The Social Security Disability system in the United States is very complicated. Whether you are a recently disabled father trying to provide for your family, a single mother who can no longer work because of an illness, or the parent of a child who needs extra help because of a challenging condition, obtaining benefits is not easy. The “system” involves a complex set of rules and requirements that make it very hard for the average person to successfully receive payments.

There is hope, however, and we appreciate you looking for help here. Our law firm provides unique benefits to clients just like you, which include:

  • A singular focus on representing the injured and disabled.
  • Having all important work performed by an experienced disability attorney.
  • A guarantee that you pay no fees unless you obtain social security disability benefits.
  • A proven track record of success in both routine and difficult cases.

Regardless of whether you are considering filing for benefits for the first time, or have been denied numerous times in the past, please call our office at (404) 255-9838. We will discuss your options free of charge, and help you make an informed decision about what to do next. We look forward to talking with you.

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In response to COVID-19, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is allocating $15 billion to Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) providers. Additionally, HHS will also be distributing $10 billion to US safety net hospitals providing medical care to vulnerable citizens regardless of insurance status. These funds come from the Provider Relief Fund of the CARES Act, a bipartisan fund created to help health care organizations during the pandemic.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar emphasized that health care providers treating the most vulnerable Americans are “absolutely essential to our fight against COVID-19.” Medicaid and CHIP are essential programs that provide coverage for more than 70 million Americans, including individuals with disabilities. This funding, thus, came at an essential time to ensure the viability of these care providers.

The Partnership for Medicaid Home-Based Care Chairman David Totaro thanked HHS for the support, stating “[i]f HCBS providers are unable to continue delivering these health-sustaining services, at-risk populations will experience exacerbated chronic conditions or disabilities.” HHS began disbursing the payments on June 10. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to continue maintaining care for pre-existing conditions. In an emergency, dial 911 immediately.

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Social media is a breeding ground for bad information.  Some people have complained recently, through social media mostly, that wearing a mask is detrimental to their mental health and there is no science behind the need to wear a mask in a pandemic.  These memes, posts, tweets and comments get passed around without any scientific back-up, but carry the weight of dogma.

The science behind mask-wearing in a global pandemic exists.  The Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) recommends that people wear cloth face coverings in public setting and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing is difficult to maintain.  The people who should not wear a face-covering are the following:  1) children under 2; 2) anyone who has trouble breathing; 3) anyone who is unconscious or otherwise unable to remove a mask.  In support of these recommendations the CDC lists 19 studies on the efficacy of masks to control the spread of contagious diseases from the period 2012 to 2019.    You can find that information here.

A recent study in Health Affairs compared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia.  Mask mandates slowed the daily growth rate by 0.9 percent.  By three weeks, a mask mandate had slowed the growth rate by 2 percentage points.  One study predicted that 33,000 deaths could be avoided by October 1 if 95% of people wore masks in public.  Even if 80% of the population wore masks in public, this could be more effective than a lockdown in slowing the growth rate of this contagious disease.   Six months into this pandemic, enough data has been gathered to determine that masks are critical in mitigating the COVID-19 spread.

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Aphasia is a condition that results in the impairment of a person’s ability to process and comprehend speech. The condition can also impair one’s ability to read and write. Typically, older persons are more likely to suffer aphasia, although the condition can also be triggered by a stroke or brain injury.

There may be several types of impairments that are seen in a case of aphasia. Sometimes, the person may suffer from an inability to string together words into sentences, while in other cases, only the ability to read is impacted. Some individuals with this condition may find it difficult to attach names to objects. Impairments can affect the person’s ability to read or speak, while others may affect the individual’s ability to write, but leave his ability to speak unimpaired. In other types of aphasia, the person may be left with the inability to provide words or sentences for the ideas and thoughts that he wants to express.

Primary progressive aphasia is the kind of aphasia that results after a person has suffered a stroke, or as a result of Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. In such cases, the person’s ability to speak properly is severely impacted and progressively gets worse. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has included primary progressive aphasia in its Compassionate Allowances listing of conditions that are eligible for expedited processing of claims.  This means that if you suffer from primary progressive aphasia, your application for Social Security disability benefits will be processed and approved faster.

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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court in Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue upheld state laws that allow public funds to be used to fund religious education.  That decision is set out below.  But it is important to know that Georgia has a similar tax program called the Qualified Education Tax Credit.  This is used to fund scholarships for students enrolled in private schools.  The donor makes a contribution to a private school through a nonprofit student scholarship organization.  The organization passes it to the school; and the school uses it as a tuition subsidy.  The donor then gets 100% of the money back as a state income tax credit.   The School Superintendents Association opposes tax-based tuition subsidies because they leave less money on the table for public schools.  In the report, Public Loss, Private Gain, the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy describes this law as a diversion of critical resources away from public schools.  The American Federation of Teachers stated that it feared the ruling would be used to “defund and dismantle public education”.

In Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue.  The Montana Legislature granted tax credits to those who contribute to organizations that provide scholarships for private school tuition.  The Montana state Constitution bars government aid to any school controlled in part by any church, sect or denomination.  Three mothers who were blocked from using the scholarships at religious schools filed suit, alleging that the schools discriminated on the basis of religion.  The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects religious observance against unequal treatment and against laws that impose disabilities on religious practice.  Montana’s no aid provision excludes religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious status.  Therefore, strict scrutiny is required.  To satisfy strict scrutiny, government action must advance the interest of the highest order and must be narrowly tailored in pursuit of that interest.  The court held that Montana’s interest in creating a greater separation of church and state than the Federal Constitution requires cannot qualify as compelling in the face of the Free Exercise clause.   Justice Roberts delivered the majority opinion, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch and Alito.  Ginsburg, Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor dissented.

The majority held that the Free Exercise Clause protects against any laws that penalize religious activity by denying any person an equal share of the rights, benefits, and privileges enjoyed by other citizens.  Disqualifying otherwise eligible recipients from a public benefits solely because of their religious character imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion.

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Sickle cell anemia is a condition in which the ability of certain red blood cells to carry oxygen through the tissues is impaired. These red blood cells change shape and become sickle-shaped, which is where the condition gets its name from. One common symptom of this condition is chronic fatigue. However, more severely, a sickle cell anemia crisis is characterized by severe pain all over the body.  Sometimes, the pain can be severe enough for the person to require hospitalization for several days.

Many patients who suffer from sickle cell anemia struggle frequently with crises, which can significantly impair a person’s ability to earn a living. A sickle cell anemia crisis is an event in which the impaired blood cells bunch together, and block the smaller blood vessels that carry blood to the various organs. This crisis can last from just a few hours to several days. There are several possible complications associated with sickle cell anemia crisis, including blindness, kidney problems, infections, neurological disorders, strokes, and other complications.

Having a diagnosis of sickle cell anemia by itself will not be sufficient to qualify you for disability benefits. You must be able to show that your sickle cell anemia prevents you from going to work or maintaining a sustainable job. If you suffer frequent crises that require hospitalization, for instance, it could provide evidence that your condition qualifies you for benefits.

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Scoliosis is a condition that leads to a curvature of the spine. Recovering Social Security disability benefits for this condition can be tricky because there is no separate disability listing for scoliosis.

To qualify for benefits, typically your benefits should be included in the Social Security Administration’s blue book of listings. If the listing is not included, you may qualify for benefits if the symptoms of the condition are similar to symptoms of other conditions that are included in the listing. While there is no separate disability listing for scoliosis, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits for spinal disorders for which there is a separate disability listing. These symptoms may also very closely mimic the symptoms found in other conditions that may be included in the disability listing, like respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.  You may be eligible to file for benefits for those conditions.

However, the responsibility is on you as the claimant to prove that your condition causes several symptoms, including extreme and chronic pain, muscle pain, inability to walk, weakness, and other symptoms. In order to prove the existence of these symptoms, you must provide the results of medical imaging tests, including CT scans, X-rays, MRIs.

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June is Cataract Awareness Month, an opportunity to raise awareness of the warning signs of cataracts, one of the most preventable causes of blindness. Cataracts are opaque, dense formations over the lens of the eye. These are typically age-related, and can even occur soon after some kind of blunt force trauma to the eye, like an accident. Early symptoms of cataracts can include blurred or slightly cloudy vision. This can make it difficult for the person to perform routine activities, like reading a book.

Not everybody who suffers from cataracts will require surgery. In many cases, the condition can be corrected using prescription glasses. However, if the condition progresses, and vision becomes worse, your doctor may prescribe surgery to remove the cataract. The surgery is fairly simple and performed frequently in the U.S. every year.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that a person looks for several signs before he decides to go in for cataract surgery. Are you able to perform your daily or work activities without any hindrance or obstruction from blurred vision? Are you able to drive safely at night? Are you able to safely participate in recreational activities or sports activities like you used to before, without any visual obstructions? Have you used prescription glasses, or tried other therapies to treat your cataracts, and have reached maximum improvement with the use of these techniques? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then you might have to consider cataract surgery. Speak to your doctor about the pros and cons of the surgery.

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On June 11, Governor Kemp introduced an executive order, “Empowering a Healthy Georgia.” Those who are 65 and older no longer must shelter in place, unless they are in a long-term facility or are “medically fragile.” Effective June 16, restaurants no longer have a dining limit, and theaters have no seating limits. Salons and barbershops may now resume walk-in services. Bars may also now have 50 people inside. Gatherings of 50 or more people are banned unless social distancing of 6 feet is maintained. However, for gatherings of fewer than 50 people, social distancing requirements are no longer mandated.  The public health emergency remains in effect until July 12.

In the wake of this executive order, it is critical to understand the current COVID-19 cases in Georgia. As of June 17, there are 60,030 confirmed corona cases in Georgia and 2,575 deaths. The top counties with confirmed cases are Gwinnett, Fulton, DeKalb, and Cobb. Between May 30 and June 12, there were on average 675.14 new confirmed cases a day, an increase from the previous 2 weeks. The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 decreased over the past month. On June 10, there were 836 hospitalizations reported, compared to 1,500 on May 1.

Despite the easing of restrictions, Georgians should continue to follow CDC guidelines. One should still wear a mask when going into public areas, such as grocery stores. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol when washing is not an option.  Avoid touching your face, especially when in public. Lastly, avoid close contact with other people, especially the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

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The coronavirus has devastated many individual’s health and economic security. There have been 36 million new claims for unemployment benefits since the beginning of the pandemic. It is critical to address how this economic downturn has impacted Social Security’s finances. First, many Americans have lost jobs over the last few months, which has decreased the payroll tax revenues. The payroll tax is critical in funding Social Security; in 2018, the $885 billion of the $1 trillion collected for Social Security came from payroll taxes. The longer the recession lasts, the greater impact it will have.

Second, lower interest rates decrease the income in the Trust Fund, financial accounts in the U.S. Treasury. Lastly, a recession leads to a low inflation rate, which reduces salaries for all workers. This also decreases the Trust Fund’s tax revenues.

A likely impact of this financial situation is a reduced cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), annual increases in Social Security to compensate for inflation. The depletion date of Social Security funds is currently 2036. If the COVID-19 related unemployment rate increases, that date is expected to be brought forward to 2034. A slower recovery could move the depletion date back to 2032.

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The Social Security Administration is taking social distancing measures seriously, and making arrangements for hearings to be conducted via phone.

If you have an appointment for a hearing on your Social Security disability case, you may soon receive a call from the agency, rescheduling your appointment or scheduling a phone call instead.  This is being done to ensure that Georgian Social Security disability beneficiaries do not have to make unnecessarily risky trips to a physical hearing when a hearing can be conducted on the telephone.

For the time being, administrative law judges are conducting telephone hearings, and this will continue at least until the offices are opened.  If you are scheduled for a hearing, please note that the Social Security Administration will call from a private telephone number and not from the Social Security number.

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