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Social Security’s Birthday Offers Important Reminder

2015 September 1

Spurgeon_Brian_blogBy Brian of Allsup

Here’s a belated Happy Birthday in honor of Social Security’s 80th year. Signed into law with the Social Security Act on Aug. 14, 1935, the program set the stage for programs that millions of Americans have used over the decades.

One quality to note is the collaborative nature of the Social Security retirement and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) programs.

Perhaps one of the most important benefits of SSDI isn’t as well-known, and it deals directly with your Social Security retirement benefits.

SSDI’s Freeze Protects Retirement

If you have SSDI benefits, when you reach retirement age, then you automatically transition from SSDI to Social Security retirement benefits.

You may not realize that receiving SSDI freezes your Social Security earnings records during your period of disability. This means that those years when you were receiving SSDI aren’t counted when computing your future retirement benefits.

This is important because if you’re receiving SSDI, then you probably have little or no earnings.

You benefit because you’re not penalized for those years of having a severe disability. So your Social Security retirement benefits may be higher than they would have been with several years of $0 in earnings.

That’s just one reason why it’s important to apply for Social Security disability benefits when you can no longer work due to a severe or terminal health condition.

Social Security’s Past And Future

Since it began, the Social Security Act has had its controversies. The SSDI program has been under intense scrutiny in recent years. The Disability Insurance Trust Fund also is at the forefront of Congressional attention as next year approaches and the trust fund runs through its reserves.

There’s no argument, however, that SSDI helps millions of seriously ill former workers see the light at the end of a bleak financial tunnel.

Together, these programs provide important building blocks that secure the structure of local communities and our larger society, especially for those in the weakest positions as they age and due to severe disabilities. Both programs are part of the American fabric and adjustments will be—must be—made.

Mental Illness is Not A Casserole Illness – Suicide Prevention Week is Sept 7-13

2015 August 31

NAMI_SWIBy Guest Blogger Jessica Gruneich, executive director, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Southwestern Illinois

What does the general public think when they see or hear the phrase “suicide prevention”?

What thoughts and feelings does the phrase invoke in you?

The answer depends on our personal, lived experiences. Many people may feel fortunate and thankful; some may even be a bit pompous, thinking that mental illness and suicide would never touch their family.

Others who have lost a loved one to suicide experience shock, sorrow, regret, anger, overwhelming guilt…the persistent feeling that they could have/should have known, done something to prevent the horrible tragedy.

Perhaps the most damaging feeling of all is shame due to the stigma associated with mental illnesses. It is terribly sad for families to experience the double-edged sword of loss and shame due to the stigma of mental illness.

Mental illnesses are medical, biological based illnesses that affect the brain. When an individual experiences a major physical illness, such as a heart attack or stroke, many friends and neighbors in the community reach out with care, compassion and a casserole, offering love and support during difficult and tumultuous times.

Families and individuals experiencing a mental illness rarely receive any community support and compassionate care.

Any meaningful discussion about suicide prevention must be held in the context of a much broader conversation about mental illness, brain disorders, including major depression, bi-polar disorder, and schizophrenia.

The stigma associated with serious mental illness (brain disorders) prevents uninhibited discussion about prevention, diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Stigma stands in the way of millions of Americans seeking out help and relief from illness. One in four Americans are impacted by mental illness. It takes courage to stand up and advocate for effective treatment, compassionate care, and fundamental change throughout the mental health care system.

As the harmful and sometimes deadly effects of stigma disappear for this category of illnesses, more individuals will be willing to discuss treatment, rehabilitation and recovery.

Fortunately, there are numerous suicide education programs like the QPR Institute (which stands for Question, Persuade, and Refer) and Mental Health First Aid that train the general public in responding timely and effectively in a mental health emergency.

NAMI Southwestern Illinois provides free evidenced-based education programs, support groups, and advocacy presentations throughout the Metro East region. Standing up and fighting stigma is the first step to suicide prevention.

NAMI SWI asks for your help and support—you are not alone in the fight to end stigma, join us today!

Resources Help Lessen Stress Of Travel With A Disability

2015 August 26

LW-blogBy Leia of Allsup

More than 26 million people with disabilities have taken a trip in the past two years, according to a CBS MoneyWatch report. Traveling can be stressful enough, but if you’re living with a disability, it may seem impossible.

Here are some tips to help you plan your next trip.

Consult With Others

If you don’t travel often or have never traveled since experiencing your disability, it may help to speak to someone with the same disability or impairment. Others in your situation may be able to offer you some guidance. Seek out support groups and ask what others have dealt with while traveling.


Be sure to bring sufficient prescription medications with you, including extra medication, in case your travel plans are delayed. Remember to carry your prescription pills in labeled bottles and not in a pill case. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says that will expedite the screening process. In addition, carry-on limits for liquids (containers of 3 ounces or smaller) don’t apply to prescription medications.

Lodging Requirements

Be sure to do your homework on where you will be staying. Make sure the hotel or resort can accommodate your needs, whether you have equipment and storage needs or accessibility concerns, before you get there. This will allow you to check in with ease.


The TSA has many rules and regulations in place for all travelers, but they have a helpline for travelers who require special accommodations. They recommend calling 72 hours prior to departure with questions you may have about traveling.

Use Technology

Consider downloading an app like “ICE Standard” to your mobile device. ICE stands for “in case of an emergency.” You can enter your emergency health information on the lock screen of your phone so first responders can access this information quickly.

I know traveling can seem intimidating, but the more preparation you do beforehand—the more you can enjoy the trip with less stress.

There are many other resources available online should you have a trip in your future. Do you have a tip to share? Visit Allsup on Facebook and share your insights on how to make traveling with a disability easier.

Don’t Stereotype Vets

2015 August 24

dan-allsup-blogBy The Old Sarge

I used to think that unless you served, your opinion about the military just didn’t count. Perhaps I’ve become more reasonable over the years, but I still have my moments.

For example, it still bothers me when people who never spent one day in the military talk like experts on everything related to the armed forces. These are the folks who toss GI slang and anecdotes around the barroom and wear cammies and combat boots to the grocery store. Between you and me, most of these folks wouldn’t know a staff sergeant from a staph infection.

That brings to mind a conversation I had years ago. I had just written a story for our then-corporate magazine about a successful SSDI claimant and combat veteran.

Our claimant was a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disabilities after being shot up during a jungle ambush. In the story, I quoted the veteran saying he had nightmares when he recalled his days “in the ‘Nam.”

One reader wasn’t happy with the story. After reading it, she sneered, “Dan, we all know that real combat veterans never called Vietnam, ‘the ‘Nam.’ That’s just what Hollywood says because it sounds cool.” Then she stomped off, somehow offended because her preconception of how a battle-hardened GI really talked had been punctured.

This woman had never served. On the other hand, I had recently completed 22 years in the Air Force and I had worked with many combat veterans. They used the term, “the Nam” in casual conversation. Not to be cool; it was just GI shorthand. Still is.

I still remember this incident many years later, so I guess it still bothers me a little. So do other stereotypical images of veterans.

Frankly, I’m getting more than a little tired of Hollywood GIs being portrayed as either suicidal because of PTSD or as superheroes. Most are neither. They’re just normal folks ready to continue their lives.

If you know someone suffering from PTSD, encourage them to seek professional help.

Click here if they need help applying for VA disability benefits, and click here if the VA denied their claim or issued a lower than expected disability rating.

Veteran or not, go here to learn how to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

And when you meet active duty or former military members, it’d be nice to just thank them for their service.

Family Caregivers And Medicare

2015 August 18

John-Schall-CANBy Guest Blogger John Schall, CEO, Caregiver Action Network

Let’s admit it: the Medicare program is complicated. Medicare is never as “easy as ABC.” In fact, the Medicare program has four parts—A, B, C—and D! And no one ever said any of the parts were easy to understand.

No wonder most people over 60 find Medicare confusing. And many people under age 60 just don’t want to think about Medicare at all. If they do think about it, they feel like they have several years before they need to really understand it.

But family caregivers may need to understand Medicare all of a sudden, or at least learn about it very quickly.

At some point, your elderly parents may ask you to help choose the Medicare plan that’s right for them and you may not be prepared. I know I wasn’t.

I have been dealing with broad national Medicare policy issues for 25 years. Even so, when my parents asked for advice on the best plan for them, I got a queasy feeling in my stomach. I kept second-guessing myself. Do I know enough details to give them good advice?

Many baby boomers and other family caregivers are helping aging relatives make Medicare decisions. All too often, these family caregivers don’t have a solid understanding of the Medicare program themselves.

Are you a family caregiver asking yourself, “Do I know enough to give my parents good Medicare advice?” If the answer is no, well, most family caregivers are in the same boat.

How many busy caregivers have the time to sort through the alphabet soup of Medicare Parts A, B, C and D on their own? Where can family caregivers turn to evaluate and choose Medicare coverage that best meets their loved one’s needs?

CAN makes it part of our mission to provide these types of insights on the unique needs of family caregivers. Family caregivers who understand how Medicare works will likely find it easier to help their care recipient locate the coverage that is the best fit for their health needs and budget. We’ll never make Medicare as easy as ABC, but we can make it much simpler to understand. And that can help make it a bit easier for to be a family caregiver.

Editor’s note: Family caregivers can join John and Allsup Medicare Advisor® experts for “True Help with Health Insurance When Disability Strikes,” on Thursday, Aug. 20, 11 a.m. CST. Click here to attend the live event, or access the on-demand version.

The Importance Of Screening For Colon Cancer

2015 August 14

nurse-bookBy Guest Blogger Crawford Clay, patient support advocate, Colon Cancer Alliance

Why get screened?

Most colon cancer is preventable if proper guidelines are followed. Early stage colon cancer responds better to treatment.

What are the guidelines?

  • Most people (average risk) should be screened at 50 (African-Americans at 45)
  • People with personal or family history of colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, or who are experiencing symptoms, are considered “high risk” and should begin screening before age 50. Discuss with your healthcare professional.

What are the options?

If you are high risk, you should consider the following tests:

  • Colonoscopy is the only screening method that can find and remove polyps.
  • Virtual colonoscopy is done with a CT scan instead of a colonoscope. It is not invasive but still requires the prep. This can find polyps but not remove them.

If you are average risk, you can also consider these tests:

  • Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) checks for blood in your stool. The FIT is easier to use than the older stool guaiac test. Not good for detecting polyps.
  • Stool DNA tests looks for genetic mutations associated with colon cancer in the stool. Not good for detecting polyps.

What if I’m uninsured or underinsured?

  • The Colon Cancer Alliance has partnered with Colonoscopy Assist to help uninsured people get screened.
  • The Colon Cancer Alliance also offers Blue Hope Screening Awards to help insured people with the costs associated with getting screened.

If you have any questions or need help, call the Colon Cancer Alliance Helpline at (877) 422 2030.

Editor’s note: The Affordable Care Act requires Marketplace exchange plans to fully cover preventive care, including colon cancer screenings. Preventive care also is covered under Medicare. Learn more about your health insurance options and speak with Crawford Clay at the True Help® Web Event, “Health Insurance When Disability Strikes,” Aug. 20, at 11 a.m. CST. Register here.

August Is Psoriasis Awareness Month

2015 August 11

Kirkwood_TerrionBy Terrion Kirkwood, intern, Allsup

As I entered the office I could feel their eyes on me. I was something they had never seen before. But their reception didn’t bother me—I was confident that I could fill this position.

The interviewer welcomed me and extended his hand. His hands were smooth and well kept; mine were scaly and rough. His eyes spoke volumes, and he hesitated to grasp my hand. Unnerved, I quickly withdrew my hand. His initial perception of me ran through my mind throughout the interview.

It was all a nightmare, but it could have been true. This could have been me. Or you.

August is Psoriasis Awareness Month. Although I don’t have psoriasis, my imagined scenario tells the story about the struggles of someone dealing with the impact of this disease.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that causes raised, red, scaly patches to appear on the skin. It can itch, burn, sting and blister. Skin cells in persons with this disease grow at an abnormally fast rate, but psoriasis isn’t contagious. Unfortunately, it cannot be cured, but only managed to some extent. In some instances, the disease will retreat only to return later, creating a false sense of relief.

While researching the disease I discovered some hidden side effects. It can diminish confidence, complicate intimacy and bring on depression.

Those who encounter someone with psoriasis may react negatively before knowing the situation. To the untrained eye, psoriasis might be mistaken for eczema, ringworm, shingles or even a sexually transmitted disease. Psoriasis is chronic, persistent and can occur without warning. Many people with this disease suffer in silence.

Upon leaving that dream world interview, I felt a renewed sense of confidence. I wasn’t alone. The interviewer had confided in me that he had been diagnosed with psoriasis as well but was in a remission phase. I almost laughed. In the scenario I created, I was so uncomfortable with my own insecurity that I prejudged his “perfect” complexion in comparison to mine.

Some say that beauty is skin deep. In other words, your outward appearance is second to your inner persona. So remember to focus on who a person is, rather than what a person looks like.

Click here to learn more about Social Security disability benefits.

Mitochondrial Disease—The Energy Disease—Remains Mysterious

2015 August 4

MitoActionLogoBy Mary Dale of Allsup

They call it “the energy disease,” and most people have never heard of it.

I know I hadn’t until my sister was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease at age 42, after many years of mysterious medical problems. It took her sight, hearing and her kidney, thyroid, pancreas and brain functions over the next eight years. Ultimately, it took her life at age 50, just two years ago.

What is mitochondrial disease? There are more than 40 different classifications.

Mitochondria are part of your body’s cells, except red blood cells, and they produce 90 percent of the energy your body needs and uses. When the mitochondria in your cells fail, you cells can’t produce enough energy to sustain your organs and body systems. That’s why they call it the energy disease.

“Mito” is most frequently diagnosed in children, but more and more adults like my sister are being diagnosed. Looking back, there were hints at the disease early in her life—a slight hand tremor in high school, hearing loss in her early 30s and diabetes in her late 30s, for example. We now understand that a close look at my family’s multigenerational medical history may have provided some hints as well; her type of mitochondrial disease linked back to genetics.

It’s not easy to diagnose. It was the rapid onset of blindness over a three-week period that ultimately lead to the, “Ah, now we know what this is,” moment. She could no longer work and quickly was awarded Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

Few of my sister’s long line of doctors treating her range of illnesses had ever seen a mito patient. The family frequently took on the role of educators: explaining the disease to doctors, nurses, technicians and case managers during her frequent hospitalizations and treatments.

In a quiet moment, two days before her death, her neurologist, who did have experience treating these patients in a big urban research hospital, and I stood talking in the intensive care unit. Staring at her brain scans taken six months apart, he commented that he had never seen such a rapid decline or as complex a case as hers. He said he would keep and use the images for his own education in treating future patients.

Then we discussed the limited awareness and, worse, the limited and fragmented research related to mitochondrial disease. He admitted he did not have a formal network of other neurologists to share and compare mito-specific cases and treatments.

There is help for doctors, patients and families.

You can learn more about groups working to increase awareness and research dollars for the energy disease. They include MitoAction,, and the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation,

MitoAction is hosting a podcast Friday, Aug. 7, on SSDI benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and their speakers include Tai Venuti, manager of Strategic Alliances at Allsup.

Click here to learn more and to dial-in to the podcast. It’s offered over a toll-free number, with options for those with hearing impairments.

Health Insurance: Have Confidence In Your Coverage

2015 August 3

ChristineShepherdBy Christine Shepherd, intern, Allsup

It’s not safe to go long periods of time without seeing a doctor. Neglect can cause an injury or illness that could have been prevented (or treated) to escalate, dramatically changing your health for the worse. Ironically, it seems some people are more afraid of healthcare bills than they are of getting sick.

When disability strikes, it’s a difficult transition. It changes your lifestyle and affects your family.

Health Insurance Covers The Unexpected

I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 8. My parents encouraged me to stay active and eat a healthy diet. They changed their eating habits so I wouldn’t feel left out at dinner. Little did my mother know that 11 years later she would develop type 2 diabetes.

After her diagnosis, she avoided the doctor to avoid bad news. But when you don’t get healthcare, whether to avoid bad news or because you don’t have health insurance, it usually makes matters worse. When my mother finally saw the doctor a year later, they discovered she had ovarian cancer.

My mother had excellent health insurance. The plan covered her chemotherapy, surgery and hospice care. It even took care of me.

Her last year of life, she stayed inside our home because she was unable to walk. My father and I, along with hospice, took care of her. Her insurance covered a large portion of the bills. Without health insurance, I’m sure my father would be in a financial hole.

At the age of 62, my mother passed away March 31, 2014, after four years fighting cancer.

Know Your Options

By telling my story I hope to encourage families to make sure they have health insurance and to learn about their coverage.

Having health insurance makes financial sense. With health insurance, you usually pay a fraction of the billed cost, and under the Affordable Care Act, there are no co-pays for most preventive services.

There are many options when determining what kind of health insurance is best. Here are a few:

  • Health maintenance organization (HMO) plans have small copayments for each visit, but you must have a referral from your primary care provider to see specialists.
  • A preferred proviTH-webinar-HIder organization (PPO) plan doesn’t require a referral from your primary care provider. This plan is beneficial to those who see their doctors on a regular basis.
  • An exclusive provider organization (EPO) plan can be less expensive than an HMO and PPO, but you have to stay within a network that accepts your insurance. This plan is convenient for those who don’t visit doctors often. can direct you to a Certified Application Counselor who is trained to help people understand and enroll in plans. Allsup SSDI customers can receive this free assistance to help avoid gaps in coverage during and after the application process.

Editor’s note: For tips and resources for selecting health insurance coverage that matches your needs, register for the next True Help® Web Event, “Health Insurance When Disability Strikes,” Aug. 20, 11 a.m. CST. Click here to register.

Medicare Through The Eyes Of A Young Adult

2015 July 28

MEDICARE-infographicMedicare Through The Eyes Of A Young Adult

By Terrion Kirkwood, intern, Allsup

A very special day is fast approaching. No, it is not my birthday or a gift-giving holiday. On July 30th, the U.S. can celebrate the triumphs of Medicare, which is 50 years old.

Medicare was created with the idea that everyone has an opportunity to receive good healthcare and protection against the economics of sickness. Its vision has remained the same despite its ever-evolving nature. Medicare is many things to many people. So what do young adults think?

Thought No. 1: A Government Program. Elderly People.

The textbook definition of Medicare, courtesy of, is: “…the federal health insurance program for people who are 65 or older, certain younger people with disabilities, and people with end-stage renal disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant, sometimes called ESRD).”

Kirkwood_TerrionThe most common misperception about Medicare is that it is only for elderly people. Data collected by Medpac indicates that 16.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are less than 65 years of age. Furthermore, healthcare expenses for this age group account for 21 percent of Medicare’s costs.

As an Allsup Medicare Advisor® intern, I often see Medicare survey responses state, “I am not 65,” which is the age required to qualify. However, young adults, like me, may qualify for Medicare if they have a disability.

Thought No. 2: Medicaid.

Young adults can often confuse Medicare and Medicaid, or consider them the same program.

This common misconception is due to them having similar names. Both programs share similar prefixes and target industries (healthcare).

Medicaid, however, is aimed at low-income individuals who need assistance. Medicare, on the other hand, focuses on providing insured healthcare to seniors and people who have a severe disability.

Anyone who has earned 40 work credits is eligible for Medicare regardless of income level. These credits are obtained, usually, by 10 years of work. Some people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid are called “dual eligibles.” If you have Medicare and full Medicaid coverage, it’s likely most of your healthcare costs are covered.

Thought No. 3: A Tax. A Hindrance To My Paycheck. An Entitlement.

Medicare is a hot-button issue that is vigorously debated in Congress. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare makes up 14 percent of the U.S. federal budget. Medicare routinely takes 1.45 percent out of each paycheck.

When I began my journey with Allsup, Medicare was just a government program that assisted the elderly. I recognized its impact on my finances upon glancing at my paychecks. It was merely another tax—taking away money. Now I, thankfully, view it as an investment in my future well-being. The gift of future healthcare is complex, but I know it is beneficial.

Though it may not be on the radar of most young adults, it is a milestone worth remembering. Happy 50th Anniversary Medicare.

Allsup provides an infographic celebrating “50 Years of Medicare Accomplishments,” in collaboration with the Caregiver Action Network.

Click here for a video celebrating 50 years of Medicare.

For more information about choosing Medicare plans, contact a Medicare specialist with the Allsup Medicare Advisor at (866) 521-7655, or go to