Disability issues falling by the wayside

Anyone who has been paying attention to the Social Security Administration’s rate of approval over the past year can tell you that it has slowed down in a very purposeful way.

At the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates Ltd., we have certainly noticed that there are fewer cases being approved. It is harder than ever for our clients, no matter how strong a case they have or how in need of help they are, to gain disability benefits from the SSA.

Sara Blahovec wrote in a blog post on Huffington Post that this slowdown may, at least in part, be due to the disability rights movement stagnating.

“Worldwide, barriers to inclusivity for people with disabilities continue to be significant,” she wrote, adding that issues of race and gender gain the public’s attention, while disability and health do not. “While various organizations work tirelessly to promote equal rights, disability rights just don’t seem to be captivating the public in the same way.”

One reason, according to Blahovec, may be the fear of increased discrimination. People with disabilities, especially mental health illnesses, are not easily identifiable. They are told to hide their disabilities and “act normal.”

This may be harmful when it comes time to get help, as many people see a person who appears “normal” and do not think much more deeply about it.

“This incentivizes hiding disability status, and so many people are afraid of speaking up because they feel that they will fare better and experience less discrimination,” Blahovec wrote on The Huffington Post’s website.

All across the cadre of judges, the favorable decision are fewer and further between. When favorable, more often than not, the decision less than fully favorable.

In our opinion, this conduct is intentional and widespread. Additionally, it is taking far longer than ever before to have cases progress through the appeals system to be in a position for claimants to receive a decision. This is the SSA’s dirty little secret that no one is publicly talking about. They are attempting to save the system money through artificially reducing the number of claimants approved for benefits.

Congress should investigate this problem and take action to correct it before even more citizens are denied their rightful benefits.

Stress, depression may increase risk of heart attack

Sufferers of heart disease may want to beware of the risks of high stress and depression, as a recent report from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City finds that these could lead to an increased risk for heart attack and death.

Reuters spoke with the report’s lead author Carmela Alcantara, who said high stress and severe depression combined could be especially difficult for adults with heart disease during an “early, vulnerable period.”

In a study by Alcantara and her team, which followed 4,400 people 45 and older with coronary heart disease, it was found that 12 percent had high stress, 14 percent had high depression and 6 percent suffered from both. After a six year follow up, about a fourth of these participants had a heart attack or died.

“More research is needed to understand why psychosocial factors like these are so often tied to heart health in particular,” Alcantara told Reuters.

For sufferers of heart disease, it is important to let your doctor know about any signs of stress or depression, as this will need to be quelled for you to reach optimum levels of health. Severe sufferers of heart disease and/or depression for whom it has become too hard to work should apply for disability benefits via the Social Security Administration as soon as possible, as this can be a great lifeline during tough times.

The symptoms related to stress and depression can significantly interfere with the ability to perform competitive work activity. The Social Security disability program is available to those debilitated by stress and depression symptoms who cannot work.

It’s wise to apply as soon as possible when one realizes that they can no longer perform work activities. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd has successfully represented numerous clients before the SSA who suffered from severe stress and depression.