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Remembering Col. Mark Stephensen on Memorial Day

2017 May 26

By The Old Sarge

President Calvin Coolidge wrote, “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”

On a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, I walked directly to panel 18E, Row 116, and gently ran my fingers along the name etched into the polished black granite: Mark L. Stephensen

Like all of the 58,307 names carved into the wall, the name left behind a story, a family, and more than a few tears.

On April 29, 1967, Air Force Major Mark Stephensen, 37, lifted his RF-4C Phantom fighter off the Udorn RTAB, Thailand, runway on his way to complete a reconnaissance mission over Hanoi, North Vietnam. Because of his calm, yet strong, demeanor, they called him “The Quite Tiger.” Flying with him that day was backseater 1st Lt. Gary Sigler.

It was their last flight. Years later, Air Force officials learned that the Phantom had been downed by surface-to-air missiles. Lt. Sigler managed to eject from the crippled fighter with Major Stephensen still at the controls. The young lieutenant was captured and spent the next seven years as a prisoner of war.

Major (later promoted to Colonel) Stephensen was listed as missing in action until his remains were recovered more than two decades later.

I interviewed the colonel’s wife and their children over two days at a July 1988 meeting of the League of POW/MIA Families in Washington, D.C. It was just weeks after the Vietnamese identified and made arrangements to return his remains to the States.

“It wasn’t until the Air Force confirmed the ID that the reality of losing Dad finally settled in,” his son told me.

For two days, we talked about the memories of their husband and father and the horrible years of not knowing his fate. There was no bitterness; just a longing for the years they missed being together as a family.

Mrs. Stephensen asked me to attend her husband’s long-delayed military burial in Riverton, Utah, and I agreed. The family quietly held hands during the ceremony and didn’t flinch when the bugler missed a note on Taps. There were some tears, but they were tears of pride.

The Quiet Tiger had returned home.

Finally at rest.

Finally at home.

I love you.

I miss you. So do we all.

Thank God

You’re back where

You belong.

From the Eulogy given by Kyler Stephensen, daughter of Colonel Mark Stephensen

Memorial Day is Monday, May 29. It’s a time to remember Colonel Stephensen and all of America’s fallen war heroes.

Young Stroke is An Unexpected Reality

2017 May 18

By Guest Blogger Robyn Moore, CEO of the National Stroke Association

There was a 44 percent spike in the number of young Americans (under 45 years old) hospitalized due to stroke over the last decade. Yet 73 percent of younger Americans are not familiar with stroke symptoms and the need for urgent medical attention.

In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month in May, the National Stroke Association created a website with a plethora of free resources that allow the public to become advocates for stroke and educate themselves and others.

Visit www.stroke.org/NSAM to learn about stroke and how to spot it by viewing videos, downloading materials and other tools, and using community presentations to help spread the word.

It is critical that we get the word out and educate younger Americans about stroke. It’s the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in adults, and it can happen to anyone.

A stroke is a “brain attack” that occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blood clot or broken blood vessel and can be caused by a number of factors. It is a myth that stroke only happens to the elderly.

About 800,000 people will experience a stroke in the U.S. this year, and more than 130,000 will die.

At the heart of our May stroke awareness campaign is a video titled “Young Stroke: An Unexpected Reality,” which offers insight about stroke and resources for stroke survivors and families.

One way to identify a potential stroke is by using the FAST method.

FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?

TIME: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Our 2017 campaign primarily focuses on younger stroke survivors, but it also gives people of any age the tools to become informed and spread our message about stroke. Even something as simple as posting on Facebook or sending one of our colorful e-cards about stroke risks to family members, co-workers and friends. That may make a difference in getting everyone to wise up about the symptoms of stroke and prevention.

The National Stroke Association is the only national organization in the U.S. that focuses 100 percent of its efforts on stroke by developing education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke. Visit www.stroke.org for more information.

May is Fibromyalgia Awareness Month

2017 May 16

By The Old Sarge

Admit it. Sometimes you really get angry at people with no apparent disability who park in a handicapped slot at the grocery store. I know I used to.

Then I realized that not all physical disabilities are readily apparent. According to the Invisible Disabilities Association, about 26 million Americas suffer from a severe disability, but only about 25 percent of them use a cane, crutches, walker or other assistive devices.

In other words, they suffer from an invisible disability. Fibromyalgia is such a disability, and May has been set aside to raise awareness of the disease.

Fibro affects the body’s soft muscles and tissue. Symptoms range from chronic muscle pain, insomnia, fever and crippling fatigue so severe that sufferers struggle to make it through a normal day.

Other symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Concentration and memory problems — known as “fibro fog”
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Morning stiffness
  • Painful menstrual cramps
  • Numbness, and tingling in hands, arms, feet, and legs
  • Tender points
  • Urinary symptoms, such as pain or frequency

According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia often occurs following a physical trauma, such as an acute illness or injury, which may act as a “trigger” for the disorder.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports that fibro affects 5 million Americans 18 and older. Although men and children can be affected, between 80 and 90 percent of those diagnosed are middle-aged women.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. People normally have the condition usually for life, but it usually does not get worse with aging. There are treatments and medications that may reduce symptoms.

Allsup may be able to help you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits if you had to stop working because of fibro. Click here to see how empower by Allsup®, a free online tool that helps you determine your likelihood of obtaining SSDI benefits, can improve your chances of being approved. You can read personal stories from individuals with fibromyalgia who obtained their SSDI benefits at Allsup.com.

In the meantime, be careful who you get angry at in the grocery store parking lot.

What Do You Know About Lupus?

2017 May 12

By Tai Prohaska, Allsup manager of Strategic Alliances

May is Lupus Awareness Month, and boy, does this disease need it.

According to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA), 73 percent of Americans between 18-34 have either not heard about lupus or know little or nothing about lupus beyond the name. To put that in perspective, there are approximately 400,000 Americans living with multiple sclerosis and about 1 million living with Parkinson’s disease.

The Lupus Foundation of America wants you to “Get to KNOW LUPUS.” Allsup team members probably know more than most Americans because we help individuals with lupus obtain Social Security Disability Insurance benefits if they cannot continue working. Allsup is pleased to support LFA chapters throughout the country.

“Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that is both mysterious and cruel,” said LFA Heartland patient services manager Rosemary Chustak.

“With lupus, something goes wrong with the immune system resulting in the body attacking and causing damage to itself.  It is difficult to diagnose as symptoms are different from person to person, imitate the symptoms of other illnesses and symptoms come and go.”

While lupus can strike anyone at any time, 90 percent of people living with lupus are females. Women of color are at an especially high risk. Hispanic, Asian and Native American populations also have an increased risk. Lupus usually develops between the ages of 15 and 44. Although symptoms range from mild to life threatening, with proper diagnosis and treatment, the disease is now more manageable than in years past.

Common symptoms include joint pain, headaches, anemia, edema, pleurisy, photosensitivity, hair loss, abnormal blood clotting, mouth or nose ulcers, skin rashes, overwhelming fatigue and fevers. For some people with lupus, symptoms can be debilitating, even to the point of forcing them to stop working.

I was at the St. Louis Walk to End Lupus Now last weekend and I talked with people about the challenges they face living with lupus, including the struggle to keep working. Many who had to stop working had filed for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and, like most who apply, they were denied benefits. They were looking for a better way to apply for SSDI or appeal their denial.

I was happy to tell them about empower by Allsup®, a free online tool that helps people determine their likelihood of obtaining SSDI benefits, and improves their chances of getting approved if they are eligible.

One of the most common things people say when I tell them about Allsup’s services is, “I wish I had known about you earlier.”

Lupus thrivers, share this blog and help me spread the word.

Remembering a Friend During Brain Tumor Awareness Month

2017 May 5

By The Old Sarge

I remember a guy I worked with in the Air Force.

He was a stand-out star on a staff of creative types. Talented, personable and in his mid-40s, he was a movie-star handsome guy who routinely landed walk-on parts in Hollywood and television movies. Happily married and a father of twins, he had it made.

Then his life began to fall apart. It started with a few complaints about bad headaches, which later mushroomed into full blown migraines. Normally a quiet, cordial guy who got along with everyone, his interactions changed. He became quarrelsome, and spontaneous, unexplainable arguments would erupt.

I retired from the Air Force about this time to join Allsup, but I stayed in contact with my former co-workers. I learned that his inexplicable behavior continued to worsen. He frequently started arguments with co-workers and the migraines caused him to start missing work. He began to have family problems. This just wasn’t the friend we all knew and respected. I had my suspicions, so I wasn’t surprised when I learned that he was suffering from a brain tumor. He died not long after the diagnosis.

I was reminded of his story when I learned that May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month. The National Brain Tumor Society (NBTS) says that about 700,000 people in the U.S. and millions worldwide are living with a brain tumor or a central nervous system tumor. With a survival rate of only 35 percent, the NBTS hopes that raising awareness of brain tumors will lead to more research and more funds to continue the fight for new treatments.

According to WebMD, common symptoms of a brain tumor include:

  • Headaches that are worse in the morning and ease during the day
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness or loss of feeling in the arms or legs
  • Stumbling or lack of coordination in walking
  • Abnormal eye movements or changes in vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in personality or memory
  • Changes in speech

Many individuals with brain tumors are not able to work during medical treatment, and they may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

When evaluating claims related to brain tumors, Social Security looks at benign and malignant tumors differently.

Depending on the size and location, benign brain tumors can affect people differently. The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates them under listings of epilepsy, stroke, or other affected body systems. Malignant brain tumors are evaluated under cancer. More serious brain tumors may qualify an individual for expedited processing under SSA’s Compassionate Allowances (CAL) program.

Allsup can help individuals determine their likelihood of being eligible for SSDI benefits and the CAL program.

 Click here to learn how empower by Allsup® makes it easier to apply for SSDI.

Editor’s note: The NBTS will host a Tweetchat on May 18, #BTeAM, to discuss the resources, support, information and tools available to brain tumor patients.

No Standing in Line for empower by Allsup®

2017 April 26

By The Old Sarge

After wearing an Air Force uniform for more than 22 years, I know all about standing in lines. There were lines to get into the mess hall, the firing range—even for doctors’ appointments.

Want to join the Air Force? Get in line. Want to get out of the Air Force? Join the crowd. You get the idea. Believe me; I thought I knew everything I needed to know about standing in lines.

But then I learned about the staggering lines at the Social Security office for people applying for disability benefits. At the end of 2016, nearly 2 million people were waiting to learn if they would receive the insurance benefits they paid for when they were working.

More than 1 million are waiting for a hearing before an administrative law judge and the average wait for a hearing nationwide is a staggering 578 days. Some of these applicants will die before they reach the end of the line.

The airmen I stood in line with in while in the Air Force were healthy GIs who knew what they were getting into when they raised their right hand to take the oath of service. Former workers with severe disabilities waiting for their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits have no idea what’s in store for them.

We at Allsup are doing our best to help them avoid those lines, and cut the wait time if they are denied at the application level and decide to appeal. Since 1984, we’ve helped more than 275,000 applicants receive the SSDI benefits they deserve.

One of the ways we do that is through empower by Allsup. This unique software is a dual purpose online tool that offers people with disabilities a no-cost online option to determine if they are eligible for SSDI benefits. It also offers return-to-work assistance for people whose health has recovered to the point they’re able to return to the workforce.

Best of all, there’s no waiting in line. You can start your SSDI application from the comfort of your home, and the easy-to-understand information is readily available on your desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.

More than half of the people Allsup helps are approved for SSDI benefits at the initial application level—they never have to endure the SSDI hearing backlog. Overall, 97 percent of the people who complete the SSDI application process with Allsup obtain their benefits. See how empower by Allsup can speed up the process when applying for Social Security disability benefits.

 

Parkinson’s Disease and Disability Concerns

2017 April 18

By Israel Robledo, PD research advocate

Advocating for new treatments and therapies through the years has allowed me to view the future with a sense of hope for what is to come. I’ve often shared that the latest medications on the market may not be for me for now, but depending on how my Parkinson’s disease progresses, at least I’ll have options to consider.

Disability concerns often fall in the same category. I may not need the help now because I am able to continue working full time without accommodations, but there may come a time that I will have to cut back or stop working altogether.

Disability issues seem to fall in three categories:

  • “I’m not worried because whatever happens will take its course and I’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
  • “I’m worried that I’ll become unable to work and I don’t know how to prepare for early retirement.”
  • “I’m in dire straits because I have no one to help me. I don’t have a clue how I am going to survive without some type of financial help.”

On occasion, we read conversations about someone in the Parkinson’s community having filed a Social Security disability claim. They ask for help to navigate a complex system that may or may not declare them disabled, according to their standards. The conversation usually turns to what information is needed, where to find this information, and what to expect as they go through the lengthy process.

It is an unfortunate situation when the information that has been needed to document disease progression is not available because of a lack of communication with healthcare providers.

Being honest and forthright about the issues that we deal with daily need to be shared during follow-up visits and documented properly. And we must have access to this information. This medical information plays a vital role in whether disability claims are approved or denied.

Parkinson’s Disease Awareness month in April is a great time to raise awareness of a condition that leaves so many of us hoping for a better future. Education about what Parkinson’s is and what it is doing to our minds and bodies is also important.

It is crucial that we communicate with our healthcare providers and receive the best quality of care possible Doing so will ensure Parkinson’s disease awareness has the most meaningful impact as we travel on this journey with an as-of-yet incurable disease.

Appealing Your SSDI Claim—Video Teleconference or In-Person Hearing?

2017 April 13

By Tai Prohaska

Despite rumors to the contrary, most people who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are denied. Sometimes they are denied because they don’t have enough work credits because they didn’t pay into the system long enough to be eligible. Most people who are denied then abandon the process. Applicants can appeal the Social Security Administration’s decision, but 88 percent of these appeals are also denied.

Applicants can file a second appeal, often called the hearing level, because it involves a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).

At this point, individuals have the option to appear before an ALJ at a formal in-person hearing, or to participate in a video teleconference (VTC) with a judge. VTCs appeal to many claimants because they usually call for a shorter commute and they believe it may be less stressful.

But is that always the right choice?

Is it better to face your decision-maker eye to eye rather than face a TV screen, often of suspect quality? Could the non-verbal communication clues that television screens tend to hide, help or hurt your ability to tell your story? Many nonverbal communication clues that could offer the ALJ a more complete picture of you and the basis of your SSDI claim include tremors, perspiration, nervous legs below the table, signs of intense pain and facial flushing.

An ALJ could miss these indicators at a VTC hearing, and that could negatively influence your credibility and jeopardize the outcome of your claim.

On the other hand, if it’s difficult for you to attend an in-person hearing, which may take place hundreds of miles away, you may be better off taking advantage of VTC technology. If it’s impractical or unsafe to travel to a hearing, a VTC may be your best option.

Remember, it’s always your decision whether to appear at an in-person ALJ hearing or to participate in a video teleconference.

Although most people file the initial SSDI application on their own, most applicants have a representative at the appeal level. Discuss the pros and cons of a VTC with your representative.

If you are thinking about applying for Social Security Disability Insurance and would like to improve your chances of being approved at the initial level and avoid the appeal process altogether, click here to get started with an online SSDI eligibility assessment.

April Is Spondylitis Awareness Month

2017 April 7

By The Old Sarge

Like most aging baby boomers, these old, stiff bones of mine tend to snap, crackle and pop like a bowl of morning breakfast cereal. Occasional back pain is now a way of life. Folks of a certain age don’t even lean over the sink to brush their teeth without carefully planning the move.

Unlike my fellow oldsters, however, people who suffer from ankylosing spondylitis (AS) may have started suffering chronic joint and back pain as early as their teens. According to the Spondylitis Association of America (SAA), AS is a chronic, lifelong disease that doesn’t pay attention to age or gender, although men are more likely to get the disease than women.

The association’s website explains that AS differs from common back pain caused by muscle spasms or slipped discs. AS is caused by inflammation. You’ll have it for a long time, but there are treatments to lessen the pain and stiffness. About half of AS sufferers later develop osteoporosis, or brittle bones.

Early AS symptoms include low back pain and stiffness. Tell your doctor if your pain:

  • Lasts for more than three months
  • Is worse after resting
  • Gets better after moving around
  • Is relieved after taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen

The SAA offers the following advice if you’ve been diagnosed with AS.

  • Keep moving, because daily exercise can help you stay flexible.
  • Practice posture, because sitting and standing up straight may help with pain and stiffness.
  • Use hot and cold pads and take hot showers to ease your aching back and joints. Cold packs may reduce swelling.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight and stop smoking.

If you’ve been diagnosed with AS and the disease prevents you from working, Allsup may be able to help you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Click here to learn more about applying for disability benefits.

Know Before You Undergo: Consenting to a Colonoscopy

2017 March 30
tricycle-winner

By Christopher Trudeau, JD, Professor of Law at Western Michigan University – Cooley Law School

“It’s time we check your colon,” your doctor tells you.

Who really likes to hear those words? But, eventually, most of us will. When you do, no doubt you’ll soon start thinking about a colonoscopy. In fact, your doctor will likely bring it up because colonoscopies have been shown to reduce deaths from colon cancer by 60 to 70 percent. But before you undergo one, be sure you understand your role in the process. You have a right to understand what’s happening.

You have a legal right to know

Before any patient undergoes a colonoscopy the patient must agree to the procedure after being informed about the procedure, its benefits and its alternatives.

The law calls this informed consent. For lawyers, a patient’s signature on a consent form is evidence that the patient agreed to have the procedure. You should make it a point to understand what precisely will happen during a colonoscopy. This includes the risks involved in the procedure, the expected problems that can arise during recovery, and any alternatives you may have.

You even have a right to know what might happen if you refuse a colonoscopy. However, the problem is that many providers use informed consent forms that are difficult to understand. So what can you do to make sure you truly give informed consent?

Do not be afraid to ask questions

If you only remember one tip, remember this: ask questions early and often. As soon as your doctor brings up the need for a colonoscopy, ask questions about the procedure itself, the risks and likelihood of complications, the alternatives, the recovery time and, importantly, the preparation needed.

If you don’t understand something on the consent form, ask for help. If you don’t understand that explanation, ask the doctor to simplify it. Before you sign that consent form, be sure you can explain the answers to these questions to your family members. If you can, then you likely understand it well enough.

Get the consent form long before the procedure

Another useful tip is to ask your doctor for the consent form early in the process. Ideally, your doctor should give you the consent form when you first schedule the colonoscopy. But too many doctors wait until you’ve already prepared for the colonoscopy, taken time off of work, and even put on a hospital gown to present you with the consent form. This isn’t the best time to make a calm, reasoned decision if you learn something new that makes you change your mind.

In the end, if you ask for the consent form and ask questions early and often, you will put yourself in the best position to be a truly informed patient. This will make your signature mean something and reduce misunderstandings that can lead to poor outcomes.