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The week between June 12 and June 18 this year was marked as Scleroderma Awareness Week occurred between June 12 and  18.  Scleraderma is an autoimmune condition that is characterized by thickness and tightening of the skin. The skin may look leathery and become darker in colour.  The thickening of the skin may continue internally and may involve the internal organs such as the lungs and kidneys.  Problems with these internal organs may include tightness, scarring, pain and inflammation.

Scleroderma is a chronic disease.  Management of symptoms is typically the only treatment.  Over a period of time, more serious effects, including internal organ damage, cardiovascular problems and joint problems may occur.  All of these symptoms on their own or in combination with each other can make it difficult for a person to continue working at his/her regular job.

Make sure that you are aware of the symptoms of scleroderma, and get the symptoms checked out by your doctor as soon as they occur.  The most important thing to know is that  pain and stiffness are not necessarily the earliest symptoms.  When the condition progresses, the deterioration in skin health could lead to catastrophic adverse health events such as cardiovascular events and renal failure.  In some cases, people do not even realise that they suffer from scleroderma until the disease begins to affect the internal organs.

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June 5th commermorated National Cancer Survivors’ Day.  The occasion celebrated cancer survivors’ strength and determination.  The first Sunday of June is typically National Cancer Survivors’ Day, and is meant to be a celebration of those who have beaten cancer.

The National Cancer Survivors’ Day website defines a survivor as any individual who has been diagnosed with cancer, has undergone treatment for cancer, is living with cancer, had cancer as a child, or someone who is now free from cancer.

One of the major worries that cancer patients have after their diagnosis is the economic impact of the disease. According to some estimates, the total healthcare cost to Americans from cancer every year is as high as $80 billion.  However, it is not just medical costs that can cripple a person financially, but also the fact that in many cases, cancer patients are no longer able to work and earn a living.  The financial impact of being unable to work can be crushing for cancer patients as well as their families.

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Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition that can cause a number of complications.  A person who suffers from sickle cell anemia has red blood cells that are sickle- shaped rather than the standard round -shaped cells.  The cells are also much more likely to die early, causing a chronic shortage of red blood cells in the body. Also, the sickle- shaped cells are sticky and may become clogged when they pass through the small blood vessels. This can give rise to complications such as pneumonia and stroke.  A person who suffers from sickle cell anemia could also suffer from joint problems, nervous system, and brain impairments.

Treatment options for sickle cell anemia are limited.  Bone marrow transplants may be recommended.  Having a diagnosis of sickle cell anemia alone will not qualify you for Social Security disability benefits. You must be able to provide evidence that the condition makes it difficult for you to work at your job, or any other job.  If your sickle cell anemia symptoms have caused you to become hospitalised several times recently or if they have caused you to require numerous intravenous medications,  then you may have a better chance at a successful claim. If your condition requires you to have regular transfusions of red blood cells or the symptoms cause your hemoglobin levels to drop below 7 g/dl, consult an attorney about your eligibility for disability benefits as you may meet a medical listing which authorizes approval of benefits.

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Arthritis is one of the most commonly-cited causes of Social Security disability claims in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 58 million Americans suffer from arthritis.

More than 23 million American arthritis sufferers above the age of 18 suffer from some physical limitations as a result of their condition. In Georgia, between 32% and 39% of adults with arthritis also report physical limitations that make it difficult for them to go to work.

Joint pain remains one of the most common symptoms of arthritis.  This makes it difficult for a person to perform physical work. In some cases, the pain can be severe enough to prevent the person from performing even routine physical tasks.  In the state of Georgia between 30% and 34% of adults with arthritis also report joint pain.

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You might not know this but disability benefits claims filed in some states have a much higher chance of being approved.

While the Social Security Disability Insurance program is a federal program, claims in some states have a higher approval rate.  According to data, Georgia ranks at number 26 on a list of states based on their disability claims approval rates.

The data shows that Georgia had a 48.4% approval rate for Social Security disability claims in 2020. While that is lower than the approval rates of at least 24 other states, it is better than the national average approval rate for 2020 which was just about 45%.  It was also much higher than the state’s poor performance in 2019. In that year, the approval rate for disability claims was a dismal 43.1 %. In 2019, Georgia ranked Number 33 on the list for claims approvals.  The average disability benefit paid out in Georgia in 2020 was $1,260.

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In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden tackled an issue that has long been on his agenda. The President called for a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.

That proposal, along with the capping of the price of insulin at $35, was included in the Build Back Better bill that failed in the Senate last year.  However, it is clear the president does not intend to give up on this subject.  He expressed his hopes that Congress would permit Medicare in the future to negotiate drug prices.  The agency is currently not allowed to negotiate the prices of pharmaceutical drugs.

The Build Back Better bill had included provisions for Medicare to be allowed to negotiate prices starting with an initial list of 10 drugs. That number would ultimately have increased to 20 drugs by the year 2028. The bill had also included provisions to cap out -of- pocket spending for Medicare beneficiaries at $2000 for drug benefits.  Unfortunately, the bill failed in the Senate, but hopefully these measures that are so important to strengthen the social security safety net for millions of Americans, will be taken up again in the future.

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Social Security disability benefits payments can make a significant difference to the quality of life of a disabled person and the person’s dependants. In fact, in 2022, beneficiaries can expect an increase of 5.09 percent in their benefits as a result of cost -of -living adjustment increases.

But, when can you expect payments to be credited to your account?

Social Security payments are not made randomly. There is a specific schedule that the agency will adhere to at the time of disbursement of your benefits.

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Statistically, around seventy percent of  Social Security disability claims are rejected at the initial application level.  Upon receipt of a denial letter, you have the option of filing an appeal of the decision. Filing a timely, effective and complete appeal is crucial.   When the Social Security Administration rejects your claim, the agency will also mention the reasons for the denial, as well as the kind of appeal you need to file. There are different types of appeals that can be filed when your claim has been denied.

At the very basic level, you can ask for a reconsideration of your appeal based on the medical evidence you have provided. If you believe that your claim has been denied for reasons not related to your medical condition, you can ask for reconsideration of the decision based on non-medical reasons. In both of these cases, your file will be reviewed by an officer who was not involved in the earlier decision made in your case.

If you disagree with the decision by the officer reviewing your case, you can apply for a hearing before an administrative law judge. You are making a request for your case to be heard before a judge who will then deliver a decision based on the evidence you have provided in the hearing. A hearing can be conducted in – person or on video. A video- based appeal hearing is just as valid as an in – person hearing.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic all live hearings have been suspended.  Hearings currently take place by telephone or video.

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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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