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Common Mistakes From A Social Security Disability Expert: What You Don’t Tell SSA Could Hurt You

2016 April 27

Swierczek-colorBy Ed of Allsup

Warning: The Social Security Administration (SSA) denies two-thirds of all initial applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

After more than 40 years working with the SSDI program, I know the primary reason for denials are common mistakes made by claimants filing on their own without the help of a professional SSDI representative. These include not properly completing an important form, or even forgetting to sign a document.

Another common error involves incomplete information on the SSA’s Activities of Daily Living questionnaire.

This all-important document asks you to describe how your impairment affects your daily life. Are you able to go shopping? Can you garden? These sound like easy questions, but be aware that the SSA is always looking for ways to deny your claim.

For example, if you answer truthfully that, yes, you can go shopping, the SSA may deny your claim for that reason alone. It may be a different outcome, however, if you mentioned that a neighbor has to drive you to the store and you must use a motorized scooter to maneuver the aisles.

It’s the same story if you say that you’re able to do some gardening. That may be true, but if you forget to add that you’re exhausted and in pain after an hour of planting flowers and you’re forced to lie down for three hours afterward, you’re not giving the SSA the information it needs.

My best advice is to always be honest with the SSA, and always give them all the information.

Remember: What you don’t tell the SSA can hurt you. A professional Social Security disability representative like Allsup can ensure that the agency will have the information it needs to make a proper decision on your claim.

I’ll have more tips on how to avoid common mistakes in a future blog.

In the meantime, click here for a free SSDI evaluation and to learn more about Allsup.

Hope And Healing Fibromyalgia

2016 April 21

RuschelleKhannaBy Guest Blogger Ruschelle Khanna, speaker, psychotherapist, author and founder of the Fibromyalgia Summit

On March 3, 2014, I began having debilitating seizures that lasted nine days. I lost my vision and hearing. I spent the next months bed bound and in severe pain.

When I tell people this was the best thing that ever happened to me, they usually look at me with confusion. My unknown illness, later to be determined as Lyme disease, led me down a path of intense pain and equally intense reflection. Over the months of healing that followed, I found a circle of colleagues and supports I never imagined.

I also found a common understanding among people who had suffered chronic pain. That is why I founded the Fibromyalgia Summit, launching on Fibromyalgia Awareness Day, May 12.

Fibromyalgia affects an estimated 50 million Americans and is the second most common musculoskeletal symptom behind osteoarthritis. Recently, there has been increased attention to research that connects this illness to viral and bacterial infections, including herpes. It is common to see a manifestation of an otherwise dormant herpes virus during times of stress. Lyme disease is another type of infection (bacterial) that, when untreated, can cause symptoms of fibromyalgia.

I suffered from a debilitating bout of Lyme disease in 2014. At that time I found myself in numerous physicians’ offices being told there was nothing wrong with me. I have spoken with many women and men that have fibromyalgia and experienced the same reaction from conventional medicine. It is time to bring awareness to the root cause of fibromyalgia and focus on the cure.

What It Takes To Feel Better

Aside from systemic infections, a common theme throughout the interviews I conducted with experts was the connection to trauma.

Almost all of those I interviewed stated that patients expressed some form of trauma, whether it was physical or emotional. They all agreed that the resolution of trauma, whether it be through some form of healing bodywork such as craniosacral therapy, or emotional healing such as psychotherapy, was critical to healing the symptoms of fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia symptoms vary from person to person. However, some common ones include fatigue, brain fog, severe muscle aches, insomnia and intestinal symptoms. Fibromyalgia should be addressed as a systemic issue, making small changes throughout the day and over a life span.

Healing fibromyalgia is a lifestyle change that takes commitment. There is no pill to heal fibromyalgia. Many of us want to feel better, we just don’t have the energy to put into action the overflow of healing information that is available to us through the internet.

Editor’s note: Learn more about living well with fibromyalgia at the web event Claiming Power Over Pain, April 21. Register here. You will be able to register and access the program on-demand through the end of the year by visiting

A Hope To Believe

2016 April 15

Wayne ConnellBy Guest Blogger Wayne Connell, founder and president, Invisible Disabilities® Association

“Well at least you have your health.” People use these words as a sort of encouragement after a tragedy or loss. Yet, what if you don’t have your health? What if life has thrown you a curve caused by illness or injury?

As with any loss, a person whose life is changed by disability often experiences the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. How does one move to acceptance when their world has been rocked by illness or injury? I believe it is found in the word “Hope.”

Hope is really an action and not just a feeling for something better. Hope is when someone in unbearable pain comforts someone else going through a difficult time. Hope is when someone with a disability does something amazing.


Claiming Power Over Pain

True Help Web Event

11 a.m. CT

Thursday, April 21
Click here to register


Diane Van Deren fuels her life with hope. A state champion golfer who played professional tennis in her 20s, Van Deren’s athletic career was seemingly cut short when she began suffering grand mal seizures. The effects were devastating for the young mother of three, but she developed a sense that alerted her to oncoming seizures. To ward them off, she would grab her shoes and run for miles on her family’s Colorado ranch. She became one of the world’s top ultra-runners.

At 37, doctors isolated the cause of Van Deren’s epilepsy and removed a kiwi-sized piece of her brain. She hasn’t had a seizure since, but there have been neurological side effects, including memory loss and difficulty tracking time and direction. She also doesn’t feel pain like most people, a useful quirk for an ultra-runner who taxes her body to its limits. Van Deren has won races throughout North America, including the Yukon Arctic Ultra, running 430 miles across frozen tundra pulling a provisions sled.

As humans, we overcome incredible odds and difficulties. For someone like Diane, it is running for hundreds of miles in the freezing Arctic cold, and living with memory loss. To others, the ultra-marathon is putting two feet on the floor after a night of horrific pain and making it to the couch only to collapse again.

We have Thankful Thursdays on our Facebook page, and I am moved by the comments of gratitude for the seemingly smallest triumphs of making a sandwich or spending time with a friend or getting the mail.

I believe that the greatest hope is knowing that we are in this human race together. We can hold each other up. We can give each other hope, and we can be the hope others need. Together, we can hope and envision a world where people living with illness, pain and disability will be Invisible No More®.

Editor’s note: Join Wayne and learn more about the Invisible Disabilities Association’s social networks at the True Help Web Event, Claiming Power Over Pain, April 21. Register here.

“You Are Powerless” And Other Chronic Pain Lies

2016 April 6

webinar-Power-Over-PainBy Tai of Allsup 

I am grateful for pain-free days. Pain sucks. Can you imagine waking up each morning knowing each of the next 24 hours will be filled with debilitating pain? Scratch that. Imagine not being able to sleep at night because of the pain, and greeting each morning sleep-deprived, knowing every move you make during the day, even breathing, will cause you pain.

According to the Institute of Medicine’s 2011 report, Relieving Pain in America, more than 100 million Americans don’t know what a pain-free day feels like. They live with chronic pain that saps their physical strength, psychological stamina, and finances.

At Allsup, we work with thousands of individuals who live with chronic pain, due to multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, neuropathy, back/spinal disorders and other conditions. I’m constantly amazed at the resiliency, strength and optimism many of them display.

However, I’m also distressed at the toll chronic pain takes on their health, relationships and finances. They have asked Allsup to help them obtain Social Security Disability Insurance benefits because their condition is so severe, they can no longer work.

It is not surprising that individuals living with chronic pain experience feelings of powerlessness. This is especially true for individuals who endure pain that cannot be explained or quantified by medical tests. Pain treatments may not be effective, or they may not be accessible. For many, pain will be a permanent part of life.

But what do I hear from those amazing folks living with chronic pain? They tell me that the chronic pain message: “You are powerless,” is a lie. So are the messages, “I have nothing to offer,” “Nobody understands,” and “Maybe it’s all in my head?”

Claiming Power Over Pain

Research shows that feelings of powerlessness are associated with negative health outcomes. So how do you combat those feelings?

Find out at the Allsup True Help® Web event, “Claiming Power Over Pain,”  Thursday, April 21, at 11 a.m. CST. This interactive (and theory based-for you academic types) program is designed to help individuals nurture their power resources.

People living with chronic pain and experts from the American Chronic Pain Association, Arthritis Foundation, Invisible Disabilities ® Association and Allsup will help participants recharge, and create a customized plan to reclaim their power. And there are opportunities to earn prizes!

Please join us and share the registration link with your friends, support groups and patients at, and on social media using #AllsupWebinar.

7 Things I Wish I Knew When I was Diagnosed With Parkinson’s

2016 April 1

thelen_gilBy Guest Blogger Gil Thelen, research advocate with the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and a National Parkinson Foundation Moving Day® Walk for Parkinson’s participant

I wasn’t ready for a crash course in neurology. I was enjoying retirement, assuming my medical education was far behind me (I attended medical school before pursuing a journalism career).

But then my doctor said, “You have Parkinson’s disease.” Ever since, I have been immersed in Parkinson’s 101: what it means to live with a chronic neurological disease.

This April, Parkinson’s Awareness Month, my thoughts turn to the 5,000 people in the U.S. who will also hear those words this month. What do I wish I had known when I was diagnosed?

  1. It’s a snowflake disease. Just like a snowflake, each of us is unique and so is our Parkinson’s. Do not assume your disease will look like someone else’s.
  1. Some symptoms are invisible. Because many of us associate Parkinson’s with movement symptoms, we may ignore signs of depression, fatigue or constipation. In recent years, the medical field has recognized that such symptoms are part of the disease. If you notice them, tell your doctor so they can be treated.
  1. A Parkinson’s specialist can help. Most of us see a general neurologist for our care, without realizing we might benefit from seeing a movement disorder specialist. These neurologists, who have undergone two years of additional training, can help us to better manage the disease and stay current on research and clinical trials.
  1. We can benefit from complementary care. In addition to medications, we can benefit from physical, speech and occupational therapy and the knowledge of nutritionists and psychotherapists. Putting together a care team of these professionals early on can pay off for years to come.
  1. Local connections can help us keep up. Where can I locate a physical therapist? Who can help make my home safe from falls? The answers are easier to find when we are looped into the local Parkinson’s community. Get involved with support groups or organizations to keep tabs on what your community has to offer.
  1. Staying active is essential. Parkinson’s may affect our movement, but staying active can help in the long run. Research shows that intensive, sustained exercise can ease symptoms and combat fatigue, and that regular daily activity (going for walks, doing the laundry) can help improve life with Parkinson’s.
  1. We can live well. It is not only possible to corral the disease, but it is essential to do so. Find your passions. Mine are advocating for research and raising awareness. Never give in to the disease or lose hope.

Also remember that we are not alone. There are 1 million of us nationwide.

Groups such as the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation and the National Parkinson Foundation are available to support us. Contact them to find information and resources. Together, we can not only live well with Parkinson’s, one day we can end it.

Colon Cancer is Not an “Old Person’s Disease”

2016 March 30

Crawford-ClayBy Guest Blogger Crawford Clay, colorectal cancer survivor, certified patient support navigator and advocacy coordinator, Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA)

What can you do to avoid cancer? Don’t use tobacco products. Don’t drink alcohol to excess. Exercise and eat healthy. Use sunscreen. Those are all important tips. Here’s one you may not have thought of—get screened. Following the proper screening guidelines can prevent up to 90 percent of colon cancer.

  • Everyone starting at age 50 should get screened. However, family history, ethnicity and race can put an individual in a high-risk group and make them a candidate for early colon cancer screening. Ask your doctor when you should be screened.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only two in three adults who need to be screened are actually doing it. We can do better.
  • Colon cancer often has no symptoms until it’s at an advanced stage. In many cases, timely screening can prevent colon cancer by finding and removing polyps before they become cancer.

Examine Your Screening Options

Depending on your risk level, you have a variety of screening options. A colonoscopy is the gold standard and the only test for high-risk people like me. The prep is no fun, but it beats cancer. (I’ve had both, so I know.) Average risk people can chose less invasive options. Don’t know your risk? Take CCA’s risk quiz.

People think of colon cancer as an old person’s disease. Trust me, it’s not. I was diagnosed at 43. While rates for colon cancer in adults 50 and older have been declining due to improved screening rates, incidence rates in adults younger than 50 years have been increasing. If you are symptomatic, be seen by a doctor and get screened. Don’t accept, “Oh it’s probably x,” for an answer. Find out for sure.

Don’t think you can afford to be screened? That’s why we started Blue Hope screening. Would you like to help people who can’t afford screening? Look here.

There are more than 1 million colon cancer survivors in the U.S. My dad and I are two of them. Following the proper screening procedures will prevent you from adding to those numbers. Since the mid-1980s, the colon cancer survival rate has been increasing, due in part to greater awareness of screening and screening options, as well as improved treatment options.

If you want to know more about colon cancer, Colon Cancer Awareness Month or any of the CCA’s support programs, you can reach us through our website or call our Helpline at (877) 422-2030.

Do You Hear What I Hear?

2016 March 28

AAPDbuttonsBy Tai of Allsup

Many people don’t realize that disability advocacy has been a movement for many years.

Some of my colleagues here at Allsup’s headquarters in Belleville, Illinois, traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to attend the American Association of People with Disabilities’ (AAPD) Annual Leadership Awards Gala. AAPD has been working as a convener, connector and catalyst for change for two decades through its leadership and supporters.

AAPD presented the Paul G. Hearne Leadership Award to Robyn Powell and Alice Wong, recognizing them as emerging leaders in the national disability rights movement. Both women are empowering individuals with disabilities to find their voices and use them.

Robyn Powell and Disabled Parenting Project

Powell is the team leader for the Disabled Parenting Project (DPP), and served as an attorney advisor at the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency that advises the president and Congress on matters concerning people with disabilities.

DPP is helping to inform social policy by creating and promoting resources created by the disabled parenting community. First-person articles, videos and digital photos of parents allow them to tell their own stories and experiences in childrearing. Read some posts on their Facebook page.

Alice Wong and Disability Visibility Project

Wong is the founder and project coordinator, of the Disability Visibility Project (DVP), an online community dedicated to recording, amplifying and sharing disability stories and culture. In partnership with StoryCorps, DVP allows people to tell their stories on their own terms and archives them for posterity. Social media amplifies these stories and helps build a sense of community.

The DVP makes a special effort to record stories from underrepresented groups such as people of color, immigrants, veterans, and LGBTQIA people. To date, the DVP has recorded more than 100 oral histories, some which have been featured on National Public Radio. DVP also hosts regular Twitter chats, and is spearheading #CripTheVote, a nonpartisan campaign to engage voters and politicians in discussions about disability issues in the United States.

Stories That Are Told

In my role at Allsup, I have the privilege of hearing from individuals who have a wide range of abilities. I have noticed some recurring themes:

  • The importance of community and peers who have a shared experience.
  • The desire to feel included in society by having the same rights and responsibilities as other citizens.
  • People with disabilities are often the targets of biased, prejudiced and unfair treatment.
  • The desire to help others by sharing their stories and hard-earned experiences.
  • Frustration with not being heard.

Encouraging individuals to share their stories and providing the platform to do it is empowering.

Powell, Wong and many other individuals with and without disabilities are working to make sure these stories are told. The least any of us can do is listen.


Editor’s note: The Allsup True Help Web event, True Help Telling Your Story is a now available on-demand. If you have a story to tell, contact

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

2016 March 18

AmyZellmerHeadshotBy Guest Blogger Amy Zellmer, author and member of the Brain Injury Association of America Advisory Council

Two years ago I began a journey unlike anything I anticipated. Nothing could have prepared me for it, and I’m not sure I still understand it completely.

On a cold February morning in 2014, I slipped on a patch of ice. I had zero warning as my feet went out from under me, and I landed directly on the back of my head, with my skull taking the full impact of the fall.

As I got up, I knew immediately that something was very wrong. I had excruciating pain in my head, my vision was blurry, I was seeing the proverbial stars in my peripheral, and it took all the energy I could muster to walk myself back to my apartment. I was diagnosed with a severe concussion, and later I would come to understand the term traumatic brain injury (TBI). In addition to my brain injury, I also sustained major whiplash, torn muscles, and a dislocated sternum.

It’s amazing to me how our lives can change so drastically in literally the blink of an eye. I no longer had any idea how to use my microwave, I wasn’t able to read, my short term memory was completely gone—which was incredibly frustrating—I had dizziness and balance issues, numbers confused me, and I suffered from a great deal of aphasia (not being able to recall words, or saying the wrong word.)

What was most challenging was the fact that I could vividly remember the old me. I knew what I “should” be able to do, yet I couldn’t. I knew I used to have an internal GPS, and now I got lost driving to familiar locations. I used to be able to multitask, and now doing even one chore at a time expended all of my energy. I used to read a book a week, and now I couldn’t even read a chapter.

All of my symptoms were invisible; no one could see them or understand them. Friends slowly started slipping away, telling me, “It’s just a concussion” and to “Get over it.” It was an isolating and dark place.

At the one year mark, I began writing as a form of therapy. On a whim, I submitted my story to The Huffington Post, and, to my delight, they published it.

I began receiving emails and messages from people all over the world, telling me that I had put into words what they hadn’t been able to. In an instant, I was surrounded by people who understood what I was going through. I created a Facebook group called The TBI Tribe as a place where we could all get together and share our experiences.

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and I am thrilled to be attending BIA Day on Capitol Hill once again this year in Washington DC.

Learn more about the Brain Injury Association of America at

With The VA, It’s Hurry Up And Wait…And Wait…And Wait

2016 March 15

BrettBuchananBy Brett of Allsup

When the word comes down for GIs to grab their “go bag” and head off for another combat deployment, they can’t tell their commanders to hang on for a few years and they’ll get to it when they can.

But that’s exactly what the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is telling veterans who file for VA disability benefits. In so many words, officials are saying, “A lot of vets are applying for disability benefits, so please find a place in line and we’ll get to you when we can.”

Waiting times are awful and getting worse. The VA takes credit for greatly reducing the number of backlogged claims in recent years, but Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs disagrees. During a hearing in January, Blumenthal charged that the VA simply moved much of the initial claims backlog to the appeals stage by denying more claims that will “languish for years and years and years” in the VA system. Blumenthal added that the VA has “reduced the numbers, but simply shifted the problem.”

From our experience at Allsup, it takes about 24 months to receive a second decision after appealing your initial rating decision. Expect to wait 48 months if you live in St. Petersburg, Florida, the VA’s busiest office. If you’re denied and appeal a second time, your claim will be forwarded to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA). Then, just sit back and wait another two to three years for the appeal to be certified by the Board. Then it’s an average of 357 days for a final Board decision.

For applicants who go through the entire process, that’s a wait of more than four years to get a final decision.

There are a few things you can do to minimize your waiting time. First, make sure you have all your paperwork and documents in order and on hand. This includes your DD Form 214 or separation papers and all medical documentation, both civilian and military.

Another thing you can do is to let us know if the VA denies your claim. As a VA-accredited claim agent, I’ll do everything to help with your VA disability appeal and work to speed your claim through the system. Good luck, and thank you for your service.

Click here for a YouTube video about Matt’s experience with his VA disability benefits and help from Allsup.

Do You Know The Bottom Line About Colon Cancer?

2016 March 9

Crawford-ClayBy Guest Blogger Crawford Clay, colorectal cancer survivor, certified patient support navigator and advocacy coordinator, Colon Cancer Alliance

I was diagnosed with stage III rectal cancer in May 2004. I was 43—my daughters were 8 and 6. My family had to deal with the side effects, questions, fear and loneliness that come with cancer on our own. Together, we made it through and life is good now. Our experience would have been better had we known about the Colon Cancer Alliance.

Hearing “You have cancer,” left me stunned. I had so many questions. Will I live? Do I have treatment options? Why me? My family and I had to figure all that out on our own.

Now I know I could call Carol or Val, or one of the many Colon Cancer Alliance’s other certified patient support navigators, on their free helpline and get answers from someone who truly understands the patient experience. Whether you are newly diagnosed or need a second opinion, they have the answers and support you need.

A cancer diagnosis changes everything. It’s scary. Friends and family might pull away or act strange. Luckily, I met Fred. He was a cancer survivor and just meeting another survivor made me feel better. With the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Buddy Program you don’t have to trust luck to meet a fellow survivor or caregiver.

You can also join Blue Hope Nation and Colon Town on Facebook.

Cancer is costly. Almost 60 percent of phone calls to the Colon Cancer Alliance Helpline are about money. Expenses expand. Income shrinks. I kept working, but money was still tight. Money impacts treatment.

I wish I had known about the Colon Cancer Alliance’s Financial Resource Guide. The guide will connect you with Allsup and many other resources to help with everything from copays to transportation to insurance and more.

The Colon Cancer Alliance also offers the Blue Hope Treatment Award. This is a one-time grant of $300 available to people in active treatment for colon cancer.

But my bottom line—pun intended—is this: you don’t have to go through what I went through.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and this is your time to make your digestive health a top priority. Up to 90 percent of colon cancers can be prevented by following proper screening guidelines.

If you want to know more about colon cancer, Colon Cancer Awareness Month, or any support programs the Colon Cancer Alliance offers, you can reach us through our website or call our Helpline at (877) 422-2030.