Congress passes ABLE Act allowing for tax-sheltered savings for disabled

Posted on Thursday, December 18th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

The Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act was passed by the Senate Tuesday. It allows for as many as 54 million Americans with disabilities or their families to set up a tax-free savings account in order to prepare for long-term care beginning next year.

ABLE Act passes Congress - tax-sheltered savings for Americans with disabilitiesEarlier this month, the House overwhelmingly approved the measure, having garnered 85 percent of Congress as co-sponsors.

The bill next goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Modeled after tax-free college savings accounts, the ABLE act amends Section 529 the Internal Revenue Service Code to allow states to establish the program to allow use of tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities.

The act covers individuals who have been diagnosed with a disability before the age of 26 and are receiving or are deemed eligible for disability benefits under the Social Security Act.

Families would be able to set up tax-sheltered accounts at financial institutions, depositing up to $14,000 annually to save for long-term needs such as education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology and personal support services, and any other expenses approved under regulations.

The contributions would be in after-tax dollars but earnings would grow tax-free.

The ABLE accounts would be able to accrue up to $100,000 in savings without the person losing eligibility for government aid such as Social Security; currently, the asset limit is $2,000. If the ABLE account exceeds $100,000, SSI benefits would be suspended but not terminated. In other words, the beneficiary of the account would not receive a check but would retain eligibility for the SSI program. Medicaid coverage would continue no matter how much money is deposited in the accounts.

This act raises a lot of hope for parents of children with disabilities who wish to save for their children’s future needs without losing currently needed benefits. However with more than 30 percent of affected families living in poverty, many families will have difficulty saving money after paying medical and other expenses.


Voters approve change to Veterans’ Homestead Exemption

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

In yesterday’s election, Louisiana voters overwhelmingly approved amendment seven which increased homestead exemption for veterans with a 100 percent unemployability rating. The amendment passed with 74 percent of the vote.

Louisiana Homestead Exemption for Veterans

Homestead Exemption for Veterans

Louisiana homeowners are exempt from paying property taxes on the first $75,000 of the assessed value of an owner-occupied home. Since 2010, veterans rated with 100 percent “service-connected disability” have received a homestead exemption of $150,000. This created situations where disabled veterans with an 80 percent “service-connected disability” rating, but a 100 percent “unemployability” rating did not receive the tax exemption.

The new amendment allows parishes to grant 100% unemployable veterans the additional homestead exemption without the need for a parish wide election to approve it. The disability still has to be service connected, but not necessarily incurred as a result of combat.

The amendment had a large majority of votes in every Louisiana parish:

Parish YES NO
Acadia 13944 5361
Allen 4861 1878
Ascension 25930 10286
Assumption 5235 1622
Avoyelles 7858 3746
Beauregard 7729 2234
Bienville 3679 1172
Bossier 24536 6490
Caddo 54272 15472
Calcasieu 46447 11593
Caldwell 2629 1041
Cameron 1996 457
Catahoula 2364 953
Claiborne 3465 921
Concordia 4060 1552
De Soto 6845 2037
East Baton Rouge 91343 45369
East Carroll 1561 796
East Feliciana 4982 2281
Evangeline 7038 3078
Franklin 4099 1914
Grant 4391 1511
Iberia 15568 4863
Iberville 8209 3391
Jackson 4170 1422
Jefferson 87157 25559
Jefferson Davis 7584 2450
Lafayette 51450 15423
Lafourche 20099 6314
Lasalle 3888 837
Lincoln 9648 3193
Livingston 28284 9597
Madison 2116 846
Morehouse 5777 2119
Natchitoches 8350 2959
Orleans 75781 24495
Ouachita 31976 12267
Plaquemines 6066 1689
Pointe Coupee 5601 2596
Rapides 30077 11073
Red River 1950 616
Richland 4627 1796
Sabine 4569 1820
St. Bernard 7554 3065
St. Charles 13930 3687
St. Helena 2842 1164
St. James 6121 2425
St. John The Baptist 10374 3110
St. Landry 19908 7576
St. Martin 12084 3872
St. Mary 11014 3732
St. Tammany 60032 18893
Tangipahoa 24306 9437
Tensas 1216 432
Terrebonne 21252 6309
Union 5381 2063
Vermilion 12896 3959
Vernon 7779 2951
Washington 9436 3281
Webster 9302 3043
West Baton Rouge 6431 2447
West Carroll 2261 678
West Feliciana 2990 1339
Winn 3060 1173

Social Security announces 1.7% COLA increase for 2015

Posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

The Social Security Administration announced today that monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits will increase 1.7 percent in 2015. Social Security COLA Benefit Increase for 2015

The average Social Security benefit will be $1,302 next year, a $22 increase.

The 1.7% Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) will begin for Social Security beneficiaries in January 2015. Increased payments to SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2014. The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The COLA is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year to prices in the same three months from the previous year. Benefits go up if prices go up.

After no COLA increases in 2010 and 2011 and a 3.6% increase in 2012, the COLA increase for the past 3 years has remained steady at 1.5-1.7%.

Historical COLA increases:Social Security COLA increases for past 10 years
January 2005 — 2.7%
January 2006 — 4.1%
January 2007 — 3.3%
January 2008 — 2.3%
January 2009 — 5.8%
January 2010 — 0.0%
January 2011 — 0.0%
January 2012 — 3.6%
January 2013 — 1.7%
January 2014 — 1.5%
January 2015 — 1.7%


Amendments on Louisiana ballot regarding disability tax exemptions

Posted on Monday, October 20th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

In the Louisiana election on Tuesday, November 4, 2014, there are 2 constitutional amendments that if passed will affect the property taxes of some Louisiana homeowners and/or veterans with disabilities. Louisiana Constitutional Amendments affecting veterans and disabled

Louisiana Disabled Veterans Homestead Exemption Correction, Proposed Amendment No. 7

Act No. 433 Senate Bill No. 96, Regular Session, 2013, By Senator Adley

Do you support an amendment to provide that the homesteads of veterans with a service-connected disability rating of one hundred percent unemployability or totally disabled by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and their surviving spouses, shall be exempt from ad valorem taxation for up to one hundred fifty thousand dollars, and that a parishwide vote shall not be required to implement this change in qualification for the exemption? (Amends Article VII, Section 21(K)(1) and (3))

Upon voter approval, the amendment would empower parishes to grant veterans rated with 100 percent “unemployability” a homestead exemption of $150,000.

Currently, most residents of Louisiana receive a $75,000 homestead exemption on property taxes. Since 2010, veterans rated with 100 percent “service-connected disability” have received a homestead exemption of $150,000. This created situations where disabled veterans with an 80 percent “service-connected disability” rating, but a 100 percent “unemployability” rating did not receive the tax exemption.

A YES vote on amendment 7 would allow parishes to provide a bonus homestead exemption to veterans rated with “100% unemployability.”
A NO vote on amendment 7 would mean that veterans who are rated “100% unemployable” but less than 100% disabled could not receive the additional home-stead exemption.

Louisiana Permanently Disabled Homeowners Tax Break, Proposed Amendment No. 9

Act No. 432 Senate Bill No. 56, Regular Session, 2013, By Senator Morrell and Representatives Barrow, Ritchie and Thibaut

Do you support an amendment to exclude owners who are permanently totally disabled from the requirement that they annually certify to the assessor the amount of their adjusted gross income in order to receive the Special Assessment Level on their residences for property tax purposes? (Amends Article VII, Section 18(G)(1)(a)(iv))

Upon voter approval, the amendment would delete the requirement that permanently and totally disabled homeowners certify their adjusted gross income annually to have their property assessment capped.

A YES vote on amendment 9 would eliminate the requirement that permanently disabled homeowners under age 65 must certify every year that their income meets the threshold for an assessment freeze.
A NO vote on amendment 9 would mean that permanently disabled homeowners under age 65 would have to continue to certify each year that their income meets the requirements for the freeze.


Free Parking in Metered Spaces for those with Disabilities in New Orleans

Posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

A new ordinance passed the New Orleans City Council yesterday (Thursday, October 2). It allows for any car with a license plate, hang tag or special parking card “impaired mobility” designation to park free in metered spaces for up to 3 hours. The vehicles have to be transporting the person with disabilities at the time to qualify.
Free Parking for Disabled in New Orleans
Many new meters have been installed downtown which could not be reached by many in wheelchairs. In some cases, it is difficult to navigate the curb to sidewalk transition to get to the meter especially in areas that don’t have wheelchair accessible curb cuts. In other cases with new centralized, electronic meters, the meter is so tall or installed in such a way that it can not be reached at all by many in wheelchairs.

The New Orleans City Council voted 6-0 in favor of the new metered parking law. The ordinance doesn’t allow parking in a fire lane or in areas where a car might be a traffic hazard.

City of New Orleans press release – City Adopts New Parking Policy for Mobility Impaired Residents and Visitors


National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

The 9th National Prescription Drug Take Back Day
Saturday, September 27, 2014
10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Prescription Drug Take-Back Day
Most homes, especially those with chronically ill or disabled individuals, contain unused and/or expired prescription drugs.  The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs.  You can take your expired, unneeded, or unwanted prescription drugs to one of over 5,200 collection sites across the country between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.  The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.

Most people flush their unused prescription drugs down the toilet, throw them in the trash, or keep them in the household medicine cabinet, resulting in contamination of the water supply and the theft and abuse of the prescription drugs. Unused medications in homes create a public health and safety concern, because they can be accidentally ingested, stolen, misused, and abused.  Instead of throwing them away or having them clutter the cabinets, you can turn them in on Saturday to one of the locations listed below.

The Southeast Louisiana collection sites will be:

JEFFERSON PARISH SHERIFF’S OFFICE OCHSNER- JEFFERSON, LOUISIANA 1514 JEFFERSON HIGHWAY NEW ORLEANS LA 70121 Map
DEA- NEW ORLEANS FIELD DIVISION LAKESIDE MALL – BY ROUNDABOUT @ VETERANS AND SEVERN 3301 VETERANS MEMORIAL BLVD METAIRIE LA 70001 Map
TULANE UNIVERSITY POLICE DEPARTMENT TULANE–DIBOLL COMPLEX 6823 ST. CHARLES AVE. DIBOLL COMPLEX NEW ORLEANS LA 70118 Map
NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT OSCHNER BAPTIST HOSPITAL 2700 NAPOLEON AVE. NEW ORLEANS LA 70115 Map
LOUISIANA STATE POLICE LOUISIANA STATE POLICE TROOP B 2101 I-10 SERVICE ROAD KENNER LA 70065 Map
TULANE UNIVERSITY POLICE DEPARTMENT TULANE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE – MEDICAL SCHOOL LOBBY 1430 TULANE AVE.SL-81 NEW ORLEANS LA 70112 Map
ORLEANS PARISH SHERIFF’S OFFICE ORLEANS PARISH SHERIFF’S OFFICE – CWA BUILDING 2614 TULANE AVENUE NEW ORLEANS LA 70119 Map
NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT HQ 715 S. BROAD ST. NEW ORLEANS LA 70119 Map
NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT 4TH DISTRICT 2405 SANCTUARY DR. NEW ORLEANS LA 70114 Map
JEFFERSON PARISH SHERIFF’S OFFICE OCHSNER- WESTBANK 2500 BELLE CHASE HIGHWAY GRETNA LA 70056 Map
ST. BERNARD PARISH SHERIFF’S OFFICE WALGREENS CHALMETTE PARKING LOT 100 W. JUDGE PEREZ DRIVE CHALMETTE LA 70043 Map
SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY AT NEW ORLEANS PD SUNO POLICE DEPARTMENT MAINTENANCE BLDG. 6400 PRESS DR.MAINTENANCE BLDG. NEW ORLEANS LA 70126 Map
LOUISIANA STATE POLICE LOUISIANA STATE POLICE TROOP C 4047 W. PARK AVENUE GRAY LA 70359 Map
LOUISIANA STATE POLICE LOUISIANA STATE POLICE TROOP L 2600 N. CAUSEWAY BOULEVARD MANDEVILLE LA 70471 Map
MANDEVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT MANDEVILLE POLICE DEPT. 1870 HWY 190 MANDEVILLE LA 70448 Map
COVINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT COVINGTON POLICE DEPARTMENT LOBBY 609 N. COLUMBIA ST. COVINGTON LA 70433 Map
TULANE UNIVERSITY POLICE DEPARTMENT TULANE NATIONAL PRIMATE RESEARCH CENTER LOBBY OF POLICE FACILITY 18703 THREE RIVERS RD. COVINGTON LA 70433 Map
SLIDELL POLICE DEPARTMENT SLIDELL POLICE DEPT. CENTRAL STATION 2112 SGT ALFRED DRIVE SLIDELL LA 70458 Map
DENHAM SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT DENHAM SPRINGS POLICE DEPARTMENT 447 LAMM STREET DENHAM SPRINGS LA 70726 Map
LOUISIANA STATE POLICE LOUISIANA STATE POLICE TROOP A 17801 HIGHLAND ROAD BATON ROUGE LA 70810 Map
EAST BATON ROUGE SHERIFF’S OFFICE OCHSNER HEALTH CENTER-BATON ROUGE 17000 MEDICAL CENTER DR. BATON ROUGE LA 70816 Map
MORGAN CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT MORGAN CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT 723 MYRTLE STREET MORGAN CITY LA 70380 Map
MORGAN CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT WALGREENS PHARMACY PARKING LOT 815 BRASHEAR AVENUE MORGAN CITY LA 70380 Map
IBERVILLE PARISH SHERIFF’S OFFICE IBERVILLE PARISH COURTHOUSE 58050 MERIAM ST. PLAQUEMINE LA 70764 Map

To find a collection site near you, visit the DEA website.


Social Security will once again mail benefit statements

Posted on Friday, September 19th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

In 2011, the Social Security Administration stopped mailing yearly benefit statements to workers over 25. The statements provided a record of your taxable earnings along with estimated retirement, disability and survivor benefits. In order to save the agency money (approx $70 million per year), the SSA launched an online tool “My Social Security” which provided access to your statement and stopped mailing the statements. About 6% of the workforce has opened an online account. However, last year Congress passed a bill requiring the SSA to resume mailing the statements.

Benefit Statements will once again be mailed by Social Security

Benefit Statements will once again be mailed by Social Security

Beginning this month, SSA will once again start mailing the paper benefit statements to workers aged 25-60 without online accounts, but only once every five years. After age 60, the statements will then be mailed yearly.

Although statements will once again be mailed, opening an online account can be helpful for those applying for disability benefits, appealing a denial, or receiving benefits.   In addition to viewing and printing your earnings statement, the online tool also allows you to:

  • Apply online for disability benefits
  • Check your application status
  • Appeal your disability decision
  • Get your benefit verification letter
  • Check your benefit and payment information
  • Change your address and phone number
  • Start or change direct deposit of your benefit payment
  • Access calculators to estimate your projected benefits under different scenarios

To create an online account, visit the “my Social Security” website.

 


Legislation seeks to provide Cost of Living increase for Veterans with disabilities

Posted on Friday, September 12th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs discharged by Unanimous Consent a bill yesterday, Sept. 11 2014, that would increase compensation benefits for veterans with disabilities.

Veterans Compensation Cost of Living ActThe Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, S. 2258, would direct the secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the rate of veterans’ disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled veterans, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children starting on December 1st. The cost-of-living increase would match that of Social Security benefit increase.

The bill was introduced in April by Senator Mark Begich (D, Alaska) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D, Louisiana) was added yesterday to the cosponsors. The bill now heads to the House for further action.

https://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/2258


Lawmakers considering tax-free savings accounts for those with disabilities

Posted on Friday, August 22nd, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

**UPDATE 12/17/2014 Congress passes ABLE Act allowing for tax-free savings for disabled**

Members of Congress are considering creating a new, tax-free savings account for people with disabilities.

The ABLE Act would allow individuals with disabilities or their families to open a tax-sheltered savings account to pay for certain long-term expenses.The vast majority of Democrats and Republicans in both chambers are behind the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, which would create the new accounts. The bill would allow individuals with disabilities or their families to open a tax-sheltered savings account to pay for certain long-term expenses. The accounts would be similar to the current 529 program that allows families to save for college education, and would be called 529A accounts, said Sara Hart Weir, the vice president of advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society.

Supporters on and off Capitol Hill say the new savings option is needed because people with many disabilities now face a disincentive to work or go to school. Many parents of children with disabilities are told not to save so their children will qualify for services. In order to be eligible for many benefits including Medicare and This account would let them put money aside for long-term expenses that Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income don’t cover, things like education, housing, a job coach or transportation, one can only have $2,000 in assets and earn $700 a month. The current eligibility law dates to 1974. This account would let them put money aside for long-term expenses that Medicaid and SSI don’t cover.

Qualified Disability Expenses that can be paid from the account include:

  • Education- including tuition for preschool thru post-secondary education, books, supplies, and educational materials related to such education, tutors, and special education 6 services
  • Housing- Expenses for a pri­mary residence, including rent, purchase of a primary residence or an interest in a pri­mary residence, mortgage payments, home improvements and modifications, maintenance and repairs, real property taxes, and utility charges
  • Transportation- Expenses for transportation, including the use of mass transit, the purchase or modification of vehicles, and moving expenses
  • Employment Support- Ex­penses related to obtaining and maintain­ing employment, including job-related training, assistive technology, and personal assistance supports
  • Health Prevention and Wellness: Expenses for health and wellness, including premiums for health insurance, mental health, medical, vision, and dental expenses, habilitation and rehabilitation services, durable medical equipment, therapy, respite care, long term services and supports, nutritional management, communication services and devices, adaptive equipment, assistive technology, and personal assistance
  • Assistive Technology and Personal Support- Expenses for assistive technology and personal sup­port
  • Miscellaneous Expenses- Financial management and administrative services, legal fees, expenses for oversight, monitoring, or funeral and burial expenses

Great news for those with medical debt! FICO score changes

Posted on Friday, August 8th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Starting this fall, the creator of the nation’s most widely used and influential credit score, FICO, will make changes to its scoring model which will not penalize people for medical debts.

If the only unpaid debt on your credit score is medical debt, your FICO score could go up by as much as 25 points. If you also have other debt, your score may see an increase as well.

Medical Debt? Great News from FICOAnother change being made to FICO is that they will begin ignoring debts in collections that have already been paid off or settled. Previously all debts sent to collections including those which were later paid off or settled were factored into your credit score for up to seven years. Consumers whose credit files were tarnished only by unpaid medical bills that went to collection agencies, but were later paid off or settled could see a substantial increase in their scores.

“We found that for someone where medical conditions are their only derogatory, it is not as negative as a regular unpaid collection would be,” said Anthony Sprauve, a FICO spokesman. “So, we adjusted the algorithm.”

Many consumers have paid higher interest rates or been denied loans due to unpaid medical debt or billing errors which temporarily sent them to collections.

The new model should ease those issues and is great news those saddled with large medical bills and debt due to treatment of an injury, illness, or disabling condition.


Bladder Cancer and Social Security Disability

Posted on Thursday, July 17th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Bladder Cancer?

Today is Bladder Cancer Awareness Day.  Social Security offers expedited disability case processing for over 225 qualified conditions under their Compassionate Allowances program – bladder cancer is one of them.

Compassionate Allowances are a way for the Social Security Administration to provide benefits quickly to applicants whose medical conditions are so serious that their conditions obviously meet disability standards. Individuals with bladder cancer may receive a decision on their claim in a matter of weeks instead of months or years. Being diagnosed with a Compassionate Allowance condition does not provide additional money above what an individual is eligible for under the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability programs. The Compassionate Allowance program simply speeds up the receipt of a decision on the claim. 

BLADDER CANCER SSDIThere is no special application or form. Individuals with bladder cancer or any other Compassionate Allowance condition apply for benefits using the standard process. SSA will expedite the applications of those with a qualifying condition.

To qualify for Social Security Disability with bladder cancer, SSA will determine if your condition meets Listing 13.22 for Urinary bladder – carcinoma. To meet this listing, you must show in your medical records that you have carcinoma of the urinary bladder that meets one of the following conditions:

  • With infiltration beyond the bladder wall.
  • Recurrent after total cystectomy.
  • Inoperable or unresectable.
  • With metastases to or beyond the regional lymph nodes.

If your related symptoms do not equal a listing, the Social Security Administration will next assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your bladder cancer), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do. In determining your RFC, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should consider all of your symptoms in deciding how they may affect your ability to function.

____________________________________________________

Tips for SSDI Application for Bladder Cancer

  1. Make sure that the medical records diagnosing the bladder cancer and its progression are included. Make sure that your medical records document that you meet at least one of the criteria of the listing shown above if they apply to you.  It is important that you “know your medical records.”
  2. Make sure your medical records document ALL of your symptoms and limitations, and the residual effects you experience. Your medical records should not just document your bladder cancer, they should include notes on your symptoms like how often you feel symptoms, how severe each symptom is and how long each symptom lasts. Make sure that all your medical problems are adequately documented by your doctor, and that you are receiving the appropriate medical attention for all of your disabling symptoms. Make sure any and all side effects of treatment and/or medication are noted in your records.
  3. Have someone assist you with your claim if your memory, concentration, etc. prevent you from completing the forms yourself.
  4. See a mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of the chronic problems and inability to participate fully in life, see a mental health professional to diagnose, treat, and document these conditions.
  5. See your doctor regularly and keep your appointments.
  6. If you can, provide evidence of a long work history.
  7. Provide examples of unsuccessful attempts to return to to work and/or unsuccessful attempts to work in a decreased capacity, if applicable.
  8. Include information from non-medical sources to support your medical claims. Gather Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, clergy, and/or past employers about your impairments and how they affect your function. Have them document changes that they have seen in your ability over time.  These are not given nearly as much weight as testimony from a medical professional, but they don’t hurt.
  9. Keep a journal. Make regular notes about your impairment, level of function, and treatments.
  10. If you need assistance with your claim, contact an attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability

The Disability Disconnect – Disability Awareness

Posted on Thursday, May 8th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

May is Disability Insurance Awareness month. The Council for Disability Awareness has created a Disability Disconnect Infographic illustrating the large gaps between employees’ disability awareness and their actual disability risk.

Highlighted facts:

  • The chance of missing work for three months or longer as a result of illness or accident is far higher than most employees realize.  More than 25% of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire.
  • 65% of employees could not pay their bills for more than a year without income.
  • The average group long term disability claim lasts 2.6 years.
  • The top 5 causes of new long term disability claims in 2012 were: Muscle/Bone Disorders (arthritis, herniated or degenerated disc, back pain, spine/joint disorders), Cancer (breast cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, tumors), Accidents (fractures, sprains and strains, dislocations), Mental Disorders (depression, anxiety, substance abuse), and Cardiovascular (hypertension, heart disease, heart attack, stroke).
  • Women comprised more than half of new long term disability claims in 2012.
Disability Disconnect Infographic

Disability Disconnect Infographic


How long will it take to get a disability hearing?

Posted on Monday, April 7th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

A question I am often asked is “How long will I have to wait for my Social Security Disability hearing?” The wait time can vary greatly from one Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) to another. The national average for February 2014 was 11.7 months between the request for an appeal hearing and the hearing date.

Wait Times for Social Security Disability appeal hearingsThe good news for Louisiana claimants is all Louisiana ODARs have wait times below the national average. The wait times for Louisiana offices in February 2014 were:

Metairie 7 months
New Orleans 11 months
Shreveport 6 months
Alexandria 8 months

Shreveport actually had the shortest wait time out of all offices in the nation at 6 months.

Data on all ODAR offices can be found at ssa.gov

If you have questions about your long-term disability benefits, call New Orleans area disability lawyer, Loyd Bourgeois at 888-552-4773 or submit an online case evaluation.


SSA Expediting Disability Claims for 100% Disabled Vets

Posted on Friday, March 21st, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

A new SSA initiative for Veterans with a 100 percent permanent and total (P&T) disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) means that you may be eligible for expedited Social Security disability claim processing.

VA disability benefits are often awarded to those service members who suffered a service-connected disability. The 100 percent P&T disability rating is for veterans who suffered a permanent and total disability.  Based upon your service, you may also apply for Social Security disability benefits.

As of March 17, 2014, any 100% P&T disabled veteran who applies for SSDI or SSI benefits will have their claim expedited and processed as high priority.  To ensure that your claim is expedited, you need to mention and should provide proof of your 100%  P&T rating.

This expedited claim process will help you, a 100% disabled veteran, obtain a faster decision on whether or not you qualify for SSDI or SSI benefits from the SSA. However, the initiative does not guarantee that you will receive Social Security disability benefits. You must still meet the requirements for proof of disability, duration of condition, and work history or income limits.

Thank you for your service and sacrifice to our country and its freedoms.
Social Security Disability expedited for Disabled Veterans


Is Your Long-Term Disability Insurer Targeting You For Termination?

Posted on Friday, March 7th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Long term disability insurance companies (like UNUM, Prudential, Fortis, Reliance Standard, The Hartford, CIGNA, MassMutual, ING, SunLife Financial, Liberty Life, GE Financial, High Mark, MONY, Aetna, New York Life, MetLife, Paul Revere. Northwestern Mutual or any of the other disability insurers) make money by acquiring premiums, investing the premiums, and paying as few claims as possible, with the idea of making more money from the investments in the interim period.

Here is the catch – their premiums alone guarantee a profit. But they want more, so, they deny worthy claims and force you to appeal but not everyone has the capacity or ability to fight. While this is unfair and blatantly wrong, it is far more unsavory than that.

The long-term disability insurers know how to pick their victims – disabled individuals (like you) who are living on limited funds, focused on improving your health and family, and not really paying attention to the insurer’s activities. These companies know that kicking you when you are down is the best time because it makes it harder to fight back.

A termination or denial overwhelms you and places economic and time pressures on you. The long-term disability insurer is counting on you to simply give up (as many others do) or that you will be unable to locate a competent long-term disability attorney to help.

Now, the insurer will not directly approach you and tell you they are conducting an investigation. Sometimes (though not always), they may send you a letter saying they are conducting a review of some sort as part of their “ongoing investigation” of your claim. As part of this routine inquiry, the insurer may be undertaking any of the following unsavory activities:

1. Direct Provider Contact. This is comprised of having an internal nurse or physician contact your treatment provider(s) in order to acquire statements which can (and will) be utilized to deny your claim. This may include the infamous “what we discussed” letter which concludes with a statement that if your provider does not respond then the statements will be deemed truthful.  Importantly, the insurer knows the doctor will likely never see the letter; and not surprisingly, often what is written directly conflicts with the actual medical records. To the extent you are able, you should only give the insurer information in writing from your doctor and only authorize your provider to provide information in writing on your claim to the insurer.

2. Background Information Check. The insurer will research your assets like your vehicles, real estate, bank accounts, and credit information. The insurers want this information to find out if you have sufficient resources to “sustain litigation” if they decide to deny your claim.

3. Active Surveillance/IME. The insurer will hire an investigator to stake out your house for a few days to check on your activities. They may also have their minions perform a more invasive surveillance – a medical examination. Their investigator may follow you to and from the exam; and even wait in the waiting room with you.  Surveillance is very suspect and paints a half-finished picture.  While the investigator may catch you walking from your car to a restaurant one day, what they don’t catch is how long you have to sit there in the restaurant before moving to your seat and the difficulty you have doing so.  It doesn’t matter.  They will have what they want and use it against you.  You should always be vigilant. 

4. Home Interview. Always decline this request.  The insurer and their investigator will pretend niceness, but they are constantly looking for anything to help deny your claim – things such as general cleanliness, pictures of you doing things, how quick you move to the phone, and your ability to make yourself comfortable. Whatever they can hold against you in their report, they will. Best option is to conduct all interviews in writing and with the help of an experienced long-term disability attorney.

If any of these four things pop up during your claim, chances are the long-term disability insurer is looking for a way to stop paying you so that their pockets get fatter.  It is an ugly and sad truth.  Please prepare yourself, stay vigilant and obtain help if you need it.

If you have questions about your long-term disability benefits, call New Orleans area disability lawyer, Loyd Bourgeois at 888-552-4773 or submit an online case evaluation.


Loyd J. Bourgeois Disability Attorney Proud Sponsor of United Way of St. Charles

Posted on Thursday, March 6th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

The United Way of St. Charles Parish recently held its Victory Celebration to thank its generous donors who helped the organization raise over $2.5 million dollars in its campaign.

United Way of St. Charles Victory Celebration AwardI was honored to be recognized as a sponsor of the United Way of St. Charles’s School Backpack Program. This program provides a backpack of non-perishable food items for children to take home over the weekend to provide nutrition and stave off hunger when they cannot receive school provided meals.

The United Way of St. Charles provides funding for agencies that provide assistance in Luling, Destrehan, Ama, Des Allemands, Boutte, St. Rose, New Sarpy, Montz, Norco, Bayou Gauche, and other communities in St. Charles Parish.

The United Way of St. Charles is an independent, community based non-profit that serves as a sort of clearing house for community donations in St. Charles Parish.  The United Way of St. Charles is a LANO certified non-profit with exceptionally low administrative expenses, returning approximately 91% of every dollar donated back to the community primarily through agency funding and grants.  The UWSC provides funding for the following agencies:
Loyd Bourgeois, United Way of St. Charles Backpack Program Sponsor
Alpha Daughters of Zion

American Red Cross- Southeast Louisiana Chapter  

ARC of St. Charles

Boy Scouts of America

Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans

Catholic Charities

Child Advocacy Services

Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse 

Epilepsy Foundation of Louisiana

Girl Scouts Louisiana East

GNO Therapeutic Riding Center

Kingsley House

Metropolitan Center for Women & Children 

Norco Adult Day Care 

Retired & Senior Volunteer Program

River Region Drama Guild 

St. Charles Community Health Center 

St. Charles Council on Aging

St. Charles Museum & Historical Association

St. Charles Parish 4-H Clubs

St. Charles Parish Hospital Auxiliary

St. Charles Parish TRIAD

St. Charles Toy & Gift Fund

Second Harvest of GNO and Acadiana

VIA LINK- 211

If you would like to get involved with the United Way of St. Charles please contact United Way of St. Charles directly at 985-331-9063.

United Way of St Charles Thank You


Social Security Disability and Multiple Sclerosis

Posted on Monday, March 3rd, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

What is a Multiple Sclerosis? 

Multiple sclerosis (MS)  is an inflammatory disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This damage disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a wide range of signs and symptoms, including physical, mental, and sometimes psychiatric problems.MS takes several forms, with new symptoms either occurring in isolated attacks (relapsing forms) or building up over time (progressive forms). Between attacks, symptoms may go away completely; however, permanent neurological problems often occur, especially as the disease advances.

Social Security Disability MS New OrleansWhile the cause is not clear, the underlying mechanism is thought to be either destruction by the immune system or failure of the myelin-producing cells. Proposed causes for this include genetics and environmental factors such as infections. MS is usually diagnosed based on the presenting signs and symptoms and the results of supporting medical tests.

There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatments attempt to improve function after an attack and prevent new attacks. Medications used to treat MS while modestly effective can have adverse effects and be poorly tolerated. Many people pursue alternative treatments, despite a lack of evidence. The long-term outcome is difficult to predict, with good outcomes more often seen in women; those who develop the disease early in life; those with a relapsing course; and those who initially experienced few attacks. Life expectancy is 5 to 10 years lower than that of an unaffected population.

Some common symptoms of MS include almost any neurological symptom or sign; with autonomic, visual, motor, and sensory problems being the most common. The specific symptoms are determined by the locations of the lesions within the nervous system, and may include loss of sensitivity or changes in sensation such as tingling, pins and needles or numbness, muscle weakness, very pronounced reflexes, muscle spasms, or difficulty in moving; difficulties with coordination and balance (ataxia); problems with speech or swallowing, visual problems (nystagmus, optic neuritis or double vision), feeling tired, acute or chronic pain, and bladder and bowel difficulties, among others. Difficulties thinking and emotional problems such as depression or unstable mood are also common. Uhthoff’s phenomenon, a worsening of symptoms due to exposure to higher than usual temperatures, and Lhermitte’s sign, an electrical sensation that runs down the back when bending the neck, are particularly characteristic of MS.

____________________________________________________

Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple Sclerosis can cause symptoms, limitations and restrictions that can impact your ability to work. Social Security Disability benefits may be available to you if you suffer from MS.

If you are not engaging in gainful activity due to MS and its symptoms or limitations, the Social Security Administration must determine if you have an impairment that is “severe.” This is step 2 of the evaluation process. (Visit my prior blog post explaining the steps of Social Security’s Sequential Evaluation Process.)

Generally, to establish MS as a medically determinable severe impairment, you should provide:

• Objective medical testing establishing MS (i.e., MRI results, etc.); and/or

• Evidence of consistent and repeated symptoms despite treatment.

At step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the SSA determines if your condition meets a listing. For multiple sclerosis, SSA will determine if your condition meets Listing 11.09.  To meet this listing, you must show:

  1. Disorganization of motor function as described in 11.04B; or
  2. Visual or mental impairment as described under the criteria in 2.02, 2.03, 2.04, or 12.02; or
  3. Significant, reproducible fatigue of motor function with substantial muscle weakness on repetitive activity, demonstrated on physical examination, resulting from neurological dysfunction in areas of the central nervous system known to be pathologically involved by the multiple sclerosis process.

The key to meeting the listing is to have the appropriate objective medical testing and a longitudinal medical history that addresses each of the requirements.  A knowledgeable social security attorney can help you determine if your MS meet the listing.

If your related symptoms do not equal a listing, the Social Security Administration will next assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your multiple sclerosis), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do. In determining your RFC, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should consider all of your symptoms in deciding how they may affect your ability to function.

____________________________________________________

Tips for SSDI Application for Multiple Sclerosis

  1. Make sure that the medical records diagnosing the Multiple Sclerosis and its progression are included. This is usually done by MRI results but may include other appropriate testing. It is important that you “know your medical records.”
  2. Make sure your medical records document ALL of your symptoms and limitations, and the residual effects you experience. Your medical records should not just document your MS, they should include notes on your symptoms like how often you feel symptoms, how severe each symptom is and how long each symptom lasts. Make sure that all your medical problems are adequately documented by your doctor, and that you are receiving the appropriate medical attention for all of your disabling symptoms. Make sure any side effects of medication are noted in your records.
  3. Have someone assist you with your claim if your memory, concentration, etc. prevent you from completing the forms yourself.
  4. See a specialist. Treatment of MS by a neurologist is important.
  5. Comply with your doctor’s orders and try what is recommended like physical therapy, cognitive training, diet and exercise, smoking cessation, weight loss, etc.  The key is that you want your records to show that you are concerned with your health and are working with your doctor to improve.
  6. See a mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of the chronic problems and inability to participate fully in life, see a mental health professional to diagnose, treat, and document these conditions.
  7. See your doctor regularly and keep your appointments.
  8. If you can, provide evidence of a long work history.
  9. Provide examples of unsuccessful attempts to return to to work and/or unsuccessful attempts to work in a decreased capacity, if applicable.
  10. Include information from non-medical sources to support your medical claims. Gather Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, clergy, and/or past employers about your impairments and how they affect your function. Have them document changes that they have seen in your ability over time.  These are not given nearly as much weight as testimony from a medical professional, but they don’t hurt.
  11. Keep a journal. Make regular notes about your impairment, level of function, and treatments.
  12. If you need assistance with your claim, contact an attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability.

 


Social Security Disability Fraud – How Common Is It?

Posted on Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Reports of Social Security Disability fraud seem to come almost weekly these days.  These reports have increased attention to the disability program and led to claims that the Social Security Administration’s program is rampant with fraudulent claims.

A recent story about New York firefighters making fraudulent claims has helped fuel the debate over SSDI fraud and claims that fraud is the only reason why disability claims have increased in the U.S.

But the question is “How Common is SSDI fraud?”

Despite the media’s claims that the disability program is rampant with fraud, that is simply not the case according to a recent report by the executive director of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities and a vice president of Easter Seals The report points out the exacting requirements necessary to prove that a person is disabled under SSA.  To win a SSDI claim, a person must first have worked enough to qualify for benefits, have a severe medical condition that limits their ability to function proven by extensive medical records and reports, and must be so limited that they cannot perform their past work or other available work.  To say that obtaining Social Security disability benefits is hard would be an understatement.

According to the report, less than four in 10 (or 40%) SSDI claims are approved. And, those that do receive SSDI benefits receive only a modest monthly benefit which averages only $1,130.  These funds must be used to pay for living expenses, medical care, food and other basic necessities of life.

While the overall number of Social Security disability applications has increased overtime, according to the report, the reasons for the increase are many and varied but mostly result from three things: (1) overall population growth; (2) baby-boomers reaching the age where disability is more likely; and (3) entry of greater number of women into the workplace in the 70s and 80s.

That is why the claim and reporting that the disability program is full of fraudulent claims is so disheartening. I see sick and disabled individuals every day that need the benefits that they paid for throughout their working life.  Having these individuals cast into the same light by the public and media as fraudsters only serves to further marginalize and stigmatize people at their lowest point.

Does fraud exist in the SSDI program?  Yes, that cannot be denied and they should be rooted out and face the consequences of their actions.  But, fraud is not as widespread or endemic as some would have you believe.  A few outliers that receive all the attention does not make the entire program a sham. The small amount of fraudulent claims should not be used to justify wholesale changes or further limit access to the necessary and vital benefits.


Your Statements Must Be Consistent for Credibility

Posted on Saturday, March 1st, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Many Social Security Disability cases come down to credibility – that is, does the judge believe you and believe you are disabled. Are you trustworthy?  In determining your credibility, the judge expects your statements about your symptoms to remain consistent.

As a New Orleans disability lawyer, I can describe some factors the judge may use to assess your consistency and credibility:

Your Medical Records
The judge will examine your medical records for medical history, exam and treatment information and results of any tests given. It will be problematic if the information contained in your file differs from the way you’ve described your impairment and symptoms. I often hear clients complain of pain or fatigue due to various ailments but their medical records never mention pain.  In fact, sometimes the medical records say, “Patient doing ok” or “Patient reported no pain.”  If you are in pain or experiencing other symptoms, you must tell your doctor and must make sure your complaints are in your medical records.  If your medical records are not consistent with your complaints at the hearing or in your application, you lose credibility and likely your disability case.

Your Own Statements
Remember all those forms Social Security had you complete – those can and will be used as evidence of your statement of what you can or cannot do.  If you put on those forms that you could drive and later claim that you cannot drive – there should be a good and valid reason for the change.  You must be truthful about your symptoms and as long as you are truthful things should not change much. The judge, of course, will be aware that symptoms may change over time but large discrepancies in your description will seem suspicious. And, there goes your credibility.

Consistency in the Case Record
SSA sends forms to third parties and sometimes doctors or employers will note things that find their way into the Social Security Disability case.  The judge will have access to your case recording containing statements made by others about your daily activities and limitations. If the statements of these individuals differ significantly from your own description, your credibility can be effected.

Preparation = Consistency
While consistency begins with truthfulness, you may not always remember precisely how you felt in the past or on the particular day you completed the SSDI forms.  This is why preparation in advance of your hearing with a local Social Security Disability lawyer is important.  You and the lawyer can review the statements you previously made to SSA, review your medical records and review any other evidence in the claim file that may impact your credibility.  This review can help you remember and prepare you to be consistent and hopefully credible at your hearing.


Can I Get Social Security Disability After A Stroke?

Posted on Friday, February 28th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

What is a Stroke? 

A stroke is a condition in which the brain cells suddenly die because of a lack of oxygen.

A stroke can be caused by an obstruction in the blood flow, or the rupture of an artery that feeds the brain. You may suddenly lose the ability to speak, or have memory problems, or one side of your body can become paralyzed.

The two main types of stroke are ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. Both types of stroke result in a lack of blood flow to the brain and a buildup of blood that puts too much pressure on the brain.

Ischemic stroke – Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke and occurs when a blood clot, or thrombus, forms that blocks blood flow to part of the brain. If a blood clot forms somewhere in the body and breaks off to become free-floating, it is called an embolus. This wandering clot may be carried through the bloodstream to the brain where it can cause ischemic stroke.

Hemorrhagic stroke – A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel on the brain’s surface ruptures and fills the space between the brain and skull with blood (subarachnoid hemorrhage) or when a defective artery in the brain bursts and fills the surrounding tissue with blood (cerebral hemorrhage).

The outcome after a stroke depends on where the stroke occurs and how much of the brain is affected. Smaller strokes may result in minor problems, such as weakness in an arm or leg. Major strokes may lead to paralysis or death. Many stroke patients are left with weakness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, incontinence, and bladder problems.

What are the symptoms of stroke?

Within a few minutes of having a stroke brain cells begin to die and symptoms emerge. Recognition of the symptoms is important, as prompt treatment is crucial to recovery.

Common symptoms include:

  • Trouble walking, loss of balance and coordination.
  • Speech problems.
  • Dizziness.
  • Numbness, weakness, or paralysis.
  • Blurred, blackened, or double vision.
  • Sudden severe headache.
  • Confusion.

Smaller strokes (or silent strokes), however, may not cause any symptoms, but can still damage brain tissue.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) may be a sign of an impending stroke – TIA is a temporary interruption in blood flow to part of the brain. Symptoms of TIA are similar to stroke but last for a shorter period and do not leave noticeable permanent damage.

What Are The Effects of Stoke?

Strokes can range in degree of severity, and the type of damage done depends on where in the brain they occur and how long they last. Strokes can cause death immediately, or cause little limitation. Some of the common and lasting effects caused by stroke include:

  • Weakness, paralysis, numbness. This refers to limitations in movement or motor ability, such as weakness and paralysis in an arm and leg on the same side of the body as a result of blockage.
  • Speech and language problems. Strokes sometimes produce some degree of loss of ability to understand or express certain aspects of written or spoken language in various combinations (known as aphasia).
  • Personality changes. Strokes may produce personality changes if it is large enough and in the right area of the brain.
  • Vision problems. Usually to one eye only and can affect depth perception, peripheral vision, and cause other vision issues.
  • Balance problems. Strokes can affect balance and ability to walk without producing any actual weakness. Strokes may also cause unilateral neglect, or where the brain does not recognize one of the limbs, which makes it functionally useless.

 

____________________________________________________

Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Stroke?

A stroke can cause symptoms, limitations and restrictions that can impact your ability to work. Social Security Disability benefits may be available to you if you have suffered from a stroke and have residual symptoms.

If you are not engaging in gainful activity due to a stroke and the effect of residual symptoms, the Social Security Administration must determine if you have an impairment that is “severe.” This is step 2 of the evaluation process. (Visit my prior blog post explaining the steps of Social Security’s Sequential Evaluation Process.)

Generally, to establish Stroke as a medically determinable severe impairment, you should provide:

• Objective medical testing establishing the CVA (i.e., MRI or CT); and

• Treatment records detailing your initial hospitalization and ongoing therapy or residual effects.

At step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the SSA determines if your condition meets a listing. For stroke, SSA will determine if your condition meets Listing 11.04:

  • 11.04A  requires you to have had a stroke with sensory or motor aphasia resulting in ineffective speech or communication more than 3 months after your stroke.
  • 11.04B requires you to have had a stroke and more than 3 months afterwards you have significant and persistent disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in sustained disturbance of gross and dexterous movements, or gait and station.

 

The key to meeting the listing is to have the appropriate objective medical testing and a longitudinal medical history that addresses each of the requirements.  A knowledgeable social security attorney can help you determine if your residual effects meet the listing.

If your related symptoms do not equal a listing, the Social Security Administration will next assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your stroke), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do. In determining your RFC, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should consider all of your symptoms in deciding how they may affect your ability to function.

____________________________________________________

Tips for SSDI Application for Stroke

  1. Make sure that the medical records diagnosing the stroke are included. This may be an MRI, CT Scan, or other appropriate testing. It is important that you “know your medical records.”
  2. Make sure your medical records document ALL of your symptoms and limitations, and the residual effects you experience. Your medical records should not just document your stroke, they should include your physical therapy, speech therapy or other therapy you have undergone. You need to let your doctor how often you feel symptoms, how severe each symptom is and how long each symptom lasts. Make sure that all your medical problems are adequately documented by your doctor, and that you are receiving the appropriate medical attention for all of your disabling symptoms. Make sure any side effects of medication are noted in your records.
  3. Have someone assist you with your claim if your memory, concentration, etc. prevent you from completing the forms yourself.
  4. See a specialist. Treatment of stroke and recovery by a neurologist will carry more weight than the same diagnosis from a family physician or internist professional.
  5. Comply with your doctor’s orders and try what is recommended.
  6. See a mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of the chronic problems and inability to participate in life, see a mental health professional to diagnose, treat, and document these conditions.
  7. See your doctor regularly and keep your appointments.
  8. If you can, provide evidence of a long work history.
  9. Provide examples of unsuccessful attempts to return to to work and/or unsuccessful attempts to work in a decreased capacity, if applicable.
  10. Include information from non-medical sources to support your medical claims. Gather Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, clergy, and/or past employers about your impairments and how they affect your function. Have them document changes that they have seen in your ability over time.  These are not given nearly as much weight as testimony from a medical professional, but they don’t hurt.
  11. Keep a journal. Make regular notes about your impairment, level of function, and treatments.
  12. If you need assistance with your claim, contact an attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability.

 


Louisiana Social Security Disability Hearing Tips

Posted on Thursday, February 27th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Houma Social Security Disability Hearing TipsAs a Louisiana Disability Attorney, I understand that attending and participating in a Social Security disability benefits hearing can be scary for you. In fact, most of my clients have never been through anything similar to their disability hearing.  I usually hold a meeting with my clients in advance of the hearing where we discuss “the lay of the land” that is what will you likely see when you walk into the room and what you should expect.

 

The Room Layout at a Social Security Disability Benefits Hearing

Most hearing accommodations are very similar although there are some slight variations if you have a live hearing versus a video hearing. The hearing room is usually just a modified office in an office building or local Social Security Office.  It is generally not a big open courtroom like you see on television.  The typical hearing room will usually include:

  • A table with a microphone and computer for you and/or your disability attorney;
  • A space with a computer and microphone for the vocational expert;
  • An area for the judge’s aide/hearing reporter, in most instances;
  • The judge’s bench with a computer, or if a video hearing, a video screen where the ALJ will appear.

I also like to make sure that my clients understand that the hearing is closed to the public.  This is not like a regular courtroom where anybody can listen in to the proceedings.  The hearing is a private matter and the only people in the hearing room are the participants, and possibly a witness (but the witness may not stay for the entire proceedings).

What Are Some Best Practices and Things To Expect

  • You will be sworn in and will declare to tell the truth – You must take your oath seriously.
  • You should speak loudly and use clear words to give your testimony – this means no nodding, or shaking your head, no “uh-huhs” or “nh-unhs” because an audio recording cannot accurately grasp what you are trying to convey.
  • If your testimony requires you to point or indicate a portion of your body, you should also verbally state which body part you are discussing – for example, while pointing to your lower back to show the judge where you are in pain, you should also state, “my lower back from behind my stomach down to my tailbone.”
  • If a question can be easily answered using “yes” or “no” do that, but if you need to give additional explanation, make sure to add that in as well.
  • Do not talk at the same time as anyone else.  So, wait for the question to be completely asked before you start your answer.
  • If you do not understand a question, ask that it be repeated.
  • If you need to take a break, or stand up/walk around, etc., request permission from the judge.
  • Make sure to wear appropriate clothing (no tank tops, shorts, hats, etc.).
  • Do not chew gum, tobacco, candy, etc. during the hearing.  If you need lozenges due to illness, make sure you alert the judge at the beginning of the proceedings.
  • The biggest tip I could give to you is to be prepared – know what you have to prove and have a plan for doing it.  If you are uncertain about this, a local SSDI lawyer can help you.

These are a few basic Social Security disability hearing tips that are generally applicable.  In some cases, additional things may be added due to a specific judge’s preferences.  If you need assistance with your Louisiana Social Security disability hearing, please contact a Louisiana Social Security disability attorney.

 


Can I Get Social Security Disability For Heart Disease?

Posted on Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

What is a Heart Disease? 

Can I receive SSDI benefits for Heart Disease?

Can I receive SSDI benefits for Heart Disease?


Heart Disease generally refers to coronary artery disease (CAD) also known as ischemic heart disease (IHD).  Heart disease occurs when a substance called plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart (called coronary arteries). Plaque is made up of cholesterol deposits, which can accumulate in your arteries. When this happens, your arteries can narrow over time. This process is called atherosclerosis.

Plaque buildup can cause angina, the most common symptom of CAD. This condition causes chest pain or discomfort because the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood. Over time, CAD can weaken the heart muscle. This may lead to heart failure, a serious condition where the heart can’t pump blood the way that it should. An irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, can also develop.

For some people, the first sign of CAD is a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when plaque totally blocks an artery carrying blood to the heart. It also can happen if a plaque deposit breaks off and clots a coronary artery.

____________________________________________________

Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Heart Disease?

Heart Disease can cause symptoms, limitations and restrictions that can impact your ability to work. Social Security Disability benefits may be available to you if you have suffered from heart disease.

If you are not engaging in gainful activity due to heart disease and its symptoms or limitations, the Social Security Administration must determine if you have an impairment that is “severe.” This is step 2 of the evaluation process. (Visit my prior blog post explaining the steps of Social Security’s Sequential Evaluation Process.)

Generally, to establish heart disease as a medically determinable severe impairment, you should provide:

• Objective medical testing establishing heart disease (i.e., EEG, EKG, stress test results, etc.); and/or

• Evidence of consistent and repeated attacks despite treatment

At step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the SSA determines if your condition meets a listing. For heart disease, SSA will determine if your condition meets Listing 4.04.  This is a complex listing that requires substantial medical evidence and knowledge of your specific type of heart disease and objective testing results.

 

The key to meeting the listing is to have the appropriate objective medical testing and a longitudinal medical history that addresses each of the requirements.  A knowledgeable social security attorney can help you determine if your residual effects meet the listing.

If your related symptoms do not equal a listing, the Social Security Administration will next assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your heart disease), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do. In determining your RFC, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should consider all of your symptoms in deciding how they may affect your ability to function.

____________________________________________________

Tips for SSDI Application for Heart Disease

  1. Make sure that the medical records diagnosing the heart disease are included. This may be an EEG, EKG, stress test, nuclear test, or other appropriate testing. It is important that you “know your medical records.”
  2. Make sure your medical records document ALL of your symptoms and limitations, and the residual effects you experience. Your medical records should not just document your heart disease, they should include notes on your symptoms like how often you feel symptoms, how severe each symptom is and how long each symptom lasts. Make sure that all your medical problems are adequately documented by your doctor, and that you are receiving the appropriate medical attention for all of your disabling symptoms. Make sure any side effects of medication are noted in your records.
  3. Have someone assist you with your claim if your memory, concentration, etc. prevent you from completing the forms yourself.
  4. See a specialist. Treatment of heart disease by a cardiologist will carry more weight than the same diagnosis and treatment from a family physician or internist.
  5. Comply with your doctor’s orders and try what is recommended like diet and exercise, smoking cessation, weight loss, etc.  The key is that you want your records to show that you are concerned with your health and are working with your doctor to improve.
  6. See a mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of the chronic problems and inability to participate in life, see a mental health professional to diagnose, treat, and document these conditions.
  7. See your doctor regularly and keep your appointments.
  8. If you can, provide evidence of a long work history.
  9. Provide examples of unsuccessful attempts to return to to work and/or unsuccessful attempts to work in a decreased capacity, if applicable.
  10. Include information from non-medical sources to support your medical claims. Gather Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, clergy, and/or past employers about your impairments and how they affect your function. Have them document changes that they have seen in your ability over time.  These are not given nearly as much weight as testimony from a medical professional, but they don’t hurt.
  11. Keep a journal. Make regular notes about your impairment, level of function, and treatments.
  12. If you need assistance with your claim, contact an attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability.

Digestive Disorders and Disability Benefits

Posted on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

What are Digestive Disorders?
Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for a Digestive Disorder?
Tips for Social Security Disability Application for Digestive Disorders

What are Digestive Disorders?

Digestive Disorders are a class of illnesses that affect the stomach, intestinal tract and related organs.  Digestive disorders include illnesses such as:

  • Chronic liver disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Short bowel syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease

In minor cases, your condition may cause unpleasant urges and general discomfort.  In more severe cases, your condition may cause you severe pain — pain that impacts your ability to work, and in some cases can prevent you from working altogether, fatigue, concentration problems, frequent trips to the restroom, and other severe symptoms.

____________________________________________________

Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for a Digestive Disorder?

Fortunately, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes many types of digestive system impairments as giving rise to eligibility for SSDI benefits.  As a New Orleans SSDI lawyer, I have helped individuals obtain benefits for digestive tract disabilities.

If you are not engaging in gainful activity due to a digestive disorder and its symptoms or limitations, the Social Security Administration must determine if you have an impairment that is “severe.” This is step 2 of the evaluation process. (Visit my prior blog post explaining the steps of Social Security’s Sequential Evaluation Process.)

Generally, to establish a digestive tract disease as a medically determinable severe impairment, you should provide:

• Objective medical testing establishing the digestive tract disease (such as: CT scans, MRI, blood testing results, colonoscopy/endoscopy results, etc.); and/or

• Evidence of consistent and repeated symptoms despite treatment

At step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the SSA determines if your condition meets a listing. For digestive tract diseases, SSA will determine if your condition meets any of the Listing 5.00 requirements. This is a complex listing that requires substantial medical evidence and knowledge of your specific type of disease, objective testing results, and a longitudinal medical history discussing your treatment, effects, responses, and prognosis.

The key to meeting the listing is to have the appropriate objective medical testing and a longitudinal medical history that addresses each of the requirements.  A knowledgeable Louisiana Social Security Attorney can help you determine if your residual effects meet the listing.

If your related symptoms do not equal a listing, the Social Security Administration will next assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your digestive disease), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do. In determining your RFC, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should consider all of your symptoms in deciding how they may affect your ability to function.

____________________________________________________

Tips for SSDI Application for Digestive Tract Diseases

  1. Make sure that the medical records diagnosing the digestive tract disease are included. This may be a CT Scan, MRI, blood chemistry, colonoscopy/endoscopy report, or other appropriate testing. It is important that you “know your medical records.”
  2. Make sure your medical records document ALL of your symptoms and limitations, and the residual effects you experience. Your medical records should not just document your digestive disease, they should include notes on your symptoms like how often you feel symptoms, how severe each symptom is and how long each symptom lasts. Make sure that all your medical problems are adequately documented by your doctor, and that you are receiving the appropriate medical attention for all of your disabling symptoms. Make sure any side effects of medication are noted in your records.
  3. Have someone assist you with your claim if your memory, concentration, etc. prevent you from completing the forms yourself.
  4. See a specialist. Treatment of digestive tract disease by a gastroenterologist will carry more weight than the same diagnosis and treatment from a family physician or internist.
  5. Comply with your doctor’s orders and try what is recommended like diet and exercise, weight loss, etc.  The key is that you want your records to show that you are concerned with your health and are working with your doctor to improve.
  6. See a mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of the chronic problems and inability to participate in life, see a mental health professional to diagnose, treat, and document these conditions.
  7. See your doctor regularly and keep your appointments.
  8. If you can, provide evidence of a long work history.
  9. Provide examples of unsuccessful attempts to return to to work and/or unsuccessful attempts to work in a decreased capacity, if applicable.
  10. Include information from non-medical sources to support your medical claims. Gather Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, clergy, and/or past employers about your impairments and how they affect your function. Have them document changes that they have seen in your ability over time.  These are not given nearly as much weight as testimony from a medical professional, but they don’t hurt.
  11. Keep a journal. Make regular notes about your impairment, level of function, and treatments.
  12. If you need assistance with your claim, contact an attorney who is knowledgeable in Social Security Disability.

Can I Get SSDI for Asthmatic Bronchitis? Tips for Application

Posted on Monday, February 24th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

What is Asthmatic Bronchitis?
Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Asthmatic Bronchitis?
Tips for Social Security Disability Application for Asthmatic Bronchitis

What is Asthmatic Bronchitis? 

Can you get SSDI benefits for Asthmatic Bronchitis?

Can you receive SSDI benefits for Asthmatic Bronchitis?


Chronic asthmatic bronchitis refers to an underlying asthmatic problem in patients where asthma has become so persistent that clinically significant chronic airflow obstruction is present despite anti-asthmatic therapy.

Bronchitis and asthma are two inflammatory airway conditions. Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways that is usually caused by viral or bacterial infections. Chronic bronchitis can be triggered by long-term exposure to environmental irritants such as tobacco smoke, dust, or chemicals.

Asthma is an inflammatory condition that leads to tightening of the muscles around the airways and swelling, which cause airways to narrow.

When the two conditions coexist, it is called asthmatic bronchitis.

Symptoms include wheezing, cough, and shortness of breath. Distinction between these three disorders is clinically difficult.

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Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Asthmatic Bronchitis?

Asthmatic Bronchitis can cause symptoms and restrictions that can impact your ability to work. Social Security Disability benefits may be available to you if you are diagnosed with Asthmatic Bronchitis.

If you are not engaging in gainful activity due to asthmatic bronchitis, the Social Security Administration must determine if you have an impairment that is “severe.” This is step 2 of the evaluation process. (Visit my prior blog post explaining the steps of Social Security’s Sequential Evaluation Process.)

Generally, to establish Asthmatic Bronchitis as a medically determinable severe impairment, you must show:
• Objective medical testing establishing pulmonary insufficiency; and/or

• Consistent and repeated attacks despite treatment

At step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the SSA determines if your condition meets a listing. For asthmatic bronchitis, SSA will determine if your condition meets either Listing 3.02 or 3.03

  • 3.02 can be met if your asthmatic bronchitis causes chronic pulmonary insufficiency as indicated by a pulmonary function study with an FEV1 less than or equal to the value on a chart provided in the listing
  • 3.03 can be met either by meeting Listing 3.02 or by establishing attacks  in spite of prescribed treatment and requiring physician intervention, occurring at least once every 2 months or at least six times a year.

 

The key to meeting the listing is to have the appropriate objective medical testing and a longitudinal medical history that addresses each of the requirements.  In most cases, in my experience, the medical listing will not be met, but having a good knowledge of what you have to prove can help you discuss your case with your doctor.

If your related symptoms do not equal a listing, the Social Security Administration will next assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your asthmatic bronchitis), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do. In determining your RFC, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should consider all of your symptoms in deciding how they may affect your ability to function.

____________________________________________________

Tips for SSDI Application for Asthmatic Bronchitis

  1. Make sure an pulmonary function study establishing the severity of your asthmatic bronchitis or pulmonary insufficiency is in your medical records. It is important that you “know your medical records.”
  2. Make sure your medical records document ALL of your symptoms and limitations. Your medical records should not just document your shortness of breath. Let your doctor how often you feel the symptoms, how severe each episode is and how long each episode lasts. Make sure that all your medical problems are adequately documented by your doctor, and that you are receiving the appropriate medical attention for all of your disabling symptoms. Make sure any side effects of medication are noted in your records.
  3. See a specialist. Treatment of asthmatic bronchitis by a pulmonologist, allergy specialist or asthma specialist will carry more weight than the same diagnosis from a family physician or internist professional.
  4. Comply with your doctor’s orders and try various modes of conservative or less invasive treatment, if recommended.
  5. See a mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of the chronic problems and inability to participate in life, see a mental health professional to diagnose, treat, and document these conditions.
  6. See your doctor regularly and keep your appointments.
  7. If you can, provide evidence of a long work history.
  8. Provide examples of unsuccessful attempts to return to to work and/or unsuccessful attempts to work in a decreased capacity.
  9. Include information from non-medical sources to support your medical claims. Gather Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, clergy, and/or past employers about your impairments and how they affect your function. Have them document changes that they have seen in your ability over time.  These are not given nearly as much weight as testimony from a medical professional, but they don’t hurt.
  10. Keep a journal. Make regular notes about your impairment, level of function, and treatments.
  11. If you need assistance with your claim, contact an attorney who specializes in Social Security Disability.

COPD and Disability Benefits

Posted on Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Do you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? Individuals with COPD have difficulty breathing and maintaining their lung capacity.  COPD causes some people to become disabled. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are common in those with COPD.

As reported on Yahoo Health News, a new study found that people with COPD were not as socially active and had a harder time performing daily tasks compared to people without COPD. While the researchers studied individuals over the age of 70, the findings are probably indicative of the effects COPD has on sufferers of any age and how they were able to perform daily tasks. Those with COPD have a higher risk of becoming disabled and have less social engagement along with a a higher risk of suffering from depression.

Specifically, COPD sufferers were found to struggle more with activities like bathing, eating, walking or getting outside. The study also found that people with COPD had more problems with cooking their own meals, shopping and doing housework like cleaning compared to individuals who did not have COPD.

If you are suffering from COPD and can no longer work, you may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits. A New Orleans SSDI lawyer can help you determine if you may qualify.


Chronic Illness and Disability

Posted on Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Disabilities make it difficult to work and earn a living. When faced with a disability, you may need to apply for Social Security disability benefits or ERISA long-term disability benefits to help you pay for monthly living expenses and ongoing medical care.

Living with a disability is very challenging, often in ways those not disabled could never imagine.  This is especially true for those who suffer from chronic illnesses.   A study published in the CDC‘s journal, Preventing Chronic Disease, titled “Disability Status as an Antecedent to Chronic Conditions: National Health Interview Survey, 2006–2012″ found that people with disabilities have a higher rate of chronic conditions compared to people without disabilities.  The study found that people with physical and mental disabilities are more likely to suffer from chronic medical conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Having a disability along with a chronic medical condition can be very difficult to accept and deal with, and needing to fight for the disability benefits that you have paid for through your work may compound your problems.

If you are disabled and fighting a chronic medical condition, don’t fight for your disability benefits alone.  You need to use a disability attorney who knows and understands what is at stake for you and your family.


Mardi Gras Parades Are Upon Us!!!

Posted on Friday, February 21st, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

Mardi Gras 2014 in the greater New Orleans area

Mardi Gras 2014 in the greater New Orleans area

As a native of south Louisiana, I enjoy the Mardi Gras season.  As a father, I love the joy and excitement my children get from catching that special throw or that finding that hidden doubloon.  While parades have started in earnest already, the heart of the parade season begins on Friday.

Hey Mister! Over Here! – I can hear the sounds already.  I will be out and hopefully you will be as well. Stay safe and have fun.

Here is a listing of the parades in the area:

Friday | Feb 21
Saturday | Feb 22
Sunday | Feb 23
Wednesday | Feb 26
Thursday | Feb 27
Friday | Feb 28
Saturday | Mar 1
  • Krewe of NOMTOC 10:45am (Westbank Gretna)
  • Krewe of Iris 11:00am (New Orleans)
  • Krewe of Tucks 12:00pm (New Orleans)
  • Krewe of Lul 12:00pm (Luling)
  • Krewe of Endymion 4:15pm (New Orleans)
  • Krewe of Isis 6:30pm (Metairie)
  • Krewe of Mardi Gras 6:30 (Houma)
  • Krewe of Apollo 12:00pm (Lockport)
  • Krewe of Atlantis 12:00pm (Golden Meadow)
  • Le Krewe Du Bon Temps 5:50pm (Larose)
  • Spanish Town Parade 12:00pm (Baton Rouge)
Sunday | Mar 2
  • Krewe of Okeanos 11:00am (New Orleans)
  • Krewe of Mid-City 11:45am (New Orleans)
  • Krewe of Thoth 12:00pm (New Orleans)
  • Krewe of Bacchus 5:15pm (New Orleans)
  • Krewe of Napoleon 5:30pm (Metairie)
  • Krewe of Terreanians 12:30pm (Houma)
  • Montegut Children’s Carnival Club 2:00pm (Montegut)
  • Krewe of Des Allemands 2:00pm (Des Allemands)
  • Krewe of Cleopatra 12:30pm (Thibodaux)
  • Krewe of Chronos follows (Thibodaux)
  • Krewe of Nereids 6:00pm (Golden Meadow)
  • Krewe Du Monde 12:00pm (Laplace)
Monday | Mar 3
Tuesday | Mar 4

Can I Get Social Security Disability for Degenerative Disc Disease?

Posted on Thursday, February 20th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Degenerative Disc Disease?
Tips for Social Security Disability Application for Degenerative Disc Disease

What is Degenerative Disc Disease? 
Degenerative Disc Disease Social Security Disability attorney Loyd Bourgeois
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) refers to dehydration and shrinkage of the spinal discs that cushion the vertebral bodies of the spine. Spinal discs are soft, spongy discs that separate the thirty three vertebrae that make up your spine. Spinal discs act as shock absorbers for your spine and allow your spine to move with comfort and ease. The outer portion of a spinal disc is a tough elastic cartilage called the capsule. It surrounds and protects an interior jelly-like material called the nucleus. Spinal discs change naturally as you age or they may change as a result of an injury. This process is called DDD. Degenerative disc disease can lead to chronic pain and seriously impact your ability to function daily.

DDD is not technically a disease but rather a condition that describes changes to the spinal discs located between the 33 vertebrae of your spine. DDD can be seen on X-rays, MRI, and CT scans of the spine. It appears as narrowing of the space between vertebral bodies. Symptomatic DDD usually occurs between the 5th lumbar vertebra and the 1st sacral vertebra (L5-S1).

Causes of Degenerative Disc Disease


As you age, your spinal discs will naturally degenerate and change. Aside from the aging process, an injury from something like an auto accident or from playing sports may also impact one or more spinal discs and start the degeneration process.  The changes and the type of degeneration typically include one or both of the following:

Reduction in Spinal Disc Thickness:  A spinal disc gradually becomes thinner as a result of fluid loss in the jelly-like interior of the disc.  When spinal discs do become thinner, it narrows the distance between vertebrae and reduces shock absorption and flexibility of the spine.

Tears or Cracks in Spinal Discs:  Small tears or cracks may develop in the outer portion of spinal discs. When this happens, the jelly-like interior may leak into these tiny tears or cracks causing them to bulge or rupture.

The development of DDD can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves causing pain and abnormal function. 

Symptoms and Types of Degenerative Disc Disease

The symptoms of degenerative disc disease vary depending on the location of the spinal disc degeneration. If a spinal disc or multiple spinal discs in the neck region of the spine become degenerated, it may cause neck or arm pain. This is commonly referred to as Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease.

If a spinal disc or several spinal discs in the low back area of the spine become degenerated, it may cause low back pain or pain in the hips, buttocks and legs. This is commonly referred to as Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease.

The degree of pain may also vary from numbness or tingling to intense pain that increases with movement.

Initial treatments may range from medication to physical therapy or epidural injections.  Sometimes DDD may become severe enough to require surgery. Surgery is performed with hopes of stabilizing the spine and decreasing pain.

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Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Degenerative Disc Disease?

Degenerative Disc Disease pain and associated symptoms can impact your ability to work. Social Security Disability benefits may be available to you.

If you are not engaging in gainful activity due to Degenerative Disc Disease, the Social Security Administration must determine if you have an impairment that is “severe.” This is step 2 of the evaluation process. (Visit my prior blog post explaining the steps of Social Security’s Sequential Evaluation Process.)

Generally, to establish Degenerative Disc Disease as a medically determinable severe impairment, you must show:
• Objective medical imaging establishing degenerative disc disease;

• Consistent complaints of pain or other symptoms for a period of time and which is not controlled through conservative treatment modalities

At step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the SSA determines if your condition meets a listing. For DDD, SSA will determine if your condition meets any of the Listing 1.04 – Disorders of the Spine.  There are three parts to this listing that you may meet.  They are as follows:

  • 1.04A can be met if your DDD
    • Results in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord
    • Causes lumbar spinal stenosis resulting in pseudoclaudiction established by findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging,
    • Is manifested by chronic nonradicular pain and weakness,
    • Results in inability to ambulate effectively, which is defined as
      • The inability to walk without the use of a walker, two crutches or two canes,
      • The inability to walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces,
      • The inability to use standard public transportation,
      • The inability to carry out routine ambulatory activities, such as shopping and banking, and
      • The inability to climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail.
    • There is evidence of nerve root compression characterized by–
      • neuro-anatomic distribution of pain,
      • limitation of motion of the spine,
      • motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss, and
      • if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine).
  • 1.04B can be met if your DDD
    • Causes spinal arachnoiditis confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, and
    • Is manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours.
  • 1.04C can be met if your DDD

The key to meeting the listing is to have the appropriate objective medical testing and a longitudinal medical history that addresses each of the requirements.  In most cases, in my experience, the medical listing will not be met, but having a good knowledge of what you have to prove can help you discuss your case with your doctor.

If your related symptoms do not equal a listing, the Social Security Administration will next assess your residual functional capacity (RFC) (the work you can still do, despite your DDD and pain), to determine whether you qualify for benefits at steps 4 and 5 of the Sequential Evaluation Process. The lower your RFC, the less the Social Security Administration believes you can do. In determining your RFC, the Social Security Administration adjudicator should consider all of your symptoms in deciding how they may affect your ability to function.

____________________________________________________

Tips for SSDI Application for Degenerative Disc Disease

  1. Make sure an imaging report (MRI, CT, X-ray) diagnosing Degenerative Disc Disease is in your medical records. It is important that you “know your medical records.”
  2. Make sure your medical records document ALL of your symptoms and limitations. Your medical records should not just document your pain. Let your doctor how often you feel the symptoms, how severe each symptom is and how long each episode lasts. Make sure that all your medical problems are adequately documented by your doctor, and that you are receiving the appropriate medical attention for all of your disabling symptoms.
  3. See a specialist. Treatment of DDD by an orthopedist or neurologist or a chronic pain specialist will carry more weight than the same diagnosis from a family physician or internist professional.
  4. Comply with your doctor’s orders and try various modes of conservative or less invasive treatment, if recommended.
  5. See a mental health professional. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of the chronic pain and inability to participate in life, see a mental health professional to diagnose, treat, and document these conditions. Pain is often accompanied by or is the cause of mental health conditions. Treatment of the depression can help with the pain.
  6. See your doctor regularly and keep your appointments.
  7. If you can, provide evidence of a long work history.
  8. Provide examples of unsuccessful attempts to return to to work and/or unsuccessful attempts to work in a decreased capacity.
  9. Include information from non-medical sources to support your medical claims. Gather Information from neighbors, friends, relatives, clergy, and/or past employers about your impairments and how they affect your function. Have them document changes that they have seen in your ability over time.  These are not given nearly as much weight as testimony from a medical professional, but they don’t hurt.
  10. Keep a journal. Make regular notes about your impairment, level of function, and treatments.
  11. If you need assistance with your claim, contact an attorney who is knowledgeable in Social Security Disability.

Can I Get Disability For Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease?

Posted on Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 by Loyd Bourgeois    

What is Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease?
Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease?
Tips for Social Security Disability Application for Osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease


Osteoarthritis Degenerative Joint Disease Social Security Disability
What is Osteoarthritis (OA) or Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)? 

Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD), is a group of mechanical abnormalities involving degradation of joints, including articular cartilage and subchondral bone.

Primary OA is a chronic degenerative disorder related to but not caused by aging. As a person ages, the water content of the cartilage decreases as a result of a reduced proteoglycan content, thus causing the cartilage to be less resilient. The water content of healthy cartilage is finely balanced by compressive force driving water out & swelling pressure drawing water in. Collagen fibers exert the compressive force, whereas the Gibbs-Donnan effect & cartilage proteoglycans create osmotic pressure which tends to draw water in. However during onset of OA there is an increase in cartilage water content. This increase occurs because while there is an overall loss of proteoglycans, it is outweighed by a loss of collagen. Without the protective effects of the proteoglycans, the collagen fibers of the cartilage can become susceptible to degradation and thus exacerbate the degeneration. Inflammation of the surrounding joint capsule can also occur, though often mild (compared to what occurs in rheumatoid arthritis). This can happen as breakdown products from the cartilage are released into the synovial space, and the cells lining the joint attempt to remove them. New bone outgrowths, called “spurs” or osteophytes, can form on the margins of the joints, possibly in an attempt to improve the congruence of the articular cartilage surfaces. These bone changes, together with the inflammation, can be both painful and debilitating.

OA/DJD symptoms may include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, locking, and sometimes an effusion. The main symptom is pain, causing loss of ability and often stiffness. “Pain” is generally described as a sharp ache or a burning sensation in the associated muscles and tendons. OA can cause a crackling noise (called “crepitus”) when the affected joint is moved or touched and people may experience muscle spasms and contractions in the tendons. Occasionally, the joints may also be filled with fluid. Some people report increased pain associated with cold temperature, high humidity, and/or a drop in barometric pressure.

OA/DJD commonly affects the hands, feet, spine, and the large weight bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, although in theory, any joint in the body can be affected. As OA progresses, the affected joints appear larger, are stiff and painful, and usually feel better with gentle use but worse with excessive or prolonged use, as distinguished from rheumatoid arthritis.

In smaller joints, such as at the fingers, hard bony enlargements, called Heberden’s nodes (on the distal interphalangeal joints) and/or Bouchard’s nodes (on the proximal interphalangeal joints), may form, and though they are not necessarily painful, they do limit the movement of the fingers significantly. OA at the toes leads to the formation of bunions, rendering them red or swollen. Some people notice these physical changes before they experience any pain. OA is the most common cause of a joint effusion of the knee.

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Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease?

Osteoarthritis/Degenerative Joint Disease can cause pain and other symptoms that can impact your ability to work. Social Security Disability benefits may be available to you if you are diagnosed with OA/DJD.

If you are not engaging in gainful activity due to OA or DJD, the Social Security Administration must determine if you have an impairment that is “severe.” This is step 2 of the evaluation process. (Visit my prior blog post explaining the steps of Social Security’s Sequential Evaluation Process.)

Generally, to establish Degenerative Joint Disease as a medically determinable severe impairment, you must show:
• Objective medical imaging establishing osteoarthritis/degenerative joint disease;

• Consistent complaints of pain or other symptoms for a period of time and which is not controlled through conservative treatment modalities

At step 3 of the Sequential Evaluation Process, the SSA determines if your condition meets a listing. For OA/DJD, SSA will determine if your condition meets any of the Listing 1.02 – Major Disfunction of a Joint or 1.04 – Disorders of the Spine.

  • 1.02 can be met if your OA/DJD is
    • Characterized by gross anatomical deformity (e.g., subluxation, contracture, bony or fibrous ankylosis, instability) and chronic joint pain and stiffness with signs of limitation of motion or other abnormal motion of the affected joint(s), and findings on appropriate medically acceptable imaging of joint space narrowing, bony destruction, or ankylosis of the affected joint(s), and
    • There is involvement of one major peripheral weight-bearing joint (i.e., hip, knee, or ankle), resulting in inability to ambulate effectively,OR
    • There is involvement of one major peripheral joint in each upper extremity (i.e., shoulder, elbow, or wrist-hand), resulting in inability to perform fine and gross movements effectively.
  • 1.04A can be met if your OA/DJD affects the spine and
    • Results in compromise of a nerve root (including the cauda equina) or the spinal cord
    • There is evidence of nerve root compression characterized by–
      • neuro-anatomic distribution of pain,
      • limitation of motion of the spine,
      • motor loss (atrophy with associated muscle weakness or muscle weakness) accompanied by sensory or reflex loss, and
      • if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test (sitting and supine).
  • 1.04B can be met if your OA/DJD affects the spine and
    • Causes spinal arachnoiditis confirmed by an operative note or pathology report of tissue biopsy, or by appropriate medically acceptable imaging, and
    • Is manifested by severe burning or painful dysesthesia, resulting in the need for changes in position or posture more than once every 2 hours.
  • 1.04C can be met if your OA/DJD  affects the spine and