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Columbia MO Social Security Disability Law Blog

Proving a claim for Social Security Disability benefits

Most people in Missouri who have suffered a serious illness or injury that interferes with their ability to work have considered applying for Social Security Disability benefits. To a first-time claimant, the application process can seem confusing and intimidating. In this post we want to provide an overview of the information used by the Social Security Administration in evaluating SSD claims.

In order to obtain SSD benefits, a person must prove that he or she is totally disabled according to SSA's definition of the term. While a number of medical or mental conditions may cause disability, the claimant must prove that a specific injury or illness prevents him or her from working. The SSA federal regulations defines "disability" as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity. This criterion is expressed in monetary terms: if a claimant is able to work and to earn more than $1,130 per month, he or she cannot be considered to be totally disabled. That criterion is explicit, but the others are not always so clear.

Understanding SSD work credits

Most people in Missouri understand that a person must be completely disabled to become eligible for Social Security Disability ("SSD") benefits, but the extent of a person's disability is not the only criterion that determines eligibility. A person must also have worked for a minimum number of weeks or years to become eligible. The Social Security Administration uses a system of "work credits" to determine if a person has worked long enough when it evaluates an SSD claim.

Prior to 1978, work credits were determined based upon work performed in a calendar quarter, or every three months. After 1978, the SSA switched to the entire calendar year to determine credits. Work credits are now based upon work performed and wages earned during the entire year, regardless of when the work was performed. For example, a person might do enough work and earn enough money to earn the annual maximum of four credits in the first six months of the year and fail to earn any credits during the remaining six months. Nevertheless, the person's total for the year is still four credits. Under current law, a person receives one credit for every $1,260 in earnings, up to a maximum of four credits per year.

Understanding Social Security disability appeals rights

Every year, many Missourians apply for Social Security disability benefits, and their applications are approved. Unfortunately, a great number of Missourians are denied Social Security disability benefits. In this post, we will provide a summary of various rights to request and pursue an SSD appeal.

"Appeal" is a broad term that includes four separate and different processes. Generally speaking, a claimant must have his or her claim rejected before an appeal to the next level can be taken. The four levels are:

  • Reconsideration
  • Hearing by an administrative law judge
  • Review by the SSA appeals council, and
  • Federal court review.

Anxiety disorders and social security disability benefits

Social security disability benefits are available for a wide variety of illnesses, but perhaps the most difficult type of disability to establish is one resulting from a type of mental illness called anxiety disorder. An SSD claim based on an anxiety order is difficult to prove because most, if not all, of the medical evidence is based upon subjective evaluation of the patient by a psychologist or other therapist. Nevertheless, such claims are often approved, and an understanding of the various categories of anxiety disorder can be helpful in gathering supporting evidence.

A generalized anxiety disorder is a more or less constant state of tension and worry not related to a specific event or situation. A state of generalized anxiety disorder must last for six months to qualify for disability benefits. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is repetitive or ritualistic behavior that used used to control other symptoms of anxiety. Panic Disorder or panic attacks are repeated states of acute anxiety or fear that have no identifiable cause. Phobias are overwhelming and irrational fears of otherwise unthreatening situations, things, places, or events. Post-traumatic stress disorder is severe stress caused by experiencing or witnessing an especially traumatic event. (We will deal with each of these conditions in greater detail in subsequent posts.)

Disability activists protest at White House over institutions

Most people would agree that they would rather live at home as long as possible as they get older, or when a disability limits their ability to care for themselves. Living in even the most comfortable nursing home or institution can mean a loss of privacy and dignity, and a sense of isolation from the rest of the world.

Fighting for the right to be part of society was what motivated a series of demonstrations in Washington by around 200 disability rights activists recently. A total of 52 of the protesters were fined for demonstrating on the sidewalk outside the White House. Others gathered at the U.S. Department of Justice and at the home of the head of that agency’s Civil Rights Division.

CDC releases child autism rates for Missouri, other states

It may surprise readers to learn that, when it comes children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, not every state is equal. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that New Jersey leads the U.S. in autism prevalence, well ahead of Missouri and other states.

According to NJ.com, in its latest report on the subject the CDC found that one out of every 41 New Jersey kids had autism in 2012, the last year covered in the study. Factoring in that autism is more common for boys, the CDC estimated that one out 26 boys in New Jersey had autism.

Study says home palliative care extends life for cancer patients

Though it is sometimes necessary to spend time at the hospital, nobody likes to spend more time there than is absolutely necessary. Hospitals are noisy, impersonal and uncomfortable, with almost none of the comforts of home. This is why so many people with a terminal illness express the desire to spend their final weeks at home.

Not only does dying at home usually make the patient feel more comfortable and at peace, it may even extend his or her life. That is the conclusion of a Japanese study of people with terminal cancer.

Why do mentally ill Missourians struggle to get hospital care?

Many Missourians living with a mental illness are able to manage their disease well enough to live at home and receive outpatient mental health care. But others sometimes need to go to the hospital periodically, either voluntarily or involuntarily, for their own safety and the safety of others.

The Missouri Department of Mental Health says that mentally ill residents have the right “to be evaluated, treated or habilitated in the least restrictive environment.” Unfortunately, in reality the state’s mental health system is frequently unable to provide this vital medical service for everyone who needs it. There simply are not enough beds in qualified facilities for people who need hospitalization at any particular time.

Unemployment for disabled Americans reaches 12.5 percent

Federal officials announced some fairly good news about the U.S. economy recently, saying that the country added 242,000 new jobs in February, and that the national unemployment rate remained at 4.9 percent. However, for disabled Americans, the news was not so good, as Disability Scoop reports.

The Department of Labor announced the latest jobs numbers on March 4. Besides the overall numbers, the report noted that the unemployment rate for disabled people rose to 12.5 percent in February, from 10.8 percent the month before.

Some statistics on who receives SSD benefits and why

While the Social Security Disability Insurance program is nationwide and available for a wide variety of illnesses and conditions, who receives SSD differs from state to state. The Fiscal Times recently reported on a primer by the Urban Institute that contains some interesting facts about SSD trends.

First, there is a great state-by-state difference between how much of each state’s population receive SSD benefits. However, all of the top five states are in the South, with West Virginia at the top at 8.9 percent of the population. Missouri’s rate is 6.4 percent, well below neighboring Arkansas’ 8.4 percent.

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