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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Disabled American workers, who already struggle with limited employment opportunities, bear a greater burden of the economic crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even before the economic constraints linked to the pandemic, Georgians with disabilities always struggled to find job opportunities. People who struggle with physical and mental disabilities find it hard to locate employment that can accomodate certain impairments. However, the Covid-19 crisis has made those differences in opportunities even more stark.

Many disabled workers face challenges with vision, hearing loss, and mobility problems. High volume employers in the restautrant, hotel and retail industries do tend to employ more workers with limitations.  However, these industries have been most seriously affected by the pandemic.  Many of these industries have been brought virtually to a standstill since March and many of those jobs have simply disappeared.

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On Monday, Senate Republicans, led by Senator Mitt Romney (R – Utah), unveiled their Time to Rescue United States Trusts Act (TRUST) which purports to restore and strengthen federal trust funds, i.e. Social Security and Medicare.  The TRUST ACT is a sub-provision of the HEALS ACT, the Republican coronavirus proposed relief bill.  Congress is currently debating a second stimulus package in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  These bills could possibly extend unemployment benefits and provide a second round of stimulus checks.

The TRUST Act calls for creation of committees to shore up the programs and control debt over the long term.  Bills advanced by the committees would be fast-tracked.   The non-profit group, Social Security Works attacked the GOP proposal as a closed door attempt to cut Social Security.  Group President, Nancy Altman, says “It is a way to undermine the economic security of Americans without political accountability.”  She also accused Republicans of using the pandemic as cover for slashing Social Security.

Senate Republicans claim the Social Security, Medicare and federal highway trust funds are doomed to run out of money in the next few years.  Democrats claim the recent tax cuts ran up the national debt; thus stoking the fires of trust fund insolvency.   Republicans claim the COVID-19 pandemic has created an insolvency crisis that may occur much sooner.   The solutions involve raising taxes, cutting benefits or some combination of both.

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The World Health Organization marks July 28th as World Hepatitis Day to raise awareness about people who live with this condition.  July 28th is the birthday of Dr. Baruch Blumberg (1925 – 2011) who discovered the Hepatitis B virus in 1967 and two years later developed the first vaccine.  Viral hepatitis causes more than one million deaths year.  Deaths from hepatitis are currently increasing

According to the World Health Organization approximately 900,000 people globally die from one of the forms of hepatitis every year. As many as 325 million people live with the disease. Many millions of people also may be unaware they have a strain of hepatitis.  Only 42% of children globally have access to the Hepatitis B vaccine.   These are the strains of hepatitis that are most likely to cause long term health damage, or even death.

Hepatitis is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver which can in some cases be fatal.  There are five main strains of the hepatitis virus, A, B,C, D and E.  While they all cause liver disease, they differ in means of transmission, severity, geographic distribution and prevention methods.  Types B and C lead to chronic illness in hundreds of millions of people worldwide.  Some types are prevented through vaccination.

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Psychologists are warning that thousands of Covid-19 survivors might find themselves struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder after recovery.

Psychologists believe that the mental health risks arising from the pandemic have not been addressed, and are likely to take a very significant toll on the survivors in the months following their recovery. Being hospitalized for any illness is a terrifying experience.  However, researchers say that being hospitalized for Covid-19 is a uniquely terrifying experience.

Because Covid-19 is a highly infectious disease, patients have been unable to have contact with family members for emotional support during a hospitalization or at-home quarantine.  Social connections help loved ones overcome traumatic events.  Covid-19 hospitalization often involves a complete lack of contact with family members, adding to the patient’s sense of helplessness and exacerbating his/her mental health issues.

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The Social Security Administration provides the most extensive social safety net programs in the United States.  Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pays monthly minimal income to seniors and people with disabilities who receive very low or no Social Security and who are extremely poor.  This program is funded from the general tax revenue.  SSI is a companion program to the Social Security program which provides crucial economic security through retirement and disability to individuals who paid into the program through payroll taxes.  In fiscal year 2021, 7.875 million people are estimated to receive SSI benefits totaling $57.5 billion and 65.767 million people are estimated to receive Social Security benefits totaling $1,145.5 billion.

As crucial as the SSI program is, the benefits are modest.  The stated goal of the SSI program, enacted in 1972, is to provide positive assurance that the country’s aged, blind and disabled population would no longer have to subsist on below-poverty-level income.  In April 2020, 8 million people received SSI benefits that averaged  monthly $576.47.  SSI recipients are allowed $20 of income in a month.  After that, unearned income, pensions, Social Security benefits, and in kind support of food or housing provided by family or friends reduces SSI benefits dollar for dollar.  That amounts to a 100% tax rate.  With respect to earned income, the recipient is allowed the first $65 and after that every dollar earned is reduced in SSI benefits by 50 cents.  That amounts to a fifty percent tax rate.

Today’s program does not come close to meeting the legislative goal.  In 2020 the maximum federal SSI benefit is just over $783/month ($9396 a year).  That benefit is less than three-quarters of the federal poverty guideline, which in 2020, is $1063/month ($12760 a year) for an individual.  Moreover, the federal poverty guidelines likely underestimate what is needed to subsist.  Low income recipients often have to choose between food and other necessities.  The Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) found of all U.S. hypothermia deaths, half occur among persons 65 years or older.  The Census Bureau reports that 5.1 million people aged 65 or older in 2018 had incomes below the federal poverty threshold.  One in four of those with a disability live in poverty.

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Thanks to occupying a household with social twenty-somethings with less than rigid quarantine habits, we have had two exposures to COVID-19, but we all just tested negative.  My family consists of my husband and I (we are both 56) and our two adult sons (21 and 24).  Our quarantine is only as good as the least quarantined member.  My youngest son has friends over (some of whom work in bars) and they socialize outside with no masks or social distancing.  We, as a family, have now twice been exposed to a houseguest who tested positive but was asymptomatic.  Today, three of us just received a negative rapid COVID-19 test.  The youngest family member will test tomorrow because he takes the LSAT today (yea!).

What does exposure to asymptomatic but COVID-19 positive individuals tells us about the benefits of more or less quarantine?  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends testing of asymptomatic individuals with recent exposure to known SARS-COV-2  (or COVID-19).   However, the CDC also says that early testing after exposure may miss many infections and therefore a quarantine is still warranted.  Serial testing over many points in time may be more likely to detect infection.  But practically speaking, we found that testing was problematic.  On a prior exposure, my older son experienced delays in tele-medicine appointments, limited availability of testing sites, long delays/lines at testing centers, and seven days later he still does not have his test results.  Today, we went to a private facility and used our family health insurance at a delay of two and one-half hours, but we all have test results in hand.  I might add that we had a familial connection to the medical provider which enhanced this experience.

If testing does not always give us adequate information on our own levels of quarantine, what does the national data show?  Nationally, the overall percentage of specimens testing positive for SARS-COV-2 decreased from week 26 (9.2%0 to week 27 (8.8%) nationally but increased in five regions.  Increases were reported in New York/New Jersey/Puerto Rico, the Southeast, the Midwest, South Central and Central regions.  The overall cumulative hospitalization rate is 107.2 per 100,000 with the highest rates in persons 65 years or older.  Death rates decreased nationally from 6.9% to 5.5%, representing the 11th consecutive week with a declining percentage rate.

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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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