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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  • After being diagnosed with ataxia, what kinds of symptoms and treatment can I expect?

    When patients are diagnosed with ataxia, they're suffering from a rare degenerative, neurological condition that affects the body’s nervous system. The word ataxia is Greek in origin and means “a taxis”—without order or incoordination.

    Patients with ataxia have difficulty with coordination because the part of the brain that controls balance and movement—the cerebellum—is impacted by this condition. Those who develop ataxia may appear to be intoxicated or drunk because they exhibit the similar symptoms such as slurred speech, uncoordinated movements, and stumbling or falling.

    ataxia_diagnosisCertain types of ataxia are eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Friedreich’s ataxia and spinocerebellar ataxia are identified in the Blue Book listing of impairments, section 11.17, and three types of ataxia are cited for the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance Program that expedites severe, terminal illnesses. How ever many times Social Security fails to properly evaluate  your claim and it’s s helpful to hire an experienced a Social Security (SS) disability attorney .

    Three Types of Ataxia

    There are between 50 and 100 types of ataxia, and they’re categorized under three umbrella headings:

    • Acquired ataxia. Patients who have this condition see their symptoms develop quickly. Often, this type of ataxia is caused by a brain injury, a stroke, or some other condition that impacts the brain areas that manage coordination, balance, and movement.
    • Hereditary ataxia. This type is inherited genetically and runs in families. Patients may see their symptoms develop at a slow pace over a period of years.
    • Idiopathic late onset Cerebellar ataxia (ILOA). The cerebellum in patients who suffer this type of ataxia is progressively damaged, but the cause is not known. This damage leads to ataxia.

    Symptoms of Ataxia

    Patients with ataxia suffer a variety of symptoms, and they vary depending on how severe the condition is. If the ataxia develops because of a head injury or some other type of medical issue, patient symptoms can present soon after, might improve quickly, and could eventually resolve.

    Initially, ataxia symptoms often include slow and/or slurred speech—known as dysarthria. A patient may have problems controlling the pitch, rhythm, and volume of his voice. Another early symptom is poor coordination of limbs.

    When the ataxia progresses, a patient is likely to experience other types of symptoms, including:

    • Difficulty swallowing, which sometimes leads to coughing or choking
    • Involuntary shaking or trembling, and tremors
    • Repetitive eye movements that are involuntary and rapid—known as nystagmus, these movements can be circular, horizontal, or vertical
    • Depression
    • Issues with balance and walking—sometimes a patient needs a wheelchair
    • Vision and hearing problems

    Additionally, patients who suffer from ataxia telangiectasia (AT) often experience red, spider-like veins in the corners of the eyes, on the cheeks, and on the ears. And those who suffer from Friedreich’s ataxia may experience scoliosis—curvature of the spine; diabetes; pes cavus—high arching feet; and cardiomyopathy.

    Treating Ataxia 

    The treatment plan for ataxia varies depending on the type of condition a patient has. Sometimes, it’s possible for doctors to treat the cause of the ataxia so it stops getting worse and even improves. This is often seen in cases when chicken pox or viral infections are the cause. However, more often, treatment is provided to ease a patient’s symptoms.

    You’ll likely work with a team of doctors to develop an individualized treatment plan. This team may include a physiotherapist, a neurologist, and a specialist nurse. Together, you’ll discuss your psychological, social, and physical needs and define a plan to meet them.

    In treating your symptoms, you may meet with a language and speech therapist to help with slurred speech and dysphagia, or swallowing problems. You may also see an occupational therapist (OT) who will assist you in managing the loss of mobility and learning new skills to help you perform your daily routine. If you need to use a wheelchair, the OT will teach you how to use this device to stay mobile. Additionally, a physiotherapist can teach you exercises to stretch your muscles and help them from weakening or getting stuck in a certain position. Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers to control muscle cramps, spasms, and stiffness.

    Contact Cuddigan Law

    If you’ve been diagnosed with ataxia, you may qualify for Social Security (SS) disability benefits. Hiring an experienced SS attorney can help determine if you meet the Blue Book Listing for this condition, or qualify for the Compassionate Allowance Program. Contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law, who can help you understand the process and work with you on your application  or appeal to increase your chances of getting an approved claim. 

     

  • What should I know about my diagnosis of Crohn’s disease?

    doctor_consultCrohn’s disease is a condition that falls under the inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) umbrella of illnesses. It’s characterized by the inflammation of the bowel and/or any other part of the gastrointestinal, or GI, tract.

    Because Crohn’s can be debilitating, people diagnosed with this disease may have many questions about how to manage their symptoms and how to move forward with their lives.

    Crohn’s is listed under IBD 5.06 of the Digestive System section of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Blue Book of impairments. And because it’s not always easy to obtain disability benefits for this disease, it’s helpful to hire a Social Security (SS) disability attorney to step you through the process.

    Frequently Asked Questions About Crohn’s Disease

    1. Is there a cure for Crohn’s? While there is no known cure for Crohn’s disease, there are lifestyle changes and medications to help mitigate the symptoms of this condition. A critical focus for reducing these symptoms is to reduce bowel inflammation, and treatment can sometimes be effective in bringing the disease into long-term remission. There are two general approaches to treating this disease:
    • The “step-up” approach. When using this approach, a doctor begins by treating the patient with mild drugs and then slowly increasing the doses as needed.
    • The “top-down” approach. If a doctor takes this approach, she’ll start treating the patient with stronger drugs and then slowly decrease the dosage as the patient’s symptoms improve.

    Patients may be given immunosuppressants and steroids to slow the progression of Crohn’s, and if they don’t work, it’s possible that a doctor may recommend surgery.

    1. Can I smoke if I have Crohn’s disease? Research shows that symptoms in Crohn’s patients who smoke may be more severe, and smoking may increase complications of this condition. Additionally, smoking may increase the need for patients to be treated with higher doses of medications and steroids, as well as putting them a higher risk for surgery. When patients decrease or quit smoking, their flare-ups and risk of complications are often reduced.

    Research also indicates other risks associated with cigarette smoking, including:

    • Smoking may be linked to the onset of Crohn’s.
    • Smoking may be linked to a patient’s more frequent relapses.
    • Smoking may be linked to a patient’s poor outcomes after surgery is performed to repair the bowel or other portion of the GI tract.
    • Smoking may be linked to a reduced response to medications.
    1. Should I stop taking my medication if I’m pregnant? It’s not true that you need to stop drug treatment when you’re pregnant, although it’s always important to talk with your doctor about the best way to manage your medication when you’re having a baby. According to an August 2012 study of over 1,100 women published in Gastroenterology and Hepatology, babies born to women taking medication for their IBD didn’t have an above average rate of infections or congenital anomalies.

    However, if you’re going to get pregnant and your Crohn’s isn’t well controlled, you may face a higher risk for complications. Additionally, you may want to see an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.

    1. Is there a diet that can help my Crohn’s symptoms? Doctors understand that a person’s diet doesn't cause Crohn’s disease. And while there’s no known link between eating certain foods and Crohn’s, it is known that some foods can irritate a patient’s flare-ups. Thus, making modifications to your diet can help decrease the symptoms of Crohn’s.

    If your Crohn’s makes it difficult for you to absorb nutrients, doctors may recommend a high-calorie, high-protein diet—a regimen you should follow even if you’re not hungry.

    Foods that trigger Crohn’s symptoms are different for every patient, and it can be helpful to know which foods trigger yours. Many people who suffer from this disease find that some of the foods on the following list may aggravate their symptoms during a flare-up:

    • Tea and coffee
    • Fatty and fried foods
    • High-fiber foods
    • All alcohol, including mixed drinks
    • Raw fruits and vegetables
    • Foods that are spicy
    • Nuts, seeds, whole grains, bran
    • Lentils, beans, cabbage, broccoli, onions

    Some research indicates that alcohol consumption in moderation doesn’t harm people suffering from Crohn’s—one drink a day for women and two for men is usually acceptable. It’s also possible that moderate alcohol consumption may have benefits, because alcohol slightly suppresses the immune system. However, heavy drinking is never recommended and can lead to flare-ups.

    When You Need Disability for Crohn’s

    If you suffer from Crohn’s disease and need SS benefits, the attorneys at Cuddigan Law can answer your questions and help you with the application process. We also handle SS disability claims for clients who need assistance with the appeals process if their claims were denied. Contact us by phone at (402) 933-5405, or fill out our online form.

     

  • What causes Crohn’s disease, and how is it treated?

    crohn's_disease_diagnosisCrohn’s disease is a condition that can affect any portion of the GI tract and is characterized by inflammation of the bowel. Patients who suffer from Crohn’s disease can experience mild to severe symptoms including cramping and abdominal pain, fever, appetite loss, rectal bleeding, and ongoing diarrhea. Complications from these symptoms can include abscesses and intestinal blockages.
     

    The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes Crohn’s disease in its Blue Book listing of impairments in the Digestive System section, under Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) 5.06. But although Crohn’s is a disorder eligible for disability, getting a claim approved for this disease can be a challenge. It can be helpful to hire a Social Security (SS) disability lawyer to take you through the claims process and advocate on your behalf.

    What Causes Crohn’s Disease?

    Researchers don't fully understand the causes of Crohn’s. It’s believed that stress and a patient’s diet can provoke and irritate the condition, but neither causes the disease. Current research indicates that contributing factors may include:

    • Genetics. In a GI tract that functions normally, there are types of non-dangerous bacteria that help with digestion. But in patients with IBD, the body’s immune system mistakes the bacteria as “harmful invaders” and responds by sending cells to the intestines and producing inflammation. Ultimately, this inflammation doesn’t diminish and creates patient symptoms, including chronic inflammation, thickening of the intestinal wall, and ulceration.
       
    • Heredity. There seems to be a family link in Crohn’s patients. Research shows that between 5–20 percent of Crohn’s patients have a parent, child, or sibling with the disease. Additionally, you’re at a higher risk of developing Crohn’s if both of your parents have IBD.
       
    • Environment. Where you live may factor into your risk of developing Crohn’s. It appears that people who live in northern rather than southern climates are more likely to develop the disease. Additionally, Crohn’s is more common in urban areas and in developed countries.

    Crohn’s Symptoms

    Crohn’s disease symptoms can range from mild to severe. Here's a brief look at the different types of symptoms a Crohn’s patient may experience when suffering from this condition:

    • Mild to moderate. If your doctor classifies your Crohn’s as mild to moderate, you may have frequent diarrhea and abdominal pain, but your ability to eat and walk isn't affected. You're unlikely to have signs of tenderness in the abdomen, significant weight loss, dehydration, or a high fever.
    • Moderate to severe. If your condition is in the moderate to severe category, you are likely to have abdominal tenderness or pain, consistent diarrhea, anemia, and weight loss.
    • Very severe. Severe symptoms may include consistent vomiting, evidence of an abscess or an intestinal obstruction, serious weight loss, and a high fever.

    It’s also possible that Crohn’s can create additional complications, including:

    • Gallstones and kidney stones
    • Liver disease
    • Arthritis
    • Eye and mouth inflammation
    • Ulcers or skin rashes

    Treatment for Crohn’s Disease

    Crohn’s is an incurable disease, but there are treatment plans that can help control the symptoms. The goals for treatment are to relieve the symptoms of bleeding, diarrhea, and pain; reduce inflammation; eliminate nutritional deficiencies; and possibly achieve and maintain remission, where you have a period of time without symptoms.

    There are a variety of medications that are used to treat Crohn’s disease, including antibiotics, aminosalicylates—also known as 5-ASAs—steroids, immune modifiers, and biologic therapies. Each category of drug is used at different stages or phases of the condition, and each type has its own side effects.

    Some of these drugs stop the body’s immune system from bringing about the inflammation; some are used to treat bacterial infections and the overgrowth of bacteria that can form in the small intestine. Sometimes a combination of therapies is needed or recommended, and sometimes the patient will need surgery. It’s important to work closely with your doctor to define the right plan for you.

    We Can Help

    If you or a family member suffers from Crohn’s disease 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. Cuddigan Law also handles SS disability claims for clients who need assistance with 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.

     

  • 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.