Have Questions About the Disability Claims Process for Social Security or Veterans Benefits? Check Out Our FAQs

Dealing with the disability application or appeals process always comes with plenty of questions. Whether your questions are about Social Security or VA Disability, here are some of the questions we hear the most at our Omaha law firm.

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  • What happens when my Social Security claim goes to the Appeals Council?

    If your denied Social Security (SS) disability claim was denied after a hearing by an administrative law judge, you can ask for a review by the SS Appeals Council. You have 60 days to ask for this review.

    If your claim reaches this level, it’s important to have legal representation by a skilled SS disability attorney. Although you can file the appeal with the Appeals Council on your own, the process will be easier and less complicated with legal counsel. 

    Your Claim at the Appeals Council Level

    Social Security claim in appealThe SS Appeals Council processes many requests for reviews each year—over 160,000 requests in 2017 alone. The Appeals Council reviews whether the administrative law judge made his decision according to the law. This Council is allowed to grant, deny, or dismiss a request for review. If your request is granted, the Council will either make a decision in the case or “remand” it to the administrative law judge for a new decision.

    It’s important to note that it’s difficult to win your appeal at this level of the process. Most often, the Appeals Council sends claimants a letter denying the appeal and upholding the decision made by the administration law judge.

    It’s possible, however, that the Council will find the judge made mistakes in your case. For example, the judge may have:

    • Failed to look at all legitimate medical evidence
    • Made a technical error during the review process

    If any of these takes place, the Appeals Council can demand a “remand case,” and your claim is sent back for a second hearing usually with the same administrative law judge. It’s also possible but not likely the judge’s determination will be overturned by the Council because the decision was totally erroneous. If so, the Council may simply move forward with an approval.

    Call Cuddigan Law

    If you need help appealing a denied disability claim, or your claim was denied by the Appeals Council, call the attorneys at Cuddigan Law for help. We’ve assisted thousands of clients, filling out their paperwork, collecting their medical records, calling doctors, and managing their cases through the four levels of the appeals process.

    Contact us for a free evaluation. We’ll review your case and let you know how we can increase your chances of receiving an approval on your appeal.

     

  • What should I know about my Social Security appeals claim when it’s in Reconsideration?

    If the Social Security Administration (SSA) denies your disability claim and you wish to appeal the decision, you’ll follow the steps outlined in the letter sent to you by the SSA which advise you on how to do this. After you request an appeal in writing, you’ll move to Reconsideration, the first step in the appeals process. 

    Because the appeals process can be time-consuming and complex, it’s helpful to hire an experienced SS disability attorney who can assist you with a denied claim and start the appeals process at the Reconsideration step.

    Understanding the Reconsideration Process

    Social Security claim deniedDuring a Reconsideration appeal, your claim is reviewed by someone in the SSA who wasn't involved in the initial denial of your claim. She'll examine all evidence you submitted originally, as well as any new evidence you might have.

    It’s important to note that even though a new person is reviewing your material, she is bound by the same guidelines and rules as the person who reviewed your claim initially. Ultimately, over 85 percent of claims are denied at this level.

    What to Do If Your Claim Is Denied at Reconsideration

    The SSA denies claims for a variety of reasons, but by far the most common is because there's a lack of medical evidence submitted proving that you suffer from a disability. This is often true at the Reconsideration level as well. Thus, if your Reconsideration request is denied and you’re still unable to return to work, you have 65 days from the date of the denial to file a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge. 

    It’s important to note that you have a much better chance of success at this appeals level if you are represented by a Social Security disability attorney. He'll assist you in preparing for the appearance before a judge by helping you collect as much new medical evidence, lab results, doctor opinion, blood tests, and additional medical data to help your case. 

    Call Cuddigan Law

    If you need help with the appeals process after your claim has been denied at the Reconsideration level, Cuddigan Law can help. We’ve assisted thousands of clients—filling out their paperwork, collecting their medical records, calling doctors, and managing their claims through the four levels of the appeals process, including Reconsideration.

    Contact us for an initial evaluation, and we’ll review your case and let you know how we can increase your chances of receiving an approval on your appeal. 

     

  • How is my service-connected PTSD linked to panic attacks?

    Veterans who suffer from panic disorder (PD) may also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The two conditions are known to be comorbid—the presence of one or more disorders co-occurring with a primary disease.

    According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately six million Americans are impacted by PD, and nearly eight million will be affected by PTSD.

    If you’re a veteran who suffers from either or both of these conditions, you may be eligible for disability benefits from The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But it’s important to hire a skilled VA disability lawyer to help with your claim.

    Understanding PTSD and Panic Disorder

    PTSDPanic disorder is characterized by recurring panic attacks that happen unexpectedly and cause people to have feelings of fear and terror when there's no evidence of real danger. Individuals may feel weak and dizzy, have difficulty breathing, and feel they're losing control.

    PTSD, on the other hand, is a mental health condition often triggered by memories of a traumatic or life-threatening event.

    People may suffer flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme anxiety about what they experienced, and these symptoms may not present for years after the event.

    Most individuals are able to cope with memories of terrible things that happened to them, but those who aren’t often find their anxiety interferes with daily routines and functioning in occupational and social environments.

    Although both PD and PTSD sufferers have” heightened sensitivity to threat,” the anxiety felt by those suffering from PTSD isn't a panic attack, even though for many it can feel the same. Instead, the anxiety occurs because the dreams and flashbacks cause them to re-experience the trauma. However, sufferers of either disorder may use “avoidance” as a way to cope and survive.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    For veterans who suffer from PTSD and/or PD, it’s possible to qualify for financial help. If your mental health condition is service-connected and you want to file for disability, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today.

     

  • As a veteran, what should I know about panic attacks?

    Veterans who suffer from panic attacks often experience sudden feelings of apprehension, terror, nervousness, and/or fear. These symptoms can occur unexpectedly for no reason, or because of a known “stressor,” with an attack usually peaking within the first 10 minutes.

    panic_attackOften, the symptoms are so extreme that an entire day can be disrupted, and individuals may feel stressed out or “keyed up” for many hours following the attack.

    Your Questions Answered About Panic Attacks

    If you’re a veteran diagnosed with service-connected panic disorder, you may have many questions about what causes this condition, how to cope with it, and if you can get benefits from The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Here are answers to frequently asked questions about panic attacks

    What mental illnesses qualify for VA benefits, and are panic attacks included?

    If you can provide the VA with a diagnosis in one of the following categories and give evidence that shows your mental illness is service-connected, you may be eligible for benefits. These categories include:

    • Anxiety—this includes post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder. 
    • Amnesia
    • Mood disorders
    • Chronic adjustment disorder
    • Cognitive disorders
    • Psychotic disorders including schizophrenia
    • Somatoform disorders, including mental disorders that present as unexplained physical ailments
    • Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia

    What if my panic attacks were a preexisting condition? 

    If you were diagnosed with panic disorder before you went into the military, you could qualify for VA benefits if you can prove that your service worsened or aggravated your condition beyond what would be considered its normal progression.

    If the VA agrees that your mental illness has worsened due to your military service, it will classify your condition as “service-connection based on aggravation by such service.”

    What does it mean if I receive a 0 percent rating for my panic disorder?

    Your panic disorder is rated by the VA based on its severity. If your mental illness impacts your daily life and interferes with your ability to manage a normal routine, the VA gives you a higher rating. For example, if you receive a rating of 100 percent, the VA believes you have complete and total impairment on the job and in a social environment.

    However, if you receive a 0 percent rating, the VA still recognizes your mental illness but believes your symptoms don’t interfere with work or social functioning, and you don’t require ongoing medication. While you won’t receive financial benefits for this rating, you may be eligible for health care. 

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran with service-connected panic attacks, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today.

     

  • How do I get disability for PTSD secondary hypertension related to my time in the service?

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur after someone witnesses or experiences a life-threatening, traumatic, or terrifying event.

    Veterans who suffer from service-connected PTSD may also suffer from secondary medical conditions, including hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Untreated, high blood pressure can lead to vision loss, kidney and heart disease, and stroke.

    hypertensionAccording to research cited by the American Heart Association, soldiers in the U.S. military who were severely injured during the Afghanistan or Iraq wars or diagnosed with PTSD are at a greater risk of suffering from high blood pressure.

    Additionally, researchers have found that soldiers who suffered from PTSD were up to 85 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who didn't have PTSD. The more severely injured the soldier, the more likely she was to have hypertension.

    The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes hypertension as a ratable illness, and you may be eligible for disability benefits if you suffer from this as a secondary condition. If you can prove your hypertension is related to your service-connected PTSD, contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help file your claim for compensation.

    VA Disability for Secondary Hypertension

    To receive a disability rating for PTSD secondary hypertension, your doctor needs to document your diagnosis of high blood pressure. Additionally, to file your claim, your doctor needs to fill out the Hypertension Disability Benefits Questionnaire. It’s important to note that you can’t fill out this form yourself—the VA won’t accept the form submitted by a veteran. It must come from a licensed physician.

    When filling out the form, your doctor needs to include two important pieces of information:

    • A detailed medical history about your condition, your symptoms, and any other relevant information that affect the decision by the VA.
    • A professional opinion about how your hypertension impacts your ability to perform on the job.

    The claims examiner reviews this information and assigns a disability rating for your high blood pressure.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran suffering from hypertension due to PTSD and would like to submit an application for hypertension as a secondary condition, call Cuddigan Law.

    Our attorneys will examine your case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit a claim that increases your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.

     

  • How does the VA rate PTSD?

    Many people experience a traumatic, terrifying event in life, and they may face difficulty handling memories of that event. But with time and treatment, they're often able to adjust and overcome the incident.

    solider_in_officeHowever, others may experience symptoms that last for months or years. If a person continues to have flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety about the event; and these issues interfere with day-to-day life, she may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This mental condition can prevent a person from living a normal life.

    For veterans, PTSD and depression are the most common mental health problems.

    How the VA Rates PTSD

    If you’re a veteran diagnosed with service-connected PTSD, the VA will give your condition one of the following percentage ratings:

    • 100: To receive a 100 percent disability rating, you must present complete occupational and social impairment. This might be due to any number of symptoms, including ongoing hallucinations, extreme inappropriate behavior, danger of self-harm, inability to perform daily maintenance and personal hygiene tasks, disorientation, and memory loss.
    • 70: To receive a 70 percent rating, you must present impairment with deficiencies in ability to work, go to school, and think clearly. Detailed symptoms may include suicidal thoughts, illogical speech, difficulty managing stressful situations, and inability to maintain family or friend relationships.
    • 50: To receive a 50 percent rating, impairment must present reduced productivity and reliability. Symptoms may include panic attacks that occur more than once a week; problems with long- and short-term memory; flawed judgment; and mood disturbances.
    • 30: To receive a 30 percent rating, you must demonstrate a decrease in work efficiency and periods when you can’t perform certain work tasks. Overall, however, functioning is satisfactory. Symptoms may be depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.
    • 10: Veterans who receive a 10 percent rating present mild symptoms that decrease their ability to perform work tasks when they’re under extreme stress or need to take medication to control their symptoms.
    • 0: The VA will give a veteran a 0 percent rating who is formally diagnosed with PTSD, but doesn't have symptoms that interfere with social or occupational functioning. 

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran with service-connected PTSD and want to file for disability; want to understand how to increase your rating; or believe that the rating your received is inaccurate, contact Cuddigan Law.

    Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today.

     

  • Why does OSA cause depression, and can I get VA disability for this secondary condition?

    Veterans who suffer from service-connected obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may also suffer from secondary medical conditions, including depression. OSA is a sleep disorder that causes the throat muscles of a sleeping person to relax and ultimately, block the airway—reducing the oxygen reaching her lungs. Because a veteran with OSA never gets the chance to fully rest at night, she may experience problems staying awake and face extreme exhaustion.

    The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes depression as a ratable illness, and you may be eligible for disability benefits if you suffer from this as a secondary condition. If you can prove your OSA is service-connected and believe you’re suffering depression because of it, contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help appeal your claim for compensation.

    The Link Between OSA and Depression

    vet_insomniaA variety of studies report the link between OSA and depression. People who suffer from OSA are much more likely to experience depression than those who don’t have OSA. Reports show that patients who suffer from OSA are 21–39 percent more likely to have depression.

    It’s been debated whether there’s a direct link between OSA and depression, or whether there’s simply a correlation. There are a number of thoughts on this issue:

    • One theory suggests that because patients with OSA suffer a lack of oxygen, it may cause problems in the brain and body that can lead to depression. Additionally, OSA may cause inflammation in the body and affect “neurotransmitter activity,” which could contribute to the symptoms of depression.
    • A second theory suggests that because OSA causes fatigue, exhaustion, and daytime sleepiness, managing the requirements of a normal routine becomes increasingly more challenging. The difficulty in handling daily life can trigger depression. There are clinical studies to support this, as OSA and extreme drowsiness and fatigue are linked with depression.

    Depression and Qualifying for Benefits

    Your chances of receiving an approved claim for secondary depression depends on if you can prove your service-connected OSA is the cause. It’s important that your doctor write a letter of opinion about your condition with:

    • A diagnosis of depression—either major depressive disorder or dysthymic disorder
    • Evidence that your sleep disorder likely caused your depression

    It’s also important that you provide the appropriate documentation—medical reports and test results that show the link between your depression and OSA.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to OSA and would like to submit an application for depression as a secondary condition, call Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys will examine your case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit a claim that increases your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.

     

  • How do I service-connect my OSA for VA benefits?

    Veterans who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) may wake in the morning feeling drained and exhausted, and then be extremely fatigued all day long. OSA occurs when an individual is sleeping and throat muscles continually relax, blocking the airway and reducing the amount of air that makes it into the lungs. This causes the breath to stop and start throughout the night.

    OSAOver 90 percent of veterans who submit claims for OSA were on active duty in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, as well as Gulf War I. It’s estimated that 9 out of 10 veterans who receive disability benefits for OSA from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are rated 50 percent disabled by this illness. And veterans who suffer from service-connected OSA may also have secondary medical conditions, including depression.

    Proving Service-Connected OSA

    It’s not easy to prove your OSA is service-connected. In 2013–2014, the Board of Veterans Appeals denied over 70 percent of sleep apnea appeals by veterans. This means approximately three of four veterans will be denied their sleep apnea claims and appeals.

    Thus, you need to provide strong lay evidence about the symptoms you experienced while in service such as:

    • Interrupted breathing at night
    • Loud snoring
    • Gasping for air
    • Dry mouth
    • Extreme daytime exhaustion

    Additionally, you need your doctor’s medical opinion that explains how these symptoms are “more likely than not” linked to sleep apnea during your service. If your doctor can establish a direct connection between your symptoms and your time in the military, you may be able to prove service-connected OSA.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran who wants to prove your OSA is service-connected, call Cuddigan Law. Our VA attorneys have years of experience handling veterans’ claims, and we're happy to handle yours. We'll examine your case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit a claim that increases your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.

     

  • How does the VA rate chronic pain secondary depression?

    If you’re a veteran with an injury that doesn’t improve, you feel consistent physical discomfort, and you find it hard to manage daily tasks, sit, walk, or stand, you're likely suffering from chronic pain. This type of pain usually occurs in one or more parts of the body and lasts for three–to–six months.

    chronic_pain_depressionMany veterans suffer from chronic pain caused by the ongoing effects of injuries sustained while in combat or during active military duty.

    It’s possible that a sustained injury may heal over time, but re-develop throughout the aging process and become a source of chronic pain.

    Not only do roughly 100 million Americans suffer from this condition, but also 44 percent of service members in combat suffer chronic pain.
     

    Chronic pain can result in other serious, secondary conditions. One of these is depression. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) considers depression a ratable illness, and it’s possible for veterans to file a claim for disability benefits if they suffer from depression as a secondary condition.

    If you have service-connected chronic pain that you believe is the cause of your depression, contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help file your claim.

    How the VA Rates Chronic Pain Secondary Depression

    The VA rates depression according to a percentage scale: 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, and 100. It’s possible for a veteran to receive a 0 percent rating if she has symptoms of depression that don't impair her ability to function, perform daily tasks, or engage in social activities. However, if the VA gives a 0 percent rating, a veteran may still be eligible for some types of benefits, including healthcare. The VA will give a 100 percent rating only if a veteran has zero ability to work at a job or function socially and cannot manage a daily routine.

    For a veteran to receive benefits for secondary depression, it’s important that she:

    • Has a current diagnosis of depression from a physician
    • Has a service-connected disability and can prove it
    • Can show medical evidence of the association between that disability and her depression

    It’s essential to provide a doctor’s opinion explaining how the veteran’s physical condition has caused the depression.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    Veterans suffering from depression due to chronic pain who would like to submit a benefits application for a secondary condition should call Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys will examine your case, help provide evidence that your chronic pain is service-connected, and work with you to submit your claim to increase your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.

     

  • How does the VA rate heart condition secondary depression?

    Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of people in America, and it’s the primary reason veterans are hospitalized in the healthcare system of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

    This disease includes conditions such as strokes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and peripheral artery disease, and it’s a major cause of veteran disability. Not only is cardiovascular disease a serious condition, but it's often linked with other illnesses, including spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and depression.

    doctor_with_patientThe relationship between heart disease and depression is well documented. Approximately 22 percent of veterans diagnosed with angina, heart attack, stroke, or coronary heart disease (CAD) also suffer from depression.

    The VA recognizes depression as a serious, ratable illness, and individuals who suffer from this condition may be eligible for disability benefits.

    How the VA Rates Depression Secondary to Heart Conditions

    In general, depression and other mental disorders are rated by the VA depending on how much the condition interferes with a veteran’s occupational and social functioning and ability. The rating given to a veteran’s claim is based on how the symptoms impact his life, not the specific symptoms.

    Available percentage ratings for depression are: 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, or 100. If a veteran receives a 0 percent rating, this can still be significant, as it may entitle him to VA benefits such as healthcare. If a veteran receives a 100 percent rating for depression, it means he has no ability to function in social or work situations.

    Seeking Benefits for Secondary Depression

    If you’re seeking benefits for heart condition secondary depression, it’s important to include the following with your disability application:

    • Specific evidence that your depression is the result of an accepted service-connected heart condition.
    • Expert medical opinion about the relationship between your depression and your heart condition.
    • Proof that your service-connected heart condition is on record with the VA.
    • Medical records that show you were diagnosed with depression by a physician.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to a heart condition and would like to submit an application for a secondary condition, contact Cuddigan Law and talk to one of our experienced VA disability lawyers. We’ll help with your claim for disability benefits and explain the type of evidence you need to prove your depression was caused by your service-connected heart problem.