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Agent Orange Back In The News, Important To Veterans’ Disability Claims

2015 January 26

military-uniformBy The Old Sarge

For decades after Vietnam, we heard all the horrible stories caused by exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange. War veterans charged that being near the chemical caused diabetes, leukemia, heart disease—even horrible birth defects for their children.

The U.S. military sprayed tens of millions of gallons of this nasty stuff all over Southeast Asia. The intention was to destroy the crops used to supply the enemy and to strip the forested areas they used for cover and concealment.

The chemical companies who manufactured Agent Orange and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs argued for years that the herbicide was harmless to humans. By 1993, the VA had granted benefits to only 486 of the nearly 40,000 veterans who had filed disability claims. After numerous medical studies indicated that exposure may indeed result in serious health problems, however, the VA began approving more claims.

Brett Buchannan is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and an Allsup VA-accredited claims agent who helps veterans file disability appeals. The former Army artillery officer told me that proving VA eligibility for disability benefits is never an easy task, especially for Agent Orange exposure.

“Agent Orange claims are confusing because vets will not be awarded benefits just because they were exposed to the chemical. You also must have a resulting disability,” he explained “It’s a two-step process: First, the VA has to concede that you were exposed, then the veteran must prove that the disease or disorder is a result of that exposure.”

Brett said the VA assumes that 13 disabilities are related to Agent Orange, and that proving service connection is almost automatic.

Forty years after the last American troops left Vietnam, Agent Orange is back in the news. In January, the Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit, non-governmental agency, released a report that determined that two dozen C-123 aircraft, which were used to spray the chemical, had contained residual amounts of Agent Orange in the decade after the war.

Although the VA has repeatedly denied former C-123 crewmembers’ disability claims for Agent Orange exposure, now it has assembled a group of experts to respond to this report.

Click here for more information on how to apply for Agent Orange-related VA benefits.

Go to Allsup Disability Veterans Appeal Service® to learn how Allsup can help if you’ve been denied VA disability benefits. Or, call (888) 372-1190 to talk with an Allsup specialist about proceeding with a veterans disability appeal.

Brain Farts

2015 January 23

brain-scanBy Elizabeth Schreckenberg, Allsup Guest Blogger

When I dropped off my son at a party yesterday, the birthday girl’s mom wanted to know his birth date so she could jot it down on a waiver. I stood there and thought and thought.

It had been a busy weekend. Three sports events the day before meant I had driven around all day, keeping my daughter occupied with toys and snacks and songs, and I had gotten nothing done at home. I knew I had to fold laundry, get uniforms washed, put dishes in the dishwasher…and had I signed my daughter up for T-ball yet?

Because all these things had been on my mind as I drove my son to the party, they were all stuck in my head. Therefore, I could not pull out a date that I have known for the past ten years.

“Mom, it’s April 10th,” my son finally said.

Yep, I was having a brain fart. We all have them.

But imagine having them 100 times per day. That’s what happens after a brain aneurysm rupture.

My mom is at home, enjoying sleeping in her own bed, sitting at the kitchen table having meals served to her by her ever faithful husband, and sitting on the couch by her cozy fireplace catching up on episodes of Parenthood. She is still weak and very tired, but much of the time, she seems happy.

Other times, she’s frustrated. Understandably. She can hold a conversation well and even asks what each pill is for that is put in front of her. But if you put her on the spot and ask her to pull something specific from her brain, sometimes she can’t. One time I asked her a simple question like, “Are you finished?” and after a long pause, she said, “I’m sorry honey. I know it seems like I’m not going to answer you, but I just can’t think.”

Yesterday a speech therapist came over for the first time. My mom did the cordial “I’m feeling, okay, thank you,” when asked how she was. But then when the therapist asked her to name days of the week and months of the year, and in what state her grandson lives, that was hard. The therapist told her she could ask me for help if she wanted to, but my mom shook her head.

“Yeah, but that seems silly,” she said. See, she knows that she knows the answers. She just can’t get them out. The therapist explained to her that that was what they would work on in the upcoming weeks – training her brain to pull information out and put it into words.

After about 20 minutes of questions, my mom was exhausted. The therapist stood up and put her jacket on and told my mom she’d see her next time.

“I do have one more question though,” she said. “Do you like baseball?”

My mom looked relaxed and back in conversation mode.

“Yes, I love baseball,” she said.

“Great. Do you have a favorite team?” asked the therapist. And in the blink of an eye, my mom answered, “Yes, the Cardinals.”

“Wonderful,” said the therapist. “We’re going to get along just fine.”

Find more information about the impact of aneurysms, treatment and support groups by visiting the Joe Niekro Foundation. The nonprofit organization focuses on supporting patients and families, as well as funding research, treatment and awareness of brain aneurysms, arteriovenous malformation (AVM) and hemorrhagic strokes, according to its website.

My Family Supports Me, So Why Should I Apply For SSDI?

2015 January 20

Swierczek-colorBy Ed of Allsup

I’ve talked with hundreds of people in my several decades as an SSDI representative, and it’s not uncommon for someone to tell me that they had to think twice about applying for Social Security disability benefits.

It’s true that some people who quit working for bad health can have very supportive families. Maybe your relatives, including your spouse and children, can help you cover living expenses with no problems.

But when you experience a severe disability and you’ve paid for SSDI benefits over many years of work, you have the right to seek those benefits.

Of course, many people who apply for SSDI benefits would rather still be working. They like being around people, they like contributing toward something—whether it’s serving customers or feeling productive in their job. But cancer treatments, severe back injuries and degenerative conditions like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease can make this impossible.

Why Apply For SSDI Benefits?

There are a number of reasons to apply for Social Security disability benefits that go beyond the fact that you have paid for those benefits with your FICA payroll taxes.

Those include:

  • Regular monthly income. You lost regular paychecks when you had to stop working, but here is some income that can help your family make up for the loss. Your monthly SSDI benefits may only amount to a fraction of what you earned while working, but these funds can help with healthcare expenses and other needs.
  • Medical benefits. You can receive Medicare benefits if you are granted SSDI benefits. They typically start 24 months after you date of SSDI entitlement. It doesn’t matter how old you are—and you may be able to find coverage, like a Medicare Advantage plan, that lowers your healthcare costs.
  • Protected retirement benefits. One benefit of receiving SSDI benefits is that Social Security will put a “freeze” on your earnings record during those years. They understand you have a disability. As a result, when you reach full retirement age, those years of earning zero dollars will not be factored into your benefits. If, on the other hand, you don’t apply for SSDI—SSA may simply count those years of zero earnings into your retirement benefit calculation.

If you’re still not sure you want to apply for SSDI, visit Why You Want SSDI on Allsup.com for a few more reasons.

Receive a free SSDI evaluation by calling an Allsup SSDI specialist at (800) 678-3276.

Or, click here for an easy online form to evaluate your eligibility for Social Security disability benefits.

Social Security’s Top 10 Disabilities in (Almost) Real Terms

2015 January 12

taiBy Tai of Allsup

My college math professor was aptly named Mr. Rhee (…mystery, get it?).

But if you insert public health implications into those math equations, my numerically-challenged brain transforms.

That’s when I get interested. I like mining research and translating confidence intervals into golden nuggets of information that people can actually understand and use to make informed choices about their health and finances.

Disabilities That Qualify For SSDI Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides a formidable challenge when trying to do this for people seeking information about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

Case in point: Brain Injury Awareness Month is coming up in March. How many people with traumatic brain injury (TBI) apply for SSDI benefits each year? How many are awarded? How many currently receive SSDI benefits? I don’t know because SSA does not publish that type of specific information.

TBI and other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, stroke and diabetes, are lumped together with other conditions into broader categories, such as organic mental disorders, mood disorders, nervous system and sense organs and endocrine disorders. That’s why it’s difficult to attach definitive numbers to these specific and other prevalent conditions, such as fibromyalgia and lupus.

Broader Categories Of Disabilities

The “2013 Annual Statistical Report on the Social Security Disability Insurance Program” provides a list of the top 10 diagnostic categories.

Almost a third (30.5 percent) of SSDI beneficiaries have a musculoskeletal system and connective tissue diagnosis. What we don’t know is how many of those individuals had to stop working because of fibromyalgia, amputation or spinal cord injury.

I work with dynamic individuals from various nonprofit organizations who point out the lack of awareness, research and education regarding the conditions they represent. They know the needs that exist in their communities, but too often they are underrepresented.

The SSA is a goldmine of quantifiable information that could aid in advocacy, outreach and education efforts. Allsup will continue to conduct our own research and disseminate the information we receive. But if you’d like to see more, ask the SSA to collect and report statistics you can use. The agency is seeking feedback now through its Open Government Initiative.

Top 10 Diagnostic Groups

Here are the top 10 diagnostic groups that receive Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, based on the SSA’s data.

  1. Musculoskeletal system and connective tissue: 30.5 percent of SSDI beneficiaries. Includes osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, spinal cord injury, carpal tunnel, degenerative disc disease, amputations and more.
  2. Mood disorders: 14.9 percent. Includes bipolar disorder, depression and more.
  3. Nervous system and sense organs: 9.3 percent. Includes stroke, Meniere’s disease and more.
  4. Circulatory system: 8.3 percent. Includes coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease and more.
  5. Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders: 4.8 percent.
  6. Intellectual disability: 4.1 percent. Includes those with developmental disabilities.
  7. Injuries: 4.0 percent. Includes burns, fractures and more.
  8. Other mental disorders: 3.9 percent. Includes generalized anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder and more.
  9. Organic mental disorders: 3.4 percent. Includes traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, Korsakoff’s syndrome and more.
  10. Endocrine disorders: 3.3 percent. Includes diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, hyperthyroidism and more.

If you’re thinking about applying for SSDI benefits, or need to file a disability appeal, contact Allsup at (800) 678-3276 for a free disability evaluation.

Click here to reach an Allsup SSDI specialist online.

New Year’s Resolutions For Health, Wealth and Your Disability

2015 January 5

2015By Tricia of Allsup

I have talked to Allsup customers who have a variety of disabilities in my years as personal financial planning manager here. There is one common element that is fairly common among all of them—no matter what kind of illness or disability they have.

That quality is perseverance.

Allsup helps our customers to persevere through some of the most difficult times of their lives. Perhaps they are facing a fairly recent diagnosis of an advanced stage of cancer, or perhaps a debilitating spinal injury that likely will never get better.

It takes energy, time and fortitude to persevere through these difficult ailments and conditions.

A New Year may not seem to offer much hope for the future, but let me offer some encouragement. At Allsup, we help our customers persevere against the overwhelming detail required for their Social Security Disability Insurance application.

We stand with our claimants at their hearings as they pursue their SSDI appeal. All of these aspects of getting through the SSDI program require perseverance, especially as the average wait for a hearing now tops 420 days.

Don’t Give Up On Health And Finances

But I also want to encourage people with disabilities to persevere in other facets of their lives—including their health and financial situation.

It may not appear, for many people, that there is anything they can do to improve their health when they are dealing with a severe disability. However, healthy life habits, attention to what they eat, physical activity and rest—are still important to anyone with a disability. It’s also critical to try to maintain some form of healthcare insurance.

Financial choices also continue to be important. Every decision you and your family make toward spending or saving now will impact options you have down the road.

Consider this early part of the year a time to take a step back and look at how you are taking care of yourself in these other aspects of your life. There are many resources available through disability groups and nonprofit associations, plus groups in your local community.

Allsup.com provides several sections for locating resources, including Allsup’s Online Guide to Personal Finance and a Resource Center with links to numerous local and national groups.

Small steps can really add up. So here’s wishing you a New Year that helps you and your family persevere in a positive way throughout 2015.

If you have decided in 2015 that it’s time to apply for SSDI benefits, click here or call an Allsup specialist at (800) 678-3276 for a free SSDI evaluation.

Speculums are your friends

2014 December 29

taiJanuary is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

By Tai of Allsup

It’s not usually the topic of dinner conversation, but at a recent holiday gathering, the word “speculum” came up. The women at the table simultaneously clenched in their seats, while the men stared at the speaker vacantly, not grasping the word’s significance.

“What’s a speculum?”

Hilarity ensued.

If you don’t know what a speculum is, you are probably a male. If you are a woman, and don’t know what a speculum is, you are probably due for a Pap test―the screening test for cervical cancer.

Formerly the leading cause of cancer death in women in the U.S., cervical cancer is highly treatable at earlier stages. If detected early, at a “localized stage,” the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is more than 90 percent. If detected after the cancer has spread to another part of the body, the five-year survival rate can drop as low as 16 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Cervical cancer happens most often in women over 30. No matter what the ethnicity, all women are at risk. In its early stage, cervical cancer may not show any symptoms, which makes screening that much more important. The Pap smear searches for cell changes on the cervix that might become cancerous if left untreated. According to the American Cancer Society, screening for cervical cancer can actually prevent cancer by detecting and allowing the removal of these pre-cancerous lesions.

If a woman learns that she has cervical cancer and must stop working, she may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has medical listings (13.23B1 and 13.23B.2) for cervical cancer, referred to as carcinoma or sarcoma of uterine cervix.

Medical listings provide SSA disability examiners with the criteria to evaluate whether someone is eligible for SSDI. If a cancer survivor’s ability to work is so diminished due to radiation, chemotherapy or other treatment, she can still be found disabled without meeting or equating a medical listing.

Common side effects of cervical cancer treatment include extreme fatigue and neuropathy, which can cause extreme pain and prevent someone from using their hands or feet properly.

Of course, thanks to speculums, it is possible to avoid this scenario. Most cervical cancers are detected in women who have never, or have not recently been screened. If you are a woman over 20 and have yet to meet a speculum, consider making a new friend in 2015. It could save your life.

For more information on cancer and SSDI, click here.

Editor’s note: The American Heritage® Medical Dictionary defines speculum as an instrument that is used to dilate the opening of a body cavity for medical examination.

Clearing Up The Confusion On SSDI Onset Date

2014 December 22

Swierczek-colorBy Ed of Allsup

After over four decades of working with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims, I’ve learned that one of most common areas of confusion is when SSDI payments begin after an applicant is approved for benefits.

As with any government program, SSDI eligibility and determining the onset date of a disability can be confusing.

Sometimes the date that people believe they became disabled may be different than what the Social Security Administration determines.

An example: You were diagnosed with a serious heart condition on Feb. 1 of this year, but you continued working until Aug. 1. When you filed for Social Security disability benefits, you listed the earlier date as the date of your disability.

The SSA, however, will consider Aug. 1 as the onset date. The rationale is that if you were able to continue working, and earning at least $1,070 a month, you weren’t disabled.

The agency is more interested in determining the date that you were no longer able to work than it is the date that you believe you became disabled. And it’s a valid argument—if you can work, you aren’t eligible for SSDI benefits.

Medical Documentation Is Key To SSDI

The SSA views medical evidence as the primary element when determining the disability onset date. That’s why it’s important for your doctors to know—and document—every aspect of your impairment and treatment.

The onset date of your disability is a critical element when determining when you’ll start receiving SSDI benefits, which is five full calendar months after the onset date.

Example: If the onset date is Jan.1, the entitlement date is June 1. If the onset is Jan 2, however, you won’t begin receiving benefits until July.

The onset date also determines when you’ll be eligible for Medicare benefits, which is 24 months after you begin receiving cash SSDI payments.

Our Allsup experts will be answering common SSDI and disability questions throughout the coming year. Please fee free to send us a question by clicking  “Leave A Comment,” and we can address them in a future post.

Click here for a free Social Security disability evaluation, or call Allsup to speak with an SSDI specialist at (800) 678-3276.

Every 65 Minutes Another Vet Takes Their Life

2014 December 19

Vet-Logo
By R.J. Stratton, USN (Ret.), president, The Team Veteran Foundation

Americans need to be made more aware of a growing problem.

Every 65 minutes, 22 vets die from suicide—and these numbers do not include family members.

The issues facing our veterans and their family members are not something new, but they don’t get enough attention.

People are either unaware, or the issue is being ignored. This is the very reason why The Team Veteran Foundation and the A.L.I.V.E. Program (Advocacy for Life In Veterans Empowerment) were created: to make a difference.

Founded in 2012, the Team Veteran Foundation is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

Our mission is to reduce or eliminate suicides among veterans and their family members. We are committed to continuously improving the quality of life for veterans and their families by bridging the gap with knowledge and understanding. (See our logo.) We are creating values that make a difference in the lives of those who sacrificed so much for the freedom we enjoy in this country.

The foundation is a group of dedicated individuals from across the country. They include experienced U.S. military veterans of all branches and civilian community leaders with a passion for assisting veterans and their dependents.

The foundation needed a vehicle to accomplish their mission, so they created the A.L.I.V.E. Program. It was designed to be a stand-alone program operated by The Team Veteran Foundation and dedicated to providing military veterans and family members with programs and services they deserve, but have not been able to access.

More importantly, A.L.I.V.E. addresses the issues that lead to suicide among veterans and their families. The A.L.I.V.E. Program is endorsed by the American Legion on a national scale.

Funding for the foundation and the A.L.I.V.E. Program comes from private sources, donations and contributions, and is supplemented from time to time by government grants. All funds are used to reduce and prevent suicides among veterans and family members.

Help us help those who signed a blank check for the very freedom enjoy in this country.

Like us on Facebook and visit our website today to donate at www. TTVFoundation.org
“We Got You!”

Medicare Plan Changes Now That Annual Enrollment Is Over

2014 December 15

Tricia-blog-photoBy Tricia of Allsup

The biggest opportunity for millions of people to review their Medicare coverage has ended.

Now what? Well, people who may regret their choice of a Medicare Advantage plan have a fresh opportunity from Jan. 1 through Feb. 14, 2015, to switch to Original Medicare. Original Medicare is Part A, which covers hospital services, and Part B, which covers medical services.

If your Medicare Advantage plan included prescription drug coverage, then you also have the ability to shop for a Part D prescription drug plan.

In addition, if you were under your “trial right” period to explore Medicare Advantage, you also may be able to return to the Medigap plan you previously purchased.

Opportunities For Changing Medicare Plans

Allsup Medicare specialists often handle questions about switching coverage outside of the Medicare annual enrollment period.

There are a few important opportunities that you should know about.

  • Your Medicare plan is going away. If you have a Medicare plan that is not being renewed for 2015, you have a special enrollment period to choose a new plan. You should have received a letter of notification, and you have until Feb. 28, 2015, to choose new coverage.
  • Medicare & disability. If you have already been on Medicare due to a disability before age 65, you get a brand new initial enrollment period when you turn 65. This can be a great opening to make key changes to your Medicare coverage, including purchasing a Medigap policy in combination with Original Medicare.
  • Enrolling in Part B. Perhaps you already have Medicare Part A coverage because you turned 65 earlier, but now you are ready to enroll in Medicare Part B. You can do this from Jan. 1 to March 31, during the general enrollment period. Once you purchase Part B, you also will be able to sign up for Part D prescription drug coverage from April 1 to June 30.
  • Special enrollment periods (SEPs). SEPs also can be allowed if you experience changes in your life, for example, moving to a new city address or leaving a skilled nursing facility or long-term care hospital.
  • Five-star Medicare plans. You also may have Medicare Advantage plans or Part D prescription drug plans with a five-star rating in your area. This gives you the opportunity to move to a higher quality-rating plan, and you can do this one time during the year leading up to the next Medicare annual enrollment period.

Confused yet? The other big event that thousands more people will experience in the coming year is when they turn 65.

Allsup Medicare specialists are available to answer your questions about Medicare plan choices and options. Contact the Allsup Medicare Advisor at (866) 521-7655, or click here for a free Medicare plan eligibility evaluation.

Military Sexual Trauma Victims May Be Eligible For VA Disability Benefits

2014 December 9

military-uniformBy The Old Sarge

Combat tactics, war planes, uniforms and weapons—there’s been a lot of changes in the military over the last few decades.

One of the big changes is the number of women in the military and their duties. Until 1976, women in the Air Force were known as WAFs, or Women in the Air Force. They were sort of an afterthought to the real Air Force.

Back then, instead of shooting M-16 rifles or flying F-16 Fighting Falcon, military women were nurses, secretaries, or members of the base band. Instead of learning how to apply camouflage or load bombs, they were taught how to apply lipstick and makeup so as to present a proper feminine image.

How things have changed. Today, nearly 215,000 women wear the uniform, and they make up more than 14 percent of our armed forces.

Unfortunately, and predictably, riding on the coattails of integration of women in the military came dramatically increased reported instances of rape, sexual harassment and abuse. Called military sexual trauma (MST) by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), MST refers to sexual assault or threatening sexual harassment, which includes unwanted sexual touching and threatening and offensive remarks. Both men and women can be victims of MST.

All veterans suffering from MST are eligible for free VA counseling and healthcare. On Dec. 1, the VA announced it has expanded mental healthcare eligibility to treat conditions resulting from MST, primarily to members of the Reserves and National Guard participating in weekend drills.

Victims of MST also may be eligible for VA disability compensation. If your MST-related disability claim, such as for post-traumatic stress syndrome, has been denied by the VA, one of our VA-accredited claims agents may be able to help.

Call (888) 372-1190 for more information on Allsup Veterans Disability Appeals Service®.