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Cervical cancer is the one of the most common cancers affecting women.  Fortunately, this is also one of the most easily detectable cancers. Globally, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer.

In most developed societies like ours, regular PAP smear tests can detect the presence of the cancerous cells faster. This can mean quicker commencement of treatment and a faster path to recovery.

The number one cause of cervical cancer is chronic infection of the human papillomavirus or HPV virus that is transmitted through sexual activity. These viral infections may be passed between sexual partners, and the infection can remain for several years in the system without the person even being aware of it.  Other risk factors for cervical cancer include obesity and smoking.

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First, some good news.  The Social Security Administration received its annual appropriation from Congress in September and that funds the agency through this February.  Second, even if that were not the case, funding for programs such as Title II (SSDI), Title XVI (SSI) and XVIII (Medicare) are funded through a combination of taxes and long-term investments.  The shutdown only affects funds annually appropriated by Congress.   So the checks still get delivered.

Core programs like disability claims or appeals over benefits continue to function.  But you would see a slow-down in non-essential programs.  Employees for non-essential services would be out on a furlough, meaning they do not work and do not get paid.  For Social Security, some non-essential tasks are issuing Social Security cards, applying for Medicare, getting benefit verification or correcting earnings records.  Some 10,400 SSA employees will be furloughed out of the 63,200 total employees.

That being said, if you have an appeal pending in the federal districts courts, your action has been stayed.  Yesterday, the Northern District of Georgia issued an order staying all cases involving federal government agencies.  The Department of Justice requested that all federal courts pause proceedings in its cases, including meeting court-ordered deadlines.  For those with appeals pending at the district court level, your case is on hold.

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Yesterday the Regional Counsel’s office for the Social Security Administration Office of Hearing Operations invited disability attorneys and disability representatives downtown to its conference room at the federal building to roll out a new program.  As one of colleagues remarked, “this is a one way conversation.”  Nevertheless, anytime, SSA lets me peek behind the screen to see how things work, I am going to be there.  With a grand entrance and rousing cheer for its new program, Centralized Scheduling, SSA tried to get the claimant’s reps and attorneys on board with this initiative.  Cut to the chase, we all know this will not be in our interest.  The hearing offices will be scheduling cases without calling us first.  The burden is now on me to apprise the agency of my conflicts and hope they take that into account so I don’t miss my son’s graduation.  While I won’t miss a graduation, I am not complaining about this program – if that gets more cases scheduled then I will get on board.  I also will not complain that their Power Point presentation took an hour to upload because someone’s laptop was running an update.  While an unnecessary expenditure of time, the crowd was fairly patient.  But here is why I am writing this blog today.  Because underneath the purported rally for serving the public, was the percolating contempt for those of us working to help claimants get their benefits.

If a government program is going to work, it cannot be run by people who have contempt for it.  That’s true of Social Security, the justice system and the White House.   Those of us who showed up yesterday, taking time out of our schedules for the free invite, probably do not need a lecture on our ethical obligations as attorneys.  We do not need another layer of regulations placed on us that serve no purpose; and whose purpose cannot be articulated.  And if yesterday’s crowd started to balk at the presentation, it was probably because the three picture power point seemed to suggest that agency problems will be cured by placing more burdens on the claimant’s attorneys; and a not so veiled suggestion that they are routing out our fraud.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like fraud.  We should stamp it out; it ruins the program for good people with legitimate claims.  Although I can count on one hand in the last six years the times I met someone who has trying to scam the system.  But they exist.  Yahoos from Wall Street to Wal-mart will try to scam the system.  Good riddance to all of them.  But you know what else I hate?  I hate when hard-working people fall on hard times due to poor health; lose their jobs; lose their savings; apply for benefits from a disability program they paid into for years and then get kicked to the curb.  I hate the forty-five minute delay times on the SSA 1-800 number.  I hate the local offices that are being closed around the country.  I hate that the offices that remain open are closed at noon on Wednesday and Friday.  I hate that important paperwork that has a 10 day deadline for a return gets mailed out nine days after the printed date on the letter.  I hate that claimants show for consultative exams with SSA contract doctors and no medical records accompany the appointment.  I hate that claimants whose cases meet medical listings get denied on the initial application.  I hate that claimants who meet compassionate allowance listings get denied on initial applications.   I hate that legitimate cases get denied on reconsideration even when the treating doctors and the consultant SSA doctor agree on the severity of the claimant’s condition.  I hate that the wait times for hearings in Georgia have run between 12 and 15 months.  I hate that after a hearing, some judges take over 90 days to issue a decision (and that is even for cases that met a Dire Need request).   I hate that the Payment Office can take over three months to issue payment to the claimant after they finally get a Favorable Decision.  Here is one I really hate, I hate that the Payment Office routinely forgets to pay my fee.  I hate that it will take 9 months of my letter-writing appeals to the Payment Office to finally release it.

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On July 10, 2018, the White House signed an Executive Order that gives agency heads greater discretion over the selection of administrative law judges. The United States federal government employs 2,000 judges, with the largest number serving in the Social Security Administration as the judiciary for benefit claims. This, in effect, overturns the Administrative Procedure Act (1946), which set up a system for choosing judges based on scores in detailed examinations. This places the future selection of administrative law judges more directly in the hands of political appointees, who may not have adequate experience or knowledge on important issues to make effective decisions. In this order, it states that the only requirement for an appointee is to “possess a professional license to practice law and be authorized to practice law”—making any lawyer qualified to serve as an administrative law judge. Before this order, requirements to serve included a vetting process through the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), as well as 7 years of experience as an attorney. The order does, however, add that “each agency shall follow the principle of veteran preference as far as administratively feasible,” which is vague and open to interpretation.

John Palguta, a civil service expert, cautioned of the importance of oversight from the OPM to “assure that departments or agencies do not abuse this authority by violating the merit system principles…” Many people are concerned that this order could lead to what Palguta fears: the appointment of judges based on political ideology, rather than their merit. Marilyn Zahm, president of the Association of Administrative Law Judges, warned that this system “could lead to abuse and biased decisions.”

For those applying for Social Security disability benefits, this decision could impact you or a loved one. If judges selected lack education about the importance of benefits for those with disabilities and the long and trying process until a decision is made by the court, many people’s cases in the courts could be at risk. Those applying for Social Security benefits deserve to have lawyers who are unbiased and well versed in the issues that affect these people’s lives. This Executive Order may negatively impact many people applying for benefits if the administrative law judges are biased against them.  It will be important to watch the appointment of Administrative Law Judges to the agency over the next months to see its impact on the court’s rulings for those with disabilities.

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In Georgia, there are various programs that help people living in poverty.  These programs include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), Head Start, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). SNAP is a program that provides low-income households with food stamps to help pay for the cost of food. In order to be eligible for SNAP in Georgia, you must be a resident of the state and have a current bank balance (savings and checking combined) of under $3,001 if you share your household with a person with a disability or person over age 60. If you do not fit into these categories, your bank balance must be under $2,001. You must also have an annual household income (before taxes) below a certain amount (for example, no more than $32,630 for a family of 4).

Another program supporting low-income families is TANF, which provides temporary assistance to families. This program has four goals, which includes giving families support and job preparation.  In order to be eligible for TANF, you must be a US citizen, national, legal alien, or permanent resident, and also have a low income. For example, a family of three must have an income of less than $784/month to qualify for TANF. The amount of cash benefit this program provides depends on the county you live in and your family’s income.  However, there is a five year lifetime limit on TANF benefits.

Head Start, a federal program, educates and supports infants and children up to five years old in families with incomes under the national poverty level. Head Start programs enhance young children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development and work to prepare them for success in school. There are also some Early Head Start programs which support pregnant women and babies living in poverty. The maximum income eligibility for Head Start depends on your household size. However, there are groups eligible for Head Start programs regardless of income including:

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The American Community Survey (ACS) estimated the overall rate of individuals with 1 or more disabilities in the United States population as 12.8% or approximately 41,000,000 people. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies somebody as having a disability if they respond “yes” to any of six questions which identify individuals with daily physical and mental limitations. The survey asked whether questions such as:  “does this person have serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs?” and if due to a physical, mental, or emotional condition, do you have difficulty “doing errands alone such as visiting a doctor’s office or shopping?”

Employment of those with disabilities varied widely based on the type of disability. Those with hearing disabilities are most likely to be employed (51.7%), followed by those with vision disabilities (43.5%), and is lowest for those with independent living (17%) and self-care (15.5%) disabilities. Overall, in 2016, only 36.2% of those with disabilities were employed.  Also, those with disabilities on average made about 2/3 of the median salary of individuals without disabilities, according to the Disability Compendium 2017 Annual Report. There is a $10,000 pay gap between those with and without disabilities in yearly earnings.

Statistically, if you have a disability, it is more likely that you will be living in poverty.   In 2016, among working-age people in the US, 26.6% people lived in poverty.  Of this number, 15.7% were disabled.  This shows a strong relationship between having a disability and living in poverty. Among the population of people with a disability, education is also a factor in whether one lives in poverty.  Individuals with a high school diploma are twenty percent more likely to live in poverty than disabled persons with a college degree.   For this reason, government benefits can be an essential safety net for persons with disabilities.

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For those who successfully apply and qualify for Social Security disability benefits, many people wonder how much they will receive each month in payments. There is not one simple answer to this question, as it depends on which disability benefits you are eligible for, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Also, another factor is how much money you earned and paid into the Social Security system. If you do not have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI, you may be eligible for SSI disability benefits if you are low income.  SSI benefits are $750 per month at the maximum level.  In America, 12 million people with disabilities receive either SSI or SSDI. In 2014, the average annual benefit for a disabled worker in Georgia was $14,028 or $1,169 per month. This was only slightly higher than the federal poverty threshold for a working-age single person of $12,316.

While certainly beneficial, it is difficult in Georgia to live solely off a disability payment. For example, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Georgia is $908, which would leave on average only $261 for other costs—making subsidized housing one of the only affordable options for most people.  For information on finding affordable subsidized apartments in Georgia, based on your desired zip code and number of rooms, click here. The average utility bill per month is $134.14 in Georgia.  Food costs in Georgia are higher than the national average. Disability recipients may also qualify for SNAP benefits (food stamps) which generally are about $187 a month for a single adult.  Also, public transportation is not nearly as extensive in Atlanta as in other cities, especially for those living in the suburbs or rural areas.  Many cannot afford transportation.

The Social Security Administration also has the ability to decide that you are unable to handle your benefit payments yourself. In this case, you will be assigned to an Social Security Representative Payee to handle your benefits for you, who are required to spend the money on basic living expenses before giving any money to you for other purposes. These payees are often family or friends, but when this is not available, the Social Security uses qualified organizations as payees. Any remaining funds from the payments are required to be put into a saving account for your future use.  It is your responsibility to talk with your payee about how your money is being spent.

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Patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis may suffer from an acceleration of their symptoms if they put on an excessive amount of weight or lose too many pounds.

According to new research, obesity and low weight both have an adverse impact on symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers focused on obesity and its crippling effects on the already very painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Interestingly enough, they found that severe weight loss also worsened symptoms.

According to the researchers, very often, doctors may mistakenly attribute worsening of the symptoms to the actual arthritic condition, and not to the patient’s weight. The researchers are calling on doctors to look out for severe weight loss or weight gain when they treat symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

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Athletes receive plenty of attention for brain injuries.   However, other professionals  are also very likely to suffer head injuries and may require disability benefits. According to a new study, theater workers and actors are at a high risk of head injuries, due to the risky nature of many of their job activities.

According to the results of the study conducted by researchers at Ohio University, more than two -thirds of surveyed theater workers had suffered at least one head injury on the job. A total of 258 workers were surveyed as part of the study. More than three-quarters of the theater workers said that they had suffered more than three head injuries on the job, and 40% admitted to having suffered more than five head injuries. Many of the injuries were moderately serious, and resulted in concussion-related symptoms, like dizziness.

However, while head injuries among professional athletes are taken very seriously, the same doesn’t happen in the case of theater workers. Approximately 50% of the workers admitted that they had never reported their injuries to anyone.  Theater workers don’t benefit from medical specialists on standby, as sports athletes do, and are, therefore, less likely to seek medical treatment when they are injured.

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A simple test involving a keyboard may allow quick detection of Parkinson’s disease, thereby helping patients slow down progression of the disease.

Early detection of Parkinson’s disease is crucial in helping limit the deterioration of symptoms. Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can worsen in intensity, and over a period of time, the person may find himself unable to perform routine activities without great difficulty. Diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease however, is a challenge. A lot of precious time may be lost between the appearance of the earliest symptoms of the disease, and an accurate diagnosis of the condition. The current standard for detection of the condition is the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale Part 3 III. However, the test can only be administered by a trained specialist and at a diagnostic clinic.

Research into Parkinson’s disease therefore, has focused on early detection of the condition. Digital technologies have proved vital to the development of detection techniques. Researchers have recently found that a simple keyboard method can be used to detect the earliest symptoms of the condition.

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