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Realizing the Promise of the ADA

2017 July 18

Twenty-seven years after it was signed into law, people are still running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The landmark legislation, signed on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities, and assures equal opportunity and access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications.

However, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division, many businesses and local governments are not in full compliance, and their programs and services are still not accessible to people with disabilities. Following are some reasons why some local government agencies and businesses are still not ADA compliant:

  1. They  mistakenly believe their existing programs and facilities are protected by a “grandfather” clause, so they don’t take steps to provide facility or program access or modify the policies, practices and procedures required by law
  2. They mistakenly believe that they have no duty to make changes to historically significant buildings and facilities (or to the programs offered there) to improve accessibility for people with disabilities.
  3. They feel they “can’t afford to do the right thing,” as portrayed in the DOJ’s video, “Ten Small Business Mistakes.”  In reality, there are many relatively low-cost things businesses and governments can do to improve accessibility.

Employment

The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for applicants and employees with disabilities and prohibits discrimination because of a disability. Reasonable accommodations include restructuring jobs, making workstations accessible, re-designing worksites, and modifying schedules, equipment and policies.

A U.S. Department of Labor survey reported that finding ways to return employees to work after the onset of a disability is the number one challenge to retaining employees with disabilities for medium and large companies. For small companies, it is the actual cost of the accommodations.

Putting the ADA to work

The goals of the ADA will not be realized if the law isn’t enforced. Local governments and businesses can rely on the ADA National Network and the Job Accommodation Network to help them comply with the law and fulfill the ADA’s promise of inclusion and participation.

Individuals who must quit working due to a disability can look to empower by Allsup® to help them with their SSDI claim, explain their ADA rights, and prepare them to return to work if they are medically able.

It has been 27 years since the ADA was signed into law, and we still have a lot of work to do to fulfill its promise. You can be a part of the nationwide ADA celebration by clicking here to sign a pledge to continue efforts to fully implement the ADA.

Sign Up to REV UP!

2017 July 11

We may be in the midst of a summer heat wave, but folks at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), are gearing up for a cool fall election day on November 7.  The REV UP (Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power!) Campaign features National Disability Voter Registration Week (NDVRW), July 17-21, and you can get involved by signing a statement of support here.

According to AAPD, there are more than 35 million people with disabilities eligible to vote when registered. This number does not include the ripple effect of family, friends, and service professionals who vote in line with their disability interests.

Yet, people with disabilities register and vote at rates that continue to lag behind voters without disabilities. NDVRW empowers people with disabilities of all ages, ethnicities, genders, religions, and political affiliations to get involved and be heard by registering to vote, updating active registrations, and educating themselves about the electoral process.

During National Disability Voter Registration Week, REV UP Campaigns around the country will register and educate voters about issues and candidates, promote voter turnout, engage candidates and the media on disability issues and protect eligible voters’ right to participate in elections.

The event brings together disability rights advocates; local, state, and national disability organizations; civil rights organizations; elections administrators; and supporting organizations, such as  Allsup, to increase nonpartisan voter registration, education and participation in the disability community.

This year, through a partnership with EveryLibrary, hundreds of libraries in nearly all 50 states have signed on to promote the goals of NDVRW through programming, outreach, public education and voter registration partnerships or on-site services.

For more information on REV UP! activities and voter resources in your community, click here.

You Must Have a Work History to Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits

2017 July 10

By Allsup

There’s no free lunch when it comes to drawing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Like any insurance policy, you must pay regular “premiums” before you can collect the benefits. The FICA taxes that you paid while you were working pay your SSDI premiums.

SSDI is a federally mandated insurance program overseen by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that operates independently from the retirement and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. It provides monthly benefits to people under full retirement age (65-67) who can no longer work because of a disability expected to last at least one year or is terminal. Learn more about what you need to know when you apply for disability.

Besides meeting the definition of being disabled, the SSA also requires you to be “currently” and “fully insured.” That means that you must have worked long enough and recently enough to earn enough work credits to qualify.

SSA work credits are based on your total wages, and you can earn up to four credits each year.  For example, in 2017, you earn one work credit for each $1,300 that you are paid. Once you’ve accumulated $5,200 in wages, you’ve earned the four credits you need to qualify for SSDI benefits.

The number of credits you need to qualify for SSDI depends on your age, but generally, you need 40 credits. Twenty must have been earned in the 10 years before you became disabled, but younger workers may qualify with fewer credits.

Of course, you still must meet the SSA’s strict definition of disability, and you may need professional SSDI representation assistance to do that. Click here to see how empower by Allsup can help you quickly determine if you have enough work credits, and may qualify for SSDI benefits.

Responding to NAMI’s Call to Educate, Empower and Engage

2017 July 6

I attended The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) national conference in Washington, D.C. last week. Its theme of “Educate, Empower and Engage” is significant when it comes to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The following points are based on conversations with dozens of NAMI staff, volunteers, parents, consumers and advocates who had questions about SSDI and shared their experiences.

Educate

Get help with the SSDI application process at the very beginning, starting with an eligibility assessment. Most people who apply online through SSA’s website for SSDI are denied. They don’t have enough work credits, do not submit adequate medical records, do not fill out SSA’s forms properly or do not respond to SSA’s requests for additional information.

Getting help at the initial level, starting with an eligibility assessment, will ensure you don’t needlessly invest time and emotion and add to the current disability backlog. Many websites offer tips on how to apply for disability. However, Allsup’s online tool, empower by Allsup®, is the only one that incorporates return-to-work information and is backed by more than 30 years’ SSDI experience. If an attorney or representative tells you to apply on your own and come back when you are denied, find another rep.

Empower

Be an informed consumer and take control of the process. Applying for SSDI can be confusing and stressful. empower by Allsup takes the guesswork and complexity out of the SSDI application process. In addition to letting you know your likelihood of qualifying for SSDI benefits, it provides guidance throughout the application process and helps you use SSDI benefits to go back to work, if desired and you are medically able.

It provides personalized questionnaires, audio and video guidance, and 24/7 support so you know what is happening with your disability claim. Allsup also offers no-cost healthcare insurance assistance, including help navigating Marketplace and Medicare plans, and Medicaid.

Engage

Banish the backlog. Matthew lives with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, chronic major depressive disorder and epilepsy. One week before the NAMI conference he learned that he was approved for SSDI benefits after waiting seven years. Nationwide, 1.1 million former workers with severe disabilities wait an average 583 days for an SSDI hearing.

Allsup and other organizations are raising awareness by creating a Banish The Backlog Facebook page. If you are, or have been, stuck in the backlog or care about someone who has, you can share your experiences and suggestions by posting to the page. Liking and sharing the page is good way to engage. As an added bonus, it also educates and empowers.

See you in New Orleans.

Real-life Transformers Won’t Disappoint at #CMSA2017

2017 June 27

Dawn is headed to Austin to share a better way to help patients apply for SSDI.

By Tai, Allsup

My teenage son felt let down and a little angry after spending $13.50 to view the latest Transformers movie, “The Last Knight.” I guess he should have read the reviews before parting with his money. “Rolling Stone” called the movie “all kinds of awful,” and “2017’s most toxic film byproduct.”

I’m sure the reviews for the Case Management Society of America’s (CMSA) national conference will be better. This year’s theme is “Transforming Case Management” and representatives from Team Allsup are looking forward to meeting some real-life “transformers” in Austin next week.

Allsup is a longtime sponsor of this educational conference for healthcare professionals. According to the CMSA, care managers are advocates who help patients understand their health status, what they can do about it, and why those treatments are important. They guide patients and connect them with other professionals and resources. They often connect patients with Allsup, thanks to Dawn Sachteleben, manager of Allsup’s healthcare provider network.

Fueled by the desire to make a difference in people’s lives, Dawn consistently finds new ways to reach out and equip healthcare providers with the information and resources they need to help patients who have to stop working due to a severe disability. Dawn provides training and updates on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and related topics to healthcare providers nationwide.

Individuals and families rely on case managers to help them understand their illness, how to follow their treatment plan, and steps they can take to achieve the best possible health outcomes and quality of life. However, helping people determine whether they are eligible for programs like SSDI is not always a core case management responsibility. Connecting with resources that can do that for them is essential.

“Allsup helps case managers and their patients by providing expert SSDI assistance, including a free online eligibility assessment and information on how to apply for disability,” said Dawn.

“I am a transformer, too—transforming the way people apply for Social Security disability one case manager, one referral and one patient at a time.”

#CMSA2017 participants, you can visit Dawn at booth 444 and like Allsup on Facebook to enter to win a Thursday prize pack.

SSA Warns Kentucky Residents of Disability Scheme

2017 June 26

By The Old Sarge

It looks like criminals are attempting to target and de-fraud those with disabilities in Kentucky and West Virginia.

Specifically, those who may have been represented by local attorney Eric Conn, who has been convicted on federal charges for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) fraud, are being contacted by fraudsters.

According to Gale Stallworth Stone, the Social Security Administration’s Acting Inspector General, Kentucky residents who used Conn’s law firm to apply for SSDI benefits are receiving suspicious calls from people claiming to be SSA employees. The callers offer citizens $9,000 from something called the “Conn Client Compensation Fund”—but only after they send $200 to the “Federal Reserve Bank of New York.”

Stone said the SSA is not making these calls and the compensation fund does not exist.

“The scheme appears to target economically vulnerable citizens and use scare tactics to defraud them of their resources,” she said. “Citizens should be very careful and avoid engaging with these suspicious callers. If an unknown caller pressures you on the phone into providing payments for odd reasons, don’t think twice about hanging up.”

The Acting Inspector General urges citizens to call (800) 269-0271 to report any suspicious calls from someone alleging to be from the SSA. You can also call the SSA’s toll-free customer service number at (800) 772-1213 to verify a caller’s legitimacy.

Click here for an Allsup news release concerning Social Security fraud.

Hit with Medicare Part-B Penalties? Waiver May Provide Relief.

2017 June 20

By Tricia of Allsup

As director of Allsup’s healthcare services, I receive a lot of questions about how Medicare and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare, coordinate benefits.

That’s no surprise, because both federal programs are complex and can be difficult to navigate, especially when transitioning from one to the other. A big concern our customers deal with is knowing when to enroll in Medicare.

Once a person has been granted Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, they are automatically enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospital care) 24 months after they begin receiving SSDI benefits. They also must enroll in Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient care. Failure to do so can lead to lifetime penalties.

Prior to becoming eligible for Medicare, they may have been on a Marketplace plan and either chose to stay on that plan when they became eligible for Medicare or were unaware that they needed to enroll in Medicare Part B or face a penalty, even if they had Marketplace coverage.

Many of them are used to the healthcare coverage offered by their former employer. Now, they are coordinating other types of healthcare coverage options that work very differently than the coverage they are used to.

Because of widespread confusion about how Marketplace and Medicare coordinate and the Part B enrollment requirement, individuals can now apply for a penalty waiver. This waiver will reduce the Part B penalty for those who had a penalty from 2015, 2016 or 2017, and allow newly enrolled individuals to get Part B without an ongoing penalty.

Contact Social Security at (800)772-1213 or visit your local office to get more information about the Part B premium waiver. Be sure to mention “equitable relief.”  All requests must be filed by Sept. 30.

Visit our site here to learn more about Allsup’s healthcare services.

Making Mental Health Sexy

2017 June 14

By Tai, Allsup

Mental Health America’s (MHA) 2017 conference theme, “Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll,” is provocative.  It’s designed to capture attention, and reflects the complicated, personal and often embarrassing issues related to mental illness that aren’t often discussed publicly.

Although nearly everyone has experienced a mental illness or is close to someone who has, there is still a tremendous amount of stigma attached to mental disorders.  Couple mental illness with other “taboo” topics such as sex and addiction, and its easy to understand why these conversations rarely take place.

However, issues such as sexual trauma and the sexual side effects of mental illness medication, the opioid epidemic, alcohol and drug dependence, and the connection between mental illness and the creative mind will take center stage in Washington, D.C. this week.

MHA is bringing advocates, experts, and elected officials together for frank conversations that can promote hope, resilience and recovery. Simply knowing that others share similar experiences is empowering.

MHA’s website states, “Recovery is founded on the principle that people can take on meaningful roles in the community in spite of mental health challenges, when they receive the support they need.”

Usually, people need help accessing support. This is true when people apply for disability. However, much like mental illness, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is not a sexy topic and there is a stigma attached to it.

Many people don’t know where to turn for help with SSDI, or where to even begin the conversation. However, for individuals who cannot continue working due to a severe mental illness, SSDI benefits, which include a monthly income and access to Medicare, can be a lifeline.  If you need support or more information on SSDI, visit Allsup.com.

Roll on Capitol Hill with United Spinal Association

2017 June 6

Photo courtesy of United Spinal Association.

By Tai Prohaska

United Spinal Association and over 100 disability advocates and wheelchair users will gather in Washington, D.C., June 11-14 for the 6th Annual Roll on Capitol Hill. They will meet with congressional leaders to highlight health, independence, community, and quality of life issues vital to people with spinal cord injury/disease (SCI/D).

Allsup is pleased to be a long-time sponsor of this annual signature policy event, which allows lawmakers to hear their constituents’ perspectives on issues that are important to United Spinal’s membership and the broader disability community.

“Our advocacy efforts have never been more critical than they are this year,” said James Weisman, United Spinal’s president and CEO.

“As we join voices at Roll on Capitol Hill we must remain vigilant to ensure that all people with disabilities, including wheelchair users and our veterans, have access to quality healthcare, independence and equal rights,” said Weisman.

Priority issues include:

  • Protecting healthcare benefits and services for the SCI/D community.
  • Advocating for improved access to complex rehab technology needed to live active and healthy lifestyles.
  • Safeguarding the provision of accessible transportation for individuals with disabilities across the country.
  • Ensuring people with disabilities and wheelchair users have access to public accommodations at the federal and state levels.
  • Strengthening the provision of home- and community-based services and supports so that individuals can live and participate in their communities.
  • Ensuring robust funding for agencies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Labor.

United Spinal’s VetsFirst program will also host educational and advocacy sessions on legislation to improve employment benefits and access to healthcare services for veterans at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

United Spinal has long been at the forefront of changing and shaping public policy that not only benefits individuals with spinal cord injuries and disorders, but also benefits those with a wide range of disabilities and the abled population as well. Examples include improved access to transportation, healthcare and employment.

The organization is also addressing the current Social Security Disability Insurance hearing backlog of 1.1 million people. Most people who apply for disability are denied and will wait a nationwide average of 583 days for a hearing.

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with United Spinal on SSDI and related topics for many years. I’ve also had the pleasure to participate in the Roll on Capitol Hill and interact with chapter presidents and advocates. They work year-round to address a broad spectrum of issues important to its 50-plus chapters, 200 support groups and over 1 million individuals impacted by SCI/D across the country.

Roll on!

Let’s Say Aloha to the SSDI Backlog

2017 June 2

I just got back from visiting family in my home state of Hawai’i. The people, the beauty, the “mana,” (loosely translated as energy or power) of that truly special place always refreshes my spirit and helps me focus on what’s truly important in life.

After 12 days in paradise, I returned to work today, to read Allsup’s latest news release on the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) backlog. Unfortunately, the backlog’s existence is not news. What is remarkable is that it is at an all time high—Americans with severe disabilities are waiting an average of nearly 600 days for benefits they paid for while working.

Nationwide, more than 1.1 million people are waiting an average 583 days for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

The backlog was already an issue in 2009, when Allsup surveyed individuals going through the SSDI appeals process. Of those surveyed, 90 percent said they faced negative repercussions while waiting for their SSDI award. These included:

  • Stress on family – 63 percent
  • Worsening illness – 53 percent
  • Draining of retirement/savings – 35 percent
  • Lost health insurance – 24 percent
  • Missed mortgage payments – 14 percent
  • Foreclosure – 6 percent
  • Bankruptcy – 5 percent

In Hawai’i, we tell each other to, “hang loose”—life is short, so appreciate every day. According to the Social Security Administration, one in five men and nearly one in six women who obtain SSDI die within five years. Helping people obtain their SSDI benefits in a timely manner would go a long way to improving the quality of life for individuals with severe disabilities, so they could indeed, appreciate each day.

As the SSA and other organizations work to address the backlog, my advice for people who need to apply for disability benefits is to get expert help at the application level. Most people are denied at this level, but those who are approved avoid the SSDI backlog altogether.

empower by Allsup® is an online tool that can help individuals get expert help right away, beginning with an assessment that helps determine their likelihood of qualifying for SSDI benefits.. If you are unsure whether or not you should file for SSDI, or if you even qualify, using empower by Allsup is a free, convenient way to help you make an informed decision.

I bid a fond aloha to my family and friends this week. On behalf of individuals with chronic illnesses and severe disabilities and their families, I’d like to say goodbye to the SSDI backlog as well.

What do you think about the SSDI backlog? Post your experiences, comments and suggestions and see what other organizations are doing on the Banish the Backlog Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/banishthebacklog/.