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Recent blog posts

Veterans and Mustangs

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Saturday, September 20th, Catherine Coats and Robert Todd attended the Mustang Extreme Makeover Finals in Fort Worth, Texas. The purpose of the Mustang Makeover is to showcase wild mustangs after they have been trained by professional trainers from across America in a period of only 100 days to perform amazing feats that are only seen in horses after years of training.

This event helps to support the Mustang Heritage Foundation in central Texas which is transforming the lives of Veterans who suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries. Veterans working with mustangs experience hope for healing. Working with these horses enhances their quality of life in a way medicine never can. In working with the mustangs, Veterans also learn vocational skills should they desire to work in the horse related industry. With a Veteran suicide rate averaging 22 a day, this program can be life changing. Read more about this outstanding program that pairs Veterans and mustangs. www.mustangheritagefoundation.org/mustang-mentors.php

Last month, the Social Security Administration extended its authority to quickly decide and award claims under their compassionate allowance process and quick disability process. This was a carry-over since 2010, when State Agencies were allowed to quickly award such claims without having to order a special medical consultant opinion. However, at the time, the program was intended to be a short-term solution, and last year, it was set to expire in November 2014. Fortunately, SSA is renewing the program through November of next year.

This is good news for a lot of people with life-threatening illness, because the agnecy is known to have an otherwise norotiously long delay in awarding cases. Certain illnesses may qualify for this process, including many types of cancers such as some breast cancers or leukemia and other rare and terminal illnesses, like ALS. Whereas these patients would otherwise have to have their claim approved by a doctor (which delays the case), this rule allows the State Agency to award the claim without getting a physician's approval.

If you think you may qualify for special consideration under these programs, call our office for more information.

Access Your Social Security Information with a My Social Security Account

With a my Social Security account, people can take control of their future by accessing their online Social Security Statement, which is a great financial planning tool that provides workers age 18 and over their complete earnings history and estimates for future retirement, disability and survivors benefits. The Statement allows workers to verify the accuracy of their earnings each year. This is important since earnings are the basis for determining future retirement benefits as well as their disability benefits in the event that a person needs to file for disability. Individuals who currently receive benefits can sign up for a my Social Security account to get an instant benefit verification letter, change their address and phone number, and start or change direct deposit of their benefit payment. Over 13 million people have established an account. You can establish an account by going to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.

Veterans and TBI

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A 2014 study published by the journal Neurology found Veterans aged 55 and older with a diagnosis of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) had a 60 percent greater risk of developing dementia over a nine-year period. According to the research team, "Our results suggest that TBI in older Veterans may predispose [them] toward development of symptomatic dementia and raise concern about the potential long-term consequences of TBI in younger Veterans and civilians." The results of the study were covered in a number of news media outlets, includingUSA Today.
The Veterans Administration offers an Airborne and Open Pit Registry to all Veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, or the Gulf War. Information gathered from this registry will be used to identify long term adverse health effects of exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards. It is hoped that the information can be used to provide better health care services to the Veterans suffering from lung and other conditions that could be related to such exposure. Veterans must sign up for the registry with the Department of Defense Self Service Login.

More awards to report

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It is a huge day for the Guys!!!!
Congratulations to:

Michael in Lancaster
Rex in Cedar Hill
Arthur in Fort Worth
Andrew in Dallas

We were able to get all of these men approved without having to go to a Hearing before the Judge! What a great day for them. Benefits will begin and they will have relief shortly!

Attorney Edwin Arita successfully argued the cases of:

Julie in Dallas - approved as of 2008
Richard of Terrell - approved as of 2009
Billy of Elm Mott - approved as of 2011
Kevin of Glen Heights - approved as of 2012

All these deserving clients will receive back pay and monthly checks. Julie, Richard and Billy will receive Medicare. Kevin's Medicare eligibility will begin in 2015 after he receives 24 months of disability benefits. What great life changing news for these wonderful clients!

The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is a federal program set in place to provide assistance to those with disabilities. SSDI pays benefits to a person and their family if the individual previously worked at a job that paid into Social Security taxes.

The Social Security Administration generally defines disability as the inability to perform or engage in daily activities due to any medical, physical, or mental impairment. This impairment must last or at least be expected to last longer than 12 months to qualify.

What mental disabilities qualify for SSDI benefits?

The Social Security Administration treats mental disability as it does physical disability and will cover conditions such as schizophrenia, manic depressive disorder, ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, and more. An extensive list of mental disabilities covered through SSDI can be found at the Social Security Administration Disability Evaluation Bluebook.

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Beginning March 17, 2014, veterans who have a VA rating of 100% may receive expedited processing of applications for Social Security Disability Benefits. This does not guarantee that Veterans will be approved for Social Security Disability benefits. Veterans must still meet the Social Security eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.

For more press releases, click here.

Under current VA regulations, veterans who are prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine receive an automatic rating of 50 percent disability rating if approved. In fiscal 2013, veterans receiving compensation for sleep apnea jumped by 26 percent, to include more than 29,000 beneficiaries, VA data show. As of Oct. 1, a total of 143,278 vets were rated disabled by sleep apnea. 89 percent of those approved received ratings of at least 50 percent.

For more information, visit: http://www.military.com/benefits/2014/02/20/va-congress-shrug-as-sleep-apnea-claims-surge.html

Military veterans who say they were sickened by lingering amounts of the herbicide Agent Orange after the Vietnam War now have some strong scientific support for their claims. According to Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, studies support the fact that Veteran's who flew in planes contaminated with any dioxin or components of Agent Orange were more likely to be exposed than those servicemen who had boots on the ground in Vietnam.

For more information, visit:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/21/agent-orange-veterans-air-force-c123s_n_4828180.html

VA Broke Its Promises, Court Says

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Recently, a Federal Circuit Court judge chastised the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for allowing the agency's Board of Veterans' Appeals to continue to use a disputed procedural rule in hearings – despite the VA's expressed promise to no longer employ the rule.

Specifically, the rule in question – which was not supposed to used – limited certain due process rights for veterans seeking benefits before the Board of Veterans' Appeals. The court found the continued application of this rule so egregious that it believes sanctions may be appropriate. Furthermore, the court ordered the government to now show cause why sanctions should not be enforced against the responsible officials.

Due process rights in VA benefits process

The veterans' benefits system in the United States was supposed to be designed to be very veteran-friendly. In fact, various procedural due process and appellate rights are afforded to veterans seeking benefits.

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Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that it has been making headway at reducing the overwhelming backlog of veterans' disability claims. Indeed, the agency reported that they number of backlogged disability claims – specifically, the claims pending more than 125 days – has dropped nearly 20 percent from its highest point roughly four months ago.

However, while this drop likely comes as welcomed news to those waiting for disability benefits, critics are still concerned that it is still not enough. Even President Obama conceded as much in a recent speech at the Disabled American Veterans' convention when he stated, 'Today, I can report that we are not where we need to be, but we're making progress.'

For instance, despite the recent 20 percent drop in backlogged disability claims, there are still nearly 500,000 claims that have been pending more than 125 days – with total claims sitting at 773,000, according to the VA. And, it is numbers such as these have prompted veterans groups to take additional action. Recently, a petition submitted by the group Concerned Veterans for America, and signed by 26,000 veterans, was sent to the White House calling for an end to this backlog.

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A new U.S. Senate subcommittee report raises serious concerns about the quality of decision making on applications for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The findings underscore the need for an applicant to have an experienced advocate at every stage of the process. A knowledgeable SSDI attorney can act as his or her client's watchdog before the Social Security Administration, or SSA, by looking at whether the agency is appropriately developing and evaluating the claim for disability insurance.

The SSDI Program

SSDI is a federal program that provides monthly payments to people disabled from working by physical or mental impairments, or combinations of impairments, that will either prevent them from working for at least a year or result in death. An eligible claimant must also meet certain detailed financial requirements that basically ask whether he or she has worked fairly recently and been employed on a mostly regular basis over the years.

SSDI by the Numbers

According to the Associated Press, roughly 11 million beneficiaries get monthly SSDI benefits of slightly under $1,000 monthly on average. Problematically in a time of tight budgets, the SSDI rolls have increased almost 25 percent in the past five years. Apparently, this type of increase is consistent with previous patterns in comparably tough economic times.

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As anyone who is unable to work due to a disability can attest to, the importance of Social Security disability (SSD) benefits cannot be overstated. This federal safety net can often be the sole source of monthly income for those who simply cannot hold a job because of their disability – whether physical or mental.

In fact, according to the 2011 Annual Statistical Report on Social Security Disability Insurance Program – which is the most recent report available – there were 626,954 Social Security disability beneficiaries in Texas alone in 2011. Of these, 595,925 were between the ages of 18 and 64 – which represents roughly 3.7 percent of the total population in Texas.

Given the extreme importance of SSD benefits to such a large population of Texans, the recent discussion among federal lawmakers to link Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) to the chained consumer price index (CPI) – which would result in smaller cost-of-living adjustments – may be cause for concern among disabled workers.

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With the recent conclusion of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, many soldiers are finally returning home to their families. The time apart can strain many families, and make it difficult for everyone to adjust once they are together again.

However, this is not the only struggle that veterans face when their service time is over. Many soldiers that have served in war zones often end up injured in these conflicts and some of these injuries can have a life-long impact. These veterans will need to file for veterans disability benefits, and many are surprised to find out how long the process can take.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the agency that handles the requests for disability benefits. The wait time for these claims has been increasing dramatically. Since October of 2011, the average wait for the processing of claims has rise from 223 to 262, according to a recent VA report.

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There are many types of conditions, illnesses or injuries that individuals suffer from that quality them for disability benefits. Some are physical or neurological, others are psychological.

One condition, often criticized and controversial, is fibromyalgia. Throughout past years, the condition has been suspect because experts in the medical field disagree on its true cause-some even believe that fibromyalgia is simply psychosomatic.

However, the results of a new study may shed light on the real cause of the condition and debunk the critics who believe it's all in the patient's head.

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According to Social Security actuaries, the Social Security Retirement Fund will run dry in 2034 – meaning retirees will likely only receive roughly 75 percent of promised benefits at that time. But, while the slow depletion of retirement funds is certainly a significant problem, there is actually another Social Security fund relied upon by millions that will be exhausted far sooner, and that is the fund for Social Security Disability Insurance(SSDI).

Sadly, Reuters reports that the SSDI trust fund will be emptied by 2016. This means that nine million disabled individuals – and two million dependents – will have to endure a 20 percent reduction in disability benefits if nothing is done to rectify the situation before that time.

Some experts believe that this crisis can be averted if Congress simply reallocates a small percentage of payroll tax revenues to SSDI from the retirement program. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration's chief actuary, Stephen Goss, reallocation of a mere 1/10th of 1 percent would equalize the long-term outlook of both programs.

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This week, NPR has been broadcasting a series of stories about veterans, including a story about veterans coping with returning to civilian life after a less-than-honorable discharge. According to NPR, Navy veteran Eric Highfill has received an Iraq campaign medal, an Afghanistan campaign medal, a good-conduct medal, and credentials in marksmanship and rifle sharpshooter. However, the 27-year-old veteran has a less-than-honorable discharge after a DUI while in service. As a result, he will receive no VA assistance, no disability compensation, and no GI Bill. According to NPR, this will also be a red flag on his job application, since most veterans service organizations won't accept this either, and even some private-sector jobs for vets accept honorable discharge only.

Another example is that of Army veteran Reed Holway, who in 2005 served a 13-month tour in Iraq, where he was subjected to multiple mortar explosions that ultimately led to his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Holway began having difficulty sleeping, and his mental health screenings indicated depression and violent thoughts. Holway began drinking and eventually suffered a breakdown, which led to an assault. As a result, Holway was discharged under less-than-honorable conditions.

Holway is now forced to pay for his PTSD treatment out of pocket, which can be expensive, particularly without health insurance. Considering the stigma Holway and others face as a result of their discharge, obtaining a job that provides health insurance has been difficult. Fortunately, Holway was able to work for his father, Bill Holway, a building contractor. Nevertheless, Holway is denied free VA benefits that are generously provided to others.

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