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The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has recommended that states periodically screen medical consultants who are in charge of reviewing disability benefits claims.  In a recent report, the GAO advises that the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) needs to ensure that states are up to date on their review of medical consultants.  SSA policy requires that states frequently conduct reviews of medical consultants for eligibility and overall competence.  However, the report shows that this is not always the case.

Out of the 52 agencies that the GAO questioned, only some were able to confirm that they conducted periodic reviews of medical consultants in order to ensure that individuals previously barred from screening are no longer currently providing services.  A total of 14 state agencies confirmed that they were consistent or regular in conducting reviews of medical consultants.   Nine state agencies confirmed that they do not provide their consultants re-fresher training.

The majority of states, including Georgia, employed contractors exclusively for the purpose of medical screenings.  Ten states relied exclusively on government employees hired as consultants. The remaining states relied on a combination of both government employees as well as independent consultants.

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The pandemic has had a devastating impact on the weakest of Americans, including those who suffer a disability.  As Social Security field offices around the country, including Georgia, continue to remain closed, thousands of disabled persons are struggling to meet their basic needs without access to disability benefits.

Field offices are where disability beneficiaries – who often do not have easy access to the internet  – drop in to submit documentation such as  medical reports, physical applications and appeals  vital to the processing of their applications and the approval of their benefits. Unfortunately, as offices have remained closed, the number of Social Security beneficiaries who have been able to access these offices, has dropped. Before the pandemic, as many as 43 million Americans used these field offices.  Since the office closures, many of them have been unable to submit their documents, correct errors and perform other activities that affect their applications.

The closures have had a direct impact on the number of persons who now receive Social Security benefits. During the year 2021, there has been a significant drop of 25 percent in the number of Americans who receive benefits from the Social Security Administration, compared to 2019. In the case of disability benefits, the drop has been even more staggering with a 30 percent decline in beneficiaries. As many as half a million fewer Americans are now receiving Social Security disability benefits, compared to 2019.

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Deaf people or those who suffer from a hearing disability can benefit significantly from having service dogs. These animals can alert the hearing disabled to sounds that the person would not have been otherwise able to hear; thereby improving the quality of the person’s life.

A new study in the United Kingdom focused on 165 deaf people who relied on service dogs to help them with hearing day -to- day sounds. These dogs helped the deaf person hear common everyday sounds like alarms, monitors and doorbells that the the person might not otherwise have been able to hear. The hearing- disabled may find that their disability limits their social interactions. These animals also provided the hearing-disabled – who often suffer from limited social interactions – with companionship and emotional support.

The researchers found that those who had a service dog had significantly better mental health than those who did not have a hearing dog. The persons who had service dogs were less likely to suffer symptoms of depression, and also reported higher levels of independence.

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The Biden administration’s Build Back Better bill could soon be passed, albeit with several cuts and other changes that affect Social Security disability advocates.

On November 19th, the House passed the bill and sent it to the Senate for passage.  A bill hopefully will be passed before Christmas.  The massive plan, which will invest heavily in social spending for Americans,  means that a lot of investment on social spending, including disability benefits. The bad news is that the amount of funds that are allocated towards these programs has been reduced significantly. The original bill had allocated for more than $3 trillion to be spent on programs that benefit financially weaker Americans, people with disabilities, older citizens and more The new bill, however,  allocates only about $1.8 trillion for these programs.

However, disability advocates are hailing the allocation of a proposed $400 billion that will be spent on expanding the Home and Community Based Services program that delivers personal care to a disabled person’s home and community as well as other services that directly impact disabled Americans. Home-based services reduce the need for congregant care. Persons who have major physical and mental disabilities that make it challenging for them to receive congregant care can avail of support services that are delivered to them in their own homes. People with physical and mental disabilities, developmental disabilities and intellectual disabilities who are also Medicaid beneficiaries who avail of these services would benefit from an expansion of the program.

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A new wristwatch could help reduce the risk of an epileptic attack, helping patients to take steps to avert the possibility of a seizure.

Researchers at Mayo Clinic have been working on a high- tech wristwatch that monitors the patient’s vitals and other markers to correctly predict the risk of a seizure. The patients who wore the wristwatch wore these for between six and 12 months, and the researchers found that these devices actually helped alert wearers to the risk of a seizure.  The warning provided approximately 30 minutes before the seizure occurred.

Six patients were studied, and the researchers found that the risk was correctly predicted consistently in five of these patients. The researchers say that the device provides a comfortable and wearable way for patients to correctly predict and forecast their risks of a seizure. In the study, patients who wore the wristwatch also suffered from epilepsy and had an implanted neurostimulation device for measuring brain activity.  The device measures characteristics like body temperature changes, electrical characteristics of the skin, cardiac rate, blood flow rate and other data  paving the way for a forecast of the seizure.

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Your retirement benefits are dependant on your income history, and the taxes that you pay into the Social Security system. When a person is disabled, it can mean months and even years of no income or reduced income. This is likely to have an impact on the retirement benefits for which a person is eligible.

The Social Security system does have a mechanism in place to prevent your retirement benefits from being reduced as a result of lowered earnings during the disability period. This mechanism is called a “disability freeze,” and it applies to your income during the years of being on disability. This mechanism simply freezes your income during the disability period, and ensures that the reduction in income as a result of your disability does not affect your ability to work and earn a full income.

Typically, the Social Security system will take your earnings into account while calculating your retirement benefits. The more you earn, the higher your benefits are likely to be. However, if your earnings take a hit – which happens in the case of a disability – it can impact your retirement benefits. The “freeze” prevents this from happening. The freeze will start from the date of the onset of disability.  The freeze on your income being counted towards retirement benefits continues till your disability ends, or till you begin receiving your retirement benefits.

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD is a term given to a category of lung diseases characterized by difficulty in breathing, shortness of breath, chronic cough and wheezing. Conditions like emphysema and bronchitis may fall in this category of lung diseases. Symptoms in these cases are often sufficiently serious to disrupt the person’s normal functioning and routine activities, and prevent full-time work.

Chronic smoking is one of the primary risk factors for COPD. However, a new study suggests that workplace hazards are also strongly linked to the development of COPD.  Studies found that workers in certain sectors, such as mining and construction, are more likely to be exposed to environmental pollutants that can trigger COPD. One recent study found that even surgeons and nurses may not be exempt from the risks of COPD. Regular exposure to the kind of pollutants that can be generated through the use of heat-using surgical tools as well as the heavy disinfectants in a surgical operating room can be sufficient to increase a person’s risk of suffering COPD.

COPD causes not only breathing difficulties, but also related symptoms such as loss of weight, chronic fatigue and weakness. These symptoms may prevent a person from performing manual labour or even sedentary work.  In order to be eligible for benefits, it is important to provide evidence that your symptoms make it hard for you to perform jobs that can earn a living.

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Social Security recipients in 2022 will benefit from an increase in the cost-of-living adjustment in the amount of 5.9%.

That is a significant increase over the 1.3% increase that was implemented in the year 2021.  It marks the highest such increase in the cost-of-living adjustment in more than 10 years.

The cost-of-living adjustment is calculated by inflation rates.  Inflation has risen by a significant 5%, the highest increase in more than a decade.

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Before you decide to volunteer while on Social Security disability benefits, think carefully about the amount of volunteer work you are doing and whether this will have any effect on your benefits.

Being disabled can be a lonely experience, and it can be useful for a person who is unable to work to spend time volunteering in an organization. This can keep a person occupied and improves one’s mental outlook and status.  However, doing volunteer work while on disability, could impact disability benefits.

Make sure that the volunteer work you do does not contrast with your disability. If your disability is related to a spine injury or back pain, don’t volunteer for a job with prolonged standing, walking or with heavy exertion.  Take care not to volunteer for more than a few hours in a week. Your disability benefits may be at risk if you work on a volunteer basis for an amount of time equal to a full or part-time job.  Such volunteer work could be deemed to be equivalent to monetary compensation.  If you receive monetary compensation or volunteer work comparable to monetary compensation, and that amount meets or exceeds the Substantial Gainful Activity level, your benefits will be at risk.  The Social Security Administration could determine that you are capable of working to earn a sustainable income, and your benefits could be at risk.

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The average disability payment handed out in 2020 was approximately $1200.  Many beneficiaries received lesser amounts, and payments can be as low as about $700 a month. Calls for an increase in the amount of disability benefits that Americans can recover after becoming disabled, are increasing.

The Unites States has the dubious distinction of paying out some of the lowest amounts in benefits in the developed world. Benefits payments have not kept pace with all the external factors that can influence a person’s cost of living.  Living expenses in many areas in Georgia have increased, while disability checks remain the same.

Apart from inflation, there are other reasons why a disability check just isn’t sufficient to sustain many beneficiaries. The amount that beneficiaries are eligible to receive from other federal and state programs can also be very low. When you are eligible for Workers’ Compensation in addition to disability benefits, you may find that the other benefits lead to a reduction in the amount of disability benefits that you recover.

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