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Atlanta Social Security Disability Law Blog

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.

SSDI Claimants with representation prevail three times more often

More than a million disabled workers are waiting in limbo to see if the qualify for benefits for which they have already paid. In the last two years, more than 18,000 such workers have died while waiting for a hearing to determine whether they were eligible to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. Nationally, claimants who request a hearing wait an average of 20 months before being heard. Claimants in Georgia are seeing similar wait times with some Atlanta applicants waiting even longer to determine whether they'll be able to receive benefits from a program they paid into throughout their careers.

The benefits from SSDI come from a fund - just like Social Security retirement benefits - that has been created by withholding from wages. Anyone who has worked and contributed is eligible for the SSD benefits if they have suffered a qualifying injury or illness that affects their ability to continue working. The initial claims process can take several months or more. But if the initial application is rejected, you must request a hearing to determine your eligibility for benefits - and that can take years.

How does a federal shutdown affect SSDI or VA benefits?

In January, the federal government shut down for a few days until Congress patched together a deal that appropriated sufficient funds to get it running again for a few weeks. The possibility of another shutdown looms on the horizon unless lawmakers come up with a more long-term solution. What does this mean for Georgians who rely on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Veterans (VA) benefits to make ends meet?

When the government shuts down, it's because Congress has not appropriated funds from the budget to operate for the next fiscal period. Fortunately, payments such as SSDI benefits and VA benefits do not come from annual appropriations. Social Security benefits - whether SSD, Supplemental Security Income, or Social Security Retirement - come from a long-term trust fund that workers have paid into over the course of the careers.

What respiratory disorders qualify for SSD benefits?

A respiratory disorder can be debilitating to such an extent that it impairs an individual's ability to work, resulting in lost wages and an the potential inability to make ends meet. Those workers who are unable to remain on the job may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. These benefits will not replace all the income or wages lost due to disease, but they will help to relieve some of the financial stress created by wage loss.

To qualify for SSD benefits, your respiratory disorder must fall with the Social Security Administration's (SSA) specific guidelines for such injuries. Before benefits will be approved, a respiratory disorder must meet certain thresholds of severity. For example, those with asthma must have a forced expiration volume (FEV) that is below a level that is cross-referenced with height and gender.

Inconsistencies plague hearings on SSD claims

With the wait time for a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) hearing already averaging around 18 months in Georgia, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has delivered more bad news for those who have requested a hearing. Even once a claimant receives a hearing, they cannot count on their result being consistent with others in the same or similar circumstances. Such inconsistencies are yet another blemish on an already-struggling SSD claims system.

What sensory impairments qualify for SSD benefits?

An impairment of an individual's vision, hearing, or speech can be devastating. If such an impairment will inhibit the ability to work, an individual may qualify for Social Security Disability (SSDI) Benefits. Social Security Disability Benefits will not replace all the income you lose from not working, but they can help relieve some of the financial pressures that such lost wages create.

In order for your sensory injury or impairment to qualify for SSD benefits, it must fall under the specific government guidelines for such injuries. The guidelines require certain thresholds of severity to be met before benefits will be granted. For example, statutory blindness requires vision that 20/200 or poorer in the best corrected eye. Medical proof of any sensory impairment will be required.

Get the benefits you deserve for your service-related injury

Although the process for initiating a claim for veteran's disability benefits has become quicker and more streamlined over the past decade, recent changes to the program now prevent veterans from applying for benefits before leaving their branch of service. Under the former "quick start" process, veterans could start the claim process if they had 59 days or fewer left to serve. The Department of Veterans Affairs phased out the "quick start" program in 2017.

The successor program is called "Decision Ready Claims." Under this new system, however, you can't initiate a claim until after you leave the service. Although the processing time for service-connected disability claims remains better than it was over a decade ago, these recent changes to the claims process create the potential for delays in getting you the financial and medical benefits you need and deserve.

Backlog slows Social Security Disability benefits

In Georgia, a worker with an injury or illness that will keep them out of work for a year or more can look to Social Security Disability Insurance for financial assistance. This federal program is funded by the U.S. workforce. However, a burgeoning backlog is preventing injured and ill workers from getting the financial assistance they need.

The initial application can take months to process. In 2016, for example, Social Security processing centers in the Southeast Region were taking almost three months to process applications. And, that is before the application is forwarded to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) office in the state where the applicant lives. DDS must then complete a disability determination before any benefits can be paid.

Time for processing veterans' injury claims improves

In 2007, before the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense rolled out their Integrated Disability Evaluation System, the average amount of time it took for a veteran's benefit application to be processed was well over a year -- 540 days. Thanks to the IDES and improved cooperation between VA and DoD, the average processing time for a claim has dropped to 250 days. This means veterans with a service-connected disability claim receive the financial and medical benefits they need much more quickly.

Another factor that helped improve the claim time was the implementation of a "quick start" process, which enabled service personnel to start a disability claim up to 59 days before leaving service. The VA phased out quick start in 2017, which raised concerns among veterans' groups like the VFW and American Legion. However, a new program called "Decision Ready Claims" will take its place.

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