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February is American Heart Month

2017 February 13

By the Old Sarge

I lost a friend a couple of summers ago.

Joe was a fit middle-aged man and an avid golfer. He died as he was finishing a solo practice round on a local course.

A group playing behind Joe found his body on the tee box of the final hole. The cause of death was a massive heart attack. The word around the clubhouse was that Joe died with a smile on his face because he was doing something that he loved.

I don’t know about that because I wasn’t there. I do know that his wife wasn’t smiling at his funeral.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and it’s responsible for 1 in 4 of all deaths. Joe was one of the 2,200 people who die every day from a heart attack or stroke.

Doctors offer the following early signs of heart disease that demand immediate action.

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

February is American Heart Month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following tips for heart health:

  • See your doctor. Schedule regular check-ups even if you don’t think you are sick.
  • Add exercise to your daily routine. Begin by walking 15 minutes, three times each week. By mid-month, increase to 30 minutes, three times each week.
  • Eat healthy. Cook heart-healthy meals at home at least three times each week.
  • Quit smoking. This can cut your risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Take your medication. Talk to your doctor if you have trouble taking your medicines on time or if you’re having side effects.

I didn’t know Joe well enough to know if he had experienced early warning signs of a heart attack, or even if he followed the CDC’s health advice. I do know that it’s never too late to make small changes that can improve your heart health. American Heart Month is a good time to start.

Apply For Medicare Savings Program Even If You’re Over Income Limit

2017 February 9

By Aaron of Allsup

Medicare beneficiaries who are still working, but struggling financially, may be eligible for help paying their Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance) premiums.

All 50 states offer financial assistance to low-income people with limited resources. Even those who exceed those financial limits, however, should consider applying for a Medicare Savings Program (MSP) because some income and assets may not be considered.

The 2017 limits have not yet been released, but in 2016, individuals could get help paying for their Medicare premiums if they earned less than $1,208 per month. The limit for married couples was $1,622. The individual limit for resources, or assets, was $7,280, and a married couple must have had less than $10,930 in resources to qualify for assistance.

Limits are slightly higher in Alaska and Hawaii.

No state counts the following as income:

  • The first $20 of all income
  • The first $65 of monthly wages
  • One-half of your monthly wages after the $65 is deducted
  • Food stamps

Resources that are counted include:

  • Money in checking and savings accounts
  • Stocks
  • Bonds

Countable resources do not include:

  • Your home
  • One car
  • Life insurance with a cash value of less than $1,500
  • Wedding and engagement rings
  • Up to $1,500 for burial expenses each for you and your wife
  • Furniture
  • Other household and personal items

If you answer yes to the following questions, call your state’s Medicaid program and ask if you are eligible for an MSP.

  1. Do you have, or are you eligible, for Medicare Part A?
  2. Is your income at or below the income limits listed above?
  3. Do you have limited resources that are below the limits listed above?

It’s important to call or fill out an application if you think you could qualify for savings—even if your income or resources are higher than the amounts listed here.

Click here for more information on the Medicare Savings Programs.

Six Reasons Why People Don’t Take Their Blood Pressure Medicines

2017 February 7

Tai Prohaska, Allsup

High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death and disability in the U.S.

Blood pressure medicine (along with a healthy diet and exercise) can protect the heart, brain and kidneys by keeping blood pressure under control, but only if patients take it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many of the 75 million people with high blood pressure in the U.S. do not have it under control.

According to statistics, if you are an adult American, there’s about a 1 in 3chance you have high blood pressure. The odds are even greater that you know someone with high blood pressure. So, during American Heart Month in February, take the following information to “heart,” share it and take action.

The CDC lists reasons why many Americans do not take their blood pressure medicine:

  1. They don’t have it: Nearly 25 percent of new prescriptions for blood pressure medicine are never filled.
  2. They don’t have symptoms. People with high blood pressure often don’t have symptoms and don’t treat a problem they don’t notice.
  3. The directions are complex. People don’t know when to take which pills when they have multiple medicines.
  4. They don’t like the side effects.
  5. They forget to take their medicine or refill their prescriptions on time (see reason number one).
  6. They cost too much (again, see reason number one).

What you can do

The CDC suggests the following steps to manage or help a loved one manage blood pressure medicine:

  • Follow your healthcare team’s instructions on how much medicine to take, how often, and how long to take it.
  • Ask questions about how to correctly take your medicines and why you need them.
  • Use a blood pressure monitor at home to keep track of your blood pressure between medical appointments.
  • Use weekly pill boxes or a mobile app to keep track of when to take medicines.

In addition, you can:

  • Ask your healthcare provider to simplify blood pressure treatment. For example, ask for 90-day refills and combination medicines and coordinate pill refills for the same date.
  • Ask for generic medicines.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about unwanted side effects and ways they can be lessened or eliminated.
  • Share this blog with someone with high blood pressure and ask if you can help them with reminders.

Allsup has helped many people with high blood pressure and cardiovascular conditions obtain Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits when they could not continue working. The online tool, empower by Allsup®, makes it to find out if you are likely eligible for SSDI benefits.

To read personal stories of people forced to stop working because of high blood pressure or heart disease, visit Allsup.com.

Feb. 2 Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Day

2017 February 1

By The Old Sarge

Groundhog Day is observed every year on Feb. 2, but Punxsutawney Phil shares his day with a chronic illness that affects more than 1.5 million Americans.

The Rheumatoid Patient Foundation (RPF) has designated that date as Rheumatoid Awareness Day.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a progressive inflammatory disease that causes severe pain in the joints and organ tissues. Symptoms include:

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints
  • Symmetrical pattern of affected joints
  • Joint inflammation oftenaffecting the wrist and finger joints closest to the hand
  • Joint inflammation sometimesaffecting other joints, including the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles, and feet
  • Fatigue, occasional fevers, a loss of energy
  • Pain and stiffness lasting for more than 30 minutes in the morning or after a long rest

RA doesn’t differentiate between race, ethnic group or gender, but women are diagnosed more often than men. Older people are affected most often, but teenagers and younger children are also affected.  According to the RPF, Most people with RA experience pain every day.  Nearly half of the participants in Allsup’s “True Help Claiming Power Over Pain” program were living with RA.

The RPF notes that it isn’t an accident that Rheumatoid Awareness Day also comes at the start of Heart Awareness Month.

“Studies show that rheumatoid disease may affect the heart prior to diagnosis,” the organization reported in a news release. “Rheumatoid patients have higher incidence of stroke and atrial fibrillation, in addition to the specific affects of the disease upon the heart itself.”

The RPF is asking the rheumatoid patient community and the public to support Rheumatoid Awareness Day by raising awareness and sharing educational resources via social media and participating in a live online chat.

If severe rheumatoid arthritis is preventing you from working, visit www.allsup.com to learn how Allsup can help you receive the Social Security Disability Insurance benefits that you paid for while you were still working.

Women in U.S. Still Dying from a Preventable Disease

2017 January 27

Cervical Health Awareness Month - Get regular Pap tests.The risk of dying from cervical cancer in the U.S. is higher for women than previously thought, especially if you are black and older than 65, according to recent analysis conducted by Johns Hopkins University.

The reasons for the racial disparity—black women are twice as likely to die from cervical cancer than white women— are not clear, but may have to do with differences in access to preventive care, screening rates and quality of treatment.

Preventive care and screening are key because cervical cancer is highly preventable and treatable if detected early. A Pap smear detects cancerous and precancerous cells in the cervix, and the HPV vaccine can prevent most cases of cervical cancer.

Current screening guidelines (released in 2012) recommend women age 21 to 65 be screened every three to five years. Screening is not recommended after age 65 if a woman has had three normal Pap tests in the last decade. These guidelines may be changing. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 15 percent of cases of cervical cancer are found in women over 65. Click here to send an e-card.

What You Can Do

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Encourage the women you know to follow the recommended screening guidelines. If they are 65 or older, let them know they should talk to their doctors about the need for screening, especially if they have ever had an abnormal Pap smear.

The American Cancer Society reports that in the U.S., Hispanic women are most likely to get cervical cancer, followed by African-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and whites. These statistics, as well as the recent research out of Johns Hopkins, underscore the need for culturally competent education, outreach and care, as well as ensuring equitable access to quality care. Healthcare providers and interested individuals can check out the National Partnership for Action for resources and help addressing health disparities.

Free and Low-Cost Screening

The National Cervical Cancer Coalition has information on free and low-cost cervical cancer screening. Click here to find resources near you.

Help with Social Security Disability Insurance

The impact of cervical cancer on a woman’s ability to work depends on the stage of cancer and her treatment options. If she anticipates being out of the work force for 12 months or more, she may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. A free assessment is available at Expert.Allsup.com.

Vets Who Served at Camp Lejeune May Be Eligible For VA Disability Benefits

2017 January 18

By The Old Sarge

Attention veterans and military family members who served or lived at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. If you suffer from certain medical conditions, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Over a five-year period beginning in March, the VA will begin providing about $2.2 billion to veterans and their families who were exposed to contaminated drinking water at the Marine base. The VA announced on Jan. 13 that there is scientific and medical evidence that shows an association to water contaminates on Lejeune and certain diseases.

The new regulations cover veterans that were stationed there for at least 30 days cumulative between August 1953 through December 1987. To qualify for the cash payouts, veterans must have been stationed there for at least 30 days cumulative during that period.

The VA estimates that up to 900,000 military members may have been exposed to the contaminated water. The VA says that as of Friday, Jan. 13, it had already received approximately 1,400 disability claims related to Lejeune and its toxic water.

Veterans, Reservists and Guardsmen who served at the Marine bases during that period, and who have been diagnosed with one or more of the following presumptive conditions, may qualify for VA disability benefits:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

The VA presumes that specific medical disabilities diagnosed in military veterans were caused by military service and disability benefits can be awarded without a medical opinion.

Visit Allsup.com or email  AVDS@allsupinc.com to learn how Allsup can help if you or someone you know has been denied VA disability compensation benefits, or if you believe you should have received a higher disability rating.

empower by Allsup®—Making Things Possible

2017 January 9

LW-blogBy Leia of Allsup

“For most people, technology makes things easier. For people with disabilities, technology

makes things possible.”—Mary Pat Radabaugh

If you have a smart phone and internet service, you have opportunities 24/7 to learn, grow and connect on a global scale. For many people with disabilities, technology is shattering barriers to communication, interaction and social participation.

Websites and mobile devices and services are the technologies that can contribute most to the social and economic inclusion of persons with disabilities, including employment and access to government services, according to the World Bank Group’s 2016 paper, Bridging the Disability Divide through Digital Technologies.

A good example is empower by Allsup®, a dual purpose online tool that helps individuals determine their likelihood of qualifying for the government-run Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program and get started on their Social Security disability application. The software provides personal guidance throughout the SSDI application process and helps individuals use benefits to return to work. empower has text enlargement, scripts to accommodate hearing impairments and videos that walk individuals through the process.

Browser extensions such as those developed for the Chrome browser, which include text to speech, click-free browsing and enhancements that aid readability and comprehension and  reduce screen distractions are additional examples of technology helping individuals with disabilities maximize their internet use.

However, empower and other innovations will only help people if they know they are available and have access to them. Studies show that Americans with disabilities use the internet approximately half as much as those without disabilities and their rate of adoption lags behind the general population.

Improving access to technology

Assistive technology is any item, equipment, software or product system that increases, maintains, or improves the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities, according to the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA).

While some innovations are free or low-cost, the price of assistive technology is often a barrier to access. Fortunately, there are resources that can help. According to ATIA:

  • Government programs (Social Security, veterans benefits or state Medicaid agencies) pay for certain assistive technology if a doctor prescribes it as a necessary medical device.
  • Private health insurance pays for certain assistive technology if a doctor prescribes it as a necessary medical or rehabilitative device.
  • Rehabilitation and job training programs, may pay for assistive technology and training to help people get jobs.
  • Employers may pay for assistive technology that is a reasonable accommodation.

The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) has a state directory of assistive technology programs that offer:

  • Device loan and demonstration, and in some states, borrowing programs to “try out” devices.
  • Funding resources for purchasing or acquiring assistive technology.
  • Device exchange and recycling programs that provide used equipment at little to no cost.

There are also Alternative Financing Programs that provide affordable loans to purchase assistive technology. Organizations like EveryoneOn offer high-speed, low-cost internet service, computers and digital literacy courses.

Share this blog and the resources listed to raise awareness and make technology more accessible to all.

SSDI, Veterans Disability Benefits Increase A Modest 0.3 Percent

2017 January 5

dan-allsup-blogBy the Old Sarge

If you receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or veterans disability benefits, you’ll see an increase in your monthly check this year.

You’ll have to look closely, however, because the 2017 cost-of-living (COLA) increase is only 0.3 percent.

To determine the increase, the Social Security Administration (SSA) used third-quarter results reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. The increase takes effect in January 2017 for SSDI recipients. Automatic COLA increases have been applied to Social Security benefits since 1975. In the most recent decade, however, there was no increase in 2010, 2011 or 2016.

The average SSDI benefit will increase to $1,171 from $1,167, an increase of just $48 per year. Unfortunately, because the Department of Agriculture has forecasted that supermarket costs will jump 1 to 2 percent this year, a COLA bump this small won’t compensate for increased costs for things like healthcare, housing or groceries

It won’t even cover higher Medicare Part B premiums for 2017.

The good news is that there are resources and programs that could help. Allsup recently hosted the live web event, True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Finances. Patient advocates and resource experts from the National Stroke Association, the Colon Cancer Alliance, Caregiver Action Network and Allsup provided information on employment and disability, the SSDI program, and financial resources for people with disabilities and caregivers. It is now available to view on YouTube, and you can leave questions in the comment section.

Remembering Pearl Harbor

2016 December 20

dan-allsup-blogBy The Old Sarge of Allsup

Most generations have an “I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when it happened” moment.

For the millennial generation, it was the terrorist attack of 9/11. For me and other older baby boomers, it was the assassination of JFK. I was in a high school class, and I distinctly remember when our vice principal announced over the public address system that President Kennedy had been shot.

For the men and women of what newsman Tom Brokaw called the Greatest Generation, it was the moment on Dec. 7, 1941, when they first heard about Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Two hours later, thousands were dead and wounded, and the U.S. Pacific Fleet was decimated. The U.S. entered World War II the next day when it declared war on Japan.

Earlier this month, thousands of people gathered at Pearl Harbor with the few remaining survivors and bowed their heads to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the attack. President Barack Obama had a poignant message to them.

“Over 2,400 American patriots lost their lives in the attack on Pearl Harbor—military and civilian, men, women and children,” Obama said in a statement. “Their sacrifice galvanized millions of GIs and Rosie the Riveters who answered the call to defend liberty at its moment of maximum peril. In the hours after the attack, President Roosevelt promised that ‘the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.’ Thanks to the heroism of a generation, we did.”

Other wars and global conflicts have followed Pearl Harbor and the heroes of World War II. We at Allsup salute them.

Visit Allsup.com to see how Allsup can help if you or someone you know has been denied VA disability compensation benefits, or if you believe you should have received a higher disability rating.

Empty Chairs

2016 December 13

martha-raymondBy Guest Blogger Martha Raymond, MA, CPN, founder and CEO of The Raymond Foundation and executive director of Michael’s Mission

Loss. Loneliness. Emptiness. The feelings are palpable.

In my dining room I treasure the antique chairs (circa 1870) that once filled my childhood home. My family home was once a Civil War Stagecoach Inn, a landmark filled with rich history. But to me, the home where I grew up was all about family, security, unwavering support and love.

Holidays Remind Us Of Lost Loved Ones

When I look at these chairs, the chairs where my Mom and Dad once sat, I reflect on all of life’s occasions where their presence, laughter and conversation is greatly missed—holidays, birthdays, Sunday dinners—milestones both large and small.

We all have experienced great loss. No one is immune to the sick, gnawing feeling that we carry in our hearts.

We go about our daily lives, cope with our own unique feelings the best we can, and, in many cases, put on a brave face in front of others. For me, the best way to cope has always been to help others understand this disease, and to advocate for prevention and screening. And so for the past 25 years, I have turned my pain into a purpose, becoming a passionate colon cancer advocate.

Trust me, I wish this passion never had to find me. I wish I had never heard the words: colon cancer. I loathe this disease and what it did to my family. But helping others has been and will continue to be my passion, and in doing this work, I keep the spirit of my Mom and Dad with me.

Medical advances are significant since my parents were diagnosed in the 1970s and 1980s. A generation ago, screening tests were not readily available for patients experiencing symptoms. The colonoscopy was in its infancy and still in clinical trials.

Take Action, Screen For Colon Cancer

Today, however, there are screening options to help eradicate colon cancer. We may not have had these resources to help prior generations, but we do now.

Please join me in this call to action: Take a moment and ask your loved ones about your family health history. Do you have colon or GI cancers in your family? Do you have GI symptoms or feel that something isn’t quite right? Trust your intuition and request a screening test. Screening is the smart choice. Do this in memory of those who didn’t have a choice.

In honor of my parents, Margaret and Patrick, I remain passionate about eradicating colon cancer.

Please join my efforts so that another family does not have an empty chair where a loved one once sat.

Published on All Things Disability with permission of The Raymond Foundation; Copyright © 2016 by The Raymond Foundation. Contact Martha Raymond at mraymond@TheRaymondFoundation.org for permissions information.