April 2015

Brain injury victims may suffer subdural hematomas

Glowing brain with spineCommon injuries with serious complications

Subdural hematoma is bleeding on the surface of the brain that develops after trauma. When this condition is chronic, blood can gradually accumulate and cause complications such as muscle weakness or cognitive impairment, according to Forbes. These effects may be highly debilitating, as most disability attorneys in Chicago would agree. Unfortunately, victims of brain injuries are often at risk for developing this condition.

A growing problem

Subdural hematoma can result from falls or seemingly minor injuries. Older adults may have a higher risk of this condition, due to atrophy of brain tissue and cells. The use of blood-thinning medications may exacerbate this danger. People with alcohol addictions may also be at greater risk, since alcohol thins the blood and makes falls more likely.

Many people may not realize they have suffered subdural hematomas, leading to delayed treatment and greater complications. Even after victims undergo surgical drainage, they are more likely to have difficult recoveries. Compared to brain surgery patients, patients with subdural hematomas require more extensive hospitalization and rehabilitation after surgery.

A study published in the Journal of Neurosurgery anticipates that this condition will become more common as the population ages. The study predicts the following outcomes:

  • By 2030, chronic subdural hematoma will represent the most common reason for adult brain surgery.
  • The rate of this injury will increase notably among veterans, from 79.4 to 121.4 cases per 100,000 people.
  • These increases may result in a shortage of neurosurgeons to treat the condition.

Sadly, this shortage, along with the nature of the injury, may leave patients at risk for complications or long-term disablement.

Addressing disabling injuries

Social Security Disability benefits may be available to people who can’t work due to brain injuries or related complications. The Social Security Administration may consider various side effects of brain injuries disabling, as any disability attorneys in Chicago know. These include seizure, stroke and epilepsy. The SSA also recognizes cognitive decline due to physical injury as disabling if victims suffer from specific symptoms or functional restrictions.

Even if a traumatic brain injury doesn’t automatically qualify as disabling, a victim may receive a medical-vocational allowance. An allowance is granted if a person’s functional limitations and skills or knowledge prevent the person from reasonably pursuing gainful employment. When awarding an allowance, the SSA may consider all physical, cognitive and psychological effects of a brain injury.

Properly documenting these effects can be difficult. In addition to objective evidence, victims should provide third party statements to support their claims. A doctor can assess a victim’s functional capabilities, while personal sources can describe the lingering effects of the injury. To ensure adequate documentation, many victims may benefit from partnering with disability attorneys in Chicago.

Is epilepsy considered a disabling condition with Social Security?

Neglected lonely childCriteria for SSD claims involving epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disorder characterized by unpredictable seizures of varying intensity levels. This disorder is incurable, and medications cannot always effectively control the seizures. Consequently, victims often face significant risks during daily activities, such as driving or performing certain jobs. As Chicago disability lawyers could confirm, individuals with especially severe cases may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

Evaluating epilepsy

The Social Security Administration automatically considers convulsive epilepsy disabling if it meets criteria outlined in the “Blue Book.” SSD applicants must document monthly daytime seizures that cause unconsciousness or convulsions. Alternately, applicants can document monthly nighttime seizures that interfere with daytime activity by causing fatigue or other extended effects. These seizures must persist despite three months of treatment.

Non-convulsive epilepsy may also automatically be classified as disabling if it meets Blue Book criteria. Applicants must suffer from weekly seizures even after three months of approved treatment. These seizures must cause disorientation or loss of consciousness. Additionally, these seizures must interfere with daily activities or produce abnormal lingering behaviors.

Epilepsy may qualify as disabling even if it doesn’t meet these criteria, as any Chicago disability lawyers can attest. The SSA may consider epilepsy disabling if it prevents a person from working gainfully. To decide whether this is the case, the SSA evaluates the individual’s symptoms and limitations. The SSA also reviews the person’s education, vocational skills and work history. This helps the SSA determine what kind of work, if any, the applicant can perform.

Necessary evidence

People seeking SSD benefits for epilepsy must provide specific documentation to support their claims. To prove epilepsy meets Blue Book requirements or prevents employment, applicants must submit the following medical evidence:

  • A diagnosis and supporting evidence. This includes EEG results and records of past seizures.
  • A description of a typical seizure. The description should include all symptoms that manifest during the seizure.
  • Supporting third-party statements. A witness should provide a description of a seizure. A treating physician should also give a statement about the nature and frequency of the seizures.
  • Proof of medication use. As Chicago disability lawyers understand, the SSA requires evidence that epilepsy cannot be controlled through treatment. Blood tests showing medication levels can demonstrate appropriate medication use.

If medication use isn’t feasible due to financial constraints or side effects, applicants should document those factors.

People who cannot meet Blue Book terms should also provide information about their vocational backgrounds. Specifically, applicants should describe the physical and mental requirements of all recently held jobs. This information can help the SSA understand why epilepsy prevents a person from performing those jobs. Accounts of education and work skills, similarly, can illustrate why an applicant cannot pursue other work.


Qualifying for SSD benefits after a disabling car accident injury

Car accident CrashIllinois Social Security attorneys can assist victims

Serious car accidents affect many Chicago residents each year. According to The Chicago Tribune, in 2013, an average of 783 crashes occurred daily in Illinois. About two-thirds of these accidents were speed- or alcohol-related. Crashes involving these factors often have devastating consequences, as most Illinois Social Security attorneys are aware. Sadly, this accident rate may remain similarly high in 2015 due to falling gasoline prices.

When car accident victims suffer injuries that prevent them from working, they may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. However, this isn’t a certainty, even for people with severe injuries. Accident victims still must meet the Social Security Administration’s stringent criteria.

Disability requirements

The SSA uses a very specific definition of “disability” when awarding SSD benefits. A condition is only disabling if it is expected to prevent a person from working for at least 12 months. Many car crash injuries may heal within this period. The SSA also requires a five-month waiting period before a person can receive benefits for a disabling condition. Therefore, accident victims often must wait to receive any benefits they are eligible for.

Many people assume they will qualify as disabled if they physically cannot perform their current jobs. However, as any Illinois Social Security attorneys could explain, the SSA also considers a person’s ability to perform other work. If a car accident injury allows for light or sedentary work, it is not considered disabling.

Evaluating disablement

The SSA automatically classifies various conditions as disabling if they meet specified criteria. These disabling medical conditions and associated requirements are listed in Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, or the “Blue Book.” A number of common car accident injuries appear in the book, including the following:

  • Musculoskeletal injuries — these include spine injuries, amputations and fractures.
  • Brain injuries — several adverse side effects of brain injury, including stroke and epilepsy, are also considered disabling.
  • Burns and other soft tissue injuries — these injuries must severely limit a person’s ability to walk or perform fine motor tasks.
  • Anxiety, depression and other mental disorders — mental illnesses that develop after a traumatic accident or serious injury may be found disabling.

For each of these injuries, the Blue Book specifies the signs and symptoms applicants must document, along with required forms of evidence.

Car accident victims may also receive SSD benefits through medical-vocational allowances. The SSA evaluates the sum total of a victim’s impairments, rather than one injury, when awarding an allowance. As most Illinois Social Security attorneys would agree, an accident victim who suffered numerous moderate injuries might qualify for an allowance. Even if none of the injuries are independently disabling, the cumulative effects of the injuries may merit SSD benefits.

What happens in a consultative examination?

Business people working in groupGathering additional medical evidence

The Social Security Administration requires extensive medical documentation from people seeking Social Security Disability benefits. As any Illinois disability lawyer knows, the SSA cannot reach a decision if medical evidence is incomplete or outdated. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for the SSA to order consultative examinations. These examinations allow the SSA to secure any additional medical evidence needed to support a final claim decision.

Supplementary evidence

A consultative examination includes an examination and any objective tests that the SSA has requested. The examination and laboratory tests may be physical, psychological or psychiatric in nature. An independent physician, rather than the applicant’s regular treating physician, conducts these examinations.

SSD applicants don’t receive treatment during consultative examinations. The goal of the examination is to produce a comprehensive report of the claimant’s condition and associated limitations. This report should essentially allow an SSD claims examiner to fully understand the applicant’s condition without reviewing additional evidence. The final report should include the following information:

  • An overview of the applicant’s medical history
  • The results of the physical, psychological or psychiatric exam
  • Clinical findings from any objective tests performed

The physician who conducts the consultative examination also must complete an assessment of the applicant’s ability to work. This evaluation must be consistent with the applicant’s prior medical records and with the information included in the report. However, the physician may not offer an opinion about whether the applicant qualifies as disabled under SSA standards.

Failure to cooperate

Failure to attend a consultative examination will result in a delayed claim decision, as any Illinois disability lawyer could confirm. This is because a consultative examination is only ordered when essential evidence is lacking. Applicants who miss examinations also risk having their claims dismissed, since failure to cooperate provides grounds for claim dismissal.

The SSA typically sets up mandatory consultative exams without consulting applicants, so some people may experience legitimate scheduling conflicts. When this is the case, applicants should promptly notify the SSA so that a new exam date can be set.

Exam accuracy

As an Illinois disability lawyer could explain, consultative examinations may not provide the most favorable source of evidence in SSD claims. This is because the physician conducting the examination is generally unfamiliar with the claimant’s condition and medical history. As a result, the physician may assess the disability differently than a treating physician would.

This unfamiliarity may be a significant issue if an applicant’s existing medical records are limited. If the examination is only needed to update the claimant’s records, however, the negative effects of a poor assessment may be reduced. This is one reason that claimants can benefit from providing comprehensive, current medical records throughout the SSD claim process.

People with Down syndrome experiencing more public acceptance

Portrait of cute handicapped boy in garden.Awareness and support for Down syndrome increasing

Down syndrome occurs when a person receives extra genetic material in Chromosome 21. This genetic disorder causes developmental delays and mental disability, as any Chicago Social Security attorney understands. Additionally, serious physical complications may occur with Down syndrome. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these include heart defects, vision and hearing loss, blood disorders and spinal problems.

Down syndrome, which affects 6,000 babies annually, represents the most common chromosomal disorder and the top cause of childhood learning disabilities. Fortunately, as this disorder has become more common, public understanding and acceptance have also increased.

Growing acceptance

In the U.S., support for people with Down Syndrome has grown with the help of organizations that raise awareness. For example, the National Down Syndrome Society funds research, advocacy and events such as Down Syndrome Awareness Month. These efforts serve to increase public knowledge and support.

Acceptance of Down syndrome is also increasing on a larger scale. Recently, the tenth World Down Syndrome Day raised awareness of the disorder in various countries. This event also helped highlight the many contributions that individuals with Down syndrome make to society.

Available resources

Efforts to support people with Down syndrome and their families continue throughout the U.S. For instance, here in Illinois, a pending bill would help new and expectant parents receive updated, accurate information about Down syndrome. This resource would help parents understand Down syndrome, find support and learn about available treatment therapies.

Despite enhanced public support, people with Down syndrome may still need special forms of assistance, including financial support. Fortunately, Social Security Disability benefits may be available to adults and children with Down syndrome.

Financial support

SSD benefits are awarded to adults who can’t work gainfully and children with significant impairments. Children may qualify for Supplemental Security Income or dependent benefits. Adults may receive SSI, Social Security Disability Insurance or “adult child’s” benefits.

As a Chicago Social Security attorney could explain, eligibility for most of these benefits depends on the nature and severity of the disorder. The Social Security Administration may award benefits in the following cases:

  • Children with Down syndrome — children may receive benefits if they exhibit significant functional limitations that restrict their daily activities.
  • Adults with non-mosaic Down syndrome — with proper documentation, this disorder is automatically considered disabling.
  • Adults with mosaic Down syndrome — the SSA evaluates whether this disorder and associated health complications prevent gainful employment.

Besides providing financial benefits, the SSA offers special work programs for beneficiaries. These programs may help people with Down syndrome receive vocational training and pursue gainful employment. Additionally, as a Chicago Social Security attorney could attest, these programs allow individuals to attempt working while receiving needed support.

3 conditions that are considered organic mental disorders

Adult Male Ponders Future Looking Out Rain Covered WindowCommon disorders that cause cognitive decline

“Organic mental disorder” is a term used to describe reduced cognitive ability due to a disease that is physical, rather than psychiatric. Often, these debilitating disorders can be treated but not cured. As a result, many people who suffer from these conditions in Illinois may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. As any attorney Social Security can confirm, the Social Security Administration may consider numerous organic mental disorders disabling, including the following three.

Degenerative disorders

Various degenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease, represent organic mental disorders. These diseases, which involve the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain, can cause various detrimental cognitive changes. Victims may experience memory problems, impulse control issues, loss of concentration and difficulty performing executive functions.

These disorders are evaluated under the SSA’s general criteria for organic mental disorders. An organic mental disorder is considered disabling if victims document two functional limitations and one sign of impaired cognitive function. Potential signs include:

  • Personality changes
  • Reduced intellectual ability
  • Disorientation
  • Memory problems

As an attorney Social Security could explain, functional limitations include difficulty functioning socially, performing daily activities or focusing to finish tasks. Recurrent episodes of decompensation, or episodes when symptoms become more severe, also qualify as a functional limitation.

Brain tumors

Benign or malignant tumors can cause various adverse physical and cognitive symptoms. These symptoms depend largely on the location of the tumor. Victims may suffer from sensory losses, motor control issues, seizures, impaired cognitive function or personality shifts. Additionally, victims of brain cancer may experience adverse effects from radiation therapy.

As any attorney Social Security knows, during SSD claims, benign tumors may be evaluated under the general criteria for organic mental disorders. Brain cancer can also be evaluated under its own distinct set of criteria. The same is true of various potential side effects of brain tumors, including seizure and stroke.

Traumatic brain injury

A traumatic brain injury can affect emotions, sensory perception, rational abilities, motor skills and speech. Like brain tumors, TBIs can directly cause various conditions that the SSA considers disabling, such as seizure disorders. TBI victims may also have a higher risk of developing other disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

The long-term effects of TBIs are often difficult to predict. Some symptoms may improve, while others may not manifest until long after the injury. The SSA takes this variability into account when assessing TBI claims. If a TBI causes significant impairment, the SSA may make a decision within three months of the injury. However, the SSA may also defer a claim decision until six months after the injury, when residual effects become more apparent.

20 percent of military veterans struggle with disabling PTSD

SWAT officer in full tactical gear.Disability lawyers in Chicago can assist wounded warriors

Posttraumatic stress disorder develops in response to traumatic events involving injury and death or the threat of these outcomes. This disorder physically alters the brain and can give rise to symptoms such as flashbacks, avoidance and impaired cognition. Sadly, this debilitating disorder is common among military servicemembers, as any disability lawyers in Chicago know. Research indicates that one out of five veterans struggle with severe PTSD.

Toll of PTSD

According to RAND Corporation research, at least 20 percent of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from PTSD. Some of these veterans also suffer from depression. Alarmingly, other studies estimate even higher rates, especially in the long term.

Determining the prevalence of PTSD can be challenging for a few reasons. Some reports focus on veterans diagnosed with PTSD within a year of returning home. However, the disorder may take much longer to manifest. Similarly, other cases of PTSD may go entirely undetected and untreated.

The RAND Corporation reports that half of veterans with known cases of PTSD don’t seek treatment. Sadly, out of those who pursue help, only half receive appropriate treatment. As a result, many veterans live with disabling cases of PTSD.

Help available

The effects of PTSD may undermine a veteran’s ability to handle various everyday tasks. PTSD victims also may face a heightened risk of substance use disorders, depression, suicide and physical health problems. Given these issues, veterans afflicted with PTSD may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

The Social Security Administration automatically recognizes PTSD as disabling if it causes specific symptoms and limitations. Veterans must document one of the following:

  • Anxiety accompanied by specific behaviors, such as hyperarousal or scanning
  • Debilitating weekly panic attacks
  • Enduring, irrational fear that results in avoidance behaviors
  • Distressing, disruptive flashbacks
  • Repeated fixations or compulsions that cause personal distress

Besides these symptoms, PTSD victims must document two severe functional limitations, as disability lawyers in Chicago could confirm. These include episodes of decompensation, difficulty functioning socially, limited ability to perform daily activities or difficulty concentrating to finish tasks.

Veterans who cannot satisfy these criteria may still be eligible for medical-vocational allowances. In either case, veterans must provide full medical documentation to support their claims. This documentation includes a doctor’s evaluation and a description of a typical anxiety attack.

Expedited assistance

Disabled veterans may qualify for faster SSD claim processing. Veterans who have received VA compensation ratings of “100% P&T” receive expedited processing. The SSA also makes this service available to veterans injured on or during active duty after October 1, 2001. However, faster processing doesn’t guarantee claim approval, as any disability lawyers in Chicago could attest. Proper documentation is still crucial for disabled veterans.

Do I have to pay taxes on my SSD benefits?

social security benefitsUnderstanding when benefits are taxable

Tax liability is an issue that many Social Security Disability recipients don’t think about until tax season begins. Although some beneficiaries may believe otherwise, SSD benefits are not exempt from federal taxation. However, as any Chicago disability attorney understands, many beneficiaries do not ultimately pay taxes on their benefits. This is because taxation of SSD benefits is based on income brackets, and many SSD beneficiaries have limited income.

Calculating liability

People who receive little income outside of their SSD benefits are unlikely to owe taxes on these benefits. Tax liability for SSD benefits is based on “combined income,” which includes half of SSD payments and all other forms of income. The following combined income levels and filing statuses trigger taxation:

  • For people with combined income above $25,000 who file as individuals, up to 50 percent of SSD benefits are taxable. People who file as individuals and receive more than $34,000 may have to pay taxes on 85 percent of their SSD benefits.
  • Married people who file jointly and have combined income exceeding $32,000 may owe taxes on 50 percent of their benefits. For married couples with joint income greater than $44,000, up to 85 percent of SSD benefits may be taxable.
  • Married people who file separately usually owe money on a portion of their SSD benefits. This portion cannot exceed 85 percent.

Like monthly SSD benefits, lump sum back payments are taxable, as a Chicago disability attorney could explain. Fortunately, beneficiaries can allocate portions of back payments to prior tax years. This allows beneficiaries to avoid paying taxes that exceed the amount they would owe if the payments had been disbursed separately.

Planning ahead

Every January, the Social Security Administration sends out a Social Security Benefit statement. This statement shows the total value of SSD payments made the year before. Beneficiaries can use this figure to calculate their combined income and determine their total tax liability for SSD benefits.

Beneficiaries who owe taxes can choose between making one annual payment or quarterly estimated tax payments. Depending on overall tax liability, some beneficiaries may face penalties for waiting to pay their taxes in April. Paying quarterly estimated taxes based on Social Security benefits and other income can help beneficiaries avoid these additional expenses.

Beneficiaries who expect to owe taxes in the future can request that the SSA deduct taxes from pending benefits. The deduction must be a proportion of the total payment amount, rather than a flat figure. Beneficiaries can choose deductions ranging from 7 to 25 percent. As a Chicago disability attorney might note, this measure can help beneficiaries avoid budgeting issues or unexpected tax burdens come tax season.


Social Security Disability hearing: Making sure your medical information is current

ClaimsWhen a Social Security Disability claim is denied, the applicant can request a hearing. As Social Security lawyers in Chicago know, the wait for this hearing can be lengthy. According to the Social Security Administration, in Chicago, 14 months typically pass between the hearing request date and hearing date. Due to this gap, applicants’ medical records are often outdated when the hearing arrives. Unfortunately, this may lead to further delays or adverse claim decisions.

Outdated records                                                                                        

During the initial SSD claim process, providing medical records is not solely the applicant’s responsibility. SSA claims examiners must obtain complete, current medical information before reaching decisions. However, these efforts generally stop once a claim is denied and transferred to the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review.

During the SSD appeals process, the SSA requires current evidence to support claim decisions. Specifically, medical records must be less than 60 days old, as any Social Security lawyers in Chicago can confirm. Given the average appeal wait time, applicants’ records often are outdated by the hearing. Problematically, older records also may not reflect changes in the applicant’s condition that support a positive claim decision.

There is one exception to the SSA’s policy of ceasing the collection of medical records after claim denial. If a case is selected for an “on the record review,” the ODAR may independently obtain current records. Applicants can also request these reviews. However, if a review isn’t completed, the applicant is responsible for updating the records.

Gathering current evidence

Applicants who are preparing for disability hearings should directly submit their medical records to the ODAR. Applicants can gather records more efficiently by taking the following steps:

  • Review the disability case file to avoid submitting duplicate records. Looking over the file also gives applicants the chance to check for missing or inaccurate records.
  • Request a current doctor’s opinion. A doctor’s statement regarding an applicant’s prognosis and functional restrictions can be decisive during appeals.
  • Keep copies of all records submitted to the ODAR. Applicants can bring these copies to the disability hearing to ensure that all relevant records are present.

Applicants should request medical records as soon as they receive notice of the hearing. The ODAR can give applicants as little as 20 days warning. This doesn’t leave much time for records to arrive, as Social Security lawyers in Chicago can attest.

If some medical records haven’t arrived by the hearing date, the administrative law judge may leave the record open. Then, medical evidence can be added to the case file at a later date. However, this will result in even longer delays. This makes requesting updated records as soon as possible advisable for applicants.

New FDA approved drug could help lung cancer patients

medicalImmunotherapy treatment may eliminate squamous cell cancer

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. This year, an estimated 221,000 people will receive diagnoses, including many here in Illinois. These victims often face severe symptoms, including respiratory problems, infections, fatigue and weakness, as any Social Security lawyer knows. Fortunately, a new drug shows potential to treat one form of lung cancer and improve long-term outcomes for patients.

Unprecedented results

The drug, which is produced under the name Opdivo, aids the immune system in attacking cancer. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Opdivo inhibits a cancer protein that normally prevents the immune system from recognizing tumors. This drug, which already is used to treat melanoma, has recently received FDA approval as a treatment for squamous cell cancer. This cancer accounts for about one-quarter of U.S. lung cancer cases.

Clinical trials of Opdivo have yielded promising results, according to The New Hampshire Register. In one trial, the drug eliminated cancer in 17 percent of patients. One patient saw results within one month, even though his cancer had spread to the liver. The treatment offered similar success for another patient who could no longer undergo chemotherapy.

These results indicate that this new treatment for squamous cell lung cancer may present one of the most effective options currently available. Researchers hope the drug will eventually prove similarly potent against other cancers.

Disabling cases

Unfortunately, when lung cancer treatments don’t prove effective or feasible, patients may face significant health complications. These may interfere with work and other aspects of daily life. As a result, many victims may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

As a Social Security lawyer could explain, the Social Security Administration considers numerous cancers severe enough to merit benefits. The following cases are automatically recognized as disabling:

  • Small cell lung cancer — people diagnosed with this condition qualify medically for SSD benefits.
  • Non-small cell carcinoma — this cancer qualifies as disabling if it is spreading, persistent, inoperable or otherwise impossible to remove.
  • Cancer of the superior sulcus — this cancer is considered disabling if multiple forms of treatment have failed.

In other cases, the SSA may award SSD benefits for lung cancer after evaluating how cancer affects a person’s ability to work. The SSA may consider various debilitating symptoms, including fatigue, respiratory insufficiency or adverse effects of treatment.

The victims of certain forms of lung cancer may also be eligible for expedited claim processing under the Compassionate Allowances program. Small cell carcinoma qualifies for the program, as does severe non-small cell lung cancer. As any Social Security lawyer can explain, the SSA requires minimal evidence and reaches much faster decisions when evaluating these claims.