Black Hawks, brain injuries and disability

stress photoChicago and Northwest Indiana were awash in a sea of red and black recently, with the Black Hawks bringing home their third Stanley Cup in six years. With all eyes having been focused on hockey, this seems a good time to visit a serious subject linked to the sport in recent years — the risk of brain injury. To be fair, hockey isn’t the only sport under fire for TBI — traumatic brain injury. Football, boxing and other sports have taken their share of “hits.” And athletics certainly aren’t the only way to suffer such a disabling condition. Motor vehicle accidents, falls and violent crimes are major causes of damage to the brain. Veterans might have suffered TBIs due to bombing. TBIs affect about 1.5 million people per year. Some suffer only mild, temporary effects, while some injuries result in coma. Many people are familiar with the milder form of a TBI, a concussion. More severe brain injuries  result in prolonged unconsciousness, speech problems, diminished thinking capacity and loss of motor function. Effects can linger for years and include trouble sleeping, headaches, mood disorders, memory loss and problems concentrating or focusing. TBIs are diagnosed with MRIs and CT scans, as well as neuropsychological tests. Social Security has specific criteria for determining if a person is disabled under their rules due to TBI. These “listings” classify TBI under the categories of epilepsy, stroke or organic mental disorders, depending on the individual’s symptoms.  SSA takes into consideration the frequency and type of seizures, language and mobility issues, cognitive dysfunction and personality changes. While it’s often difficult to be approved for disability due to a mild TBI, some claimants are approved based on the requirements of their job and how much their condition limits their ability to work. Veterans suffering TBI may be eligible to receive VA disability, in addition to Social Security benefits. Past criticism of VA guidelines on TBI has caused the agency to propose new rules for evaluating the condition. If the change is approved, five diseases would be considered service-connected to TBI: Parkinson’s, seizures, certain dementias, depression and hormone deficiencies (there are stipulations as to when the diseases were diagnosed in relation to the TBI, however). When the VA presumes a service connection, that means the veteran does not need to prove the illness occurred during service. We can help navigate the maze of Social Security and VA regulations concerning TBI. If you or someone you know has suffered brain trauma and would like to know if disability is an option, or if you have applied for Social Security or veterans benefits based on TBI and been denied, and would like to know why and whether you should appeal, please contact us. We’ll be glad to help you figure it out!

Can We Talk? You Bet We Can

handshakeOn many disability law firms’ web sites, you click on a chat box and carry on a virtual conversation with a faceless representative at that firm. But keep this in mind:

  • Is that person a lawyer? Probably not (especially if the word “advocate” is in the company title).
  • Will I get to see a lawyer? Sure you will — a few minutes before the hearing.
  • Can I at least talk to a lawyer? Probably not. These firms have more important things to do than talk with a client — or at least think they do.
  • How do I hire these firms? Through the mail, most likely. You sign the contract and send it back. No handshake, no eye contact.

At our law firm, you see an attorney at your first visit. This may be considered “hand holding” by firms who rely almost entirely on the Web for their clientele. And that’s just fine with us. We are here — to hold your hand if necessary. That is part of our job. In fact, you will probably see an attorney multiple times with our firm.

We are a local business. You can come right into our office. Many national Internet companies farm cases out to local attorneys shortly before the hearing. That means you won’t meet the person representing you until the day of the hearing. And remember, these companies’ “representatives” are not necessarily attorneys.

Many of these firms lead you on, then drop you before the hearing, leaving you to fend for yourself. Plenty of our clients came to us because they ended up in that very situation. We very seldom withdraw on cases before the hearing unless the client has failed to cooperate or their chances are VERY weak.

We aren’t in the numbers game — getting as many clients calling as possible, then taking only the very strongest cases. This is known as “cherry picking.” We are NOT cherry pickers. We interview you and tell you at the outset whether or not you have a winnable case, rather than having someone with no disability background give you the brushoff on the phone.

Disability is serious business. It may take a long time to obtain results. Do you really want to take your chances with an unknown individual who may be many miles away? Many firms boast in their ads that they are national outfits. We boast that we are a local outfit. It may sound convenient to never have to go into an office when filing your disability appeal, but we hear many people who lost their cases complain that they never got a chance to speak with their representative or spoke to them right before the hearing. We try to prepare our clients well before their hearings. It takes more time, doesn’t get us any more money, but we think it’s worth it — for our clients and their cases.

Still considering hiring a national firm? Think about it. Then let’s talk.





Kidney Disease and Disability

Close up of social security applicationChronic kidney disease may be more common than you think. According to the National Kidney Foundation, 1 in 3 Americans run the risk of enduring kidney problems for a variety of reasons: diabetes, hypertension or family history among them. More than 26 million people already suffer from it, but many of us don’t realize it because symptoms often don’t manifest themselves until the disease has progressed to a certain point.

Grounds for disability?

For Social Security Disability purposes, kidney problems are considered part of the genitourinary class of impairments. While having kidney disease doesn’t always guarantee you will be considered disabled, you may be awarded benefits if you can show that the limitations it causes keeps you from working. Kidney disease often causes bone pain or neuropathy, resulting in discomfort too great for someone to hold a job; fatigue; swelling; or shortness of breath. SSA Disability also may be granted if your failing kidneys have caused congestive heart failure or stroke. And like any disability claim, non-medical factors such as your age, skill and education will be taken into account.

What about dialysis?

If you receive dialysis treatment at least three times a week (and have been undergoing dialysis for 12 months or anticipate continuing it for 12 months), you automatically qualify as disabled under Social Security regulations. Ditto if you’ve had a kidney transplant. A transplant recipient will be awarded 12 months of disability, but benefits will be reviewed after one year, looking at things like kidney rejection, infections, side effects of medication and the condition of other vital organs. So even if you are awarded benefits, it’s important to keep a history of your post-transplant treatment. Also, depending on the medical evidence, SSA may decide you were considered disabled due to kidney disease even before the dialysis or transplant occurred, resulting in a larger sum of back benefits.

Where’s the proof?

As with all disability cases, the proof is in the medical records. It’s important that all treatment be considered: hospital stays, doctor visits, lab work, biopsies. Providing a clear, consistent, reliable history of physician visits is crucial to winning a claim for disability for a kidney disorder.

Help is here when, and if, you need it

If you have CKD and have been denied Social Security Disability benefits, we can evaluate your claim and see what, if anything, went wrong and if there are grounds for appeal. If you have not yet applied, we can also tell you whether you can make a good case for benefits. Again, if you meet the criteria for automatic disability, you may not need our help — but we’re here if you do.


Saving Social Security

iStock_000005780610XSmallAnother year, another political argument about Social Security.

The demise of Social Security has been talked about for years, with actuaries from the agency now projecting that the disability insurance portion of the trust fund (vs. the part allocated for retirements) will run out of money in 2016 unless steps are taken to prevent it. Now a tug-of-war has begun over how to keep the disability program funded.

In the past, sitting presidents have moved money from the retirement pot to the disability one without a fuss. Such shifts have been made 11 times since 1968, including four times by Ronald Reagan (Democratic presidents have done it, too). The last time a reallocation was needed was in 1994. Making such a move would keep both the old-age and disability programs funded through at least 2033.

This year, however, is different.  On its first day in business, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a rule change that hinders the ability to transfer money earmarked for retirement to that budgeted for disability. As it stands now, without an infusion of funds into the disability trust, those benefits to recipients would be cut by 20 percent. Those voting to prevent the transfer say the retirement fund also needs protection against going belly-up and that waste in the disability program needs to be stopped. However, they ARE willing to support shoring up disability if benefits are cut or if tax hikes are approved.

Both the retirement and disability trusts have been strained by an increase in the older population — people are living longer today than ever before. More women are eligible for benefits, since they started entering the workforce in increasing numbers years ago. The full retirement age has been pushed up, but that also means a few extra years for workers to fall ill and become unable to hold a job.

Disability defenders say that program also has helped out the retirement trust, having sent disability monies to fatten up the retirement fund in 1983 (the “repayment” back to disability in 1994 was for a lesser amount). Not many people want to see the Social Security program eliminated, although some think it would yield a better investment if privatized.

Whatever legislators decide to do, just about every American will be affected in some way: through the taxes they pay, through the benefits they receive now or through the benefits they may (or may not) receive some day. Listen to and learn about the issues affecting the Social Security program and, most importantly, let your elected officials in Congress know what you think and why the program matters to you!