VA whistleblowers say many troops claims end up ignored

For years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been inundated by a large backlog of troops coming home looking for veterans benefits. With a high number of veterans waiting, the local CBS affiliate in San Francisco reported some shocking news this month: Thousands of claims filed between 1996 and 2009 were put into a file cabinet and ignored until 2012.

An example of how this has impacted veterans comes from Dorrie Stafford, whose husband Wayne was an Army veteran who filed a veterans disability claim in 2004. Wayne died in an accident seven years ago, but he received a letter dated July 29, 2014, thanking him for filing for disability benefits. This left his wife wondering how VA could be so callous, not only in ignoring the claim, but in sending a late reply to a veteran who was already dead.

Rustyann Brown, one of the team assigned to process these claims two years ago, said their VA office was getting letters from elderly veterans and widows begging for help. This showcases the very real need many veterans have to hire an attorney who will fight for their veterans benefits.

“Half of the veterans were dead that I screened. So almost every other piece of paper that I touched was a veteran who had already passed away,” Brown told CBS.

It is absolutely critical that a disabled veteran retain experienced counsel to pursue their VA disability claim. Iis well documented that veterans will have a better chance of success in obtaining benefits with the assistance of legal counsel.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates are available to assist veterans in pursuit of their benefits.

Medicaid, mental health heavily cut from newly elected Illinois governor’s budget

Newly elected Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced his budget earlier this month and it contains some cuts that could severely impact those who rely on disability benefits.

Rauner’s budget includes $1.5 billion cut to Medicaid’s Health and Family Services program. This would mean the elimination of specialized mental health rehabilitation facilities, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

Cuts in Rauner’s budget would also slice $27.5 million from the division of alcohol and substance abuse, $82 million from the division of mental health and $23 million from the Early Intervention Program. Projects which help those in need, including Project Autism and homeless youth services, will also be eliminated under this new budget.

Adding to all of this is a $19 million reduction from the public health budget. All of these services mentioned have potential to touch the lives of those who suffer from mental or physical health troubles.

Most people would agree that the state of Illinois must attempt to reduce its budget. However, attacking programs that support mental and physical health could be false economy.

If an individual remains medically untreated and ill they cannot be productive in the workforce. Additionally, chronic illness is very expensive for all taxpayers. While reductions in these programs may seem to be a  financial solution, it is not only inhumane, but not cost effective over time.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd. is committed to assisting the disabled in pursuit of government benefits to which they are entitled.

US needs better coordination of mental healthcare programs

Anyone who has seen a family member or friend suffer through mental health problems can likely tell you: we, as a country, need to do better in ensuring people get the proper mental healthcare treatment.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that no one is making sure patients, many veterans, get the help they need. No matter who you are, it is essential to get mental health treatment at the first instance of a problem. This will be key in attaining Social Security Administration disability benefits.

The report found, as an example of the lack of coordinator, that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is supposed to be coordinating the 47 programs to address homelessness. However, the report said “it has shown little leadership in coordinating federal efforts on behalf of those with serious mental illness.”

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., chairman of a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the report is a “much-needed wake up call,” according to USA Today.

“The federal government’s approach to addressing mental illness is a convoluted and disjointed mess,” says Murphy, who is also a child psychologist. “Shame on us if we don’t take action and work on fixing the system wide failures identified in this report so that we can focus resources on helping those in desperate need of medical services.”

A great majority of claimants who apply for Social Security disability benefits suffer from some form of mental illness. Depression is the most common ailment and can vary from circumstantial to life long chronic depression. More resources are required to treat those who suffer from mental illness as, unfortunately, this area of human suffering is currently underserved.

Our law offices are experts in securing and presenting evidence of mental illness to the SSA on behalf of our clients so the can be approved for disability benefits.

Political battlegrounds set for SSA disability benefits

There is some interesting back-and-forth taking place between President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans regarding the Social Security Administration’s disability benefits program. BenefitsPro reported that the White House proposed shifting payroll tax dedications from Old Age and Survivors Insurance to Disability Insurance trust “while a longer-term solutions to overall Social Security solvency is developed with the Congress.”

Last month, Republicans in the House proposed a rule to block this transfer. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, chair of the House Ways and Means subcommittee and co-sponsor of the House rule, said it is unfair to kick “the can down the road five years” to anyone who relies on the program. However, the proposal from the White House said it is looking to keep payment from SSA disability benefits as consistent as possible.

“The Administration will oppose any measures that privatize or weaken the Social Security system and will not accept an approach that slashes benefits for future generations or reduces basic benefits for current beneficiaries,” according to the White House blueprint.

Current reports say that the SSA can afford to pay full benefits until 2033. However, with the backlog, a large number of people in need of help in and slowing in the approval rate, something will need to give in the near future.

Over our 35 years of practice, our office has seen the Social Security disability benefits program treated as a political football at the expenses of the claimants.

Games are played not only by the Congress, but the SSA as well. All of the legislators, executives and judges who administer the program are highly paid for their services. It is their duty to ensure that the disability program is fairly administered. Sadly, politics often gets in the way of fair and compassionate handling of the program, as is the case currently.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates, Ltd. are committed to zealously fighting for it’s clients so that they receive the benefits they deserve.

Attorneys can be helpful in navigation of veterans benefits

If you’re a veteran, you know how difficult it can be to navigate an extremely bureaucratic system after returning home. Paperwork and meetings aren’t exactly what a veteran, especially one who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder or another disability, wants to be doing with their time.

NPR’s Steve Walsh said without someone to help navigate veterans benefits, they can often be overwhelming and difficult.

One example he gave is in difference of payment. Veterans may not notice this difference, but Walsh said the latest data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shows that Indiana, as an example, gives veterans $4,935 each year. This is the state with the 35th most veterans. If veterans in Indiana got as much as veterans in the state with the 35th highest return, Utah, they’d get an additional $558. If it were upped to the national average, they’d receive $1,153 more, on average.

This led one retired general to tell Walsh that he believes Indiana has “neglected veterans,” as they clearly have a lack of education as to what their benefits are.

Without clear education on benefits from VA, it will take the veteran being proactive and working with someone who can help them understand their benefits. Working with an attorney or representative can take some of the mystery out of the process, something that can mean saving time and money.

While there are many competent and well meaning service officers, volunteers and representatives available to assist veterans in navigating the claim process, it ultimately may take the assistance of skilled legal counsel to obtain the the benefits Veteran are entitled.  The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd. is committed to winning the highest level of VA benefits available for our veteran clients.

Brain’s habit system may drive OCD; early treatment necessary

Those who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder know just how much of a struggle it can be. Anything from constant hand washing to a continuous streaming of thoughts of death can overtake a person’s life, leaving them disabled. While disability benefits through the Social Security Administration can help when the impact of OCD gets dire, new research from the University of Cambridge underscores just how necessary early treatment is for these patients.

Dr. Claire Gillan and Professor Trevor Robbins said OCD should be thought of as less of a disorder caused by obsessions or faulty beliefs and more as a condition “brought about when the brain’s habit system runs amok.” Robbins and Gillan found that patients with OCD had a harder time stopping certain habits due to a brain’s increase in activity in the caudate nucleus. This is a region of the brain that helps control habits, something many of us end up taking for granted.

“It’s not just OCD; there are a range of human behaviors that are now considered examples of compulsivity, including drug and alcohol abuse and binge-eating,” Gillan said. “What all these behaviors have in common is the loss of top-down control, perhaps due to miscommunication between regions that control our habit and those such as the prefrontal cortex that normally help control volitional behaviors. As compulsive behaviors become more ingrained over time, our intentions play less and less of a role in what we actually do.”

If you notice early signs of OCD in yourself or a loved one, early treatment can be extremely helpful in coping with and perhaps even stopping these compulsions.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd., have successfully represented numerous clients over the last three decades to obtain federal disability benefits based on their inability to work from symptoms associated with OCD.

OCD is a devastating mental disorder that robs an individual of the ability to focus on work related activities, among other limitations. We are experts in the presentation of evidence for OCD cases that will enable the SSA to approve disability benefits for our clients.

Could treatment of arthritis, leukemia be as simple as reducing fatty acids?

While those who suffer from arthritis and leukemia will likely qualify for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, the suffering is far from worth the money paid. This is why we love to see this new research from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, which claims the same fatty acids associated with obesity and diabetes may lead to the development of arthritis and leukemia. This brings us one step closer to the treatment and prevention of these diseases.

A high number of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell that helps keep away infections, can be a sign of acute inflammation and is associated with many diseases, researchers found. The study, published in Cell Metabolism, found that without certain lipids, they rapidly lost weight and their white blood cell count was very low.

Dr. Clay F. Semenkovich of the Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Lipid Research, said they believe these findings could lead to innovative treatments of these diseases, as well as a look into how they can be prevented.

“This may be a pathway to limit inflammation,” he said. “If we could reduce the activity of these enzymes without eliminating them entirely, it could lower the levels of ether lipids and potentially help patients with leukemia and inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis.”

With 52.5 million Americans suffering from some form of arthritis and 24,090 deaths from leukemia, these is a very welcome sign from these University of Washington researchers.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd, has successfully represented numerous clients  suffering from arthritis and various forms of cancer before the SSA.

Congressional change may cut disability payments

It is no secret that there is political turmoil, with many looking to diminish the Social Security Administration’s disability benefits system. However, the payments have kept coming, even if at a slower rate. The Washington Post’s Max Ehrenfreund wrote in a recent post that recent action on the first day of the 114th Congress could cut payments by as much as a fifth.

Currently, SSA has the disability insurance program and the Old Age and Survivors Insurance program that are linked closely together, with money exchanging between both. Ehrenfreund said there is enough money to keep both of these programs in working order until at least 2034. However, the House has adopted a new rule that creates an obstacle to reallocating that money.

This is a move, some have said, to prevent fraud. Texas Republican Representative Sam Johnson said there needs to be further steps taken. However, Ehrenfreund notes that fraud in both of these systems is few and far between, with A report by the Government Accountability Office finding that a mere 0.4 percent of disability beneficiaries get improper benefits.

“The effect of the rule appears to be to force Congress into a debate about Social Security next year instead of sometime before 2033,” Ehrenfreund wrote in the post. “Without action from Congress, Social Security will be forced to cut disability payments to all recipients by about one fifth.”

The politicians have apparently decided to pick on the weakest members of American society, the disabled, in order to save money. They know the disabled versus retired recipients of government benefits are less likely to be able to defend themselves from legislative game playing with SSA benefits.

There is absolutely no financial rationale for their actions in attacking the recipients of disability benefits. Hopefully, Congress will take an objective look at the numbers and decide not to reduce benefits.

No matter what, the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick, & Associates are ready, willing and able to zealously represent clients seeking federal disability benefits.

Q&A: Why are approval rates on disability benefits down 12 percent?

If you’ve tried to apply for Social Security Administration disability benefits in the past year, there’s a fair chance that your claim has been denied.

The National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives said in a recent newsletter that the average processing time for fiscal year 2014, ending in September, was 422 days. In all actuality, the average waiting time this past September was 454 days.

Why is this happening? How can you avoid long wait times? Harold W. Conick, owner of Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates Ltd., answered some questions about the long waits and SSA disability backlog.

Q: From the average person’s perspective, how will these numbers impact them?

Conick: Well, it’s not happy news. There’s a longer wait and the denial rate is up across the board. Hearing times are increasing, fairly dramatically in some locations. They have all these different offices, some are worse than others

Q: How does the longer processing time hurt the claimant?

Conick: They don’t have money and their claim is not adjudicated. Their ability to get benefits is delayed. That’s a big problem.

It’s a trend and it’s worse than it’s been in 30 years. One chart shows that in the year 2010, the backlog of pending cases was at a little over 700,500 people. Since then, it has grown every year and is approaching 1 million in 2014. That’s four years where it’s grown and they haven’t reduced it.

The hearing time has suffered with an increase of nearly 70 days since the year 2012. The adjudicatory capacity has also dropped even though the number of judges has grown by 18 percent from 2010 to 2013. Long story short, the payroll is up but their efficiency has dropped

Q: Why is this happening?

Conick: They use the excuse that there’s a delay in hiring, but my theory is the reason the backlog has increased is because they don’t have sufficient staff to help them with decisions before and after hearings.

The bottom line is the public should know that the backlog has increased substantially and approval rating is down across the board.

Q: How can people get past this?

Conick: The reality is there probably isn’t a lot you can do about it. but if you think you’re disabled, apply early. It’s a good idea to hire a lawyer sooner than later so you can get your evidence lined up and get in line to file a claim. Also, you need to have someone nagging for you, unfortunately.

My opinion is that they’re short of staff and there’s a lot of inefficiency. I see the inefficiency. I can’t say them all in this post, but I think due to budget constraints, they’re short of staff.

Risk of heart disease rises in those who suffer from asthma

Suffering from asthma can be extremely frightening. One moment, you may be breathing perfectly; minutes later, you’re left gasping for breath, wondering if you’re going to pass out. This affects more than 23 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and in certain instances can be debilitating enough to obtain disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.

Adding to the horrors of asthma which already exist are studies that have come from the 2014 American Heart Association‘s Scientific Sessions, which found those who suffer from asthma may also have an increased risk of heart attack.

Assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, and one of the studies’ authors, Matthew C. Tattersall, found that patients with asthma are 60 percent more at risk for experiencing a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular risks.

In another study, this time authored by Young J. Juhn, M.D.,  a professor of pediatrics and adolescent medicine at the Mayo Clinic, found patients who have asthma are 70 percent more likely to have a heart attack.

Both of these studies go to show that asthma sufferers must frequently visit with their doctor to ensure the illness does not get out of hand. SSA disability benefits are available for extreme cases, but having baseline visits with a doctor will help treatment in the long run.

While many people are affected by asthma symptoms, those that have asthma and cannot work must prove their case through medical evidence. Pulmonary tests and physician office notes are critical in convincing the SSA that the claimants asthma symptoms are severe enough to grant benefits. Children are also affected by the limitations caused by asthma and have the ability to bring a claim for SSA disability benefits.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates have successfully represented numerous clients who suffer from asthma in obtaining their Social Security disability benefits. Our firm has substantial expertise in obtaining benefits for asthmatics who cannot work.