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Disability News Letter January 2012

Local SSA Offices Closing Early in Attempt to Catch Up

The Social Security Administration is notoriously slow in handling Social Security Disability and SSI claims. Staff reductions have done nothing to make this better. Beginning August 15th, all SSA local offices began closing to the public one half hour earlier, to work on existing cases. In addition, all offices were closed on Friday, November 25th, the day after Thanksgiving, to use the day for backlog reduction.

New Hearings Office Now Handling Cases for Kirksville/Moberly, Missouri Area

The Columbia Missouri Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) opened in August. It is now handling hearings for the western portion of the region we serve. Cases that are filed through the Kirksville local Social Security office are now venued there. The Moberly Social Security office has been closed and that area is now served by Columbia local office. The Columbia ODAR is staffed by a batch of new judges. The majority of them became judges in May of this year. It will be interesting to observe their learning curve.

North Central Missouri has been the unloved child of the Social Security System for years. The office that provided hearings has changed every couple of years for the quarter century Dempsey, Dempsey, and Moellring have been practicing in this area. The area has bounced like a ping-pong ball in a tornado. North Central Missourians have been part of the Kansas City, Oklahoma City, West Des Moines, Creve Coeur, and St. Louis ODARs in the recent past. Hopefully the Columbia ODAR will provide some stability to the process and the judges will soon become familiar enough with the law, regulations, and medicine to be good adjudicators.

Closings Impact Social Security Claimants

The closing of the Woodland Center at Hannibal Regional Hospital and the Salt River Community Health Center in Hannibal were terrible blows for the region. We know that the closing of these two facilities has put a tremendous burden on other providers. In-patient mental health treatment is non-existent in Northeast Missouri. The demise of the community health center, precipitated by cuts in federal funding, hit hundreds of our clients. (Attorney Terrell Dempsey of our firm was one of the organizers of the center and was on the board of directors.) The loss of services for fee based on income has knocked some people out of the medical market. Hardest hit are those uninsured with too much income or assets to qualify for the free clinics in Hannibal and Quincy, but too poor to pay for private care.

Social Security Disability and SSI Important for Access to Healthcare

Receiving Social Security Disability benefits and/or SSI benefits provides access to medical treatment for most people. For those that are poor, getting a favorable decision immediately makes them eligible for Medicaid benefits in both Missouri and Illinois. After a person has been deemed disabled by Social Security for two years, they are automatically eligible for Medicare. SSI recipients are only eligible for Medicaid.

It is possible for people to receive Medicaid benefits without receiving Social Security benefits. In Missouri, our clients report that the Family Support Division offices in most counties are doing a good job of taking applications and making independent determinations of eligibility for MO HealthNet, as Medicaid is called in that state. To be eligible, Missourians must be applying for SSDI or SSI benefits, but they don’t have to await a decision.

Unfortunately, in Illinois, the Department of Human Services is telling many applicants that they can only receive a medical card after they receive Social Security benefits. While this is not consistent with the law, we have heard it from literally hundreds of our clients. This puts these clients in a particularly tough spot. They can’t get Social Security benefits without medical records documenting their disability. They can’t get the treatment they need without getting Social Security Disability.

PTSD and New VA regulations

Up until last year, if a veteran alleged he was suffering from PTSD, the VA would undertake a lengthy and often unsuccessful process of “verifying the stressor.” A combat veteran was afforded a slightly less onerous standard if the VA was willing to admit the combat status. Following the rule changes if a veteran’s stressor is related to “fear of hostile military or terrorist activity”, is consistent with the types of circumstances of their service, and a VA psychiatrist can confirm a diagnosis of PTSD VA will not require the extensive stressor verification process.

The effect of this change is both good and complicated for veterans. If the veteran is already seeing a VA physician and is diagnosed with PTSD, attaining service connected benefits may become easier. That said, the manner in which the VA determines if the stressor is consistent with the types of circumstances of service may only serve to keep the old verification standard alive. Instead, what it may do is see that only VA physicians are acceptable medical experts for diagnosing PTSD for the purpose of establishing causation with military service. This is in addition to the already onerous verification of stressor standard. Unfortunately, in an attempt to clear a path to service connection for veterans suffering from PTSD, the new regulations have only made the issue less clear and time will tell how the VA uses the new standards in relation to PTSD claims.

Community Service is a Key to Overcoming the Atrocities of War

Much has been written on what we as citizens need to do for our soldiers returning from war. Many of these valiant men and women deserve all that we as a community have to offer and often more than we can give. What is interesting is that recent studies seem to indicate the best thing we may be offering these honorable service persons is the opportunity to give more to their communities. A difficult idea to grasp when you consider what we have already asked of them, but the results seem to be that it’s truly in their best interest.

The concept is fairly simple. Time, self-reflection and distance seem to be the enemies of psychological readjustment into civilian life. Many service persons feel that they cannot accept gifts or help from well-meaning onlookers. Some cannot conceive of “normal” when it comes to day-to-day existence. Others feel that talking about their military experience with their families is burdensome or violates service personnel protocol. Regardless of the reason, programs across the country are instead asking them to give again of themselves as they return to the role of defender, helper and community service person.

Early results of these programs seem encouraging. Most veterans feel a continued interest in protecting and serving the country a co-operative focus key to volunteerism. Interaction with others for the purpose of reaching a shared goal fosters new relationships, diversity of focus and social isolation. Helping others helps themselves. Anyone looking for volunteers to help with their charitable organization, I ask you to reach out to the veteran community. You might be pleasantly surprised that your service may help all those involved.

Nation Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys
The Missoui Bar
NOSSCR
Illinois State Bar Association