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Atlanta Social Security Disability Law Blog

SSA needs more funding to help Georgia SSDI claimants

The resources of the Social Security Administration have been under considerable strain in recent years. Such pressures have had a deleterious effect on the SSA's ability to deliver the services that fall under its purview to claimants and retirees - in Georgia and beyond. The SSA's struggles have been noted not only by the press but also by government watchdog agencies such as the Government Accounting Office, as well as Congress.

The SSA is responsible for overseeing Social Security Retirement Benefits, Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance. It is this latter program that has garnered much attention from both the press and the GAO for the burgeoning wait times faced by claimants. Individuals seeking benefits may have to wait several months for an initial determination. If they requests a hearing, claimants in Georgia have been waiting well over a year before their case is reviewed by an administrative law judge.

Is SSDI different from Georgia workers' compensation?

In Georgia, when a employee is injured at their place of work, while they are performing the duties of their job, the worker usually must rely on the state's workers' compensation system for medical and financial assistance. However, if the injuries prevent the worker from returning for a long period of time or impair one's ability to work at all, they may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits.

Workers' compensation is similar to unemployment in that it is a type of insurance that employers pay for. In Georgia, most employers are required to carry and pay for workers' compensation insurance in the event of an on-the-job injury. In exchange for employers paying into the workers' compensation program, the law limits an employer's liability under the state's personal injury laws. For the most part, a worker who is injured on the job can only seek recourse through workers' compensation.

Veterans Affairs in turmoil in wake of Shulkin departure

The Department of Veterans' Affairs is the second largest agency in the United States government. The VA administers the programs that deliver veterans' benefits, like health care, companion benefits and financial assistance to those who offered their service to the nation. Unfortunately, the VA has experienced a considerable amount of controversy as of late, some of which was attributable to now-former VA Secretary David Shulkin.

While news reports are conflicting regarding whether Shulkin left the position of his own volition or was asked to resign, the White House announced this week that he was out as VA secretary. The president has nominated Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson to the post. Until the confirmation hearings are complete, Robert Wilkie, who is currently the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, will fill the slot on an interim basis.

Increasing fraud threatens VA benefits pool

Veterans in Georgia and across the country are becoming increasingly concerned about benefits fraud, which has the dual effect of depleting the limited pool of benefits that all vets have to share and besmirching the reputation that service personnel have earned in service of the United States. Such fraud not only takes veterans' benefits away from those legitimately in need, it also puts pressure on other resources, like service organizations, that help to pick up the slack for an already overburdened Department of Veterans Affairs. A quarter century of war and a younger generation of vets have contributed to the problems.

Since 1990, the U.S. has been involved in wars or military actions in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan. There are now 600,000 more veterans from this generation of service personnel than there are from the Vietnam war. A surging veteran population has also contributed to an unfortunate increase in fraud. Some high-profile fraudsters have been uncovered, but investigation of such cases also saps resources that could be better used for those who legitimately deserve and need them.

SSA overburdened, SSDI claimants suffer in Georgia, elsewhere

A March 2018 report has made it clear that the Social Security Administration's current workload is untenable if the agency hopes to ease the backlog of Social Security Disability Insurance claimants it is facing. This report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office was released shortly after a January report from GAO found wide-ranging inconsistencies in hearings results and criticized the amount of time claimants are waiting before SSD benefits hearings are held. In its latest findings, GAO identified the challenges that SSA is currently facing and that must be faced to deliver the levels of service SSD benefits claimants require.

The Baby Boom generation, and its 80 million members, are the reason for much of the claimant workload that SSA is facing. Baby Boomers are reaching their 50s and 60s, the ages most associated with disability claims. This, in turn, has resulted in a steady increase in SSDI claims in recent years, which has strained SSA's ability to deliver the services that it is required to, particularly under current budgetary conditions, which do not allow for sufficient additional staffing to meet the demands of the workload.

New VA plans seek to give mental health benefits to all vets

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a plan that would implement a White House executive order focusing on improved mental health resources for United States military veterans. Under the plan, service personnel would become eligible for mental health veterans' benefits upon their discharge from the military. David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, said the plan would be sent to the White House for executive approval before it is implemented.

Concurrent with the introduction of its new plan, the VA announced a mental health initiative called HEAL - health care, evaluation, advocacy and legislation. A congressionally-chartered vet service group, AMVETS, will spearhead the HEAL initiative, which will ensure that vets have access to a clinician who can help smooth the way as they navigate the VA health care system. One of HEAL's first undertakings was to hire a chief medical executive.

We help Georgia veterans get the benefits they deserve

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers benefits and services to military personnel who have served the United States in uniform. Benefits range from health care to education, depending on the branch and terms of your enlistment. Personnel who have served on active duty are entitled to more comprehensive benefits, while service-injured veterans comprise the group to whom the most VA benefits are available.

While Veterans' Benefits are certainly a good and worthwhile use of government resources, particularly in light of the fact that U.S. military personnel are notoriously underpaid for their work, the VA does not always make it easy to obtain the benefits that veterans deserve. This is due to a combination of bureaucracy - the government is big and there are many active and retired military personnel - and the need to prevent benefits fraud.

Expansion of caregiver veterans' benefits may come with a price

Since 2011, those who care for certain combat-injured veterans have been eligible to receive a caregiver training, a monthly stipend, stress counseling and access for health insurance. The program currently limits these veterans benefits to those who have been injured since 9/11/2001 who are unable to perform at least one daily living activities, such as getting dressed or preparing meals.

In December, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved the Caring for Our Veterans Act (S.Bill 2193) that would expand the program to caregivers of veterans injured as far back as World War II. The Senate's proposed expansion would occur over two phases. Once complete, up to 188,000 veterans would be eligible for caregiver benefits.

Can a worker with a skin disorder qualify for SSD benefits?

A skin disorder or injury can be more than uncomfortable or unattractive. It can be debilitating. When such an impairment affects one's ability to work, it can be financially destructive. Fortunately, workers in Georgia have all contributed to the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program. In cases their ability to work is impaired for a long period of time, a worker may qualify for SSDI Benefits for injuries to or disorders of their skin.

For a skin disorder or injury to qualify for benefits, it must fall within the Social Security Administration's (SSA) specific government guidelines. The guidelines contain a list of several specific disorders, such as dermatitis and burns, but there is also considerable room to assess a disorder or injury based on whether it's chronic or acute, how it affects function and how treatable it is. All impairments must be supported by medical evidence.

DOD illegally took taxes from VA benefits for a quarter century

When veterans who were injured in combat leave the military, they are given a lump-sum disability payment upon their separation. Between 1991 and 2016 - nearly a quarter of a century - the Department of Defense (DOD) has withheld federal taxes from payments to as many as 133,000 combat-injured veterans. Such withholding, however, is contrary to federal law: Lump sum veterans' disability payments were supposed to be tax-free.

In an attempt to rectify the situation, Congress passed the Combat-Injured Veterans Tax Fairness Act in 2016. The law directed DOD to identify the service personnel whose veterans' benefits had been improperly taxed. As part of their audit, DOD identified more than 133,000 veterans who could be entitled to a refund under the law.

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