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: https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/416/416-0935.htm ; https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/rulings/di/01/SSR2013-02-di-01.html 

By: Joyce Trudeau 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: https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Suicide-Prevention-Awareness-Month

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®

Social Security Releases 2021 Trustees’ Report

Posted September 3, 2021 by Premier Disability Services, LLC®

Each year the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds report on the current and projected financial status of the two programs. The reports include extensive information about the current operations of these important social insurance programs and careful analysis of their outlook. The purpose of the reports is to present the current and projected financial condition of the programs.

Social Security and Medicare both face long-term financing shortfalls under currently scheduled benefits and financing. Both programs will experience cost growth substantially in excess of GDP growth through the mid-2030s due to rapid population aging. Medicare also sees its share of GDP grow through the late 2070s due to projected increases in the volume and intensity of services provided.

The data and projections presented include the Trustees’ best estimates of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 recession, which were not reflected in last year’s reports. The finances of both programs have been significantly affected by the pandemic and the recession of 2020. Employment, earnings, interest rates, and GDP dropped substantially in the second calendar quarter of 2020 and are assumed to rise gradually thereafter toward full recovery by 2023. In addition, the Trustees also project elevated mortality rates related to the pandemic through 2023 as well as reductions in immigration and childbearing in 2021-22 from the levels projected in the 2020 reports, with compensating increases a few years later. These alterations to near-term data and assumptions all significantly impact the outlook of the programs.

Given the unprecedented level of uncertainty, the Trustees currently assume that the pandemic will have no net effect on the individual long-range ultimate assumptions. At this time, there is no consensus on what the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the long-term experience might be, if any. The Trustees will continue to monitor developments and modify the projections in later reports.

Based on the Trustees’ best estimates, the 2021 reports show:

  • The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, which pays retirement and survivors benefits, will be able to pay scheduled benefits on a timely basis until 2033, one year earlier than reported last year. At that time, the fund’s reserves will become depleted and continuing tax income will be sufficient to pay 76 percent of scheduled benefits.
  • The Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund, which pays disability benefits, will be able to pay scheduled benefits until 2057, 8 years earlier than in last year’s report. At that time, the fund’s reserves will become depleted and continuing tax income will be sufficient to pay 91 percent of scheduled benefits.
  • The Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund, or Medicare Part A, which helps pay for services such as inpatient hospital care, will be able to pay scheduled benefits until 2026, the same year as reported last year. At that time, the fund’s reserves will become depleted and continuing total program income will be sufficient to pay 91 percent of total scheduled benefits.
  • The Trustees are including in the report for the fifth consecutive year a determination of projected excess general revenue Medicare funding, as is required by law whenever annual tax and premium revenues of the combined Medicare funds will be below 55 percent of projected combined annual outlays within the next seven fiscal years. Under the law, two consecutive such determinations, as is the case again this year, constitute a “Medicare funding warning.” Under current law and the Trustees’ projections, such determinations and warnings will recur every year through the long-range projection period.

One of our staff writers recently had an article publishes outlining several proposed reforms to Social Security, including a bill that would create targeted “rescue committees” to address the solvency of the Social Security trust fund. (Read her article here: https://www.disabilitysecrets.com/resources/social-security-disability-reforms.html

Read more about the Trustees’ Report here: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/trsum/ ; https://www.cms.gov/files/document/2021-medicare-trustees-report.pdf

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

By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC®