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New law expands health care options for veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one of the largest agencies in the United States government and is charged with overseeing the myriad benefits, including health care and financial assistance, that those who have served in the U.S. military services have earned. Unfortunately, as the number of vets has grown in recent years - due largely to actions in Afghanistan and Iraq - the agency has struggled with delivering VA benefits to the vets that are entitled to receive them. At the same time, VA has undergone a crisis of leadership with no current secretary yet confirmed after the previous VA secretary was fired in March.

It appears, however, that the embattled agency may have received a much-needed boost. Last week, the White House signed off on an overhaul of VA that had passed both chambers of Congress with considerable support from both sides of the aisle. USA Today reported that the VA Mission Act directs the agency to merge several private care programs in order to enlarge the opportunities vets have to seek private health care.

SSD benefits application process can be an uphill battle

When someone is injured or becomes ill and is unable to work, it can be a financial disaster. One program available to help workers who have become disabled is Social Security Disability Insurance. The SSDI program is administered by the Social Security Administration and is funded by a portion of the funds withheld from workers' wages. Unfortunately, not all disabled workers will qualify for SSDI benefits.

According to the latest figures available from SSA, more than 10 million Americans received SSD benefits in 2016. However, this does not account for all disabled workers. In fact, only about one-third of all SSDI claimants are eventually awarded benefits. To make matters even worse, the amount of time that a claimant has to wait before finding out whether they are eligible for benefits has grown steadily longer as the SSA struggles with budget woes.

Supreme Court to hear case on SSDI attorneys' fees cap

Because the application process can be daunting for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claimants, an experienced attorney can be of great help. An attorney can be of particular assistance if SSD benefits are initially denied and an appeal is necessary. In fact, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that claimants who are represented at appeal hearings are three times more likely to prevail than their unrepresented counterparts.

Because workers who apply for SSD benefits are often struggling financially, United States law makes some provision for payment of attorney fees when past-due benefits are awarded. But federal Social Security statutes also place a cap on the amount of fees an attorney can charge when past-due benefits are awarded. However, federal courts across the country are not in agreement when it comes to applying the cap on attorneys' fees.

VA sees leadership changes, Georgia senator optimistic

The White House announced that its new nominee for Secretary of Veterans Affairs would be Robert Wilkie. Wilkie has been the acting VA Secretary since the firing of David Shulkin several weeks ago and the failed nomination of the president's personal physician Ronny Jackson, who dropped out of the running amid allegations of misconduct. Sen. Johnny Isakson, chair of Senate Veterans Affairs Committee - and a Republican from Georgia - praised the nomination.

Wilkie's nomination came as a surprise, even to Wilkie himself, but he has received praise for his work on veterans' issues from veteran groups and White House insiders, alike. Although Isakson said he was "excited" about the nomination, he noted that his optimism was tempered with caution and he was anxious to avoid the types of issues the VA Committee encountered with Jackson's nomination.

Georgia 'Blue Water' vets may soon qualify for benefits

It has been a long time coming, but "Blue Water" veterans may soon be able to receive benefits for illness or disability that they incurred due to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam era. Although it took months of negotiations with their counterparts in the Senate, members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously on May 8 to forward a bill to the full House that will make as many as 90,000 sea veterans who are suffering Agent Orange-related ailments eligible for benefits. The Department of Veterans Affairs benefits could include both disability pay and health care for service-connected disability claims.

So-called Blue Water vets are Navy veterans who served during the lengthy Vietnam conflict. However, Congress and the VA have refused for decades to recognize that the illnesses of thousands of afflicted sea veterans are related to Agent Orange and other herbicides used on the jungles and upland forests of Southeast Asia during the war. Afflicted vets, whose illnesses resemble those of personnel who patrolled inland waters or were on the ground during the war, have been fighting for years to have their maladies recognized.

We fight alongside Veterans in Georgia

United States service personnel stand between the nation and chaos. These brave men and women face danger, hardship and, in many cases, poverty. One thing that goes some way in making up for a challenging military existence are the benefits offered by the Veterans' Administration.

Unfortunately, navigating the VA benefits process is not always a straightforward path. As one of the government's largest agencies, the VA is often mired in slow-moving bureaucracy and red tape. Much of this is due to lack of funding for delivering the services with which the agency is tasked. At the same time, as more and more troops are being pulled out of foreign campaigns and severed from the service, applications for VA benefits are burgeoning.

An experienced lawyer can make a difference for SSDI claimants

At a time when a lot of media attention has been focused on the lengthy wait times that Social Security Disability claimants are experiencing in Georgia and across the country, it is not surprising that many applicants may be wondering what they can do. The answer is, at the moment, there is not much that a claimant can do to speed up the SSD benefits process. But the assistance of a seasoned lawyer can help to prevent further delays.

When you have been injured, are unable to work and are relying on SSDI to make up for some of the financial hardships you may be experiencing, stories about the thousands of people who have died waiting for a benefits determination are not encouraging. The delays in the SSDI programs have been caused by a growing number of claimants combined with a lack of budget for the personnel and technology that the SSDI program needs to serve them appropriately.

Private insurance not viable fix for SSDI

The highly-publicized struggles of the Social Security Administration - due largely to budget woes - have drawn the attention of Congress, but not entirely in the way the agency might have hoped. Expanding retirement rolls and burgeoning claims for Social Security Disability Insurance have strained the agency's resources to such an extent that it is no longer keeping up. In fact, thousands of people have died while waiting to hear whether they qualified for SSD benefits.

Although Congress authorized a stopgap budget increase of $480 million for SSA, with $100 million earmarked for improving the SSDI claims process, much more needs to be done. Several Republicans in Congress have proposed an expanded use of private disability insurance as a means of shoring up the SSD program. But a lack of facts and concrete information has impeded a thorough review of the proposals.

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.


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