Posts in:September, 2021

Social Security Disability for Brain Injuries

Posted September 24, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are becoming a more common diagnosis for claimants needing Social Security disability benefits, with advances in testing and imaging as well as more publicity from injured veterans and athletes. These disabilities are not always easy to prove.

Many of the symptoms of TBI are subtle. Also, because most of the patients are not good historians due to their brain injuries and often lack self-insight, proof of total disability is challenging. The involvement of family members and friends is helpful for reporting symptoms to the treating physicians.

It is not uncommon for those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury to experience physical difficulties as well as a change in cognitive abilities, the ability to concentrate, personality, mood changes, or social functioning. Others also have trouble with language, which can result in ineffective speech or communication. Some impairments may heal over time, and some functions may be regained some through therapy, while other impairments will not improve—or they may actually get worse over time.

Until October 2016, the Social Security Administration evaluated traumatic brain injuries under disability listings for other types of medical conditions. Now, the regulations cover brain damage caused by skull fracture, a closed head injury, or penetration by an object into the brain tissue.

If Social Security does not find that your limitations are so severe that you are disabled under the listing (see below), it then must evaluate whether your limitations are legitimately keeping you from working. Social Security will assess your physical and mental limitations using a physical residual functional capacity (RFC) form and a mental residual functional capacity (MRFC) form. These forms note a wide variety of limitations that can affect your ability to work, such as problems concentrating, standing, walking, and so on.

Multiple moderate limitations across several areas may make you unable to work, even though you don’t have marked or extreme limitations in any one area. An inability to return to your previous job, however, is not necessarily enough to get you approved for Social Security disability benefits. You must not be able to work any job, even one like a “surveillance system monitor,” which requires few skills and limited physical activity. Social Security will consider your age, education, and work experience when assessing your ability to do any work. Social Security recognizes that the older one is, the harder it is to learn a new job, particularly if an applicant has cognitive difficulties.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

See Adult Listing 11.18 (Traumatic Brain Injury):

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

How Does Drug and Alcohol Use Affect a Disability Claim?

Posted September 17, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Sometimes the Social Security Administration (SSA) can use the fact that you drink or use drugs as a reason to ignore your disabling symptoms and limitations and deny your claim. In other cases, however, it is possible to get disability benefits even if you continue to drink or use drugs. 

Whether drug or alcohol use will affect your eligibility for disability benefits hinges on whether it contributes to your disabling medical condition. If your drug or alcohol abuse is deemed a “material contributing factor” to a medical impairment, you will not be awarded disability benefits based on that impairment. Materiality is determined by asking these questions: 

  • Is the medical condition for which the claimant alleges disability exacerbated – or caused – by alcohol or drug use? 
  • Would the medical condition improve enough not to be disabling if the claimant stopped using drugs or alcohol? 

If the answer to these questions is yes, your drug or alcohol use will be considered material to the alleged impairment, and you may be found ineligible to receive disability benefits.

For example, if a claimant has seizures, and the records indicate substance abuse, a claims examiner or judge (depending on the level the claim is at) will question what role is played by the claimant’s use of substances. If the SSA thinks that a claimant’s seizure condition would medically improve if the substance use came to an end, then the substance use would be labeled as material to the seizure condition. As a result, the claimant could not be awarded benefits on the basis of seizure disorder. If, however, the conclusion was made that the claimant’s frequency of seizures would continue regardless of whether or not the alcohol or drug use was discontinued, such use would be considered immaterial.

It does not matter whether past alcohol or drug abuse caused the medical condition. Another example: a claimant applies for Social Security disability based on liver dysfunction and alcoholic hepatitis. The claimant has a history of alcohol abuse, some of it recent. Whether the alcohol abuse will harm the claimant’s disability case depends on whether or not it is currently material to his condition. It doesn’t matter whether the alcohol abuse caused the liver damage in the first place. What matters is whether the disabling condition would disappear if the claimant stopped drinking. If the claimant’s liver damage is so pronounced that ceasing alcohol use completely would make no difference to the claimant’s medical condition, then alcohol abuse would be considered immaterial, or irrelevant, to the case. If, however, ceasing the use of alcohol would result in medical improvement, alcohol abuse would be deemed material to the disability case, and the claim would be denied.

This evaluation process for these issues is called a drug and alcohol abuse (DAA) determination. Of course, if the claimant has another medical condition, one that’s severely debilitating and completely unrelated to the one caused by or exacerbated by drugs or alcohol, he or she could theoretically get disability benefits based on that condition, regardless of drug or alcohol use.

Notably, claimants whose disabling conditions are psychiatric or mental in nature (for example, depression or anxiety) will have a harder time proving that their alcohol or drug use is not a contributing factor to their mental impairment. Most psychologists and psychiatrists believe that even moderate alcohol use contributes to depression.

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

Read more: ; 

By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC®

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Posted September 10, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness on this stigmatized, and often taboo, topic. Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues.

It can be frightening if someone you love talks about suicidal thoughts. It can be even more frightening if you find yourself thinking about dying or giving up on life. Not taking these kinds of thoughts seriously can have devastating outcomes, as suicide is a permanent solution to (often) temporary problems.

According to the CDC and NIMH, suicide rates have increased by 35% since 1999. More than 48,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2018 alone. Comments or thoughts about suicide — also known as suicidal ideation — can begin small like, “I wish I wasn’t here” or “Nothing matters.” But over time, they can become more explicit and dangerous.

Warning signs to watch out for include, but are not limited to: increased alcohol/drug use, aggressive behavior, withdrawal from friends/family, dramatic mood swings, and impulsive or reckless behavior. 

Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you or a loved one start to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911: collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon, giving away possessions, tying up loose ends (ie. Organizing personal papers or paying off debts), or saying goodbye to friends and/or family.

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

While suicide prevention is important to address year-round, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month provides a dedicated time to come together with collective passion and strength around a difficult topic. The truth is, we can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can change a life.

Learn more here:

Contact our office today if you or anyone you know would like to learn more about qualifying for Social Security Disability benefits.

By: Joyce Trudeau of Premier Disability Services, LLC®