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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  • 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.


  • What is schizoaffective disorder?

    woman holding headEach year, approximately one in four adults suffers from some type of mental illness—over 55 million people. Additionally, the rate of depression in youth has increased from 8.5 percent in 2011 to over 11 percent in 2014. Despite the increase in mental illness, most people in the U.S. with a mental disorder lack access to care and treatment. And there's also a serious shortage in mental healthcare workers—in some states only one mental health professional for every 1,000 people. It’s estimated that the cost of untreated mental illness in America is $100 billion dollars. This includes substance abuse and unemployment.

    Mental illness, also known as mental disorder and psychiatric disorder, encompasses many mental health conditions that affect the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. There are over 200 types of mental illness, including schizoaffective disorder. This condition includes both mood disorders and psychosis—demonstrated when the patient loses contact with reality. There are two basic types of schizoaffective disorder:

    • Bipolar type, which includes episodes of mania and sometimes severe depression
    • Depressive type, which includes major episodes of depression

    Because people experience this disorder differently, schizoaffective disease isn't as clearly understood as other mental illnesses.

    Obtaining Social Security (SS) disability benefits for mental illness can be challenging. But if you have symptoms that make it impossible for you to work any job and you are unable to function day-to-day, you may want to hire a disability attorney to help get your claim approved for schizoaffective disorder.

    Schizoaffective Disorder and Winning Your Disability Claim

    People with schizoaffective disorder can suffer a variety of symptoms—some from the schizophrenic side of the illness, and some are associated with mood disorders. A patient with this condition may:

    • Experience paranoia
    • Hear voices or have hallucinations
    • Have confused and unusual thoughts
    • Have a lack of attention or memory
    • Speak in a manner that's sometimes confusing or doesn’t makes sense

    The patient may also have suicidal thoughts or tendencies, bouts of depression, changes in eating habits that can affect weight, and sleep problems. Often, people who suffer from schizoaffective disorder lose interest in personal hygiene, their appearance, and overall cleanliness. 

    Winning a disability claim for schizoaffective disorder depends mainly on mental health treatment. It's critical that if you suffer from this condition, you are seen and properly diagnosed by a psychiatrist—even if you see a counselor on a regular basis. The opinions of both the counselor and the psychiatrist are important, and your claim approval may depend on if they both report you cannot work. It’s also important that they’re willing to fill out the necessary paperwork for disability benefits for this mental illness.

    Getting an approved claim also depends on your adhering to all treatment regimens and taking all medications. If, during a manic episode, you stop taking your medication, it could weaken your claim unless your psychiatrist reports this as a symptom of your disorder.

    Functional Limitations and the MRFC Report

    When the Social Security Administration (SSA) reviews your claim for schizoaffective disorder, the agency looks at the functional limitations caused by your mental illness and how your life is affected by your disorder, including:

    • If your daily life has been negatively impacted—you're no longer able to grocery shop, pay bills, shower or bathe, or handle day-to-day activities
    • If you’re having difficulty in social situations
    • If you’re having trouble concentrating, staying focused, and getting work done
    • If you’re having episodes that are increasing the deterioration of your condition

    To win your claim, you typically need to show that you have extreme limitation of one, or marked limitation of two of these areas.

    Additionally, doctors who work for the SSA determine your mental residual functional capacity (MRFC) using your submitted records. The agency compiles a report that outlines the severity of your limitations. Here are a few of the areas the SSA doctors evaluate:

    • How well you can follow simple directions
    • How well you can work in a typical work environment without supervision
    • How well you can interact with others
    • How well you can maintain your appearance
    • How well you can tolerate stress

    You are more likely to have your claim approved if your mental illness causes more limitations.

    Decisions are made on most disability claims solely on the patient’s documented medical records. For claims based on mental illnesses, it’s important to include complete medical records from all healthcare providers who you saw because of this condition. These include records from:

    • A counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist
    • Any stay in a hospital
    • Any emergency room visit that occurred because of your condition
    • All pharmacy records that explain your prescriptions related to your illness

    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 appointment to discuss your eligibility for compensation.


  • As Someone Previously Stationed at Camp Lejuene, What Do I Need to Know the Water Contamination There?

    When Camp Lejeune was built at the mouth of the New River in North Carolina in 1941, it’s doubtful anyone could have predicted the environmental disaster that would impact nearly one million soldiers and their families who lived there. Located on 240 square miles of land with 14 miles of beaches, Camp Lejeune was considered an excellent location for amphibious warfare training.

    water from faucetHowever, countless soldiers and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune from 1953 through 1987 were exposed to contaminated water; tainted with hazardous chemicals at concentration levels that far exceeded safety standards. In the years after leaving Camp Lejeune, many of these residents developed serious medical conditions believed to be caused by the contaminated water. As early as WWII, many military base personnel used chemicals and toxic substances and then disposed of them in ways that allowed for them to leech into the soil and water. Later, it was determined these chemicals posed a variety of health risks.

    Although the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has made healthcare available to the victims of Camp Lejeune, and proposed regulations to establish presumptive service connections for eight medical conditions caused by the contaminated water, people still have many questions about the polluted water and the medical conditions suffered by so many who lived at the base. 

    Frequently Asked Questions About Camp Lejeune’s Water Contamination

    The countless number of illnesses suffered by residents of Camp Lejeune and the investigation into the Marine Corp’s alleged cover-up of the water contamination generated a great deal of concern. Here are some of the most common questions about the environmental disaster there, and some general answers to those questions:

    1. What caused the water contamination? In the years prior to the construction of Camp Lejeune, trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) were safety solvents used as cleaning chemicals. These and other chemicals were found in the Camp Lejeune water and believed to be contributors to the contamination. Many believe there were three primary sources of contamination:
    • Solvents used at a nearby dry-cleaning company were highly carcinogenic. Most of the soldiers used this company to get their uniforms cleaned. When the dry-cleaners disposed of the liquid waste, much of it was absorbed into the ground.
    • Military personnel used TCE to clean its equipment and ensure that it functioned correctly. After washing greasy parts in the TCE, the chemical was dumped, likely leaching into the ground.
    • Leaky underground fuel storage tanks leached TCE and PCE into the ground and into the aquifer that provided the base with water. Benzene from a fuel farm close by also leached into the soil. Vinyl chloride is also believed to be one of the contaminating chemicals.
    1. Are there other bases with water contamination? Camp Lejeune is not the only base with water or soil contamination. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), there are approximately 60 U.S. military bases known to have serious soil and water contamination. DoD officials say this list of contaminated military bases is based on a status report for its Installation Restoration Program. Other military sites that are toxic include:
    • Kelly Air Force Base. Personnel allegedly dumped TCE into the soil here. Some people refer to this base as part of a “toxic triangle” in south-central Texas.
    • Umatilla Chemical Depot. Located in the plains of northern Oregon, mustard gas and VX nerve gas were stored here.

    Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families, as well as civilians who lived and worked in close proximity to these bases, may have been affected by these chemicals after drinking the water, using the water for bathing and doing dishes, and exposure through “vapor seepage.”

    Research shows that many of these chemical compounds seeped into the ground water supply on several military bases and, in some cases, impacted properties near the bases, including schools, churches, and private wells.

    1. Is the water at Camp Lejeune safe now? A Marine Corp website states that the drinking water at Camp Lejeune currently meets or exceeds all government drinking water standards, including the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also indicates the water is tested more often than required.
    2. What is being done to guarantee the safety of Camp Lejeune water? The following three efforts are ongoing to ensure the water safety at the base: Water quality testing; compliance with current waste management regulations; and the cleanup of past hazardous waste sites.

      The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) authorized the federal government to respond to hazardous waste released into the environment. Camp Lejeune complies with CERCLA with an active program to deal with past hazardous waste sites and groundwater contamination before it can affect the drinking water.
    1. What has been done to help victims of the water contamination? President Obama signed into law the Janey Ensminger Act to provide medical care for 15 illnesses and diseases caused by the contaminated water. Additionally, the VA has proposed regulations that would establish presumptive service connections for eight medical conditions caused by the contaminated water.
    1. What is a superfund site? This is any piece of land in the U.S. that the EPA has identified as being contaminated by hazardous waste and a “candidate” for cleanup due to its risk to human health and the environment. These superfund sites are placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). Approximately 900 of these waste sites are abandoned military bases or facilities, including chemical warfare and research facilities and abandoned disposal pits.

    We Can Help

    If you’re a veteran, member of the Reserves, or a member of the National Guard assigned to Camp Lejeune at any time from 1953 through 1987, and you believe that you suffer from a disease or an illness caused by the contaminated water there, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. We’ll schedule an appointment to discuss your eligibility for benefits.


  • How does the VA rate respiratory illnesses?

    If you're a veteran who worked in close proximity to open air burn pits during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in Djibouti, or in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, you may have returned home with symptoms of respiratory illness, or been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis or a rare illnesses known as constrictive bronchiolitis.

    Many veterans of the Vietnam War who were exposed to Agent Orange developed different types of respiratory cancers. Similar to their cases, these respiratory conditions and other illnesses are eligible for disability from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

    man on respiratorHowever, obtaining VA benefits for respiratory illnesses isn’t always easy, and there are only a few respiratory medical conditions that have been given a presumptive service connection. Veterans who have tuberculosis, bronchiectasis, and coccidioidomycosis may be eligible for a presumptive service connection, as well as personnel exposed to excessive radiation during their service who developed lung cancer, bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, or cancer of the pharynx.

    Additionally, people exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides that have resulted in cancer of the trachea, lung, bronchus, or larynx are eligible. For most other respiratory illnesses, veterans must prove the service connection.

    This is why it’s important to have an experienced disability lawyer to help you. Because the VA looks at each claim individually, working with a disability lawyer can improve your chances of getting your claim approved.

    How Does the VA Rating System Work?

    The VA ratings for the respiratory system are based on three main things:

    • How well the lungs take in air
    • How well the lungs absorb oxygen into the blood
    • How the lungs exhale leftover gasses

    To make determinations in these three areas, the VA requires an individual to go through pulmonary function tests (PFTs) to show if the lungs are functioning properly and how the body is affected. Because the lungs provide oxygen into the blood stream, if you have a severe lung condition, it can affect the heart, so various heart tests are included as part of the PFTs.

    Here's a brief look at some of these tests and their VA ratings:

    Spirometry Tests

    This series of tests records how the lungs and the airway to the lungs function. Ideally, a patient performs the tests before and after taking medication. If not, the doctor needs to explain the reasons for this in the medical report. The performance results after medication are the ones that must be used for the VA rating unless the results prior to taking the medication are worse—and this isn’t usually the case.

    Here are the measurements used for the rating:

    • Forced Vital Capacity (FVC). After taking a full breath, the FVC indicates the maximum amount of air you can exhale.
    • Forced Expiratory Volume in one second (FEV-1). This indicates the greatest amount of air you can blow out in a single second.
    • Ratio of FEV-1 to FVC. This measurement is used to determine the ratio between both the maximum amount of exhaled air and the air blown in one second.
    • Flow-Volume Loop. This test is calculated from the spirometry results and charts the patient’s entire lung capacity—his ability to move air by inhaling completely, exhaling completely, and then inhaling quickly again. The results are presented on a graph, but it’s the doctor’s analysis that matters. He needs to state if there’s an obstruction that’s blocking the patient’s airflow.  

    Exercise Test

    This test, also known as a stress test, determines how much oxygen is being used by the body when it’s performing at "maximum capacity." This is defined as the greatest amount of physical activity that can be "repeated and sustained" by the patient.

    When the VA rates these conditions, the agency gives one rating for each respiratory condition, and uses the rating that best reflects the patient’s general, overall condition. Here's a brief look at some of these ratings:

    • FEV-1. If the results are less than 40 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 100 percent.
    • FEV-1. If the results are 40–55 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 60 percent.
    • FEV-1. If the results are 56–70 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 30 percent.
    • FEV-1. If the results are 71–80 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 10 percent.
    • FEV-1/FVC. If the results are less than 40 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 100 percent.
    • FEV-1/FVC. If the results are 40–55 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 60 percent.
    • FEV-1/FVC. If the results are 56–70 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 30 percent.
    • FEV-1/FVC. If the results are 71–80 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 10 percent.
    • Exercise test. If the results are less than 15 ml/kg/min with the limitation caused by a respiratory or heart condition, you'll likely get a rating of 100 percent. If the results are
      15–20 ml/kg/min with the limitation caused by a respiratory or heart condition, you'll likely get a rating of 60 percent.

    We Can Help

    If you're a veteran suffering from a respiratory illness you believe is service related, particularly if you worked near open burn pits during your tour of duty, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405 or email us [email protected]  . We’ll  evaluate your claim to help determine your eligibility for benefits.