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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
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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.

Who Wants My Underwear? Barely Used Boxers Go to Highest Bidder

2017 March 27
undy run

By Tai Prohaska

Blue polka dots covered Forest Park in St. Louis last Saturday as nearly 2,000 runners and walkers raised awareness at the Colon Cancer Alliance Undy Run. Dotted boxers were official garb for registered participants, and they were often accompanied by T-shirts emblazoned with “bum puns” and scatological humor.

For example, the Hershey Squirts team shirt was a big hit. The poop emoji was popular too. Runners were encouraged to “Race to the End” and walkers were out “Strollin’ for the Colon”. Allsup team members wore “Team Becky” T-shirts with sneaker prints on the back, with the message, “Stomp Out Cancer.” Other shirts encouraged folks to “Protect Your ASSets.”

Humor helps us talk about issues that aren’t easy to address. Of cancers that affect both men and women, colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. One in 3people diagnosed with colon cancer will die of the disease. But it doesn’t have to be fatal. If detected early or in the pre-cancerous stages, colon cancer can be successfully treated or avoided.

Organizations like the Colon Cancer Alliance are instrumental in raising awareness and improving access to life-saving screenings like colonoscopies. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of adults aged 50 or older (about 22 million people)—the age group at greatest risk of developing colorectal cancer—have not been screened as recommended. In addition, colon cancer diagnoses in people under age 50 have been steadily increasing.

Workplace issues are significant for those diagnosed during their prime earning years. They often need information about applying for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits that provide a monthly income based on what an individual has paid into the system, and access to Medicare.

The Undy Run is one of my favorite events. It not only provides a safe place to run around in my underwear once a year, it also gives me the opportunity to share information on how to apply for disability benefits with individuals and families affected by colon cancer.

This year was really cool because I placed third in my age group for the 5k. Joe McBroom, an Allsup VA- accredited Claims Agent who helps veterans with their disability appeals, took first in his age group.

The Undy Run is also a fundraiser. So, I am willing to part with my award-winning pair of 2017 St. Louis Undy Run boxers, as worn in the photo, to the highest bidder. Submit a bid by clicking on the comment box under the blog headline. All proceeds will go to Team Allsup’s Undy Run fundraising effort.

Next : What to Expect During a Colonoscopy

Trusting Your Spiritual “G.U.T.”

2017 March 22
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Rev. LaWanda Smith Long, MDiv-Lead Chaplain, Cancer Treatment Centers of America

We have all heard the phrases “listen to your gut, or pay attention to your gut.”

We all have experienced those gut and intuitive feelings that seem to be trying to tell us something.  Many times we ignore those gut messages because they cause us to pause and ponder. We dismiss them as nothing and refuse to listen to them.

What are those gut messages? As a chaplain and minister, I would like to assert that sometimes those gut messages may be an inner witness of God’s voice speaking to us about hidden truths about what is going on in our body, soul or spirit.

As a mnemonic device, I use the word gut as an acronym: G.U.T, as in God Uttering Truth.  In honor of colorectal cancer awareness month, I want you to consider trusting your spiritual G.U.T.  God speaks truth to our inward parts. God speaks truth to our inner being where we have a sense of peace and tranquility far from our worries and fears.

I invite you to explore those G.U.T. messages by listening to your body, your soul and spirit. Quiet your spirit to hear what God is trying to tell you on a practical level about your health and about your life.

Perhaps your spiritual G.U.T. is telling you to go to the doctor and check out that unexplained symptom. Trust your G.U.T. and go. Sometimes your G.U.T. may say to get that second opinion about a diagnosis or treatment without feeling guilty. Trusting your spiritual G.U.T. will help you find your voice and become a participating advocate for your health and wellbeing.

After you listen, start to talk. Talk to your family about medical issues that may run in your family. Talk to your doctors about symptoms you are experiencing, no matter how embarrassing the description of the symptom may seem. Communicate with others and stay connected to those who can help you.

Stay connected to your loved ones, your faith community, friends and medical community. Most importantly, stay connected to you. Stay positive and maintain a spirit of hope.

 

Next: Undy Run Recap

Get a Dog

2017 March 21
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By Crawford Clay, Certified Patient & Family Support Navigator, Colon Cancer Alliance

Want to prevent cancer? Get a dog.

That’s the best advice I’ve ever received. We got our dog, Ranger, Christmas of 2005. That was the year I finished treatment for stage III rectal cancer. That was 12 years ago. I’ve been cancer free this whole time.

While there are many other things you can do to prevent cancer, dog ownership is the easiest and most fun. Research links both tobacco and alcohol use to many common forms of cancer, including colon cancer. Quitting tobacco is the biggest thing you can do to reduce your chances of getting cancer. It’s also much harder than getting a dog.

What is so important about dog ownership? Ranger has to be walked every day. I like to exercise but not in the cold. Ranger loves the cold. He doesn’t care about rain; he’s got to get his 30 minutes in. Walking 30 minutes a day lowers stress, strengthens your cardiovascular system and can led to weight loss. Stress and obesity are both linked to cancer.

That said, even if you can’t afford a dog or you live in a place that doesn’t allow dogs you should still try to exercise. Try getting some fish or another pet. Relaxing on the couch will make both of you happier.

Other things are linked to colon cancer as well. People with diabetes, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease are all at a higher risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer also runs in families like mine.

Colon cancer prevention also has a special weapon more powerful than even dog ownership. Screening actually prevents colon cancer.

Everyone should be screened starting at 50 (African Americans should be screened starting at 45.) If you have a close relative with colon cancer, you should be screened 10 years before they were diagnosed. Since I was diagnosed at 43, my daughters should be screened at 33.

If you are at average risk of colon cancer, any U.S. Preventive Services Task Force approved test is fine. If you are at high risk, then a colonoscopy is the only test for you—it is the only test that can find and remove polyps.

You are average risk if you have no close relatives with colon cancer, you don’t have any disease like diabetes or IBS that increases your risk and you aren’t symptomatic.

Symptoms of colon cancer include bleeding, change in bathroom habits, change in stool shape, abdominal pain, and bloating. If you have any of these symptoms see a doctor and find out what the problem is. It may not be colon cancer, but it’s something.

Ranger is a chocolate lab, spaniel mix. He likes long walks, naps and having his ears scratched. He is an avid Dress in Blue Day model and aspiring marathon lounger.

Next: Trusting your GUT

Back to Work with an Ostomy

2017 March 20
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By Jeanine Gleba, Advocacy Manager; Jay Pacitti, Executive Director, and

Ed Pfueller, Communications Manager, United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc.

From the board room to construction to long shifts in a hospital, people living with an ostomy (colostomy, ileostomy, urostomy, etc.) work every job imaginable. Embracing a new normal in life after ostomy surgery is key to living an active life. For many, that daily norm means returning to work.

According to the American College of Surgeons once you have recovered from surgery, your ostomy should not limit your return to work. The timing of your return depends on your individual recovery and the physical demands of your job.

Whether to tell your employer or co-workers is a personal choice depending on your work situation, but some feel it helps if you require frequent breaks or other accommodations. Remember that your co-workers will likely not realize you have an ostomy unless you tell them.

Here are a few tips from United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. (UOAA’s) Facebook community and Advocacy Network.

  1. Be Prepared: In the case of a possible leak, have a complete change of your ostomy supplies as well as a change of clothes you can bring to the restroom.“Pack in a backpack, zippered tote, or small duffle bag that you can store in your desk drawer or locker.” –Jane Ashley-publishing/author
  2. Know Your Rights: You have legal rights under the American with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits employment-based discrimination. Workplace complaints to the UOAA are rare but they still occur. Read our self-advocacy resource here.“My coworkers all knew, especially of the trials and tribulations pre-op. But still, there was hostility and harassment at times.” Jacque- Retired Government.
  3. Dispose/Empty Your Pouch Properly: Investigate the best restroom/changing facilities to empty or change your pouch. Consider the use of pouch or ostomy deodorizer drops or spray, and plastic bags for disposal. “My purse contains a 1-ounce bottle of Poo-Pourri, a Tide pen, a lubricating deodorant sachet, and baby wipes.” Margie -Academia.
  4. Find the Best Clothing for Your Job: Consider loose clothing if sitting for long hours, or try a stoma belt if you have an active job. A skin barrier may be helpful if you perspire on the job. “I wear a hernia belt”- Megan-Nursing
  5. Don’t Stress Stoma Noise: If your stoma decides to speak up at the next meeting, relax. You may be the only one who notices “All bodies make sounds” Penny- Construction
  6. Hydrate: “Stay on top of your fluid intake. Don’t get distracted and have it result in an ER visit.” Heather Brigstock-Nursing
  7. Find Support: Know that you are not alone. UOAA has more than 330 affiliated support groups  that offer advice, information and support.

With some preparation and patience you’ll soon be confident in the workplace, and for many, feeling in better health than before surgery.

UOAA promotes quality of life for people with ostomies and continent diversions through information, support, advocacy and collaboration. For more information, visit www.ostomy.org or call (800) 826-0826.

Next: Canines and Colon Cancer

Easing Colon Cancer’s Financial Burden

2017 March 17
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By Lindsay Frye, Meredith’s Miracles

Cancer is a frightening word, no matter its context. It is a devastating and shocking diagnosis that can strike anyone at any time. Most people are familiar with some of the treatments and happenings that come with any cancer diagnosis.

However, unless you or someone close to you are fighting the battle, you do not get to witness the other hardships that come along. A cancer diagnosis carries a huge financial burden. Not only is treatment expensive, but life still has to go on.  A cancer diagnosis does not halt bills from arriving, cars from breaking or children from growing. In fact, cancer can completely take away a person’s ability to work and provide for their family’s most simple needs.

Meredith’s Miracles Colon Cancer Foundation witnesses this financial stress daily, as we converse with young (those diagnosed under age 40) colon cancer patients struggling to keep up with bills or keep the lights on in their homes. We provide financial assistance through grants that cover daily living expenses such as rent and mortgages, daycare costs, utilities, car payments and repairs so that patients can focus on their families and their health. Meredith’s Miracles began when a brave young woman wanted to pay forward the generosity she received during her fight with colon cancer.

We were thrilled to lighten someone’s burden by giving out one “miracle” in 2009 to now becoming the leading organization offering financial assistance to young colon cancer patients across the United States with non-medical expenses.

The stories of past-due bills piling up are endless amongst the cancer patient population, especially when these courageous people are unable to work due to their treatment schedules and side effects from their treatment. Meredith’s Miracles loves being able to bestow miracles upon these brave young people. We have granted over $271,350 to over 215 young colon cancer patients in 43 states. These grants have been able to put smiles on faces and lift spirits of young people fighting some of the toughest fights of their lives.
If you know someone fighting a cancer diagnosis, could you think of a small way you could ease his or her financial burden? Could you bring their family a meal because they might not have the energy to cook? Could you fill up their gas tank so they could make it to their treatment? These small tokens of generosity go so much further than you may realize during these cancer battles.

Next: Returning to Work After Ostomy Surgery