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True Help in Action for Woman Living with Bipolar Disorder

2018 February 22

“Carol was wonderful, she really got a quick turnaround on my award.”

Heidi Scott* attempted suicide four times. People said she did it for attention. People said she was selfish. People said her problems were all in her head.

But after her last suicide attempt, a new doctor said something different. He diagnosed her with bipolar disorder.

Despite living with a severe mental illness, Mrs. Scott had worked as a nursing assistant for years. But the disease eventually progressed to the point where she could not function at work. So, when her psychiatrist instructed her to stop working, she faced a significant financial dilemma.

Fortunately, Mrs. Scott had paid into the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program while she was working and could apply for disability benefits. Allsup obtained her SSDI award within months.

“We were able to get such a quick award because her doctor gave her excellent support and because we very thoroughly gathered and documented her medical information,” said Allsup claims consultant Carol Domescik.

“Carol was wonderful, she really got a quick turnaround on my award,” said Mrs. Scott. “I expected denials, but I was awarded after my first application. It was amazing.”

Click here to read more about Ms. Scott’s experiences before and after receiving True Help from Allsup.

*Heidi Scott’s name was changed to protect her privacy.

Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to share your True Help story.

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Win $500 and a Trip to Denver Just Because We Believe You

2018 February 13

People don’t believe people with invisible disabilities. That’s why people with invisible disabilities get nasty notes on their cars when they park in disabled spots, even when their placards are clearly visible. That’s why their disability benefits are denied even when their doctors say they can’t work. That’s why their friends get mad when they have to cancel plans because their bodies won’t allow them to take a shower, much less leave the house. That’s why people with invisible disabilities often feel invisible themselves.

We Believe You

Do you have a condition that is not readily visible but impacts your ability to perform basic functions like sitting, standing, walking and concentrating? Invisible disabilities include mental illness, lupus, fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, traumatic brain injury, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic and severe back pain, Chron’s disease, arthritis, heart disease, rare diseases and other disorders. Do you have an invisible disability?

Allsup and the Invisible Disabilities Association believe you. That’s one reason you should enter the #IAmInvisibleNoMore video contest. Here are four more reasons.

  1. You could win $500 and a trip to Denver.  The video that gets the most online votes earns the winner and a guest a trip to Denver to attend the IDA Awards Gala in October 2018. The trip includes round trip air, ground transportation, hotel, Gala tickets and VIP treatment. An additional $400 in gift cards and other prizes will be awarded to the top 24 vote-getting videos.
  2. Your story matters. Sharing your experiences living with an invisible disability allows you to connect with others who share similar experiences. IDA facilitates caring communities and networks, but it’s individuals like you who make them work.
  3. You are not alone. Living with an invisible disability often makes it hard to be social. Sharing your story through #IAmInvisibleNorMore can be a big step toward connecting with others and building a supportive social network.
  4. You are an important part of the solution. Sharing your video story encourages others and breaks down barriers of misunderstanding and prejudice. Does someone who looks like you have an invisible disability? Yes, you are living proof. Tell people what you want them to know about “people like you.”

Since 1984, Allsup has helped more than 275,000 people obtain the disability benefits they deserve. Most of them had invisible disabilities―and we believed them. For more information on how Allsup can help you apply for disability benefits, visit IDA.Allsup.com.

For contest updates, including tips on telling your story, follow Allsup on Facebook.

Disability Benefits After an Organ Transplant

2018 February 12

Andrea Smith, Director of PR/Communications, Donor Alliance

Organ transplants are life changing, but it’s imperative that transplant recipients pace their return to normal activities. A slow return to normal activities can make an immediate return to work challenging, which means making ends meet financially can be a concern for transplant recipients and their families.

Fortunately, there is help available. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial resources for people who have had organ transplants and are unable to work.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

Those who have received an organ transplant automatically qualify for disability benefits for 12 months following their transplant. After 12 months, the SSA will reevaluate the claim. If a recipient is still too ill to work, they can continue to receive disability benefits.

The SSA offers two forms of disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Medical qualification is the same for both, but each program has specific technical qualifications.

SSDI is for people who have worked throughout their lives. Recipients who did not work and pay FICA taxes usually will not qualify. Typically, anyone who has worked five of the past 10 years will have earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI.

SSI benefits are available only for the neediest families. There is no work requirement for SSI benefits, but if the recipient has a spouse who is earning a living wage, they will not qualify. Recipients will also not qualify if they have a significant amount of saved cash, stocks, bonds, or a second home or car.

Re-give the Gift of Life by Registering as an Organ and Tissue Donor As the beneficiary of lifesaving gift, remember that anyone—regardless of age and health—can register as a donor. People with chronic conditions such as diabetes and hepatitis can still save and heal lives. Donors well into their 80s have saved lives through organ donation, and individuals over the age of 100 have donated tissue.

This includes transplant recipients themselves who may donate other organs or tissues and re-give that gift of life. Say “yes” to organ, eye and tissue donation at the drivers’ license office and save lives.

February 14 is National Donor Day, and it’s a good time to share your decision to be an organ, eye and tissue donor with your family.

Editor’s note: Allsup provides a free SSDI eligibility screening at Expert.Allsup.com, and additional disability resources at SSDI101.com.

Care, Support and Resources for Adults with Congenital Heart Disease

2018 February 5

Misty Sharpe, Membership and Volunteer Coordinator, Adult Congenital Heart Association

Most people know that February is Heart Month but few know that the week of the 7th-14th is also Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) Awareness Week.

Recently, there has been a wave of awareness for CHD. That is wonderful, but the belief that following surgery a patient is “fixed,” or that CHD is a childhood condition, is still widely held. As research and our understanding of CHD improve, however, we know that not to be true.  Adult CHD patients are at risk for arrhythmia, stroke, sudden cardiac death, heart failure and changes in heart function which often require additional interventions, including medication, cardiac catheterization, and surgery.

The Adult Congenital Heart Association (ACHA) is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults with CHD and stressing the importance of lifelong care through education, advocacy and research.

Less than 10 percent of adults with CHD receive the appropriate care according to the guidelines released by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association. The guidelines state that anyone with a CHD should be seen by an Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) specialist at least once, and more complex CHD patients should be followed regularly. If you are not currently seen by an ACHD specialist, you can search ACHA’s online Clinic Directory to identify a program in your area.

Although CHD is not a one size fits all diagnosis and each person’s journey is different, many patients experience additional stressors that have profoundly impact their lives. Some of these stressors include a change in health or quality of life that may affect their ability to work, difficulty accessing care and navigating a complicated disability and appeal process.

The ACHA offers patients peer support through our Heart to Heart Ambassador Program. It is comprised of ACHD patients and loved ones who are trained to speak with our members who may be experiencing one of the above issues, a new diagnosis or upcoming surgery, or have additional questions related to their CHD, such as pursuing pregnancy.

When you visit the Your Heart section of ACHA’s website, you’ll find a wealth of educational information on various topics in Webinars and PDF downloads. Regional and national conferences are also offered throughout the year.

Membership is free and includes a new-member packet with educational materials, a personal health passport and travel directory, access to an online discussion forum and a monthly newsletter so you can stay updated on the latest news, events and ways to get involved. I hope you’ll join us at ACHA and empower yourself with the knowledge and resources to be your own best advocate.

Editor’s note: Individuals with ACHD who need information and help applying for disability benefits can click here to access a free SSDI eligibility assessment.

Forget Phil―Feb. 2 Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Day

2018 January 30

By Allsup

We celebrate Groundhog Day every year on Feb. 2, but the prescient Punxsutawney Phil shares his day of recognition with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an illness affecting more than 1.5 million Americans.

Many people confuse RA with osteoarthritis, or OA. RA is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks joint tissue, causing inflammation and join pain. Women are two or three times more likely than men to suffer from RA. With OA, the joint cartilage breaks down over time, causing similar symptoms, and men are the most likely victims.

Click here to learn more about the differences between RA and OA.

Several analogies can be drawn from Groundhog Day and RA Awareness Day, said Kelly Young, founder of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation.

“Compare [RA] onset to the moment the groundhog comes out of his hole to look for his shadow,” Young said. “It’s impossible to predict how aggressive the disease will be or whether treatments will be effective. The six weeks that the groundhog forecasts correspond to the short window of opportunity for people with rheumatoid disease to get early diagnosis and treatment.”

Specific RA symptoms include:

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

It’s important to tell your treating physician about your pain and the affected joints so they can document the affects of the disease and its treatment. Fully documented medical records of your condition are critical when you apply for disability benefits―Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Click here for a free SSDI eligibility assessment to determine your likelihood of obtaining disability benefits for arthritis.

Allsup disability professionals have helped thousands of arthritis patients receive their disability benefits since its founding in 1984. Click here to read a story about how Allsup helped an Illinois woman suffering from rheumatoid arthritis apply for and obtain disability benefits.

Post Hurricanes―United Spinal Association Helps with Housing, Mobility Equipment and Daily Needs

2018 January 26

Bill Fertig
Director, United Spinal Association Resource Center

As a national nonprofit serving people with spinal cord injuries and disorders for over 70 years, United Spinal Association gets its share of disheartening stories from wheelchair users who reach out to us for support. This past year, however, our organization’s resources were stretched to capacity with three destructive hurricanes––Harvey, Irma, and Maria–– that severely impacted disability communities in many U.S. states and territories.

Calls for help flooded in to our Resource Center­­. It became quite evident the storms took their toll on our community in ways many were unprepared for. Equipment was damaged by water, loss of electricity stranded power wheelchair users, and downed trees cut off access to shelters, medical care, supplies. As a wheelchair user, I can relate to the challenges this can pose. When you must contend with a natural disaster on top of all the other hurdles, the feeling of hopelessness can be overwhelming. The question for United Spinal was, how would we provide our members and the larger disability community desperately needed resources?

Fortunately, with a generous $500,000 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation to coordinate and support weather-related disaster relief, United Spinal launched outreach efforts this past fall that renewed hope for thousands of wheelchair users and other people with disabilities affected by these unprecedented storms.

Through our local chapters, we’ve distributed over 200 and counting micro-grants to people living in hurricane impacted areas for accessible housing, mobility equipment and general subsistence needs. In December, we also sent a delegation to Puerto Rico to provide aid to the disability population recovering from Hurricane Maria, distributing inverters to recharge wheelchairs, solar lamps, batteries, gasoline containers and other equipment. It was rewarding to join our Puerto Rico chapter on the ground, offering support to many who have felt they’ve been forgotten. Hearing the heartbreaking stories of wheelchair users that lost everything added a sobering perspective. That is, our work is far from over! There are still thousands of people who need our help, in Puerto Rico and across the country. This isn’t just about recovery, but ensuring measures are in place to protect our community during future storms.

Through initial funding and public donations, we’re slowly, but surely building a solid foundation to meet these goals. Our sights are currently on expanding our Resource Center’s capacity to handle disaster relief inquiries, as well as creating case management services to meet the high volume of requests for assistance, now and down the road. And if there’s one thing I’m certain of in my years of service to the disability community, it’s that we can achieve amazing things together.

There are a variety of ways you can support United Spinal’s hurricane relief efforts. Click here for more information.

The Top 5 Reasons You Need to Watch This Video

2018 January 18

By Wayne Connell, founder and president of Invisible Disabilities Association

One of the hardest parts about living with an invisible disability is sharing how it impacts you on a daily basis. Living with an invisible disability often means struggling to “act normal” when your body is anything but―or being labeled as lazy, anti-social or rude because people don’t understand your debilitating pain, chronic fatigue, cognitive impairment, chemical sensitivity or mental illnesses.

The Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA), with Allsup’s support, has created the video “I Am Invisible No More!”  Here are five reasons why you and your loved ones should watch this video, and share your own story with Allsup and IDA:

  1. Everyone Knows Someone. An estimated one out of every ten individuals struggles with a medical condition (including psychological conditions) that impairs their day-to-day functioning in some way. Maybe you struggle with an invisible disability but are frightened of the stigma that comes with speaking out. Maybe a friend or family member is suffering in silence. This video provides inspiration to help you cope and identify and support loved ones.
  2. It Will Change How You See Disabilities — Because Oftentimes, You Can’t.

When people hear the term “disabled,” they often think of someone using a wheelchair or a walker. However, many Americans who live with a severe disability do not use assistive equipment. Any physical, mental, or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities in a way that onlookers cannot immediately see is considered an invisible disability.

  1. You Can Help Break Someone’s Cycle of Shame.

Invisible symptoms can lead to misunderstandings, isolation and shame. Because people tend to judge others by what they see, they often conclude a person can or cannot do something by the way they look. People living with invisible disabilities may not appear to have any obvious challenges, and this can cause stress and emotional damage when they are physically or mentally unable to meet people’s unrealistic expectations. Creating an accepting environment with a better understanding of invisible disabilities can make it easier for someone to talk about their conditions and how they impact them.

  1. You Can Help Start a Cycle of Empowerment and Engagement.

By shining a light on what people living with disabilities contend with each day, friends and family can better offer support and validation to their loved ones. This can empower individuals to reach out, connect with others and tap into resources that can improve their health and quality of life.

  1. It Will Inspire You

Despite—or perhaps because of—their invisible challenges and the silence and confusion that often surrounds them, the people in the video have achieved remarkable things. Whether or not you struggle with an invisible disability, we have all encountered personal obstacles. Personal stories can be a source of comfort, connection and compassion—toward others as well as toward yourself.

Follow IDA and Allsup on social media for tips on telling your own story, where to share them, and be among the first to learn how you can be a part of special events, like the 2018 Invisible Disability Awards Gala in Denver.

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Top Five Ways Medicare Can Help You Keep New Year’s Resolutions

2018 January 10

By Aaron of Allsup

How are your New Year’s resolutions working out? If you have Medicare, you have extra help to keep the most common resolutions. Here are five ways you can use Medicare benefits to help you make the changes you want in 2018.

  1. Medicare can help you lose weight. Nutritional counseling, gym memberships and annual wellness visits, detailed below, can help you shed pounds and live a healthier lifestyle.
  2. Medicare can help you make self-improvements. Medicare covers an annual wellness visit with your doctor at no cost. Use this time to discuss your physical and mental health goals for the year, get advice from an expert, and referral to a mental health specialist, if needed.
  3. Medicare can help you quit smoking. Enroll in Medicare’s smoking and tobacco cessation programs. Medicare beneficiaries may receive up to eight face-to-face visits per year with a counselor at no cost, if they have a history of tobacco use.
  4. Medicare can help you eat healthier. Nutrition therapy services include an initial assessment, one-on-one nutritional counseling, and follow-up visits to monitor your progress. These services are covered 100 percent by Medicare for individuals with diabetes, kidney disease and other conditions.
  5. Medicare can help you work out more often. Many Medicare Advantage plans include “Silver Sneakers” – a free or reduced cost gym membership program. Joining a gym can have multiple benefits from improved health to opportunities to socialize. So it could also help with another popular New Year’s resolution: finding the love of your life.

Making better financial decisions is another common New Year’s resolution. Reviewing your Medicare coverage annually is a good step toward making that promise a reality. Medicare plans change each year, and it’s important to do your homework before choosing your Medicare Advantage or prescription drug Part D plans for the next year. Allsup Medicare Advisor can help you understand your options.

The Top 10 All Things Disability Blogs for 2017

2018 January 9

Allsup’s All Things Disability (ATD) blog is a resource for people needing information on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), finances, health and wellness. Our expert writers have backgrounds in public health, law, finance, government programs, veterans affairs, Medicare and health insurance. ATD regularly features guest blogs from individuals and organizations that provide practical tips and resources for individuals living with chronic illnesses and disability.

Our goal is to help people lead lives that are as healthy and financially secure as possible.

We’re sharing share the top 10 blogs of 2017, with hopes that seeing the information again will help readers take action, or reach and help new readers. Many of the blogs were posted before 2017, and continue to garner interest. Please comment on and share your favorite blog. And subscribe to All Things Disability on the top right hand of this page.

  1. My #DAMPersonal Story With Essential Tremor-Kathleen Welker, president of Tremor Action Network, shares her journey from diagnosis to founding the nonprofit organization. She recently announced her retirement. Best wishes, Kathleen!
  2. Why a CDR Could be a Good Thing-The Social Security Administration conducts continuing disability reviews (CDRs) for SSDI beneficiaries. Failure to respond to a notice could result in termination of benefits. This post explains beneficiary rights.
  3. The Strength to Move Forward-Allsup claims specialist Becky Matzenbacher is one of a growing number of individuals under age 50 diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
  4. What if I Have a Hemorrhoid?-Guest blogger Geri Lynn Baumlatt wants to make colonoscopies shorter and safer with patient education.
  5. Connect with NAMI and Connect with Others-Guest blogger John Freeburg shares his experience with mental illness and how the National Alliance on Mental Illness helps individuals and families.
  6. Colon Cancer: Don’t Ignore the Symptoms-Patient, advocate and Colorectal Cancer Alliance volunteer Valarie Schlosser encourages others to learn from her experience.
  7. Back to Work with an Ostomy-More than half the people Allsup helps with SSDI say they would like to return to work. The United Ostomy Associations of America offers practical advice for those who have had ostomy surgery.
  8. Do I Need Medicare if I have Other Health Insurance?-SSDI beneficiaries are eligible for Medicare 24 months after their cash benefits begin. We answer some of their most common questions in this post.
  9. How to Work the System so the System Helps You Work– Most who apply for SSDI are unaware of the support they can receive to return to work.
  10. empower by Allsup®—Making Things Possible -This post provides links to resources that help individuals with disabilities access technology.
  11. The Pain That Makes You Want to Die (tied for #10)-Chronic pain is a leading cause of disability. Chronic regional pain syndrome/reflex sympathetic dystrophy is one of the most painful chronic conditions there is.

The Number One New Year’s Resolution Social Security Should Make—And Keep

2018 January 4

By The Old Sarge

An open letter to Congress and Acting Social Security Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill.

Dear Members of Congress and Acting Commissioner Berryhill:

Is it too late to make a New Year’s resolution? If not, how about resolving to eliminate the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) backlog? By the end of fiscal year 2019―not 2022, as Acting Commissioner Berryhill has projected. This year. Make it a major priority.

You’ve all been in office long enough to know that SSDI is an important program, paid for by workers in case they become disabled.  You also know that it needs unified stewardship and a commitment to modernizing how it serves those stuck in the backlog and those who will be applying for benefits in the next few years.

I’m sure you’re aware that two-thirds of initial SSDI applicants are denied benefits. Most of those who appeal that decision will be denied again. Then they face the ridiculously looong wait for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). Other processes, such as “on the record” decisions that were successfully used in the past, have been virtually abandoned. Today, more than a million SSDI applicants wait an average of 605 days for a hearing decision. That’s on top of more than 200 days just to get to the hearing level.  About 10,000 people died in that line last year, according to the SSA; up from 8,900 the year before. These are people who paid for disability insurance throughout their entire working lives.

There a lot of reasons—or excuses—for the decision backlog. The agency says it can’t do the job because it’s understaffed and under budgeted.  Lawmakers have lots of excuses as well―either unreasonably suggesting the program is full of fraudsters and fakers or that only more budget will do. Surely there is a compromise. But a compromise has to begin with a genuine desire to step up and help former workers quickly learn if they are or are not eligible for benefits―before they are financially devastated, lose their homes and die.

The question isn’t, “Where does it stop?”  The question is, “When does it truly start?”

When do Congress and the SSA really come together and dedicate their mutual efforts on helping former workers, who after 22 years on average, have left their jobs as the result of a severe disability? When do both of them decide five more years of this is unacceptable and work toward a resolution?

In September 2016, SSA published its Compassionate And REsponsive Service Plan to Reduce Pending Hearings, or CARES Plan. It outlined a goal of reaching an average processing time of 270 days by the end of Fiscal year 2020.

Nice try, Commissioner Berryhill., but not nearly nice enough. In effect, you’re telling Americans with severe disabilities that even if you meet CARES’ goals (which is doubtful) that they’ll still have to wait nine months for a hearing. Don’t forget that’s after months of struggling through the SSDI process just to get to the hearing stage. That’s simply not acceptable.

I urge you and Congress to do whatever needs to be done to immediately reduce the backlog. You can start by visiting BanishTheBacklog on Facebook to read posts by real people facing real problems while they languish in the waiting line.

You also might want to check empower by Allsup to see what we’re doing to help. empower is a dual-purpose online tool that can reduce an applicant’s wait time for SSDI benefits and give them 50 percent higher odds of being approved. It also helps them return to the workforce if they’re able.

Best Regards,

The Old Sarge

P.S. The next time you see President Trump, tell him I recommend that he names a permanent SSA Commissioner. You may also want to suggest that it’s time to reinstate the on-the-record decision process that doesn’t require in-person hearings.