May 2015

Rare diseases receiving more attention from medical researchers

Doctors with screensImproving treatment of uncommon diseases

Diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people are classified as rare diseases. According to US News, nearly one in ten Americans, including many here in Illinois, suffers from a rare disease. Unfortunately, as any attorney Social Security knows, many of these diseases are highly debilitating, and securing treatment is frequently challenging.

Many rare diseases are poorly understood, and victims often lack access to qualified specialists. Furthermore, just 5 percent of rare diseases currently have FDA-approved treatment protocols. However, a growing focus on these diseases may result in improved understanding and more effective treatments.

Ongoing advances

The National Institutes of Health is currently funding a research consortium that investigates rare diseases. Since its foundation in 2003, the consortium has conducted studies involving over 29,000 patients. As of late 2014, about 2,600 medical researchers were performing 91 ongoing studies. The consortium supports advances in rare disease research by facilitating the following things:

  • Collaboration between specialists
  • Better patient recruitment and study enrollment
  • Sharing of data and results

Private companies are also dedicating increasing attention to rare diseases. For example, True North Therapeutics is developing a new treatment for autoimmune-related rare diseases. This drug will address diseases that arise when the complement system, which is part of the immune system, wrongly attacks bodily cells. This approach, if successful, could treat multiple rare diseases.

Unfortunately, effective understanding and treatment of many rare diseases may take years. In the interim, victims may face significant medical expenses and numerous debilitating symptoms. For individuals who can no longer work, Social Security Disability benefits may provide assistance.

Qualifying diseases

The Social Security Administration recognizes select rare diseases as disabling if they meet prescribed criteria. As any attorney Social Security could verify, these diseases and requirements are listed in the “Blue Book.” People who fulfill Blue Book requirements qualify medically for benefits.

Some rare diseases, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and Pick’s disease, even trigger expedited claim processing through the Compassionate Allowances program. More often, though, people with rare diseases receive SSD benefits based on their functional limitations.

The SSA may award benefits if a rare disease essentially prevents a person from working. An SSA claims examiner may determine a person would need such significant accommodations that employment isn’t feasible. The SSA may also decide a person’s condition only permits work the person isn’t qualified to perform.

Documenting disablement

People applying for SSD benefits must provide supporting evidence. As an attorney Social Security might note, medical evidence includes treatment history, clinical findings and assessments from qualified professionals. People whose rare diseases aren’t automatically considered disabling must also submit information about their vocational backgrounds. This helps the SSA accurately evaluate a person’s present ability to work.

What is ‘substantial gainful activity’?

Male Garden Worker Using Digital TabletEvaluating vocational activity during SSD claims

People seeking Social Security Disability benefits must prove they cannot perform “substantial gainful activity” because of their impairments. Additionally, claimants cannot engage in SGA while seeking benefits. To many SSD applicants, this may sound like a subjective requirement. However, as a Chicago disability attorney could attest, the Social Security Administration employs strict standards to determine whether work constitutes SGA.

Defining SGA

Every year, the SSA uses average national wages to identify an amount of earnings that represents SGA. In 2015, blind individuals who earn over $1,820 per month are engaging in SGA. For all other individuals, the SGA earnings limit is $1,090. These limits apply only to income from employment.

The SSA may find that a person is performing substantial work even if the person’s earnings fall below the relevant limit. For example, self-employed individuals are evaluated under distinct standards, which account for job duties and hours. A claims examiner may consider the following questions when assessing whether a self-employed individual is performing SGA:

  • Does the person provide significant services and earn substantial income? The services of sole proprietors and people who put substantial time into the business are considered significant.
  • Does the person perform roughly the same level of work as a non-disabled person in a similar business? The SSA may take job duties, hours and special skills into account.
  • Does the value of the individual’s work exceed $1,090 per month? The SSA may consider the wages a hired employee would make while working in the applicant’s position.

Regardless of whether an applicant is self-employed, the SSA may count volunteer work as SGA. As a Chicago disability attorney understands, unpaid positions with significant hours and demands may qualify as SGA. The SSA may also find that an individual would receive earnings above the SGA level if he or she were paid for volunteering.

Special exceptions

In a few cases, a person may earn wages above the SGA threshold and still receive benefits. The SSA allows working individuals to subtract impairment-related work expenses from their counted income. For example, individuals who need to take special transportation to work may deduct the associated costs. Additionally, Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries are permitted to have earnings exceeding the SGA limits during trial work periods.

A trial work period is triggered when a beneficiary’s earnings exceed a set threshold. In 2015, this threshold is $750, as any Chicago disability attorney knows. For self-employed individuals, working over 80 hours in one month sets off a trial work period. Up to nine non-consecutive months can be included in a trial work period. During these months, beneficiaries can engage in work that is considered SGA without losing their benefits.

Can I receive SSD if I have been diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis?

Gestresste ApothekerinClaiming arthritis with disability lawyers in Chicago

Inflammatory arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks healthy joint tissue. This disease typically causes swelling, stiffness and pain. As most disability lawyers in Chicago understand, inflammatory arthritis is a common cause of adult disability. This disease can severely limit a person’s ability to work and perform other tasks. Fortunately, victims may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits.

Meeting medical requirements

Victims of inflammatory arthritis may qualify for SSD benefits in two ways. They may meet criteria outlined in the “Blue Book,” which lists conditions and requirements those conditions must meet to qualify as disabling. People with inflammatory arthritis may also receive SSD benefits if the disease and other factors effectively preclude employment.

As disability lawyers in Chicago could confirm, inflammatory arthritis has its own Blue Book listing. It is considered disabling if one of these requirements is met:

  • A major weight-bearing joint shows persistent deformation or inflammation, impeding the victim in walking. Alternately, a hand or arm joint may show the same symptoms and prevent the performance of fine motor tasks.
  • A peripheral joint shows deformation or inflammation, and the arthritis moderately affects two organs or body systems. Applicants must document related symptoms, such as fatigue, malaise, fever or unintentional weight loss.
  • The disease persistently causes the above symptoms. Inflammatory arthritis also must limit the person in functioning socially, performing activities of daily living or completing tasks in reasonable time.
  • The person suffers from spinal arthritis that causes the spine to deviate 45 degrees from vertical. If this condition affects two organs or body systems, victims only need to document deviation of 30 degrees.

People who don’t meet these criteria may receive benefits for disabling inflammatory arthritis based on their inability to work. In either case, applicants must support their claims with objective evidence and assessments from licensed physicians.

Additional criteria

People who meet these requirements aren’t guaranteed SSD benefits. Beneficiaries additionally must meet non-medical criteria. The Social Security Administration considers these criteria before even assessing a claimant’s disability.

As disability lawyers in Chicago know, people who perform “substantial gainful activity” cannot receive SSD benefits. In 2015, this is generally work with monthly income exceeding $1,090. Blind claimants, however, may earn up to $1,820. The nature of self-employed work is evaluated based on hours and duties, along with income.

The SSA offers benefits through two programs, and claimants must meet distinct criteria to qualify for either. Supplemental Security Income benefits are awarded to people whose income and assets fall below set thresholds. Social Security Disability Insurance benefits are available to people with adequate earnings records. Unfortunately, people who don’t meet these criteria can’t receive benefits, no matter how disabling their impairments are.

3 conditions that are considered affective disorders

Depressed Man On BenchCommon, debilitating mood disorders

Affective disorders are psychiatric diseases that affect moods. These disorders, which are also known as mood disorders, may arise due to life events, genetic factors or chemical imbalances in the brain. As Social Security lawyers in Chicago would agree, these disorders often disrupt a person’s relationships, work and other obligations.

Fortunately, the victims of various affective disorders may be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits. The Social Security Administration recognizes the potentially debilitating nature of many of these disorders, including the following three.


Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in America, according to the National Institutes of Health. An estimated 16 million adults suffered from one or more depressive episodes during 2012 or the preceding year. Many adults also suffer from variants of this disorder, including seasonal depression or postpartum depression.

Depression may cause apathy, issues with concentration, low energy, guilty feelings and suicidal thoughts. Victims may also suffer from sleep and appetite disturbances. When these symptoms persist and disrupt daily activities, victims may be eligible for SSD benefits. Victims can qualify medically for benefits if they document four recognized symptoms of depression and two of the following issues:

  • Difficulty functioning socially
  • Challenges performing activities of daily living
  • Issues focusing, maintaining pace or persisting during tasks
  • Recurrent, worsening episodes in which symptoms become more severe

The Social Security Administration has also established alternate criteria for people with depression that has persisted for over two years.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, or manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by shifts in energy, mood, activity level and ability to handle daily activities. During manic phases, a person may engage in impulsive, risk-taking behaviors or act overly happy, restless or irritable. During depressive episodes, a person may struggle to concentrate and suffer from feelings of hopelessness, apathy or fatigue.

As Social Security lawyers in Chicago know, people who document certain effects of bipolar disorder automatically meet the SSA’s medical criteria. Victims must demonstrate two of the functional limitations listed above, along with three accepted symptoms. These symptoms include hyperactivity, inability to focus, decreased sleep, pressured speech and flight of ideas.

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety-related disorders cause irrational and often extreme feelings of worry or fear. These feelings may disrupt focus, impede decision-making and cause physical symptoms, such as nausea and headaches.

Victims of generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder or panic disorders may be eligible for SSD benefits. However, as most Social Security lawyers in Chicago could explain, these disorders are evaluated under distinct criteria. Victims must document one established symptom, such as irrational fears, physical symptoms, persistent panic attacks, flashbacks or compulsions. Claimants also must document two of the restrictions described previously.

Why are 9/11 first responders suffering from disabling conditions?

FirefightersResponders often face debilitating physical, mental conditions

The events of 9/11 took a heavy toll on many first responders. As any Illinois Social Security lawyer knows, many of these heroes now suffer from severe physical or mental afflictions. Often, these conditions are incurable and disabling.

Research shows that 9/11 responders are more likely to develop serious diseases, including cancer or respiratory illness. This is likely due to exposure to hazardous materials at Ground Zero. Many responders also suffer from mental illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, because of the events they experienced. Sadly, new research suggests that 9/11 responders are also at a greater risk of developing autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune disease risk

The study, which was published in Arthritis and Rheumatology, tracked the health of 16,000 of these responders. The researchers found several prevalent rheumatic and arthritic diseases among the responders, including the following conditions:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • Spondyloarthritis
  • Systemic sclerosis
  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Sarcoidosis

Rheumatoid arthritis was the most common disorder, affecting over one-third of 9/11 responders. Compared to the general population, responders were twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. For every month spent at Ground Zero, a first responder’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis rose 13 percent.

These responders may be prone to develop disabling autoimmune diseases for multiple reasons. Environmental factors may contribute to autoimmune diseases, especially in people with genetic predispositions. Chronic stress also may promote autoimmune disease development. Given these factors, it is not surprising that many cases are now coming to light among 9/11 responders.

Claiming disabling conditions

Sadly, many 9/11 responders have developed debilitating conditions that prevent them from working or caring for themselves. These individuals may qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. As a Social Security lawyer understands, people seeking SSD benefits must not be able to work gainfully. SSD applicants also must meet financial requirements and prove they suffer from legitimate, impairing conditions.

The Social Security Administration recognizes various conditions as disabling. As a Social Security lawyer could explain, these conditions are listed in the “Blue Book.” For each condition, the book specifies symptoms or functional issues that applicants must demonstrate. For example, people seeking SSD for rheumatoid arthritis affecting major joints must document prolonged joint pain, swelling and stiffness. They disease must also prevent victims from effectively walking or performing fine motor tasks.

People whose impairments don’t meet the necessary criteria may receive medical-vocational allowances. The SSA grants allowances to people who can’t reasonably work, given their impairments, vocational skills, education and age. When awarding allowances, the SSA considers the sum total of a person’s impairments. For people with varied physical or mental conditions, including 9/11 responders, this may greatly improve the likelihood of claim approval.

Once you are approved for benefits, when will you start receiving checks?

Projecting SSD payment dates with a Social Security attorney

The Social Security Disability claim evaluation process can be lengthy. As a result, once a claim is approved, many applicants in Illinois want to know when they will start receiving benefits. The date that benefits begin can vary significantly between applicants, as any Social Security attorney could attest. This is because numerous factors affect when SSD payments start. (article continues below infographic) Once you are approved for benefits, when will you start receiving checks
Waiting periods

After a claim is approved, the Social Security Administration verifies each applicant’s eligibility for benefits. The SSA checks whether an applicant has started performing “substantial gainful activity.” If an applicant qualifies for Supplemental Security Income, the SSA also confirms that the applicant meets financial criteria.

For these reasons, Social Security Disability Insurance beneficiaries may receive their benefits before SSI beneficiaries. SSDI benefits may be disbursed the month after claim approval, while SSI payments often arrive two or three months later. However, SSDI beneficiaries may have to wait longer because of the mandatory SSDI waiting period.

The SSA withholds SSDI benefits until five months after the disability onset date. Often, this waiting period ends before a claim is even approved. However, people who qualified for expedited claim processing may have to wait for this period to pass.

Payment schedule

SSD benefits are paid in arrears. As a Social Security attorney could explain, beneficiaries don’t receive checks during the month in which they first qualify for benefits. Instead, they receive payment the following month. Consequently, SSDI beneficiaries cannot collect benefits until six months after the disability onset date.

The type of benefit a person receives affects the date that payments arrive. SSD benefits are disbursed throughout the month on the following dates:

  • SSI beneficiaries receive payments on the first day of each month. If the first day falls on a weekend or holiday, payments are made on the last business day of the previous month.
  • SSDI beneficiaries with birthdays during the first 10 days of the month receive benefits on the second Wednesday.
  • SSDI beneficiaries with birthdays during the second 10 days of the month receive benefits on the third Wednesday.
  • Other SSDI beneficiaries receive benefits on the fourth Wednesday.

People who are eligible for both SSI and SSDI benefits receive their payments on the third day of the month. When this date falls on weekends or holidays, the payment date changes to the last business day before.

Tracking payments

After claim approval, each claimant should receive a Notice of Award letter. As a Social Security attorney could explain, this letter details the payment amount, disability onset date and payment date. If payments have not started by this date, beneficiaries may want to contact Social Security to check the status of their payments.