February 2015

Stevens-Johnson syndrome can leave victims disabled

old eyes close upSyndrome can have severe, permanent health consequences

Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a rare reaction to certain medications, infections or cancers. The reaction causes the outer layer of skin to blister, die and peel, creating the same effect as burning. The reaction can also affect mucus membranes. As an Illinois Social Security lawyer can attest, this syndrome can cause various short-term complications and even permanent disability.

Debilitating complications

Stevens-Johnson syndrome can lead to numerous medical complications. Loss of the external layer of skin puts victims at risk for dehydration and skin infection. The eye dryness associated with the syndrome can result in cornea scratching or vision problems. The risk of general infection or sepsis is also significant.

Stevens-Johnson syndrome can have extensive effects. ABC News recently reported that one California woman suffered damaged to 90 percent of her body after developing the syndrome. The woman spent 52 days hospitalized and suffered various complications, including throat, blood and urine infections. After her release, the woman still required a breathing tube due to throat constriction.

Unfortunately, besides short-term health problems, victims of Stevens-Johnson syndrome may suffer permanent complications. These include:

  • Vision problems — severe tissue damage and scarring may result in impaired vision or blindness.
  • Organ damage — Stevens-Johnson syndrome may affect the kidneys, heart and liver. Complications associated with the syndrome, such as sepsis, may also cause organ damage.
  • Lung problems — victims of Stevens-Johnson syndrome may also develop respiratory illness or inflammation, such as bronchitis.

In severe cases, Stevens-Johnson syndrome may leave victims unable to work or perform other daily activities. These individuals may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. As a Social Security lawyer can explain, benefits may be awarded based on an applicant’s medical condition or functional limitations.

Claiming SSD benefits

Victims of Stevens-Johnson syndrome may qualify for benefits by meeting the terms of a “Blue Book” listing. The Blue Book contains a list of disabling medical conditions that automatically are eligible for benefits if they meet set criteria. Some complications of Stevens-Johnson syndrome, such as vision loss, may be evaluated under these listings.

People who have suffered permanent complications because of Stevens-Johnson syndrome may also qualify for medical-vocational allowances. The SSA awards an allowance if gainful employment is not feasible given a person’s medical condition and functional abilities. The SSA also considers a person’s age, education and work experience when evaluating the person’s potential employment options.

As a Social Security lawyer knows, a claims examiner may weigh various effects of Stevens-Johnson syndrome when awarding an allowance. In some cases, complications that are not considered disabling on their own may collectively prevent a person from working. Thus, providing documentation of all complications associated with this syndrome is essential for people seeking benefits.


Is Parkinson’s eligible for SSD benefits?

senior womanClaiming SSD for Parkinson’s with a Social Security attorney

Parkinson’s disease develops when neurons in the brain die or become damaged, resulting in the disruption of nerve signals. Tremors, stiffness and issues with balance or movement often characterize this disease. Parkinson’s is progressive, so these symptoms usually worsen over time. As an Illinois Social Security attorney can attest, victims may eventually have difficulty walking, talking or completing everyday tasks.

Social Security Disability benefits may be available to help people afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. The Social Security Administration includes Parkinson’s in its “Blue Book” of disabling conditions. Victims may also qualify for SSD benefits by receiving medical-vocational allowances.

Meeting medical criteria

The SSA automatically considers Parkinson’s disabling if it fulfills criteria listed in the Blue Book. The disease must cause severe rigidity, tremors in two extremities or slowness of movement. These effects must limit the victim’s ability to perform fine motor tasks, control limbs or walk at a reasonable pace.

As a Social Security attorney can explain, people who do not meet these requirements may qualify for medical-vocational allowances. When awarding an allowance, the SSA evaluates how Parkinson’s affects the applicant’s ability to work. First, the SSA uses the following evidence to assess the symptoms and functional limitations associated with the disease:

  • Medical records
  • Statements from treating physicians
  • Symptoms or limitations the applicant reports
  • Findings from consultative examinations
  • Statements from family, friends or other non-medical sources

With this information, the SSA determines the applicant’s residual functional capacity. RFC describes the level of work the applicant can engage in despite suffering from Parkinson’s. Using RFC, age, education and work history, the SSA decides whether there is any work the applicant can reasonably perform.  If not, the applicant may qualify for benefits.

Other eligibility requirements

As any Social Security attorney knows, people seeking SSD benefits for Parkinson’s must also meet non-medical requirements. First, an applicant cannot engage in substantial gainful activity, or work with income exceeding $1,090 per month. Second, the applicant must qualify as “insured” under the Social Security Disability Insurance program. Workers are only insured if they have earned enough total and recent credits.

A worker earns one credit each quarter that his or her income reaches a set level. In 2015, $1,220 of income is worth one credit. Workers can earn four credits per year. The number of total credits and recent credits that an applicant needs varies based on age. The number of recent working years counted also depends on the individual’s age.

Unfortunately, if these criteria aren’t met, people who suffer from Parkinson’s cannot collect SSD benefits. The prognosis or severity of the disease is irrelevant, since the SSA considers these financial criteria before evaluating medical evidence.


3 genitourinary disorders that are eligible for SSD

pPatientTakesPills_9841759_sA disability attorney in Illinois can help victims of kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease affects one-tenth of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As any disability attorney in Illinois knows, kidney disease can be highly debilitating. The disease results in the buildup of electrolytes, fluids and waste. Victims may experience adverse symptoms and dangerous complications, including stroke and heart failure.

Various disorders that cause chronic kidney disease may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. The Social Security Administration’s “Blue Book” of impairments identifies these disorders and associated severity requirements. People who fulfill the listing terms automatically meet the SSA’s medical criteria.

  1. Chronic kidney disease

The Blue Book considers chronic kidney disease disabling if it necessitates certain forms of dialysis. People who require hemodialysis via artificial kidney machines meet this listing requirement. People who receive peritoneal dialysis with dialyzing solutions also qualify medically for SSD benefits.

The SSA also considers chronic kidney disease disabling if it causes specific impairments to kidney function. People who suffer from peripheral neuropathy, renal osteodystrophy or fluid overload syndrome may qualify under this listing. These individuals must provide clinical evidence of reduced glomerular filtration, high serum creatine or low creatine clearance.

  1. Kidney transplant

The SSA automatically considers people disabled during the year following a kidney transplant. The SSA also evaluates medical records to determine whether a person qualified as disabled before the transplant. If so, the SSA may recognize an earlier disability onset date. As any disability attorney in Illinois can confirm, this may result in greater backpay benefits.

If impairments continue more than a year after a transplant, a person may continue qualifying for benefits. The SSA weighs any complications, including rejection episodes, resulting from the transplant. The SSA also evaluates the person’s functional abilities and any negative effects of ongoing treatment.

  1. Nephrotic syndrome

Nephrotic syndrome is a subset of kidney diseases that manifest with certain symptoms. These include edema, or swelling, and excessive levels of urinary protein. High cholesterol and low serum albumin levels can also occur with nephrotic syndrome.

To meet listing requirements, people with nephrotic syndrome must document severe edema persisting over 90 days. Nephrotic syndrome must also cause high urinary protein levels or low serum albumin levels. Moderate protein-to-creatine ratios or moderate urinary protein levels must accompany low serum albumin levels.

Additional requirements

Meeting these requirements does not guarantee eligibility for benefits. SSD applicants also must qualify as insured based on their earnings. People whose monthly income exceeds $1,090 are not eligible for SSD benefits. Furthermore, applicants must provide adequate documentation to establish their disabilities. As any disability attorney in Illinois can attest, failure to meet these requirements precludes a person from receiving benefits.

How does the ADA work with SSD benefits?

social security benefitsClaims under both systems may be acceptable

Many people who live with disabilities in Illinois struggle to perform their jobs. If employers don’t offer reasonable accommodations, these employees may claim discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If a disability prevents gainful employment, employees may also seek Social Security Disability benefits. These claims may seem contradictory. However, as any Social Security attorney in Illinois knows, ADA claims do not render people ineligible for SSD benefits.

Distinct claim criteria

ADA and SSD claims hinge on different premises. In an ADA claim, a worker contends he or she could perform a specific job with reasonable accommodations. SSD claimants allege they cannot perform their past jobs or any new work.

The terms of an ADA claim may seem to undermine an SSD claim. However, any Social Security attorney in Illinois can explain that SSD claims don’t account for reasonable accommodations. A disabled worker may be able to perform a job with accommodations, but not under other circumstances.

Furthermore, an individual’s ability to work is not always considered during SSD claims. People may qualify as disabled by meeting requirements in the Social Security Administration’s “Blue Book” of impairments. People also may receive medical-vocational allowances, based on factors such as age, work experience and functional ability. Occasionally, people found disabled through either process might be capable of working in some capacity.

Concurrent claims

The Supreme Court ruled on this issue in 1999. The case involved an employee who suffered a stroke and associated effects that prevented her from working. She sought SSD benefits, but then her condition improved and she resumed work. The SSD application was denied. Days later, the woman was terminated for her job performance. She requested reconsideration from the SSA. Then, before the SSA approved the claim, she filed an ADA claim.

The Fifth Circuit Court held that the woman’s SSD application prevented her from pursuing an ADA claim. However, the Supreme Court reversed this decision and reached the following conclusions:

  • Sometimes, the same facts may reasonably support valid ADA and SSD claims.
  • The apparent contradictions between these claims are not strong enough to justify negative presumptions against claimants.
  • In these cases, claimants must reconcile any irregularities between their two claims.

If a claimant secures SSD benefits or wins an ADA claim, the outcome may impact the other claim. However, filing a claim within one system does not automatically invalidate a claim under the other system.

Understanding how SSD claims interact with other claims can be challenging. People who may have grounds for two claims should consider consulting with a Social Security attorney in Illinois. An attorney may be able to offer advice on potential complications and interactions between the claims.


Are all medical sources accepted as proof of disability?

Disabled boy in walker in front of playgroundDocumenting disablement with an Illinois disability lawyer

Social Security Disability claim decisions are often made based on the strength of the supporting medical evidence. A recent Social Security Administration report indicates nearly one-quarter of 2010 SSD claims were denied for medical reasons. As any Illinois disability lawyer can attest, people seeking SSD benefits must provide convincing, credible medical evidence. To be considered credible, some of this evidence must come from “acceptable medical sources.”

Defining acceptable sources

The SSA requires evidence from acceptable medical sources to establish the existence of a disabling condition. The SSA views licensed optometrists, podiatrists and physicians as sources that are qualified to diagnose conditions within their disciplines. The SSA also recognizes licensed psychologists, certified psychologists and speech-language pathologists with appropriate credentials as acceptable medical sources.

Evidence from other medical sources cannot be used to prove a disabling condition exists. However, as any Illinois disability lawyer can verify, this evidence still plays a role in the claim process. Objective tests and statements from other sources can support a diagnosis or offer insight into the disabling condition.

The SSA prefers evidence from sources with a history of treating the applicant. Once a disabling condition is established, evidence from a treating source can help establish the severity, symptoms and prognosis.

Consultative exams

If a claimant’s medical sources provide incomplete information, the SSA may use its own medical sources to secure evidence. The SSA prefers seeking needed information directly from treating physicians. However, the SSA may order a consultative examination with an independent physician under the following circumstances:

  • The treating source cannot secure needed information for reasons such as lack of equipment.
  • The information in the case file contains contradictions that the treating source cannot address.
  • The treating source declines to provide the information or perform a new examination.
  • The SSA has reason to believe seeking the information from the treating source would not be fruitful.
  • The applicant requests evidence from another source based on legitimate reasons.

A consultative examination may provide information about a claimant’s medical history, diagnosis, prognosis and functional abilities. A consultative exam may also yield objective evidence, such as clinical and imaging tests.

Ensuring appropriate documentation

Treating medical sources are often best equipped to provide information about an applicant’s disabling condition. Treating sources are familiar with the symptoms, treatment history and progression of the condition. In contrast, independent physicians and other sources may lack the background to appropriately evaluate a condition.

To avoid evaluations from non-treating sources, applicants may want to speak with an Illinois disability lawyer before seeking benefits. A lawyer may be able to help applicants ensure that they provide adequate medical documentation from acceptable sources.


Bomb-blast related brain injury categorized as separate disease

policeNew insights into complex, disabling brain injuries

Bomb blasts are a common cause of injuries among veterans. According to USA Today, improvised explosive devices and roadside bombs were top causes of troop injury in Iraq and Afghanistan. Brain injuries resulting from these blasts may be especially devastating, as any SSD attorney in Illinois is aware. Alarmingly, new research suggests these injuries are distinct from other brain injuries.

Unusual damage

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have found that bomb-blast injuries may produce unique brain lesions. The researchers examined the brains of five veterans who passed away between ages 23 and 38. All five had experienced explosive blasts during combat. The researchers discovered that the associated brain damage formed a distinct pattern.

The observed damage affected the region of the brain responsible for cognitive control functions. These functions include rational thinking, decision-making and short-term memory. Damage to this part of the brain may cause mood swings, poor impulse control and behavioral changes. Cognitive changes, such as memory problems, may also result.

Tragically, over 300,000 American servicemembers have suffered brain injuries, many involving explosive blasts, since 2000. Research suggests another 33,000 brain injuries went undetected between 2003 and 2010. Many affected veterans may suffer lingering symptoms that make returning to regular activities, including work, difficult. Social Security Disability benefits may be available to veterans with especially severe injuries.

Claiming brain injuries

As any SSD attorney in Illinois knows, a brain injury may qualify for benefits in various ways. First, brain injuries are included in the Social Security Administration’s “Blue Book” of impairments. Brain injuries may be evaluated under various listings, depending on the complications they cause. These include:

  • Organic mental disorder — the disorder must cause significant changes in cognitive ability, including documented IQ loss.
  • Stroke — stroke may qualify for benefits if certain symptoms persist for at least three months despite medication.
  • Epilepsy — convulsive or non-convulsive epilepsy may merit benefits.

Brain injuries that don’t meet these requirements may still qualify for benefits. If a person cannot work due to impairing effects of a brain injury, the person may receive a medical-vocational allowance. The person’s injury, skills, work experience, education and age help determine whether an allowance is awarded.

People seeking medical-vocational allowances should support their claims with detailed evidence. This could include MRIs, cognitive tests and statements from physicians. A physician-completed Residual Functional Capacity form, which details limitations associated with the injury, may be impactful. Statements from personal sources can also highlight the daily impacts of the injury.

Even with extensive documentation, establishing the severity and impacts of a brain injury can be difficult. An SSD attorney in Illinois may be able to assist people seeking benefits for these injuries.

New treatment could help ease seizures

pCoupleInDistress_7196060_sEpilepsy is a seizure disorder that arises from electrical disturbances in the brain. These seizures can cause uncontrollable movements, confusion and loss of consciousness. Epilepsy is incurable, and treatments to address symptoms are not always effective. As any Chicago Social Security attorney knows, epilepsy often adversely affects victims’ functional abilities and daily lives. Fortunately, epilepsy patients in Illinois may now find relief through medical marijuana treatment.

Possible benefits, complications

In 2014, Illinois lawmakers approved the use of medical marijuana to treat epilepsy, according to the Belleville News-Democrat. Adults and children who suffer from epilepsy may now legally use a special cannabis strain, Charlotte’s Web. This strain contains low levels of psychoactive THC and high levels of the cannabinoid CBD, which offers medical benefits.

The effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating seizures is unclear. Researchers have not clinically tested the efficacy of Charlotte’s Web. One study found that less than one-third of children who used this strain experienced fewer seizures. However, some anecdotal evidence indicates the substance may reduce seizures.

Unfortunately, some people may have difficulty accessing this treatment. State law requires one Illinois doctor to recommend medical marijuana before an adult can use it. Children need two recommendations. Many epilepsy patients see neurologists in neighboring states, who are ineligible to make recommendations. Local doctors may also hesitate to recommend the drug. Thus, many state residents with epilepsy may miss out on this new treatment.

Addressing disabling epilepsy

People who suffer from debilitating, unmanageable epilepsy may face challenges performing regular activities. If epilepsy precludes employment, victims may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. As a Chicago Social Security attorney can explain, victims must first meet financial criteria. Next, victims must prove they meet medical criteria. Victims may qualify for benefits in multiple ways, including the following:

  • Meeting the “Blue Book” listing for convulsive epilepsy. The listing specifies that seizures must occur monthly, despite three months of treatment. These seizures must occur during the day or occur nocturnally and produce daytime fatigue.
  • Meeting the “Blue Book” listing for non-convulsive epilepsy. Under this listing, seizures must occur at least once per week after three months of treatment. The seizures must cause unusual behavior, unconsciousness or other disturbances.
  • Receiving a medical-vocational allowance. If functional limitations associated with epilepsy prevent a person from working, the person may qualify for an allowance.

People seeking SSD benefits should provide extensive documentation. This includes treatment history, EEG results, descriptions of a typical seizure and confirming statements from physicians. Victims also must prove they have followed prescribed treatments. As any Chicago Social Security attorney understands, SSD benefits are not available if medication can effectively manage epilepsy.


4 changes Social Security is making on disability qualification

W2 and Social SecRule revisions may impact new SSD claims

People seeking Social Security Disability benefits in Illinois are often familiar with the application process and eligibility standards. The guidelines for both have remained consistent for years. However, the Social Security Administration is now changing aspects of the SSD application and decision process. As any attorney Social Security knows, these changes could affect many applicants.

  1. Revised grid rules

The SSA automatically considers people disabled if they suffer from certain conditions. Otherwise, the SSA uses medical-vocational grids to make disability determinations. These grids dictate when a person should be found disabled, based on age, work history, education and functional abilities.

The SSA is updating these grids to reflect modern working conditions. For instance, in numerous occupations, employees can now reasonably work gainfully after retirement age. However, the current medical-vocational grids treat age as a substantial limiting factor in a person’s ability to work. The updated grids may reflect the feasibility of work at older ages, among other changes.

  1. Updated vocational listings

Before awarding disability benefits, the SSA must judge whether a person can work in any capacity. A vocational expert evaluates a person’s ability to pursue new work by analyzing the person’s experience and relevant skills. The expert then considers whether the applicant could perform more than 10,000 listed jobs.

The SSA is revising these listings, which have not been updated in 20 years, to reflect new job opportunities. The new listings will include jobs that did not previously exist, such as sedentary jobs in the technology industry. The revisions may be finished as early as 2016.

  1. Mandatory evidence disclosure

Currently, SSD claimants are not required to share information that may harm their claims. The expectation for legal representatives is unclear. Some people contend legal professionals have a duty to secure benefits for clients. Others believe an attorney Social Security should ensure all relevant information is submitted with each claim.

The SSA is considering a rule explicitly requiring disclosure of all medical information pertinent to a claim. The new rule may establish guidelines for both parties.

  1. Judicial changes

Other pending changes will affect administrative law judges. The SSA is increasing oversight of these judges. Those with abnormal approval or denial rates may be subject to training. Removing judges from their posts may also become easier.

The SSA is also reducing the number of cases administrative law judges can take. Due to backlog, some judges used to work on hundreds more cases than advised. The SSA has established caps to ensure judges have adequate time to review every claim. As any attorney Social Security knows, this change may benefit claimants with complex cases that require careful consideration.

Expedited processes available to disabled military veterans

SWAT officer in full tactical gear.A Chicago disability attorney can assist wounded warriors

It’s not uncommon for veterans to return from service with severe wounds or debilitating psychological conditions. In November 2013, Forbes reported that over 900,000 veterans had already been wounded in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. As any Chicago disability attorney knows, these injuries and residual effects can interfere with various aspects of daily life.

Disabled veterans who can no longer work gainfully may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. However, the wait for claim approval can be lengthy. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration has made the claim decision process more efficient for the most severely wounded warriors.

Faster decisions

In 2014, the SSA announced that it would expedite claim processing for certain veterans, according to The Baltimore Sun. Veterans with “100% Permanent & Total” compensation ratings from the Department of Veterans Affairs now qualify for faster processing.

This change may affect many veterans. In 2012, the VA provided disability benefits to about 360,000 veterans. Roughly 10 percent of them qualified as permanently and totally disabled. The SSA estimates thousands of veterans may eventually benefit from this change.

As a Chicago disability attorney can explain, the new policy does not affect the likelihood of claim approval. The SSA is not bound to determine a veteran is disabled based on the veteran’s VA compensation rating. Veterans can only receive SSD benefits if they meet distinct SSA criteria.

Determining eligibility

The SSA only awards benefits for conditions that are expected to last over one year or result in death. A person’s condition must prevent the person from reasonably engaging in any gainful employment. The SSA also requires a person to qualify as “insured” based on his or her earnings record.

Unfortunately, veterans who qualify for SSD benefits under these criteria may still experience delays in claim processing. VA policies can slow the process, according to The Baltimore Sun. Veterans may wait over a year for VA decisions, since the average claim requires 165 days to process. Additionally, the SSA notes that the following factors affect the speed of SSD claim decisions:

  • The availability of medical evidence. If health care providers are slow to furnish requested records, the decision will be delayed.
  • The need for further evidence. Claim processing will be set back if the SSA orders a consultative exam to secure additional medical information.
  • The disability itself. Conditions that are complex or less easily documented — for instance, psychological conditions — may require more consideration.

In light of these potential delays, disabled veterans may benefit from working with a Chicago disability attorney. An attorney may be able to help a veteran prepare a well-documented claim that can be processed without delays.


Will federal lawmakers improve Social Security Disability or cut it?

pHandsShowingChart_shutterstock_156640544New rules could force changes to SSDI program

Social Security Disability Insurance provides essential support to many Chicago residents who cannot work due to disabling conditions. In December 2014, the Social Security Administration reported that over 8 million Americans under age 65 draw on SSDI. Unfortunately, as most disability lawyers in Chicago know, projections show the SSDI fund is depleting. The program could soon face significant cuts or reforms under the terms of a recent House rule change.

Coming shortages

The SSDI fund may be exhausted as soon as 2016, according to Forbes. If new funding is not secured, 9 million insured workers could face a 20 percent decrease in benefits. Additionally, 2 million spouses and 160,000 children who collect spouse’s or dependent benefits may see reductions.