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Take A Bite For Gastroparesis Awareness Month

2016 August 23

gastroparesis-awarenessBy Guest Blogger Melissa Adams VanHouten, gastroparesis advocate

August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month, and we would like to share a little information about our condition.

Gastroparesis literally means “paralysis of the stomach.”

It is a digestive motility disorder in which the stomach muscles, controlled by the vagus nerve, fail to contract and move food from the stomach into the intestines at the proper rate.

This slowing of the stomach emptying process can cause debilitating and sometimes life-threatening symptoms. The may including stomach/abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, heartburn/gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and early satiety and can lead to serious complications, such as malnourishment, dehydration, extreme weight loss, esophageal damage, blood sugar fluctuations, bezoars and chronic fatigue.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that more than 5 million people live with gastroparesis.

The most common known cause of this condition is diabetes, which accounts for about one-third of the cases. Other known causes of gastroparesis include neurologic disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, connective tissue disorders, complications resulting from surgeries, and direct damage to the vagus nerve. Most cases of gastroparesis, however, are labeled “idiopathic,” meaning that there is no known cause.

Gastroparesis is most commonly diagnosed by the gastric emptying study (GES), a procedure in which radioactive food is traced through the digestive tract to determine the rate at which food travels from the stomach to the small intestine. Other methods of diagnosis include upper endoscopy, barium x-rays, gastric manometry, and the “smart pill,” which, when swallowed, transmits data regarding the rate of passage through the digestive tract.

As of now, there is no safe, reliable, and effective treatment for gastroparesis—and there is no cure.

Available treatment options include surgery, which often is ineffective; medications, which carry the risk of serious side effects; feeding tubes or total parenteral nutrition (TPN), as well as dietary changes to liquid or soft foods, which often does not provide relief.

Living with gastroparesis is challenging, both physically and mentally. It truly is a life-altering diagnosis.

We seek awareness, better treatments, and, ultimately, a cure. We invite you to join one of our awareness campaigns: #TakeABite4GP. The idea is to get people to notice that we cannot eat with the ease that “normal” people can.

Another way you can help is to support H.R. 2311, the Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders Research Enhancement Act of 2015. This federal bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Health on May 15, 2015.

This bill would expand research, increase funding, and promote awareness and understanding of devastating functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders that greatly impact the lives of millions of sufferers. You can send a letter asking Congress to pass this bill at https://buildquorum.com/actions/1996.

For more information about gastroparesis, please contact one of our fine gastrointestinal disorder organizations: the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders at www.IFFGD.org, and the Association of Gastrointestinal Motility Disorders at www.AGMD-gimotility.org, or visit www.curegp.com

Connect With NAMI And Connect With Others

2016 August 12

John-FreeburgBy Guest Blogger John Freeburg, NAMIWalks Team Captain and NAMI Washington Board Member

I am writing today to share my story with you, and invite you to learn more about the National Alliance on Mental Illness during the True Help® Web event, Claiming Power to Improve Your Relationships, Thursday, Aug. 18, at noon CST.

NAMI, exercise and medication have been my escalator to regaining sanity. But first, let me explain how insane I became. My descent began in 1978. While I was a graduate student in New York City, the first symptoms of schizophrenia appeared. I thought horns were growing out of my head, I was afraid of a brass ornamental lamp and convinced I was Jesus. I lived in constant fear and, for more than 10 years, was plagued by delusions such as these—and worse. I eventually attempted suicide and, within a couple of years after that, I was homeless.

It was in the late 1990s that I first became involved with NAMI. The Connection Recovery Support Group training class helped me to understand and cope with my disease.

At NAMI conferences and conventions people openly learned about and discussed medications and issues I had only previously thought about in private. I entered a new common language, which has enabled me to grow and take charge of my recovery.

Invaluable Resources From A Community Of Support

NAMI has provided me and my family with invaluable resources and a community of support—and has also given me the privilege of leadership.

My experience has grown to include serving as board president of my local affiliate, NAMI Kitsap County, as well as serving two terms on the NAMI Washington state board, and being appointed as the representative to the National NAMI Consumer Council from Washington. I am proud of how far I have come on my journey back into the light, and I am grateful to NAMI for offering programs and opportunities that give new hope every day to people just like me.

Through NAMI we gain sanity—enough to give back. Through NAMI we reclaim power to improve our relationships and make meaningful connections.

NAMI’s Senior Education Program Manager Suzanne Robinson is a featured speaker for the Aug. 18 event, and will share information on NAMI signature programs.

Most family members and consumers benefit greatly from our classes, support groups and community presentation programs such as Family-to-Family, NAMI Basics for Parents, In Our Own Voice, and Connections Recovery Support Group. Others of us enjoy the leadership and advocacy opportunities that offer a chance to make our society stigma free. There is a place for everybody within NAMI.

Editor’s note: Please share the registration link for True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Relationships, at http://bit.ly/TrueHelpRelationship, on Facebook and Twitter.

Cancer And Relationships: They Can Carry Hope

2016 August 9

crawford-clayBy Guest Blogger Crawford Clay, Certified Patient & Family Support Navigator and
Advocacy Coordinator, Colon Cancer Alliance

Getting a diagnosis like colon cancer is devastating. You feel like you’ve been cast adrift on a sea of despair. The Colon Cancer Alliance wants you to know you don’t have to go through this alone. We can help you find hope.

Emily Dickenson famously said, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” While I don’t know if hope has feathers, hope certainly is the belief that things can get better. Hope comes from three sources: faith, loved ones and experts.

Faith is a belief in something bigger than you. Faith lets you give the things you can’t control over to your higher power to worry about. Faith doesn’t have to be a belief in God. It’s a belief in something outside of yourself that can bring good into your life.

Friends and family provide much needed emotional support. They can also provide you a distraction from your worries. Getting out of the cancer world is invaluable at times.

Experts come in two types. You certainly want access to medical experts—they are your best shot at getting better. The Colon Cancer Alliance can also help you by exploring treatments options. Call our free Helpline (877-422-2030) and speak to one of our Certified Patient Navigators to find out more.

You also want to meet people who’ve been there and done that: survivors. Nothing lifts your heart like meeting someone who has successfully been through what you are going through.

You can find survivors a couple ways. One way is the Colon Cancer Alliance Facebook page.

We have two closed Facebook groups for survivors: Blue Hope Nation, which has almost 7, 000 members and Colontown, an invitation-only group with many specialized neighborhoods to help you find someone talking about your specific issue or answer questions about side effects, clinical trials and more.

You may also want to talk to someone one-on-one. That’s why we have our Buddy Program. The Buddy Program allows you to connect with a survivor or caregiver and talk via phone or email. Your buddy will be glad to discuss side effects, poop or whatever else is on your mind.

I wish I’d had these resources when I was in treatment. I was lucky enough to meet a stage IV lung cancer survivor soon after my diagnosis. Meeting Fred was definitely a turning point for me; I thought if he could make it, I could too.

Let me close with a final thought from Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Editor’s note: Join Crawford Clay and learn more about relationship-building resources during the web event “True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Relationships,” Aug. 18. Click here to register and attend live or on-demand. Share Webinar.Allsup.com.

In Sickness and in Health—Aug. 18 Web Event Promotes the Latter

2016 August 8

True-Help-webinarBy Tai of Allsup

I am getting married this month. It’s a pretty good move for me, health-wise. Research says married people enjoy better physical and mental health than those who are not married.

The Mathematica report Effects of Marriage on Health: A Synthesis of Recent Research Evidence offers a few hypotheses:

  • Marriage may result in two incomes and economies of scale, improving economic well-being, which, in turn, improves health by increasing access to healthcare or lowering stress.
  • A spouse may monitor and encourage healthy behaviors, such as good eating habits and regular exercise, and discourage unhealthy ones, such as smoking.
  • A spouse may provide emotional support and intimacy, ensuring social connectedness, which could have positive effects on both physical and mental health.

But you don’t have to be married to give and receive emotional support, experience intimacy and reap the benefits of social connectedness.

Every relationship has the potential to be a power source of positive physical and mental health energy.

The Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education points to a breakthrough study that showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.

Conversely, strong social connections are associated with:

  • A 50 percent increased chance of longevity.
  • A stronger immune system.
  • Faster recovery from disease.

Power Up Your Relationships

On the other hand, chronic illness and disability often present relationship challenges.

Maintaining social connections and intimate personal relationships can be difficult in the face of chronic pain and fatigue. Feelings of isolation can be huge barriers to communication.

Limits to physical mobility and energy, as well as transportation can restrict social activities. Veterans and military families who experience these issues also must deal with the unique challenges that come from service-related disabilities and experiences.

Join me and a panel of experts on mental health, patient advocacy and veterans’ issues on Aug. 18, for “True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Relationships,” at noon CST.

True Help Claiming Power to Improve Your Relationships is designed to help individuals take manageable steps to strengthen their power resources to improve their quality of life and social interactions. Spread the word by sharing Webinar.Allsup.com to register.

As I think about exchanging wedding vows and the importance of all types of relationships, I wonder what other types of vows would be beneficial? What would best friend vows look like? What about a doctor-patient vow exchange? Send me you thoughts on other possible vow exchanges and share them during the web event.

Your SSDI Application Is Important—Here’s Why

2016 August 4

JimBy Jim of Allsup

We’re celebrating 60 years of the Social Security Disability Insurance program this week. The program was signed into law Aug. 1, 1956.

That’s a remarkable milestone. Currently, more than 151 million workers are insured for Social Security disability benefits because they’ve worked, they’ve worked hard and paid FICA taxes.

But the fact of the matter is: Many people don’t know what SSDI is or why it’s so important to their financial futures.

When life happens and you experience a life-changing disability, it’s hard to get used to the new reality you face. We have many customers who tell us they would rather not apply for SSDI.

They want to be working. And a lot of people who qualify for SSDI either give up or never apply for disability insurance in the first place.

One big reason is they think it’s the end of the line. But empower by Allsup® is now here to tell all working Americans—SSDI is not the end of the line. Those who successfully receive SSDI benefits also can use those benefits to return to work if and when they medically recover.

Six Reasons Why You Want To Apply For SSDI

Our new dual purpose online tool for SSDI benefits and return-to-work assistance is all about making sure you know, upfront, why your disability insurance application is so important to you.

  • First: You will receive important monthly benefits.
  • Second: Once you qualify and receive SSDI benefits—24 months after your date of entitlement, you can receive Medicare health insurance.
  • Third: SSDI includes a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which means you receive an annual payment increase whenever a federal COLA is enacted.
  • Fourth: You protect your retirement benefits when you receive SSDI. Someone who quits work, and doesn’t apply for SSDI benefits, will see all those years of no earnings be calculated into their retirement payment—probably making it smaller. But SSDI provides a retirement “freeze”; you really want to take a close look at this benefit.
  • Fifth: If you have dependents under age 18 at home, then an additional amount of money is added to your benefit, typically half the monthly value.
  • Sixth: Receiving SSDI is not the end of the line for your financial and career prospects. It’s an important benefit to help you during a work-disrupting disability that may require 2-5 years (or longer) to medically recover.

Don’t miss out on these important benefits of SSDI. Getting ready to start your Social Security disability application? Check out empower by Allsup.

We think you’ll agree, it’s a better way to apply for SSDI.

Skip Social Security’s Long Lines with
empower by Allsup®

2016 July 27
by Allsup

By Jim of Allsupscreenshot_landing2

People who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits often have a lot of questions.

Where do you apply for Social Security disability? Who can apply? How can you find out if you are eligible or possibly qualified for SSDI benefits?

For the first time, people with severe disabilities have an easy way to get a lot of these questions answered—and fast.

With empower by Allsup, people can receive a free online assessment of their likelihood of being eligible for SSDI benefits.

They can find easy to understand information on their desktop, laptop, tablet or mobile device.

They can also start their SSDI application from the convenience of their own home, and receive 24/7 customer support, as well as user friendly videos and audio to walk them through the Social Security disability process.

It’s a one-of-a-kind experience exclusively for Allsup customers, and we hope you like it.

Another feature of the new empower by Allsup is the ability to learn about returning to work, once you receive SSDI benefits and when you medically recover. There are so many important benefits to the SSDI program—that’s why you shouldn’t give up.

Your SSDI Application: Do It Right The First Time

It’s no secret that applying for and receiving SSDI benefits can be one of the most disheartening, stressful and frustrating experiences for millions of people with severe disabilities.

The Social Security disability backlog continues to get worse, which means the best opportunity someone has to receive SSDI is to make sure you qualify with your initial application, and do it right the first time.

By using empower by Allsup, we hope you can discover the smart, easy, helpful way to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

We want to help you do it right the first time—and avoid the hearing backlog that now stretches past 530 days.

Plus, best of all, empower by Allsup’s web-based technology is paired with Allsup expert disability representation by your side, all along the way.

Here at Allsup—we believe this is a better way to apply for SSDI.

ADA Marks 26th Anniversary On 26th

2016 July 22
by Allsup

By The Old Sarge

Image of the blue painted symbol on a parking spot indicating that the spot is for handicapped only.  The symbol is a blue square, with the international symbol for handicapped parking in the middle of it.  The black asphalt is clean and new.

When President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990, people with disabilities were given full access to public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and employment.

This watershed moment was a great and noble idea, but sometimes it’s much easier to create a law than it is to implement and enforce it.

One example comes to mind. Not long after the ADA was enacted, I joined CEO Jim Allsup on a visit to Washington, D.C., where we met with leaders of the disability rights movement. We were there to spread the word about how Allsup could help former workers obtain the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits they paid for while they were able to work.

But our conversations didn’t stop there. For example, we talked about the confusion regarding the definition of how employers would make “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace for their employees. Just what is reasonable? That discussion continues today.

One day we met independently with two powerful disability rights leaders. The topic was wheelchair curb ramps, and I was surprised to learn that these two men were on opposite—and very vocal—sides of what I thought was a simple issue.

Not so. One man, with paralysis, wanted all street curbs cut to make it easier for other wheelchair users. Makes sense to me, I reasoned. Why not?

Not so fast, a blind man warned me later that same day. Creating curb ramps is extremely dangerous for people who are visually impaired and use long canes, because they are unable to detect streets before stepping into traffic.

Compromises on the construction of curb ramps were eventually made, but the battle for the civil rights of people with disabilities continues.

Allsup has been part of that effort since 1984, some six years before President Bush signed the ADA into law. In the early days, we worked to help qualified people receive SSDI benefits, and we still do.

Today, Allsup Employment Services, Inc., an Allsup subsidiary, also helps SSDI beneficiaries to use these benefits to return to work when they are able to do so.

Efforts to realize the promise and ideals of the ADA continue.

Minority Mental Health: Just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we aren’t real

2016 July 12

By Tai of AllsupMMH-Social-FB

African American actor Jesse Williams gave an impassioned speech when he accepted the BET Humanitarian Award last month. He attacked systemic racism and promoted social justice. Near the end of his speech, he said, “Just because we’re magic, doesn’t mean we aren’t real.”

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Give me a few paragraphs to make the connection.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the groundbreaking U.S. Surgeon General’s report, Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity—A Supplement to Mental Health.

The report concluded that mental illnesses are serious and disabling disorders affecting all populations, regardless of race or ethnicity; however, it exacts a disproportionately greater toll on the overall health and productivity of minorities.

Among the report’s findings:

  1. Ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S. face a social and economic environment of inequality that includes greater exposure to racism and discrimination, violence, and poverty, all of which take a toll on mental health.
  2. Racism and discrimination are stressful events that adversely affect health and mental health. They place minorities at risk for mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
  3. Mistrust of mental health services is an important reason deterring minorities from seeking treatment. Their concerns are reinforced by evidence, both direct and indirect, of clinician bias and stereotyping.
  4. Cultural misunderstandings or communication problems between patients and clinicians may prevent minorities from using services and receiving appropriate care.

Toughness & Resiliency

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines magic as, “the use of special powers to make things happen that would usually be impossible,” and “a special, exciting quality that makes someone or something different and better than others.”

Key ingredients to the “magic” of African American culture includes culturally protective factors cited by the report—spirituality and community and family support.

I would add resiliency. The ability to endure, most often in silence, is much more than a valued personal characteristic. It is how you survive.

This necessary toughness often makes accepting and dealing with mental illness much harder to do in communities of color.

The same dynamic—the need to be “tougher than” to exist in a society that constantly sends the message that you are “less than,” is also experienced in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community.

It’s not surprising that the report also found that attitudes toward mental illness held by minorities are as unfavorable, or even more unfavorable, than attitudes held by whites. Stigma discourages major segments of the population, majority and minority alike, from seeking help.

As we observe Minority Mental Health Month in July, and celebrate the magic found in all cultures, I’d like to emphasize Williams’ reminder that we are real.

Our magic doesn’t exempt us from mental illness. But it can help us understand, love and support each other. We can share our stories, speak out against stigma, and raise awareness that treatment works.

Did You Miss National HIV Testing Day?

2016 June 29

By Tai of Allsup CDCArt_doingit-instagram-nathan

National HIV testing day was June 27. The day may be over, but the need for people get tested is not.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, but one in eight people don’t know they have it. That’s one reason why the CDC advocates for routine voluntary HIV screening as a normal part of medical practice for all patients aged 13-64.

Additional reasons why the CDC recommends routine HIV screening:

  • HIV infection is a serious health disorder that can be diagnosed before symptoms develop.
  • Infected patients have years of life to gain if treatment is initiated early, before symptoms develop.
  • The costs of screening are reasonable in relation to the anticipated benefits.
  • Thirty percent of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who are living with undiagnosed HIV.

The CDC estimates that more than 90 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. could be prevented by testing and diagnosing people living with HIV and making sure they receive early, ongoing treatment.

However, despite the benefits of HIV testing, nationwide, only 42 percent of people aged 18-64 report ever getting tested, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

According to the nonprofit organization Medwiser, barriers to testing include stigma, fear, people not thinking they are at risk, and physician and healthcare systems not being aware of screening recommendations. 

Find Confidential HIV Testing

Most preventive healthcare, such as HIV testing, is fully covered by private insurance, Medicaid and Medicare. Under the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans must cover HIV testing for everyone ages 15 to 65, and for people of other ages at increased risk—without additional cost-sharing, such as copays or deductibles.

Medicare covers HIV testing once every 12 months and up to three times during a pregnancy. Medicaid coverage of routine HIV screening varies by state.

Even if you don’t have health insurance, you may be able to access free, fast and confidential testing near you. Visit the CDC’s website at https://gettested.cdc.gov/ for a site locator. 

HIV/AIDS and SSDI

Today, HIV is a manageable disease. According to AIDS.gov, most people with HIV/AIDS can continue working, and their overall well-being and financial health can be more stable when they are gainfully employed.

For those who aren’t able to continue working due to HIV/AIDS, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can offer a monthly income, access to Medicare, and help returning to work.

A recent Social Security study found that Social Security disability beneficiaries with HIV/AIDS were among those most likely to be employed.

However, the best way to avoid the need for SSDI due to HIV/AIDS is to get tested. Take the test and take action to protect your health.

National Disability Professionals Week
Is June 20-24

2016 June 21

By The Old Sargess-card

As the baby boom generation ages, the number of people living with serious disabilities is exploding. Today, nearly 11 million former workers, their spouses and their children are drawing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

About 2.5 million more apply for this critical program every year.

They all have several things in common: They suffer from life-changing disabilities so severe they had to quit working, and all of them rely on a network made up of their families, caregivers and medical professionals for support.

An integral part of that network includes the professionals who manage, process and decide their claims for SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA), which oversees the SSDI program, employs more than 65,000 people nationwide. More than 16,000 people work at state-level Disability Determination Services offices.

The National Association of Disability Examiners (NADE) serves the workers who make critical decisions every day that affect so many people, and for the last 15 years, the organization has set aside one week each year to honor them.

This year, National Disability Professionals Week is June 20-24.

In our more than 30 years in business, Allsup has helped more than 250,000 people with severe disabilities receive the SSDI benefits they paid for when they were able to work. We know how important the professionals at the SSA and DDS are in the disability claims and appeals process, and we salute them during the week that acknowledges their service.