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The Right To Surf: American With Disabilities Act

2014 July 24

taiBy Tai of Allsup

The landmark civil rights legislation known as the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law on July 26, 1990. It bars discrimination and promotes equal access for individuals with disabilities to all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

Given the technological advances of the last two decades, if the Act was being drafted today, I think it would specifically mention the Internet. I believe people with disabilities should be able to surf the Web, too.

The Internet has become a “public place” where people hang out, chat with friends, shop, get and share news, work and play. However, only 54 percent of adults living with a disability use the Internet, compared with 81 percent of adults who report none of the disabilities listed in a 2010 Pew Research survey.

Studies show that, as a group, people with disabilities have the lowest rates of technology use. The problem, researchers often conclude, is barriers to access due to cost or design.

Surfing Can Be Costly

Americans living with disabilities are more likely than other adults to live in lower income households.

Computers and high-speed Internet access cost money. Add the expense of specialized software or other adaptive technology, and the cost to surf the Internet is often prohibitive, limiting access.

Some websites can only be navigated using a mouse, making it inaccessible to those who can’t manipulate one. Most Internet video or multimedia content is not captioned, so it is inaccessible to those with hearing impairments.

Custom Boards Offer The Best Ride

Just as real wave surfers maximize their thrills and performance when using custom surfboards designed specifically for them, individuals with disabilities can get more out of their Internet experience when they use products and services designed with their abilities in mind.

Inclusive product design—accommodating a wide range of user abilities and disabilities—allows people to better interact with technology in ways that work best for them. Enhancements to existing products, or assistive technology, can make it easier for people with vision, hearing, speech and other impairments to use currently available hardware and software.

As we mark the 24th anniversary of the ADA, I believe that ensuring people with disabilities have full and equal access to technology is critical to fulfilling the spirit and promise of the Act.

Is there something you appreciate about the ADA? Help us celebrate its birthday on Facebook.

Click here to visit Allsup on Facebook for your ADA shout-out.

World Sjögren’s Day Is July 23

2014 July 22

SSF-Logo-2014By Elizabeth Trocchio, director of marketing, Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation

World Sjögren’s Day was created to commemorate the birthday of Dr. Henrik Sjögren, the Swedish ophthalmologist who discovered Sjögren’s in 1933, which has helped all patients find answers to their health questions.

This July 23rd, the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF) joins with other Sjögren’s organizations around the world to celebrate the 5th annual World Sjögren’s Day and what would have been have been Dr. Sjögren’s 115th birthday.

World Sjögren’s Day also allows us to recognize advancements made in Sjögren’s this past year and the incredible progress the SSF has made on behalf of Sjögren’s patients.

This includes our current development of clinical practice guidelines for Sjögren’s that will help standardize patient care by giving physicians a roadmap of how to treat, monitor and manage their patients with the disease.

Sjögren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) is a chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands.

The four hallmark symptoms include fatigue, joint pain, dry eye and dry mouth. But Sjögren’s also may cause dysfunction of other organs such as the kidneys, gastrointestinal system, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas and the central nervous system.

With upwards of 4 million Americans suffering from Sjögren’s, it is one of the most prevalent but less known autoimmune disorders. This is because Sjögren’s is not a “cookie-cutter” disease, often being overlooked or misdiagnosed since symptoms can manifest in various ways and affect every patient differently.

Currently, there is no cure for Sjögren’s. Early diagnosis and proper treatment are important for preventing the more serious complications of the disease, while also helping to improve a patient’s quality of life.

On average, it takes 4.7 years from the time a patient seeks treatment for their symptoms to receiving a formal diagnosis.

This is why in 2012 the SSF launched a bold “5-Year Breakthrough Goal: To shorten the time to diagnose Sjögren’s by 50% in five years!”

We hope you remember four hallmark symptoms of Sjögren’s: fatigue, joint pain, dry eye and dry mouth.

Please visit www.sjogrens.org to learn more and share this post to help raise awareness of Sjögren’s this World Sjögren’s Day.

How Does My Doctor Help My Social Security Disability Claim?

2014 July 15

Swierczek-colorBy Ed of Allsup

This is a common question for people who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. You want to know what your doctor can do to help your claim for SSDI benefits.

I typically tell SSDI claimants that there are a couple of things to keep in mind when working with your doctor. First, if you are only just starting to think about applying for Social Security disability benefits, then you want to make sure that your doctor supports your decision.

Often, many of our customers have put off this decision—even though their doctor has been encouraging them for some time to apply for SSDI benefits.

This is a good sign that you have medical support for your impairment.

To receive SSDI benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) must see evidence that you have a medical condition and that this condition prevents you from working, and that it is severe enough to last at least 12 months or longer. If you are under age 50, SSA requires you to be unable to engage in any work activity (substantial gainful activity). If you are age 50 or older, other rules apply to your ability to work.

Second, it’s important that your doctor keeps an extensive record of the impact of your disability, including the limitations you have in your activities of daily living.

Medical evidence can include specific tests, such as CAT scans, MRIs and others, as well as assessments of your ability to function, such as your range of motion, balance and strength tests. It also helps if your doctor notes in the record the recommendation that you apply for Social Security disability benefits.

Sometimes people who apply for SSDI benefits have their doctor’s support, but there is not the medical evidence that the SSA requires to show that your disability is severe enough to prevent you from working. So it’s important to discuss this with your doctor.

There are a number of other criteria required in order for Social Security to determine that you qualify for SSDI benefits. For example, you must have a work history to document that you are insured for SSDI benefits.

If you have questions, call our Disability Evaluation Center and get a free SSDI evaluation at (800) 678-3276.

Mental Illness Doesn’t Discriminate, But People Do

2014 July 8

By Tai of Allsup

Because July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s time to remind people that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It affects people from all walks of life―rich and poor, black and white, male and female, gay and straight.

People, however, do discriminate. Our societal norms define good and bad, normal and strange, desirable and shameful. Norms and perceptions are influenced by our ethnic identities and cultural experiences. The stigma around mental illness is a huge barrier to acceptance and treatment. Add the institutional and personal biases inherent in our healthcare system and society at large, and discrimination, both on the part of patients and healthcare providers, becomes a factor.

Mental illness is a leading cause of disability, yet nearly two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment. Racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. are even less likely to get help, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The result, according to NAMI, is that American Indians, Alaska Natives, African Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Hispanic Americans bear a disproportionately high burden of disability from mental disorders.

According to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity, disparities in mental health were found in:

  • Access to services. Barriers include lack of health insurance and stigma.
  • Accuracy of diagnoses. Minority patients tend to receive a lower quality of care, and they are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for mental illness.
  • Level of cultural competency, proficiency and recovery/type of treatment. One-size fits all does not apply when it comes to culturally appropriate and effective treatment.
  • Comparative effectiveness. Treatments that work well for one group may not work well for another. More research on the effectiveness of treatments for different ethnic and racial groups is needed.
  • Location of services. Minority communities often have fewer sources of healthcare than non-Hispanic white communities or none at all (Institute of Medicine, 2003).

Another key finding of the Surgeon General’s report is that living in poverty has the most measurable effect on the rates of mental illness. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the highest national poverty rates are for American Indians and Alaska Natives (27 percent), African Americans (26 percent), Hispanics (23 percent) and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (18 percent). This is compared to a 14 percent rate for the U.S. population overall.

Mental illness may not discriminate, but discrimination is certainly a factor when it comes to addressing and treating it in minority populations.

If you or a friend or family member has stopped working because of the impact of a mental health disorder, contact Allsup for a free disability evaluation for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits at (800) 678-3276.

Awareness, Support And Hope For Those With Brain Injury

2014 June 30

WalkRunRollBy Jessica Giordano, MA, CIRS, Washington TBI Resource Center Operations Manager, Brain Injury Alliance of Washington

Did you know?*

  • A concussion is a brain injury?
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the signature injury of our military members serving in Iraq and Afghanistan?
  • Every nine seconds someone in America sustains a TBI?
  • 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually?
  • There are more incidents of TBI than all cancers combined?
  • Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population currently has a long-term or lifelong need for help with everyday activities due to TBI?

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Protection.

TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in almost every state for our young people ages 15-24, and it is the No. 1 killer of children in the U.S. While the deaths are a tragic loss, the disabilities resulting from TBI can be lifelong and life-changing, involving physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive impairments.

In the state of Washington, only one nonprofit is working to prevent, support, educate and provide advocacy for all brain injury survivors, family members and caregivers: the Brain Injury Alliance of Washington (BIAWA).

The BIAWA provides the statewide TBI Resource Line, in-person resource management, support groups, outreach and training, social activities, academic scholarships and much more. We serve individuals of all ages affected by brain injury, all at no cost.

BIAWA is a small nonprofit organization that has exhibited the capability to accomplish great things. We continuously strive to carry out our mission to increase public awareness, support and hope for those affected by brain injury.

We are proud to have supported the first youth concussion legislation in the U.S., which now has been adopted by all 50 states. We are excited and extremely proud to have been part of the nationwide paradigm shift in how we think about and treat concussions.

On July 27, the BIAWA invites you to become part of the difference we make in the community by participating in our 4th Annual Walk, Run & Roll for Thought! This event is a joint effort between BIAWA and Seattle BrainWorks, a clubhouse for adults living with brain injury, to increase awareness and improve the quality of life for individuals and families impacted by brain injury.

For more information, to register, or to make a donation, please click here. The BIAWA and Seattle BrainWorks give heartfelt thanks to Allsup for supporting our community and our Walk, Run & Roll for Thought!

Editor’s note: For information on TBI and Social Security Disability Insurance, visit Allsup.com.

Racing Toward A Cure For Pulmonary Hypertension

2014 June 27

Doctor holding red rubber heart in his handBy Tai of Allsup

The only time I’m really conscious of my breathing is when I’m doing yoga.

At the Pulmonary Hypertension Association’s 2014 International conference last week, however, I met people who think about every breath. Held in Indianapolis, the conference theme, “Racing Toward a Cure,” spoke to the fact that there is no cure for the often fatal disease.

Before attending the conference, I knew that high blood pressure is also called hypertension. But I didn’t know that pulmonary hypertension (PH) is when the pressure on the right side of your heart, the side that pumps blood back to the lungs, is higher than normal.

The high pressure can be caused by medical conditions such as chronic lung disease, blood clots in the lungs, or a weakened left side of the heart.

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is when blood vessels in the lungs are directly diseased, as opposed to increased pressure due to another reason like chronic lung or heart disease. Left untreated, the right side of the heart can overwork, weaken and even fail.

Not surprisingly, people with PH and PAH are often short of breath. Fatigue, dizziness, heart palpitations, swelling of the feet, legs or belly, and chest pain are common symptoms. Some patients pass out as the oxygen levels in their brains and blood become very low.

Chronic Disease and Social Security Disability Insurance

PH is a chronic and progressive disease. Patients shared their concerns and fears over simply not waking up one morning. I heard from long-term survivors who have lived with PH for decades, who mourn the loss of support group members, and are determined to be role models for the newly diagnosed.

There were PH patients who work in demanding careers such as nursing and teaching. And there were patients who could not continue working. PH alone can be debilitating, and often it is associated with other serious conditions, such as scleroderma, lupus, congenital heart defects, liver disease and HIV.

A 2013 Social Security Administration (SSA) study estimated that about 4 percent of all Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims involved a respiratory diagnosis, the majority for chronic pulmonary insufficiency. For those with PH and associated conditions, SSDI benefits are often the fuel that helps keep them in the race. PH patients and healthcare providers testified at SSA’s 2010 Compassionate Allowances Outreach Hearing on Cardiovascular Disease and Multiple Organ Transplants to advocate for timely access to SSDI benefits.

Getting expert help when you apply for Social Security disability benefits at the very beginning is one way to speed up the process. For more information, call (800) 678-3276.

Read how Allsup helped a former nurse with PH obtain her benefits here.

Denied VA Disability Benefits? Appeal.

2014 June 25

military-uniformBy The Old Sarge of Allsup

One in 5 military women and 1 in 100 men were victims of sexual abuse or trauma in 2012.

Those are pretty stunning numbers, but don’t take my word for it.

See the report on military sexual trauma (MST) issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). It’s titled, “Military Sexual Trauma: Improvements Made, but VA Can Do More to Track and Improve the Consistency of Disability Claim Decisions.” The report was compiled using data from the Veterans Affairs’ (VA) disability claims program.

The report pointed out that major changes in disability regulations were made in 2002. For example, evidence gathered outside of a veteran’s service record is now considered to document a claim for MST and related conditions.

The GAO said some veterans who filed for VA disability benefits may have been wrongly denied because of insufficient training of the decision-makers on these changes. In April 2013, 2,667 veterans with denied claims for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to MST were asked to resubmit them for another look.

Brett Buchanan, a former Army officer who helps veterans through the Allsup Veterans Disability Appeal Service®, said now is the right time to appeal.

“Veterans who have been denied benefits for MST and related impairments could benefit from appealing their VA disability claim now, in light of more education and emphasis on these disabling conditions,” said Buchanan, who also is a VA-accredited Claims Agent. He added that the decision-makers are more experienced and now better understand the 2002 changes.

Allsup provides more information on the GAO report and VA disability appeals on its website.

Click here to see how Brett and Allsup can help veterans file a disability appeal. Veterans and family members with questions about filing a VA disability appeal may call (888) 372-1190.

Comparing Medicare Plans To Retiree Health Insurance

2014 June 18

MD.Walters-MedicareBy Mary Dale of Allsup

Twenty-five years ago, two-thirds of large companies that offered health insurance to their employees also offered health benefits when they retired.

These days, it’s less than a third, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Do you or your spouse work for an employer that offers retiree health coverage? If so, you may have questions about how this coverage compares to other kinds of health insurance, including Medicare plans.

What To Check With Your Retiree Health Plan

A retiree health plan may be different from the plan you had while working. If you retire before 65, don’t assume that the retiree health plan will be the same as the plan you had at work.

Be sure to look carefully at the plan’s benefits and cost sharing, such as the deductibles, co-pays and out-of-pocket limits. Make sure you truly understand what your costs will be under the plan.

Do I need Medicare if I have a retiree health plan?

Yes, if you’re eligible for Medicare, you will need to sign up for Medicare Parts A and B to receive benefits from the retiree plan. This is true whether you’re eligible for Medicare because you’re 65 or over or because you receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Many retiree plans work with Medicare plans as “wraparound” coverage. This means that Medicare pays first on your claims and the retiree plan covers remaining costs that Medicare does not pay.

Should I go with Medicare instead of my retiree plan?

Don’t assume that your retiree plan offers better benefits than you could get by going with Medicare alone. For some people, Original Medicare with a Medicare supplement plan and a Part D prescription drug plan offers more comprehensive or affordable coverage than the retiree plan.

The important thing is to do your homework.

Don’t make a decision about your retiree health benefits before you understand everything that’s at stake. For example, retiree plans may cover a spouse or dependents, but Medicare plans alone will not. So you may need to consider this as you choose your post-retirement coverage. Talk with your employer’s benefits administrator to make sure you fully understand your options as a retiree. 

If you’re getting ready to turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare, consider speaking with an experienced Medicare specialist, such as the Allsup Medicare Advisor®, to find out how Medicare plans compare to your retiree plan.

You can reach us at (866) 521-7655.

 

Scleroderma Patients Shouldn’t Suffer In Silence

2014 June 11

SclerodermaLogoBy Christina Relacion, communications manager, Scleroderma Foundation

Imagine not being able to tie your shoes or pick up a glass of water. Many patients battling scleroderma can’t complete these simple tasks. They suffer from joint stiffness and inflammation in their hands that leads to a loss of functioning, or limited range of motion. An estimated 300,000 Americans live with scleroderma, but they shouldn’t have to do it alone.

Individuals fighting scleroderma struggle with a disease that isn’t widely known. Isolated and alone, many patients feel they suffer in silence. Help us change that during Scleroderma Awareness Month in June. Learn more about this disabling disease so no patient has to feel alone.

Scleroderma is a chronic, and sometimes fatal, autoimmune condition in which a person’s body attacks itself. One of the most noticeable physical features of the disease is a thickening and tightening of the skin. The collagen in a person’s hands hardens, making the fingers curl, resulting in an increased inability to complete many everyday chores.

In some cases, a person may experience a hardening of internal organs, like the lungs, heart, kidneys or gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to scarring, or sclerosis, of the organ systems that can cause the organs to work less effectively. Unfortunately, the cause of the disease is unknown. There also is no cure, but there are some medications and treatments available to help alleviate some symptoms.

This month, the Scleroderma Foundation has created a microsite (http://www.sclerodermaawareness.org/) featuring a variety of opportunities for supporters to join the fight to help end “Sclero-What?” while educating and spreading awareness.

Additionally, more than 50 “Stepping Out to Cure Scleroderma” walk-a-thons are scheduled in cities nationwide through the rest of 2014. These family-friendly events are an excellent opportunity for communities to come together and show their support for individuals fighting scleroderma. Please join us this June to help put an end to “Sclero-what?”

For more information about scleroderma and Scleroderma Awareness Month, visit http://www.sclerodermaawareness.org/.

The Scleroderma Foundation works to support people living with the disease, along with their family members and friends. It has 23 chapters and 150 support groups across the country.

Why You Might Need Social Security Disability Benefits

2014 May 27

Swierczek-colorBy Ed of Allsup

If you drive a vehicle in the U.S.—you may eventually need Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. That’s because there are approximately 5 million motor vehicle accidents every year in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Car accidents can lead to severely disabling injuries that may require you to stop working.

As you age, you also may need to apply for SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration estimates a 20-year-old’s chances of experiencing a disability before retirement is about 1 in 4, or 25 percent. By age 35, the chances increase to about 38 percent for the typical person, according to the Council for Disability Awareness.

The average age of SSDI recipients is 53, which is nine years before the earliest someone could apply for Social Security retirement benefits at 62.

Your chances of experiencing cancer, cancer treatment and possibly the need to quit working while receiving treatment are other factors to consider. The most common cancers for women based on rates per 100,000 are breast cancer (118.7), lung cancer (52.4) and colorectal cancer (35.4). The most common cancers among men based on rates per 100,000 are prostate cancer (126.1), lung cancer (74.1) and colorectal cancer (46.4), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Applying For SSDI Benefits

These are just a few of the reasons to become more aware of Social Security disability benefits.

If you live and work in the U.S., you’re probably paying FICA payroll taxes and funding this form of disability insurance for yourself. Purchasing long-term disability (LTD) insurance also can provide an important benefit to you and your family.

Why SSDI and why now? Well, you may have noticed more stories and articles during Disability Insurance Awareness Month in May.

Although 150 million people are insured for SSDI benefits, it is extremely difficult to qualify to receive these benefits. If you or someone you know has experienced a life-changing injury or illness, such as a cancer diagnosis, take a closer look at SSDI benefits.

Allsup disability specialists can help answer your questions about criteria to receive SSDI benefits, and the complexity of the SSDI program.

As the end of May approaches, it’s critical to recognize that severely disabling conditions can happen to anyone at anytime. It could even happen to you.

Click here to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, or contact Allsup for a free disability evaluation at (800) 678-3276.