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Q&A: Reports on Social Security disability can often be misleading

A report earlier this month by television newsmagazine 60 Minutes looked at the Social Security disability programs. Instead of portraying an even-keeled look at the modern system, the broadcast was biased and anecdote-based, relying on rare cases of judges and lawyers who try to defraud the system. Seemingly no attempt was made to get comment from the Social Security Administration and no recipients of SSD payments were interviewed.

Harold W. Conick, a Chicagoland attorney who works on disability cases across the country for the past three decades, saw the report and felt it warranted a response from someone who knows the system. Conick answered a few questions on the report and the subject of fraud in the Social Security disability field.

Why did you not like the 60 Minutes report?

That it was inaccurate. It portrayed the Social Security disability system is full of fraud when the reality is the great majority, say 99.8 percent of the parties, lawyers, judges and staff are honest and following the law.

How does this hurt the system?

It has the chilling effect of portraying the entire system in a bad light, thereby attempting to discourage people from applying for benefits they might be rightfully applying for. It also defames the judiciary system and attorneys in the process.

Has coverage of topics involving SSD been OK in general?

Not very good. There’s been a lot of pressure on the SSA and administrative law judges to tighten the benefit approval rate, I believe. It’s because of a combination of the economy plus people accusing the system of being full of fraud.

More politicized than it should be?

I think it’s more politicized than it should be. In a perfect world, administrative law judges should be an independent agency not tied to any bureaucratic body, except for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Is there much corruption in the system as it stands?

No I don’t think there is much or any corruption in the system itself, From the administrative side, the judges or staff. Or from the legal side; the lawyers that practice in the area. It’s overblown. They [60 Minutes] had to search the world over to find a corrupt judge and a corrupt lawyer out of thousands. They didn’t really talk to anybody else. They talked to some people from one of the large disability law factories and they talked to a couple of the judges. Why’d they only talk to a couple?

What do you think is needed to clear up misconceptions about SSD?

More media from the disability representative attorneys. My criticism of the Social Security system is that it is slow, but it’s actually fairly speedy compared to other agencies like the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It works pretty well, its just slow.

Do you think negative reports could lead to less funding of SSA in the future?

If it has an influence on certain legislators, whether they consider how they should vote on continued funding or not; that’s why it’s damaging to having a report like this unresponded to. Other places aren’t 60 Minutes. They can’t have a 10 minute national slam. They can’t have an equal response. It stands, unfortunately. It’s one sided journalism.

Fibromyalgia can be devastatingly painful

In many cases, those suffering from fibromyalgia may experience fatigue, memory issues, sleep loss and mood issues, according to the Mayo Clinic. These can all be considered disability qualifying conditions by the Social Security Administration, but much of this illness is a mystery. Symptoms may start via surgery, infection or physical trauma; once they have started there is no cure. Those suffering from severe effects should apply for disability benefits to help ease the costs of medical bills and an inability to work.

A recent study, which was printed by The Daily Herald, found that there may be a tie between chemicals in everyday food and fibromyalgia symptoms. There could be a link between bowel function and the pain from this disease, as the study looked at 57 patients who had both fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome. It found that eliminating dietary compounds such as monosodium glutamate and aspartame may help ease the symptoms from this illness. On the diet, 31 participants showed improvement in their symptoms.

“The results demonstrated that there was a significant worsening of fibromyalgia symptoms in those patients when they were taking MSG compared to the placebo, which strongly suggests a link between irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia,” Patrick B. Massey wrote on the website.

While it may not be known what can fully help those with fibromyalgia, little pieces of the puzzle like this may be helpful in curbing some of the most painful aspects of the disease.

Although fibromyalgia affects females more than men, some men can be stricken by this illness as well. In any case, it is important for claimants to keep their doctors informed of the limitations and pain they experience. This information is important to have for good medical treatment, but it is also evidence of the disabling symptoms the patient is experiencing.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates are experts in proving fibromyalgia claims and have prevailed in hundreds of cases before the Social Security Administration.

VA paying out record number of malpractice claims

The list of veterans waiting for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs is growing longer, as a backlog has piled up over the years. VA is experiencing another problem as well, as Bloomberg reported that more than 400 payments were made by the U.S. government to resolve VA malpractice claims. The news source obtained agency records through a Freedom of Information Act request to show that $91.7 million was paid out nearly $92 million, the highest amount in at least the past dozen years.

“The rapid rise in malpractice judgments against VA mirrors the emerging pattern of preventable veteran deaths and other patient safety issues at VA hospitals,” Representative Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican told Bloomberg in a statement. “What’s missing from the equation is not money or manpower – it’s accountability.”

Cases against the department have included missed diagnoses, delayed treatments and even treatments on the wrong body parts. This shows the number of flaws in VA offices could run even deeper than the backlog, which has been hampering the ability to properly pay out veterans for many years.

Veterans should be aware that suing the Federal Government for malpractice is not easy and will be heavily resisted. There are also time deadlines for bringing this action to court, something that must be considered. There is also an administrative process available for veterans to pursue such claims. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates is available to counsel veterans in such matters.

Electronic records may lead to quicker veteran disability approval

The backlog for veterans disability has been growing for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that there are in excess of 751,000 claims pending, more than 457,000 of which have been waiting for approval for 125 days or more. This does not include the quarter of a million who still have their claims under review. One thing that could help solve this is converting veterans records onto an electronic medical record system, as this would easily allow these files to be pulled up in cases and easily reviewed.

VA said more than 30 percent of these claims are now available electronically at regional offices. Incoming paper claims are being transformed into electronic records, something that is hoped will be able to cut down on the wait time for those who have served the country.

“A key element that slows our process is the thousands of tons of paper documents we handle each year related to veterans’ claims,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “While we continue to expand our ability to process claims electronically, we still have to handle those we receive in paper form— the Veterans Claims Intake Program is our answer to this and helps us move into a fully digital environment.”

It remains to be seen how this will work, but veterans stuck between a rock and a hard place with medical records may need help of an attorney or representative to help speed up the process.

At a recent NOVA conference in San Diego, CA., lawyers representing disabled veterans discussed the merits of employing the Freedom of information Act to force VA to produce a veteran’s file sooner than the seven to 10 months it can normally take. This so-called “C file” is important for veterans attorneys to have in order to know what medical records exist and what other medical evidence may still be needed to prevail on the veteran’s claims.

Diabetes can be debilitating in the long-term

Those suffering from diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, have a lot that needs to be taken care of and guarded against. Debilitating symptoms such as neuropathy and kidney disease can be extremely harmful and perhaps even life threatening to the point where many may not be able to work a job. These are disability qualifying conditions and those suffering should seek Social Security Disability benefits.

Having diabetes can mean a litany of problems for those suffering, but the SSA will want to know if an applicant is working, how severe the condition is, if they are able to do any type of work and if the condition is listed as a disabling condition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said diabetes is the leading cause of amputations of feet and legs not related to injury or accident for adults. It is also a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and is one of the leading causes of death. Health and help are not out of reach of those suffering, but those with extreme cases may need to seek legal guidance for a Social Security disability claim.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates have obtained approval of Social Security disability benefits for numerous clients who suffer from the effects and limitations of diabetes. Both children and adults have a chance to qualify for these benefits, which could be greatly helpful for medical bills and other expenses.