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's the difference between IBD, Crohn’s Disease, UC, and IBS?

    People sometimes mistake one medical disorder for another, and this is especially true for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis (UC).  

    These conditions are similar in some ways and have some comparable symptoms, but they're quite different and require different types of treatment.

    The Differences Between IBD, UC, Crohn’s Disease, and IBS

    gastro_painThere's often some confusion about the differences between IBD, IBS, Crohn's disease, and UC because all of these conditions affect the gastrointestinal tract. In general, IBD is a collective term that includes both UC and Crohn’s disease, while IBS is a separate gastrointestinal disorder. Here's a brief look at each of these conditions:

    IBD: Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis

    UC and Crohn’s disease are the most common conditions associated with IBD. UC is characterized by inflammation and ulcers in the lining of the colon. Symptoms of UC can include:

    • Abdominal pain
    • Bloody diarrhea
    • Exhaustion
    • Pain in the joints
    • Skin sores
    • Weight loss

    Physicians classify UC depending on much of the colon is affected. If your condition is mild, it's likely limited to the rectum. If more parts of your colon are impacted, you may have more serious symptoms. People who suffer from UC when they’re young will often experience the worst symptoms.

    Crohn’s disease is characterized by chronic inflammation of the bowel, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. These symptoms of Crohn’s disease can include:

    • Persistent diarrhea
    • Loss of appetite
    • Fever
    • Cramping and abdominal pain
    • Exhaustion
    • Rectal bleeding

    You may also experience complications with these painful symptoms, including a blockage in the intestines, abscesses, and scar tissue. In some cases, your doctor may want to surgically remove the portion of your digestive tract that is has been damaged by Crohn’s disease.

    IBS

    IBS is considered a “functional gastrointestinal disorder” where there is some type of disruption in the functioning of the bowel. It's not considered a disease; rather, it’s a syndrome that's characterized by a group of symptoms that can include constipation, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or bouts of both. Patients who suffer from IBS are also more likely to experience chronic pelvic pain, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

    People sometimes refer to IBS as spastic colitis or mucous colitis, but not only are these terms incorrect, they also add to the confusion about the nature of this condition. The word “colitis” pertains to inflammation of the large intestine (colon); however, there's no inflammation with IBS. And unlike people who suffer from UC, IBS patients don't have colons that present signs of abnormalities or disease. 

    Because IBS doesn’t cause the type of damaging inflammation found in IBD conditions, it's often considered a less serious disease for the following reasons:

    • There's usually no permanent harm to the intestines; there is no intestinal bleeding; and rarely are there any dangerous complications.
    • Patients who suffer with IBS don't have an increased risk for colon cancer or to develop IBD or other gastrointestinal diseases.
    • A patient with IBS rarely needs to be hospitalized.
    • Treatment for IBS doesn’t often require strong prescription medications or surgery.
       

    Even though IBS is less severe than IBD conditions, it can still negatively impact a person’s ability to live life normally. Symptoms of this syndrome can affect a patient’s social life, ability to travel, and ability to work. 

    We Can Help You File for Disability

    Knowing the difference between IBD conditions and IBS is important when seeking disability for gastrointestinal disorders. If you’re IBD makes it difficult for you to work or live a normal life, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits. Hiring a disability lawyer to help you with your application is the best place to begin. Having an attorney to advocate on your behalf can increase your chances of getting your claim approved.

    Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405 for experienced, skilled assistance to help you get the financial support you need and deserve. 

     

  • Multiple Sclerosis: Answering Questions About This Disabling Disorder

    MS_answersWhenever a person is diagnosed with a disease or disorder that will change the way she lives life, she’s likely to have many questions about the issues and challenges she’ll face and how to best manage her life moving forward.

    Here are some clarifying answers to frequently asked questions about MS.

     

    What Are the Warning Signs of MS?

    The warning signs of MS aren't always obvious, and they’re different for every patient. Symptoms can be intermittent in the early stages of this disease—and a person may experience one symptom for a while and then no symptoms for months or years.

    However, here's a brief look at some symptoms that are the most common first signs of the disease:

    • Weakness and fatigue. Approximately 80 percent of people diagnosed with MS have unexpected muscle weakness in the early stages of the disease. This weakness usually begins in the legs, and the patient may feel numbness or tingling in the limbs. He may experience severe exhaustion that goes on for a long period of time.
    • Vision problems. An early sign of MS is a problem with eyesight—in fact, it’s often the very first symptom of someone developing MS. This disease can cause inflammation of the optic nerve, and a person may experience blurry vision or double vision at the onset of MS. Additionally, there may be lesions in the area that controls eye movement, and a patient may have blindness in one eye.
    • Memory complications. It’s common for a person with MS to have cognitive problems because this disease impacts the brain. Patients may have a shorter attention span, memory issues, and trouble being organized. However, less than 10 percent of people with an MS diagnosis suffer from cognitive issues severe enough to impact their daily routine.
    • Bladder problems. A person with MS may experience frequent urination, strong urges to go to the bathroom, or incontinence.

    Is There a Special Diet That Can Improve the Symptoms of MS?

    There isn't special diet recommended for people suffering from MS. However, certain foods and approaches to eating have been shown to help improve some of the symptoms of MS. Here's a brief look at some of the findings regarding diet and MS:

    • A diet that incorporates very few vegetables but is high in sugar, salt, and fat, has been linked to an increased risk of developing MS. Additionally, those who are obese have a higher risk. Thus, there may be indications that diet may play a role in developing this disease.
    • While researchers haven't discovered a diet to cure MS or slow or reverse the damage of this disease, some dietary regiments have been helpful for managing symptoms. More specifically, those diets that were found to be helpful did so in reducing fatigue. Researchers have found that a nutritional plan low in fat, sugar, and processed foods but high in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits is considered a “common-sense approach” for people dealing with MS. This type of diet helps reduce fatigue, and if a patient adheres to this diet for an extended period of time, it can help improve some of the other symptoms of MS, including bowel and bladder problems. Additionally, eating within these parameters can help improve mental and emotional health.

    Can Women With MS Still Have Children?

    Having MS doesn't prevent a woman from becoming pregnant or having a safe, normal pregnancy. And researchers have no evidence that MS interferes with fertility. In fact, pregnancy is linked to an MS remission—especially when the mother is in the second and third trimesters. Pregnancy seems to have a slightly protective effect on a woman’s MS symptoms—however, about six months after the birth of the child, there's a slightly higher risk of an MS relapse.

    Will People With MS End Up in a Wheelchair?

    It’s not true that people who suffer from MS will rely on a wheelchair for mobility. In fact, for a great majority of MS patients, this won’t be the case. Many people with this disease are able to walk without help, and even engage in moderate exercise. Because there are disease-modifying drugs and treatments available, more patients stay mobile for longer periods of time. However, patients with advanced conditions who can still walk may choose to use a cane, scooter, or wheelchair to prevent falling or to conserve energy.

    We Can Help

    If your MS makes it difficult for you to sustain gainful employment and you need disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), the attorneys at Cuddigan Law can help. We offer skilled legal advice to step you through the application process to help you get the benefits you need and deserve. If your claim is denied, we can help you file an appeal. Call us today at (402) 933-5405 to schedule an evaluation to discuss your specific situation. 

     

     

  • What causes multiple sclerosis, and how is it treated?

    MS_bookMultiple sclerosis (MS) is considered an unpredictable and debilitating disease that affects the central nervous system.

    The body’s own immune system attacks the myelin coating that protects the nerve fibers and interrupts the communication between the brain and the rest of the body.

     

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes the severity of MS and lists it in the Neurological section of its Blue Book. But even though this disease is included in the listing of impairments, getting a disability claim approved for MS isn’t always easy. That’s why it’s helpful to hire a SS disability lawyer to step you through the claims process and advocate on your behalf.

    What Causes Multiple Sclerosis?

    The exact cause of MS is unknown. However, researchers believe there are four main factors that may influence the development of MS:

    • Genetic factors. Researchers believe that several genes factor into MS. You may be at an increased risk of developing MS if you have a close relative with the disease. Additionally, if one parent has MS, there is a 2–5 percent chance that any children will get the disease.
    • Infectious factors. Researchers are studying the possibility that bacteria and viruses cause MS, and they’re looking specifically at the measles virus, human herpes virus, and the Epstein-Barr virus. Viruses can cause inflammation and demyelination—the breakdown of myelin that protects nerve fibers. Researchers think it’s possible that a virus could be an underlying cause of MS.
    • Environmental factors. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in protecting against MS. The farther away you live from the equator, the greater your risk of developing this disease. Because sunlight is a primary source of vitamin D for the body, researchers think there's a link between exposure to sunlight and a reduced risk of getting MS. For example, people who live in northern states are twice as likely to develop MS than those who live in Texas or Louisiana.
    • Immunologic factors. When people suffer from MS, their immune system fails, and it attacks the body’s central nervous system. Researchers don’t know why the immune system targets and attacks the myelin coating of the nerve fibers.

    Types and Symptoms of MS

    MS is considered a progressive disease. The symptoms of MS worsen over time and become increasingly disabling. Ultimately, a patient will suffer loss of many body functions even if he has few symptoms. Each person experiences the symptoms of MS differently, and while some people face ongoing functional deterioration, others live for long periods of time without serious symptoms. The following highlights some of the different types of MS:

    • Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS). RRMS is considered the most common form of MS, and approximately 85 percent of people who suffer from MS are first diagnosed with it. When new symptoms occur, patients with RRMS have flare-ups, relapses, or exacerbations. Following acute attacks, patients usually have a partial or complete recovery called remissions.
    • Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS). For patients suffering from SPMS, the symptoms will get worse over time whether or not they experience relapses or remissions. Most patients who are initially diagnosed with RRMS will ultimately develop SPMS.
    • Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS). Only about 10 percent of people who suffer from MS will develop PPMS. It presents initially as slowly worsening symptoms and reduced neurologic function with no remissions or relapses.
    • Progressive-Relapsing MS (PRMS). This is a rare form of MS, and only about 5 percent of individuals suffering from the condition have PRMS. Patients with PRMS see steadily worsening symptoms from the very beginning with acute relapses, with or without recovery.

    Patients who suffer from MS cope with a variety of symptoms that can be both challenging and disabling. These symptoms, which can impact many parts of the body, include:

    • Loss of hearing
    • Dizziness and loss of balance
    • Fatigue
    • Problems swallowing and chewing food
    • Problems with speech or slurred speech
    • Issues with memory and concentration
    • Issues with depression
    • Problems with coordination and walking
    • Problems with bladder and bowels
    • Problems with double vision and/or loss of vision
    • Problems with tremors
    • Problems with cognition

    Treatment

    The main goal in treating MS is to slow down the progression of the disease, minimize symptoms during a flare-up, and improve functionality. Drugs that help slow the advancement of the disease are called disease-modifying medications. One drug approved in 2012 for people suffering from MS was Teriflunomide (Aubagio). One study found that people who suffered from relapsing MS and took Teriflunomide showed decreased progression of the disease and had fewer relapses.

    In 2013, another disease-modifying drug was approved for those suffering from MS. Designed for those with RRMS, Dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera) helped stop the body’s immune system from attacking itself and destroying the myelin coating on the nerve fibers. Additionally, because myelin destruction impacts the communication between the nerves, a body’s ability to move is often affected.  Studies found that the drug Dalfampridine (Ampyra) increased walking speed in people with MS.

    We Can Help

    If you or a family member suffers from MS and need help applying for SS benefits, the attorneys at Cuddigan Law offer experience and skill to help you get the financial support you need and deserve. Cuddigan Law handles SS disability claims for clients who need assistance with their applications, or the appeals process if their claim was denied. We want to help, so contact us by phone at (402) 933-5405, or fill out our online form.

     

  • Epilepsy: Answering the Many Questions About Seizure Disorder

    epilepsy_factsEpilepsy, also known as seizure disorder, is a condition of the central nervous system. Disruptions in the brain’s nerve cell activity cause seizures often characterized by unusual behavior and sometimes unconsciousness. There are many misconceptions and myths about epilepsy that create confusion and cause people who suffer from it to have many questions.

    Questions About Epilepsy

    As with any disorder, people who suffer a medical condition such as epilepsy have an abundance of information about their disorder available to them through the internet. However, some of that information is inaccurate, and some myths have prevailed over time that provide false data about the nature of this condition and the fears that surround it.

    Here are some clarifying answers to frequently asked questions about epilepsy:

    1. How would I know if someone’s having a seizure? Not all people experience a seizure the same way, but there are some identifying characteristics such as:
      1. Having a convulsion that doesn’t involve a fever
      2. Being unresponsive to a question or instructions for a short period of time
      3. Having a short blackout or memory confusion
      4. Becoming stiff for no obvious reason
      5. Falling for no apparent reason
      6. Having periods of blinking with no apparent cause or provocation
      7. Having bouts of chewing with no apparent cause or provocation
      8. Being unable to communicate for a short period of time
      9. Having repetitive movements
      10. Demonstrating rapid jerking movements of the legs, arms, or body|
         
    2. Should women with epilepsy get pregnant? It’s a myth that women who suffer from epilepsy shouldn’t get pregnant or can’t get pregnant. Having this condition typically doesn’t interfere with a woman’s ability to become pregnant, and epilepsy has a minimal effect on the development of the child. The concern comes if a woman takes anticonvulsant drugs. These drugs increase the risk of birth defects by 2–10 percent. Women who must take anti-epileptic drugs need to work closely with their doctor and a neurologist to minimize those risks.
       
    3. Can I pass epilepsy onto my children? It’s a myth that people who suffer from epilepsy will naturally pass this on to their kids through genetics. Some children of parents with certain types of epilepsy are at a higher risk of developing this condition; however, the risk is low. A single gene problem is rarely the cause of seizure disorder, which typically involves a combination of gene defects.
    1. How is epilepsy treated? There are many ways a doctor and a patient can help stop or reduce the effects of seizures. Here are some common treatments for epilepsy:
      1. Medication. Anti-seizure or anticonvulsant drugs help limit the spread of seizures in the brain. These drugs are typically successful for two in three people with this disorder.
         
      2. Surgery. If the patient has a focal seizure—one that comes from a single area of the brain—surgery to remove that part of the brain may be recommended. This could stop any future seizures from occurring or allow the medication to control them more easily. Surgery for epilepsy is rare but used when the seizure area is in the brain’s temporal lobe.
         
      3. Alternative treatment. If surgery isn’t possible and anticonvulsant drugs don’t work, other treatments may help epileptic patients, including:
        1. A ketogenic diet. This consists of a high fat, low carbohydrate diet with reduced calories.
        2. Vagus nerve stimulation. For this treatment, an electrical device is placed under the skin on the upper chest. It sends signals to the left vagus nerve alongside the brainstem.
    1. Am I allowed to drive if I have epilepsy? The answer is yes and no. A majority of states won’t issue a driver’s license to a person suffering from epilepsy unless he can provide medical documentation that he’s been seizure-free for a certain period of time. Each state has its own guidelines about this, and the time period can range from a few months to over a year. In some states, you need a letter from your doctor if your seizures:
    • Are nocturnal seizures and happen only while you’re sleeping
    • Don’t distract you from driving
    • Have warning signs that allow you to get off the road. These signs might be a strange feeling or smell prior to a seizure.
    1. Will most people die from epilepsy? While the risk of an early death is higher for some people who suffer from epilepsy, most people live a full life. They can reduce the risk of an epilepsy-related death by being living cautiously and safely and adhering to their medication regimen.

      There are some factors that increase the risk of early death, including:
      1. Seizures that last for more than five minutes. This condition is known as “status epilepticus” and can sometimes occur when a patient stops taking his medication.
      2. Falls or injuries caused by a seizure.
      3. Serious health conditions such as a tumor or a stroke.

    We Can Help

    If your epilepsy makes it impossible for you to sustain gainful employment and you need disability benefits from the Social Security Administration, the attorneys at Cuddigan Law can help. We offer skilled legal advice and guidance to step you through the application process to help you get the benefits you need and deserve. If your claim is denied, we can help you file an appeal. Call us today at (402) 933-5405 to schedule an evaluation to discuss your specific situation. 

     

  • What causes epilepsy, and how is it treated?

    causes_of_epilepsyEpilepsy is considered a neurological disorder that creates a disruption in the brain’s nerve cell activity. This condition has been described as the “occurrence of sporadic electrical storms in the brain.” These storms are more commonly known as seizures.

    When your doctor diagnoses epilepsy, he or she may use one of the following terms to describe your condition:

    • Idiopathic. This means there is no obvious cause for the disease.
    • Cryptogenic. This means your condition likely has a cause, but isn't identified.
    • Symptomatic. This means the doctor has identified a cause.
    • Generalized. This means your seizures involve the whole brain at the same time.
    • Focal or partial. This means your seizures start from one specific area of the brain.

    You may be eligible for Social Security (SS) disability benefits if your epilepsy is disabling and makes it impossible for you to work. Because epilepsy can be controlled with medication, you’ll need to prove that you’ve taken anticonvulsant medications as prescribed for at least three months, but your condition continues to interfere with your daily activities. To get help with a disability claim, you may want to hire a SS disability lawyer who understands the complex nature of the application process.

    What Causes Epilepsy?

    In about 50 percent of people who suffer from epilepsy, there isn't an identifiable cause. In others, however, various factors may contribute to the condition, including:

    • Genetics. Researchers have found there can be a genetic influence that causes this condition. They've linked some types of epilepsy to specific genes, and this condition may run in families. Some researchers believe genetics play the greatest part in a person developing epilepsy.
    • Traumatic head injury. Trauma to the head due to a serious injury or car accident can cause epilepsy.
    • Brain conditions. Brain tumors and strokes can cause epilepsy. Stroke is the number one cause of epilepsy in patients over 35.
    • Diseases. Epilepsy can be caused by infectious diseases such as meningitis, AIDS, and viral encephalitis.
    • Prenatal injuries. Epilepsy or cerebral palsy can occur if a fetus doesn’t get enough oxygen in the womb, has poor nutrition, or the mother has an infection. This can cause brain damage in the unborn child.

    How Is Epilepsy Treated?

    Most epileptic seizures are controlled with anticonvulsant medications. A doctor prescribes treatment based on a number of factors, including the patient’s age, general health, medical history, and the frequency and severity of the seizures. Because there are different types of epilepsy, it’s important for a doctor to make an accurate diagnosis in order to choose the appropriate treatment.

    There are many available drugs that doctors can use to treat epilepsy. However, many doctors are reluctant to use a generic drug for this condition. Most prefer to prescribe brand-name anti-convulsants, but the high cost of these drugs may not always be covered by insurance. As a consequence, patients must sometimes start with a generic anticonvulsant medication, but if their seizures aren't adequately controlled, they often have to switch to a brand-name drug.

    Initial treatment, also known as first-line therapy, for general tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures often include:

    • Depakene, Depakote
    • Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
    • Topiramate (Topamax)

    For patients who suffer from partial seizures, first-line medications often include:

    • Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
    • Phenytoin (Dilantin)
    • Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)

    What Are the Side Effects of These Drugs?

    Seizure medications work in the body’s central nervous system, so most of these drugs cause epileptic patients to feel dizzy or drowsy, especially when they first start taking them. Additionally, many anticonvulsant medications can bring on or worsen depression and cause patients to have suicidal thoughts or actions.

    Here's a short list of other potential side effects that patients can experience depending on the type of drug they’re taking:

    • Increased risk for developing glaucoma
    • Inability to concentrate effectively  
    • Temporary loss of hair (or thinning)
    • Weight gain
    • Liver toxicity
    • Birth defects
    • Pancreatitis
    • Serious rash
    • Stomach problems
    • Problems sleeping
    • Headache and flu-like symptoms
    • Serious blood disorders

    We Can Help

    If you’re an adult suffering from epilepsy and you're unable to work, you may qualify for SS benefits. To get help with the financial support you need, contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We handle SS disability claims for clients who need help with their applications or the appeals process if their claim was denied. Call us at (402) 933-5405 or fill out our online form today.

     

  • If I don’t meet the cystic fibrosis disability requirements, can my doctor write a report for Social Security?

    Under the Social Security rules for cystic fibrosis (CF), you can get automatic payments for your condition if you meet specific criteria, such as chronic respiratory infections or severely limited lung function. However, if you do not meet these exact requirements, it does not mean that you do not qualify for benefits.

    A Doctor's Restrictions May Qualify You for Social Security Payments

    Many patients with CF may not have the exact symptoms laid out by the Social Security Administration, but experience specific medical problems that make daily life difficult. For instance, you may have restrictions on how much you are able to lift, how far you can walk, or how often you must rest when doing physical activities. You may also have frequent percussion therapy or nebulization appointments that cannot be rescheduled or suffer from severe sleep apnea that makes driving unsafe. In these cases, you may be able to get benefits based on your doctor’s recommendation.

    To be eligible for CF disability payments using a doctor’s clinical opinion, your application should include the following:

    • Medical documentation that thoroughly outlines your medical history, symptoms, clinical and laboratory findings, and your diagnosis and prognosis
    • Focus on whether or not you can work and how your condition factors into this decision
    • Specific mention of how frequent you suffer attacks or infections
    • How long you were treated at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha or other hospitals
    • Your medication regimen, including length of time you have been taking the drugs, when and how they are administered, and the dosage for each

    Having trouble making your case to Social Security? Email [email protected] today to find out how we can help, or click the link on this page to order our free informational guide, Why You Should Hire an Attorney to Handle Your Social Security Disability Claim.

  • What evidence do I need to get the VA extra-schedular rating?

    If you’re a veteran and suffered a service-connected injury or condition after returning home from military duty, you may be eligible for the extra-schedular rating offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This rating gives you an additional percentage of compensation for your disability, but only if your symptoms are unique and exceed what's expected for that rating code.

    For example, if you suffered an elbow injury, you might receive a 20 percent rating because the range of motion in your arm is limited. However, you might be considered for the extra-schedular rating if you’re unable to work at a computer for more than 30 minutes before there's intense pain and swelling in the elbow.

    Getting an approved claim for an extra-schedular rating requires a significant amount of evidence, so it’s helpful to hire a VA disability lawyer to assist you through the appeal process for this financial support.   

    Evidence for the Extra-Schedular Ratingflags and fatigues

    Some veterans have special and exceptional conditions that make them eligible for the extra-schedular rating. Their symptoms may not match the criteria for a specific disorder or listing, but their illness, disorder, or injury exceeds the rating code. They may have experienced a life-changing event and now suffer with consequences that make it difficult to sustain gainful employment, or live a life that allows for a normal, daily routine. Veterans in these circumstances are considered for the extra-curricular rating. 

    However, it’s important to understand the evidence you need to make a successful claim for the extra-schedular rating. Here are three tips for helping to ensure your claim is approved:

    1. Know what’s in your C-file. A veteran’s claims file—also known as a C-file—is considered the most significant element to a successful claim. Consequently, it’s important that you have a copy of the information that’s in the file because, in general, it contains all the information the VA is using to make a determination about your claim. The information may include service records, service medical records, C&P exam request letters and opinions, post-service treatment records, VA correspondence, and VA legal documents like your notice of disagreement (NOD).

    The C-file also contains code sheets. Each time the VA issues a ratings decision, a code sheet is usually attached to the last page of the decision. This code sheet tells you and any legal advocate you have which claims were service-connected, the effective dates of the injury or condition, the impairment ratings, the method of service connection, and the diagnostic codes used to make a determination. It’s a critical piece of documentation that many veterans don’t know exists. 

    It’s important that you also know what’s not in your C-file. If the VA can’t find parts of your paperwork, the agency may conclude that there’s an absence of evidence against the claim. And because people at every level of the claims process read and review your C-file, it’s important that critical documentation be there.

    1. Provide superior proof and credible evidence. The evidence you provide with your claim for an extra-schedular rating must clearly show why you need and deserve this financial benefit. It’s not good enough to simply fill out the forms, state that you have a service-connected condition, and expect the VA rater to immediately see or understand your situation. To show your eligibility, your evidence should:
      1. Be given by a specialist or someone who has expertise and skill. The person should have personal knowledge of your condition and, if possible, training in that area to offer substantiated proof that your symptoms are documented accurately.
      2. Be factual. Your claim should show that you're an eligible veteran; suffered a service-connected injury or condition; and have received a medical statement of the diagnosis with an expert medical opinion about how your condition is related to your military service.
         
    2. Provide both lay evidence and medical evidence. These are generally the two classification types for evidence in a VA claim. Here is a brief look at each:
      1. Lay evidence. Typically, lay evidence is proof that doesn’t need trained, skilled, or knowledgeable expertise. This can include your “buddy statement” that confirms and substantiates the events that led to the injury or condition; your own testimony about the incident and the symptoms you suffer with your disability; your spouse’s testimony about how the condition has affected you; and even your performance evaluations following the incident can be used.
      2. Medical evidence. This typically comes from a physician, psychologist, medical examiner, or a professional in the medical field. If you have a private medical expert offer an opinion about your condition and its connection with your military service, it’s important that he include critical words and phrases in that opinion to ensure it’s considered competent by the VA, including:
        1. “I reviewed the claimant’s entire C-file.” VA raters may believe that the medical professional can’t possibly give an expert opinion if he hasn't looked at all the medical information.
        2. “As least as likely as not.” This phrase is important to show that you’ve met the burden of proof and have enough evidence to support your claim. However, medical professionals aren’t used to this phrase, and may not feel compelled to cite their findings this way, even though it’s the best way to state that they have a reasonable degree of medical certainty about your condition.
        3. Words that explain why the medical professional reached the conclusion he did and why the diagnosis may differ from the VA C&P exam results.

    Let Us Help You

    If you need help applying for the extra-schedular rating, or want to know if you meet the extra-schedular criteria, contact the VA disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We can help answer your questions. To discuss your situation, start an online chat on our website today or call us today for a free evaluation (402) 933-5405.

     

  • Why does experiencing a hostile act or terrorism cause PTSD?

    distraught soldierPosttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen to anyone who’s been through any type of emotional or physical trauma. This trauma is usually a shocking, terrifying, or dangerous event that a person witnesses or experiences and feels he can’t control, and believes his life or the lives of others are in danger.

    Experiencing trauma isn't uncommon. Approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience a traumatic event in their lives.

    There are a variety of factors that increase the chance they will develop PTSD, including if they were exposed directly to the traumatic event or injured by it.

    It’s estimated that 8 million adults have PTSD each year, and 9 percent of soldiers age 18 or older who returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffered from PTSD, and 31 percent suffered from the condition a year after deployment.

    If you have PTSD after serving in the military and your symptoms make it impossible for you to work, hiring a VA disability lawyer can be beneficial in helping you get compensation.

    PTSD and Military Personnel

    When you’re deployed for military service, it’s possible that you’ll experience combat or be on missions that expose you to horrific, hazardous, and life-threatening events. All of them can produce symptoms of PTSD. Consider the statistics for recent wars:

    • Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Approximately
      11–20 percent of every 100 veterans who served in these wars have PTSD in a given year.
    • Gulf War (Desert Storm). Approximately 12 percent of every 100 veterans who served in this war have PTSD in a given year.
    • Vietnam War. Approximately 30 percent of every 100 veterans who served in this war have had PTSD in their lifetime.

    When you’re involved in combat, there are circumstances that can produce additional stress and contribute to PTSD symptoms, including where the war is fought, the kind of enemy you face, the political issues of the war itself, and your individual role in the war. Additionally, PTSD can also be caused by military sexual trauma (MST), which can happen to both men and women. Among those veterans who utilize healthcare from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), approximately:

    • 23 percent of every 100 women in the military reported sexual assault.
    • 55 percent of every 100 women and 38 percent of every 100 men have experienced sexual harassment when in the military.

    How to Tell If You’re Experiencing PTSD

    You may experience PTSD days, months, or even years following a traumatic event, and the symptoms are different for each veteran. However, symptoms are often classified in four general clusters:

    1. Recurring, interrupting reminders of the trauma. This can include nightmares, upsetting thoughts, and flashbacks that make you feel the event is happening all over again. You may experience extreme physical and emotional responses to reminders of the trauma such as heart palpitations, shaking, and panic attacks.
    2. Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma. This can include avoiding places, people, situations, or thoughts that you correlate with the event. You may feel withdrawn from your family and friends, and may lose interest in activities you once enjoyed.
    3. Undergoing negative changes in your mood and thoughts. This can include having extreme negative ideas about the world or yourself and constant feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. You may be unable to feel positive emotions.
    4. Feeling “on guard” all the time. This can include feeling jumpy, emotionally reactive, angry, irritable, reckless, and hypervigilant.

    VA Disability for PTSD

    If you’re a veteran who now suffers from PTSD, you may find that you’re unable to work consistently at any job. If so, you may want to apply for disability from the VA. To receive compensation for PTSD, the Blue Book listing of impairments outlines how to qualify under Section 12.15, Trauma- and stressor-related disorders. You must satisfy parts “A” and “B” or “A” and “C.”

    The VA disability lawyers at Cuddigan Law can help you with your service-connected PTSD application for compensation. Call us today to discuss your disability case (402) 933-5405, or download our free book, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims.

     

  • What is Ménière's disease?

    woman holding headMénière's disease is one of many vestibular balance disorders that affects the inner ear—the part of your ear responsible for hearing and balance. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, it’s estimated that over 600,000 people in America have Ménière's disease. While people who suffer from this disorder can experience a variety of symptoms, the most common are vertigo—where the patient feels that he’s spinning—imbalance, nausea, and vomiting. In general, Ménière's disease only affects one ear.

    When a patient suffers an attack of Ménière's disease, he usually first feels a fullness in one ear, followed by any of the four major symptoms. An episode generally lasts from two to four hours, and the patient may want to sleep for several hours following a severe attack.

    Obtaining Social Security (SS) disability benefits for Ménière's disease can be challenging if you don’t have the appropriate symptoms listed in the SS Blue Book of Impairments. To prove that your symptoms have disabled you, it’s helpful to have a disability attorney to help get your claim approved for this condition.

    Diagnosing Ménière's Disease

    After discussing your symptoms with your doctor, he'll likely order tests to evaluate your hearing, your balance, and to rule out other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. These tests can include:

    • Balance tests. Patients who suffer from Ménière's disease have a “decreased balance response” in one of their ears, so balance tests are performed to test how the inner ear is functioning. The test most often to determine Ménière's Disease is called electronystagmography (ENG). For this test, a doctor will place electrodes around your eyes, so he can notice any eye movement. The inner ear’s balance response prompts eye movements. Additionally, the doctor pushes both hot and cold water into the ear, causing the balance function to work. The test tracks involuntary eye movements and abnormalities, which can reveal problems with your inner ear.

      Other balance tests include:
      • Rotary chair testing. This may also be called “rotational chair” testing and is used less often. The rotary chair test shows your doctor whether your balance problems are originating in your ear or your brain. Because the ENG test results can sometimes be misleading if you have damage to your ear or there's wax buildup blocking your ear canal, this test is used in addition to ENG. During this test, your eye movements are recorded while the chair is being moved.
      • Vestibular evoked myogenic potential (VEMP) testing. This tests the vestibule of the inner ear and measures its sensitivity to sound.
      • Posturography testing. This test helps your doctor establish which part of your balance system isn’t functioning the way it should. Your doctor fits you with a safety harness as you stand on a platform in your bare feet to perform a variety of balance challenges.
         
    • Hearing Tests. Also known as an “audiometry exam,” hearing tests are used to help establish if you have a loss of hearing. Your doctor has you wear headphones and listen to noises at differing volumes and pitches. You tell him when you’re able and unable to hear a tone, and a technician evaluates your level of hearing and if you’re suffering from hearing loss. Additionally, your doctor tests if you can hear the difference in sounds that are nearly alike. Again, while wearing headphones, you’ll tell the doctor what you hear. From this test, he'll determine if you have a hearing problem in one or both of your ears.

      Because a loss of hearing can be caused by an inner ear problem or an issue with the ear nerve, an electrocochleography (ECOG) can also be done to measure the “electrical activity” in the inner ear.
       
    • Other tests. In order to rule out other possible problems and conditions, your doctor may order a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests can help rule out other problems such as a brain tumor tumor or multiple sclerosis. 

    The results of your tests are important pieces of evidence needed by the Social Security Administration to approve your disability claim.

    Get Help With Your Claim

    If you suffer from Ménière's disease and have a disability due to this condition, it’s possible to obtain SS disability benefits. Contact Cuddigan Law for a free evaluation of your eligibility for compensation.
     

     

  • Can I get Social Security disability benefits for schizoaffective disorder?

    man in a tunnelSchizoaffective disorder is just one of many types of mental illness that affect approximately 58 million people each year. Mental illness, also called mental disorder or psychiatric disorder, is a term that covers more than 200 types of mental health conditions that impact a person’s behavior, thinking, and emotions. When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, a doctor usually sees a pattern of behavior that causes the patient to be unable to handle day-to-day activities or function in normal life.

    People who suffer from schizoaffective disorder usually deal with two types of conditions: psychosis, where there is a break with reality, and mood disorders. And because no one person experiences this condition the same way, schizoaffective disorder is a mental illness less understood than other types of mental disorders.

    Proving your eligibility for Social Security (SS) disability benefits if you have a mental illness can be challenging. You need to show that your symptoms have disabled you in a way that makes it impossible for you to function and work any type of job. Because it’s not easy to get compensation for mental illness, especially for schizoaffective disorder, hiring a disability attorney can help give you a better chance of getting your claim approved.

    The SSA’s 5-Step Process to Evaluate a Claim

    There is a 5-step process used by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to evaluate a SS benefits claim for schizoaffective disorder and other illnesses. For each step, there’s a decision maker or examiner to help make a determination for that phase of the process. The following assessment is used by the examiner at each step: 

    1. Non-medical eligibility requirements. No matter how disabling your schizoaffective disorder symptoms, you can’t work over the substantial, gainful activity (SGA) level as designated by the SSA. This means you are not allowed to earn more than $1,090 gross per month. You must satisfy the SGA rule before your claim will move to Step 2 for evaluation. If you don’t meet this eligibility requirement, your claim will likely be denied, and probably won't succeed on appeal.

    2. Determining severity. The next step is for the examiner to determine if your symptoms are severe. To prove they are intense enough to keep you from working, it’s helpful to have a disability attorney assist you in compiling all the necessary medical evidence. You may be asked to fill out questionnaires that allow you to explain how your symptoms impact your ability to function on a daily basis. The examiner may also schedule you for a medical evaluation. Once the examiner reviews all your medical information, he decides if your symptoms are severe. To meet this qualification, your evidence may need to show physical limitations such as your ability to stand, walk, or carry items, as well as other limitations such as how well you can follow simple instructions, concentrate, and speak logically. If your symptoms are found to be severe, your claim moves on to Step 3.

    3. Meeting a medical listing. If your schizoaffective disorder meets or equals a medical listing in the SS Blue Book by presenting symptoms specifically for that condition, you'll be found to be disabled at this step and eligible to receive benefits. However, if your symptoms don’t meet a medical listing, your claim moves to Step 4.

    4. Working a previous job. In Step 4, the examiner determines if you have the capacity to work at any job you’ve had during the 15 years prior to your schizoaffective disorder. The examiner uses your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to make this determination—what your body and mind can still manage to accomplish given your medical condition and symptoms. Typically, if there’s a job you can perform, you'll likely be considered for past relevant work.

    After the examiner defines a list of past relevant work, he must classify it—both by exertion level and skill level. If the examiner determines you can still function and perform work from a past job, your claim will be denied. If the examiner finds that you can’t perform past work, your claim moves to Step 5.

    5: Identifying other work. At this step, the examiner looks to see what type of work you can do, even if you've not performed it in the past. The examiner uses the RFC and also considers your education, age, and work experience. If it’s determined that you can’t perform any other type of work, you’ll likely be evaluated as disabled and approved for benefits.

    Get Help With Your Claim

    If you suffer from schizoaffective disorder, it’s possible to obtain SS disability benefits. Contact Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405 to schedule an evaluation of  your eligibility for benefits.