SSA To Expedite Disability Process For Veterans

Social Security Administration (SSA) has announced that effective March 17, 2014, it will expedite disability claims for veterans receiving VA service-connected compensation benefits and who have a rating of 100% “Permanent and Total” disability from the Veterans Administration.  This process does not apply to non-service connected pension benefits.  The VA disability only expedites the process, it does not guarantee an allowance for Social Security Disability benefits.  The veteran must still meet eligibility criteria similar to other claimants.  The veteran’s VA Notification letter indicating that the veteran’s rating of 100% Permanent and Total disability will be the required proof.

New Federal Effort To Encourage Child Development and Behavioral Screening

As many as one in four children through age 5 is at risk for a developmental delay or disability.  A new federal effort to encourage healthy child development, universal developmental and behavioral screening for children was announced recently.  The program, titled “Birth to 5:  Watch Me Thrive”, also aims to provide support for the families and providers who care for them.  The program hopes that earlier screening and intervention will cut down on special education costs later on.

Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! will help families and providers:

  • Celebrate milestones. Every family looks forward to seeing a child’s first smile, first step, and first words. Regular screenings help raise awareness of a child’s development, making it easier to expect and celebrate developmental milestones.
  • Promote universal screening. Just like hearing and vision screenings assure that children can hear and see clearly, developmental and behavioral screenings track a child’s progress in areas such as language, social, or motor development.
  • Identify possible delays and concerns early. With regular screenings, families, teachers, and other professionals can assure that young children get the services and supports they need, as early as possible to help them thrive alongside their peers.
  • Enhance developmental supports. Combining the love and knowledge families have of their children with tools, guidance, and tips recommended by experts can make the most of the developmental support children receive.

Please see the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website for further information.

HUD Provides Funding For Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities

Federal housing officials are putting $120 million on the table to help thousands of people with disabilities access rental assistance.Through the Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities program, HUD provides funding to develop and subsidize rental housing with the availability of supportive services for very low- and extremely low-income adults with disabilities.

The Section 811 program allows persons with disabilities to live as independently as possible in the community by subsidizing rental housing opportunities which provide access to appropriate supportive services.  To participate, state housing agencies must work with local Medicaid and health and human services agencies to identify and assist individuals with disabilities who require long-term services and supports to live independently in the community.

See HERE for more information.

Disability For Chronic Migraines

A migraine is a severe headache that often causes debilitating pain.  Although the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not have a listing specific for migraine headaches, you can qualify for disability benefits if your headaches are severe and impact your level of functioning to the point you cannot work.   Migraines are often accompanied or preceded by:

  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Food cravings
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Neck stiffness
  • Uncontrollable yawning

As migraines are subjective and cannot be detected by standard medical tests, you should document the migraines you have, noting the frequency, severity and intensity.  A good way to document your headaches is to keep a headache diary.  This diary will not only assist you with your application for disability benefits or potential hearing, but may also assist your physician in treating you. [Read more…]

Substantial Gainful Activity

What does substantial gainful activity mean (SGA)?  I get this question all the time, and it is difficult to answer without a lengthy explanation.  According to Social Security’s POMS (Program Operations Manual System) manual, SGA is defined as “the performance of significant physical or mental activities in work for pay or profit or in work of a type generally performed for pay or profit. Work may be substantial even if it is performed on a seasonal or part-time basis, or even if the individual does less, is paid less, or has less responsibility than in previous work.”

A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount (net of impairment-related work expenses) is ordinarily considered to be engaging in SGA.  In 2013, the earnings amount threshold that SSA considers SGA is $1,040 ($1,740 for blind applicants).  This does not mean that if you earn less than the amount set by SSA, you automatically are working less than SGA level.  If you have the ability to work at SGA level, regardless of earnings, your claim may be denied.  For example, illegal activity can be considered to satisfy SGA.  In Dotson v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 571 (7th Cir. 1993), the claimant was supporting a $200-$300 per day heroin habit by stealing.  The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found that in order to steal he must “case” the area in which he has determined to steal the property. He must then plan on how he is going to steal the property and then actually steal it. During the month in which the hearing was held the claimant was stealing chainsaws. Lifting and carrying the chainsaws would also be significant physical activity. The planning and execution of the larceny entails significant mental activity. From these activities the claimant earns enough money to support his cocaine habit and provide him with other money in substantial amounts exceeding $200 to $300 a day. [Emphasis in original.]  Shalala, 1 F.3d at 574.  Similarly, volunteer work may be considered SGA if it is the type of work that others may receive earnings from.

On the other hand, high earnings doesn’t necessarily mean that the claimant was engaging in SGA.  For example, if he or she was working under special conditions that, but for the special conditions, the claimant would not have earned the amount they received.

Breakthrough In Down Syndrome Research at UMass Medical

I read a very interesting article recently on the UMass Medical School website regarding Down Syndrome research.  Scientists at UMass have found a way to block or neutralize the extra chromosome that causes developmental problems and intellectual disabilities in people with Down Syndrome.   The discovery “may one day help establish potential therapeutic targets for future therapies.”  To read the entire article, see the UMass website.  Please  refer to Nature to read the details of the study.

Disability Benefits For Children With Congenital Heart Defects

Congenital heart defects (CHD) are Americas #1 birth defect, affecting nearly 1 out of every 100 babies. CHD are the leading cause of all infant deaths in the United States.

Defects can range from a hole in the heart and obstructed blood flow to conditions such as HLHS where multiple parts of the left side of the heart do not develop completely.  Surgeries can range from catheterizations to major open heart bypass surgeries and transplants.  Symptoms may include bluish skin, shortness of breath and fatigue.

SSI disability benefits are available to children with Congenital Heart Defects.  There are several CHD listed on SSA’s compassionate allowance list.  Children may also meet several listings to qualify for benefits.  The listings are:

104.6 – Congenital Heart Disease

To qualify under listing 104.6, the child must have cyanotic heart disease with chronically low blood oxygen, demonstrated by one of the following:

[Read more…]

What Is a Medical-Vocational Allowance In Social Security Disability?

A medical vocational allowance is the term used by Social Security (SSA) when your condition does not meet the criteria in SSA’s listings but it is determined that you are still unable to work.

To be approved for Social Security disability benefits, SSA will evaluate your claim using the five step sequential evaluation process.  At steps 1 and 2, SSA addresses whether you are performing substantial gainful activity and if  you have a severe impairment.  At step 3, SSA evaluates your claim to determine if you meet a listing.  To meet a listing, you must meet specific criteria to be found disabled.  The criteria is different  for each listing as it applies  to different conditions and, unfortunately, most claimants do not meet a listing.

If you do not meet a listing, SSA will further evaluate your claim under steps 4 and 5  to determine the impact your disability has on your ability to work.  SSA will examine your illness, conditions and limitations to determine if you can do your past work, and if not, if there are any other jobs that you could still perform based upon your age, education and work history.  This is called your residual functional capacity.  If it is determined that there are no jobs that you could perform based on your residual functional capacity, then your claim will be approved under a medical vocational allowance.

Medical Source Statements In Disability Cases

Medical Source Statements are very important in your disability case.  A Medical Source Statement is a statement or opinion by a physician or other medical provider detailing the functional capacity of a disability claimant.  While your medical records will document diagnoses, tests, medications and communication or statements between you and your doctor, most likely your medical records will be lacking as to how your disability affects your ability to work on a sustained basis.  These statements are most effective if they are carefully drafted to meet or satisfy the applicable regulation specific to your medical condition.  Even persons with the same condition/disability may need different medical source statements edited to their specific needs.  This should be done on a case-by-case basis.   Please contact my office to discuss medical source statements in further detail.

Can I have family or a friend testify at my disability hearing?


I was asked by a client recently if they could bring someone to their disability hearing to testify on their behalf. The answer is yes and this type of witness is often called a “lay witness”.

The most appropriate person to testify would be someone that sees you regularly and can testify as to your limitations and what you are going through on a daily basis. It is critical that this witness testify as to observations made of you, not just what you tell them. In addition, your lay witness must be able to describe the pain you experience, if any, and any other limitations you have that prevent you from working.

Your lay witness should have a basic understanding of the disability hearing. Your lawyer will discuss and let you and your witness know what to expect. Testimony during the hearing should not be prepared or memorized. There is nothing that can hurt your case more than testimony that is exaggerated or that is not considered credible by the Administrative Law Judge.

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss your case further, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.