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Give a Squat About Pain During Pain Awareness Month

2017 September 18

Penney Cowan, Founder and CEO, American Chronic Pain Association

When is the last time you did a wall squat until it burned? Imagine living with that burning pain day in and day out. People with pain do it every day. Many of them lead lives like anybody else. Pain does not stop them from going to work, taking care of their family, enjoying a fall day. People with pain are some of the strongest, most determined people you will meet. Let’s give them the credit they deserve for living life despite pain―Give a Squat 4 Pain.

In 2001, the American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA) created Partners for Understanding Pain and declared September Pain Awareness Month. Over the next seven years, ACPA and Partners led the effort to raise awareness about understanding all the issues of living with pain, and continued working to establish and grow September as Pain Awareness Month. We succeeded, and now it’s time to reach even more. With more than 100 million people living with some form of pain, understanding of the challenges of living with pain is important to everyone in the U.S.

We are encouraging individuals to do a wall squat to begin to understand pain. Wall squats are difficult and painful, yet if you get a group of people together to challenge one another to see who can hold the wall squat position longest, you will see some smiling, grimacing, straining and a variety of expressions. What you will not see is the pain they are experiencing, even though it is very real. Our hope is to help people gain a deeper understanding of pain, and realize that even when you cannot see it, it is very real.

Anyone can show they care about the people they know and love who are living with chronic pain. Post a picture of yourself or a group doing a wall squat, share it on social media and challenge your network to do the same.

Join the effort on Twitter by using #giveasquat4pain or click here. Give a Squat 4 Pain and support the ACPA and what we have been doing help people with pain live richer fuller lives since 1980! Thank you for your support!

Employer Healthcare Plan Or Medicare?

2017 September 13

By Tricia

Allsup

For many reasons, more and more people are continuing to work once they are Medicare-eligible at age 65. That‘s when they have to make an important decision: Should I continue on my employer’s healthcare plan, or is it time to switch to Medicare?

Staying on your company plan used to be the best way to go. Today, that decision isn’t so automatic. Don’t just assume that coverage is better through your company plan. Employers are financially strapped because of ever-rising healthcare costs, and their plans may have higher premiums, more expensive co-pays and less coverage than Medicare.

There have been a lot of changes in the Medicare program in recent years. It depends on which Medicare plan you choose, but many offer lower premiums than comparable coverage from your employer.

I’m not suggesting that you immediately cancel your employer plan and enroll in Medicare. I do, however, urge you to take the time and investigate which plan is best for you. Medicare and all other health insurance plans are complex and can be difficult to understand. Fortunately, you can get help navigating your options.

The Allsup Medicare Advisor can help you make an informed decision. Give us a call and one of our trained specialists will compare your employer’s plan with available Medicare plans and help steer you in the right direction.

We will:

  • Assess your specific needs – including healthcare requirements, your doctors, prescriptions and budget.
  • Identify available Medicare plans in your area that best fit your specific needs.
  • Help you understand complex Medicare issues, such as the “donut hole” and coordinating benefits when you’re still working.
  • Prepare a customized report of plan options and benefits that offers a comparative look at premiums, deductibles, co-pays and coverage limits.
  • Provide enrollment assistance in most Medicare plans.
  • Serve as a resource if your Medicare needs change.

On Old Memories and New Technology

2017 September 11

By The Old Sarge

More years ago than I care to admit, I worked as a copy boy at a daily newspaper. These were the days of hot type and cold coffee in the newsroom. Reporters still stuck their press passes in the brim of their fedoras, and the editors would bark orders to their reporters with Campbell soup cans and string.

OK, not really, but you get the idea. It was more than a few years before technology encroached into the newsroom. Let’s just say that it took a while to segue from hot type to internet hot links.

Today, technology has nearly destroyed the newspaper industry. Why wait for Saturday to get Friday’s box score? When I couldn’t get my hands on a baseball schedule as a youngster, I would call the sports desk to find out when my guys were playing. Kids now just Google to get the date, time, starting pitchers, the ages of the manager’s children, the color of the shortstop’s eyes and the predicted humidity index at game time. By the way, when did “Google” morph into a verb?

CEO Jim Allsup didn’t have a lot of technology at his disposal in 1984 when he created the industry of nationwide, non-attorney Social Security disability representatives. His office was his kitchen table and the latest technology was his blue Remington typewriter―manual, of course.

Times have changed. More than 33 years later, Jim’s company has helped 275,000 people receive the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits they paid for when they were still able to work.

Technology rules at Allsup. We use everything from the highest of high-speed claims processing to the most secure of secure communications to serve our customers. Nothing, however, better illustrates how we have embraced technology than empower by Allsup®.

empower by Allsup is a dual-purpose online software tool that helps you determine if you may qualify for SDI benefits, and helps you avoid getting caught in a bureaucratic maze when you apply for disability. It will even help you return to work if you’re able to do so.

It’s powerful, it’s unique and it’s patented. More importantly, empower by Allsup is the product of a huge financial investment, a lot of work, and more than 30 years of hard-earned SSDI experience. No one knows SSDI better, and empower by Allsup places that knowledge directly into your hands. With easy online access, it gives you 24/7 support and a better chance for your SSDI application to be approved the first time around.

Check out empower by Allsup and get it right the first time—thanks to modern technology.

How to avoid or endure the disability backlog

2017 September 8

By Tai Prohaska

There are almost 1.1 million Americans with severe disabilities waiting about 600 days for a hearing to determine if they will receive Social Security disability benefits. About 70 percent of them are former workers.

They paid into the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) system an average of 22 years so they could receive a monthly income if they became too sick or injured to continue working. They didn’t plan to become disabled. They also didn’t plan on being stuck for years in a backlog for disability benefits

“People are losing their homes, they’re dying, and they’re going bankrupt,” said Lisa Ekman, from the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives, on behalf of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities. She testified during the recent  House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee hearing on Determining Eligibility for Disability Benefits: Challenges Facing the Social Security Administration. Ekman also suggested more help from SSA for those when they first apply for SSDI benefits.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that 8,699 people died while waiting for their hearing last year. That works out to one person dying in the backlog every hour.

I hope the following information will help people avoid or at least endure the backlog. Here are tips on surviving the SSDI application process.

Get expert help when you apply for disability.  Individuals with SSDI representation from the beginning are more likely to be among the 33 percent who get approved at the initial level. This means you typically can get your benefits in three to six months, and avoid the backlog altogether. Very important: a representative can also help you determine if you qualify for benefits and for expedited processing.

Determine if you have a compassionate allowance (CAL) condition. The SSA established the CAL program in 2008 to fast track claimants with certain conditions. However, a General Accounting Office study indicates this program doesn’t always work well. Without understanding these issues and how to present your medical information to SSA, the agency may overlook your CAL condition and you may not receive expedited processing.

Determine if you are eligible for the SSA’s Wounded Warrior program. Military service members who become disabled on active military service on or after Oct. 1, 2001, and veterans with a VA compensation rating of 100 percent P&T (permanent and total) can receive expedited processing.

Determine if you have a Dire Need Case. Your claim may be expedited if you are unable to obtain food, cannot afford or access needed medical care, are homeless or at risk of being homeless.

Continue getting medical treatment.  Applicants stuck in the backlog often lose their health insurance. However, continuing medical treatment is critical to maintaining your health, as well as providing evidence to support your SSDI claim. Click here for links to healthcare assistance in your state.

Know you are not alone. Connecting with people who have similar experiences can improve mental and physical health. To share your story, follow and post to Banish the Backlog on Facebook.

A Shorter Path to Victory for Veterans with Disabilities

2017 August 31

By Brett Buchanan

Help appears to be finally on the horizon for those waiting for a final decision on their Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims.

In a seemingly rare bi-partisan effort, Congress passed and the president signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, created to reduce wait times for veterans appealing their denied claims for VA disability benefits.

More than 400,000 former GIs now wait an average of five years for a final decision on their disability claims, but lawmakers say they want to reduce that to a more manageable 12 months. A veteran seeking disability benefits must prove his or her disabilities occurred or were made worse while serving. Often, the claims include more than one problem for which the vet is seeking separate decisions.

Enactment of the bill does not mean immediate improvements, however. The VA has indicated it will take the agency at least 18 months to adapt the current system and it’s unlikely those currently in the appeals backlog will benefit by the new process.

Under the legislation, veterans will have one of three paths if they choose to appeal their claims. They can appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals; request that a higher level VA adjudicator review and make a decision on the appeal; or provide new information and appeal to the same VA adjudicator who made the original decisions on the case.

The bill also requires the VA to provide more regular updates about the status of their disability claim.

It will take awhile to see the benefits of this change. In the meantime, if you’re thinking about appealing your VA disability claim because it was denied, or because you expected a higher rating, check out the Allsup Veterans Disability Appeals Service. We may be able to help you receive the benefits you were promised when you first put on your battle dress.

A Pain that Makes You Want to Die

2017 August 24

Beth Seickel felt like she wanted to die last week. A trauma nurse with 30 years of experience, and diagnosed 10 years ago with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), she has seen and endured pain before. But a recent fall triggered a flare.

“It was like being in prison and they’re throwing acid on you non-stop,” said Seickel. “It was torture. I couldn’t even talk.”

RSD, also known as chronic regional pain syndrome (CRPS), is characterized by one of the most severe levels of pain―42 out of a possible 50 on the McGill University Pain Scale, according to the RSD Syndrome Association (RSDSA). With CRPS/RSD, the nervous and immune systems malfunction as they respond to tissue damage from trauma. The nerves misfire, sending constant pain signals to the brain. Any type of trauma, such as stubbing your toe, or getting injured from a fall can set off flares of excruciating pain.

A small percentage of those with CRPS/RSD take their own lives. RSDSA notes that suicides are almost always the result of complex issues beyond the fact of physical pain. The organization provides resources available for suicide prevention and aftermath.

Last week, Beth was in the ICU. This week, gritting through the pain and a bout of pneumonia, she is preparing for the second annual RSDSA Walk on Sept. 9, in Long Island, New York.

With a passion that only someone who has been affected by the disease could match, Seickel is committed to raising funds and awareness of the complexities and challenges of RSD/CRPS. They include difficulties with diagnosis, differences in the problems faced by adults and youths, health insurance coverage for medications and treatments that are not FDA approved, and difficulty obtaining Social Security disability benefits.

As co-chair of the annual RSDSA Walk, she wants to give back to an organization and community that has given her and thousands of others, validation and support. The goal is to raise awareness, fund better treatments, and to find a cure for the disabling neuro-inflammatory disorder. Despite studies that show an estimated 50,000 people join the CRPS population annually, CRPS/RSD is classified as a rare disease by the FDA.

Participants can walk, run, roll, or use whatever method works best for them, to participate. Educational resources, sponsors, and health professionals will be on hand, along with activities for children. Following is a barbeque lunch to encourage socializing with other CRPS patients, care givers and medical professionals. People outside of the Long Island area can register as a virtual walker, or you can register at the event.

Mitochondrial Disease Up Close and Personal

2017 August 22

Illinois Rep. Mike Bost met with Mary Dale Walters during UMDF’s Day on the Hill in Washington D.C. this summer.

By Mary Dale Walters

In recent months, I’ve been hearing more encouraging news about progress in understanding mitochondrial disease. I have a personal interest as my sister passed away four years ago from “Mito.”

Mito is frequently referred to as the energy disease. Mitochondria in our cells generate about 90 percent of the energy needed to sustain our organs and body.  When mitochondria don’t function, not enough energy is produced and organs begin to fail.  Mitochondrial diseases are often hereditary, but also can occur as a mutation. While it is commonly associated with children, there is a growing understanding that its emergence in adults may not be as unusual as believed previously.

My sister was diagnosed at age 42, eight years before her death and after several years of mysterious, seemingly unrelated medical problems.  When she was finally diagnosed, it was frustrating to find that so little was really known about the disease. There seemed to be limited research and many of her doctors admitted to only classroom knowledge of mitochondrial disease.

It looks like this is beginning to change. More research by scientists, doctors and the government is being funded and critical information is emerging.  According to the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF), studies indicate  there may be a link between dysfunctional mitochondria and Alzheimer’s dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cardiovascular disease, deafness and blindness, diabetes, Huntington disease, obesity, Parkinson’s and stroke.

It’s important to note that more than 50 million people in this country suffer from these disorders, many of whom depend on Social Security Disability Insurance.

Also, the Department of Defense’s Medical Research program is looking at the connections between service-related disorders like Gulf War Illness and PTSD and mitochondrial dysfunction. The National Institutes of Health’s funding for the North American Mitochondrial Disease Consortium is a critical shared registry on Mito patients.

The UMDF sums up the progress this way: “While it cannot yet be said that mitochondrial defects cause these problems, it is clear that mitochondria are involved because their function is measurably disturbed.”

There needs to be progress in creating more awareness of this disease and its importance to unlocking a lot of mysteries about our body’s cells. Mitochondrial Awareness Week is September 17-23. If you, a family member or friend has any of the disorders listed above (or to see a list of all the disorders classified as Mito) it’s worth a few minutes of your time to check out the basics. The UMDF does a good job of explaining the very complex in layperson language. Check it out at http://www.umdf.org.

The Solar Eclipse and Customer Service in 23 Seconds or Less

2017 August 17

Allsup headquarters is in the path of Monday’s solar eclipse. We’re pretty excited about it even though the totality will last only 23 seconds.

But a lot can happen in that amount of time, and this week we asked team members to think about what else could happen in 23 seconds. At Allsup, we are privileged to have an opportunity to help individuals with severe disabilities navigate an often frustrating, confusing and lengthy process of applying for disability benefits.

How can our employees make a positive difference in someone’s life in a “blink of an eye”? I’m pleased to share some responses.

“Always show compassion to customers, even when they are upset because you don’t know what they are struggling with.”

“Waiting on hold that extra 23 seconds to speak with a [Social Security Administration] representative can mean the difference in the claimants’ past due benefits being released within days instead of weeks or even months.”

“Focusing on issues, not the personalities that call in. Some claimants are in pain or may not be having a great day and it rubs off on their mood. We have to look past that and stay focused. The goal is to help.”

“Do what you say you are going to do.”

“I make sure that all forms going out to the claimant are correct and marked so they know exactly where to sign.”

“Some claimants are scared and apprehensive due to their medical issues, so being nice and respectful and showing empathy sets them at ease some.”

“Assure the claimant in 23 words, ‘I know this is tough and long. You are not alone. Allsup is here to help and we will get through this together.’”

“Sometimes, as Allsup team members, we are the only ones that our claimants speak to on a regular basis. Some of our claimants do not have any family or friends to talk to or help get them through this tough time in their lives. We, as Allsup team members, have to be there for our customers and be that person, who during that short period of being on the phone, can make that person feel secure and know that somebody cares for them and is working on making their case better at that time and focusing on them.”

Our employees will take a few minutes to enjoy this rare event, but as soon as the sun emerges from the moon’s shadow, we’ll be back doing what we’ve been doing for the last 33 years―helping individuals obtain the benefits they deserve, and making every second count.

The Chronic Illness Paradox ―Loneliness in Numbers

2017 August 9

By the Old Sarge

You feel pretty darn lousy when you’re sneezing and hacking from a cold or the flu, but at least you know you’ll be feeling better in a few days.

People suffering from a chronic illness aren’t so lucky.

A chronic illness, such as heart disease, diabetes, lupus, or multiple sclerosis are long-term disorders that may never be cured. According to PBS.org, 125 million Americans suffer from a chronic illness, and that number is expected to jump to 157 million by 2020.

Along with the illness itself, as many as one-third of the people battling a chronic illness also suffer from depression and anxiety. Medical experts say that learning how to deal with the accompanying depression and stress is just as important as treating the underlying chronic illness itself.

It’s not difficult to understand why. A chronic illness can cause a major disruption in life as you know it. You may be forced to quit working, or suddenly become dependent on others to get through the day. Constant fatigue, insomnia and limited mobility also are common accompanying ailments to a chronic illness.

Some people experience severe isolation and loneliness when they  no longer have a workplace in which to socialize and have difficulty getting around.  More research is being done on the negative health effects of loneliness, with a recent study calling the “loneliness epidemic” a public health threat.

The Cleveland Clinic and Psych Central offer some advice on dealing with a chronic illness and depression:

  • Find a support group. Sharing your experiences with others can help by showing you that you’re not alone in your struggles. If you’re reluctant to join a “live” group, find an online group where you can remain anonymous.
  • Get involved and become a participant in your treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Seek family and couples counseling because your illness probably affects your entire family.
  • Look for individual counseling. Some people are more comfortable talking about their private feelings in one-on-one sessions with a professional counselor.
  • Eat healthy. Follow all dietary instructions from your healthcare providers.
  • Learn to accept your illness and do what you can to lead a better life.

Another helpful tip is to keep a personal journal of your day-to-day activities. Putting your day on paper may help you identify problem areas. Example: You had digestive problems in the evening and a quick check of your journal reminded you that you ate guacamole for lunch. Could the guac be the problem?

A chronic illness often leads to job loss and financial problems. If you lost your job because of a chronic illness, click here to see how empower by Allsup® can help you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Apply for Disability the Right Way the First Time With empower By Allsup®

2017 August 2

By the Old Sarge

I know a woman named Sue who applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and was denied. She wasn’t alone. The Social Security Administration (SSA) denies about two-thirds of all initial SSDI applications.

You also probably know someone like her.

Sue represents thousands of SSDI applicants whose benefits are delayed or denied every year because of errors, incomplete information and missed deadlines. She may have forgotten to sign one of the many government forms. Perhaps she did not provide the medical evidence SSA needed to approve her application. Maybe the way she answered SSA’s questionnaires did not adequately show how her condition made it impossible for her to work. It could be that she transposed a digit in her Social Security number.

A denial at the initial SSDI application level means you are thrust into the massive disability backlog. More than 1.1 million people in America are languishing months and years waiting in line for an SSDI decision.

Like most of life’s challenges, it’s always best to get it right the first time. And Sue and all the others like her could have gotten her Social Security disability application right the first time and avoided delays and the bureaucratic headaches by unleashing the power of empower by Allsup. This super software is a dual online tool that takes more than 30 years of disability experience and puts it to work for you.

First, empower by Allsup helps you determine the likelihood of qualifying for SSDI. If it looks like you are a good candidate to meet the SSA’s rigid eligibility requirements, it will guide you through the application process with simple and clear step-by-step audio and written instructions.

When you apply for Social Security disability with empower by Allsup, you increase your chances of being approved at the initial application level. Overall, with Allsup, you have a 50 percent greater chance of being approved for disability benefits. Best yet, once you do qualify, the same technology will help you return to work if your health recovers to the point that you’re able to do so.

Don’t be like Sue. Do SSDI right the first time with empower by Allsup.