One of the most common types of disability I see is spinal disc injury (it is also a common workers’ compensation injury). Many clients have had different types of spinal procedures designed to lessen back pain or nerve pain that radiates into arms or legs because the discs between the vertebrae impinge on the spinal cord. The below animation shows what a herniated disc looks like and what a fusion procedure might look like:
One of the interesting things about this video is the ending where it is revealed patients should not lift over ten pounds soon after undergoing this type of procedure. Administrative Law Judges often do not understand why claimants with this disability do not return to work performing work that requires significant lifting or bending, stooping, and squatting. Claimants needs to be able to explain how their range of motion or flexibility is affected by a procedure like this.
A newspaper in Oregon recently had a great article about Social Security Disability backlogs. The Oregonian submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Social Security Administration and interviewed several Administrative Law Judges to try to understand why it takes a claimant 650 days to get a Judge’s decision in Portland while the national average is 480 days. It should be noted that the frustration with backlogs is not particular to Portland, Oregon. Many of the same problems exist in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro. The article can be read here. Administrative Law Judges are supposed to decide 500 cases every year. According to statistics, only about 11% of the Judges hit this mark. The biggest problem, according to most of the Judges, is that there is insufficient staff to work up the cases. Each claimant has a file with the Social Security Administration that holds medical records, employment earnings records, and other documents that are necessary to determine whether the claimant qualifies for Social Security Disability benefits. It is extremely difficult for a Judge to make a decision when medical records are lacking or the file is a mess (an unorganized stack of several hundred documents is hard to make heads or tails of especially if you are asked to do it 500 times a year). Let’s hope the new Administration properly staffs the Hearing Offices.
Researchers may have found a new way to diagnosis Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, is a condition that causes seemingly endless and severe fatigue to those who have it. It is an impairment that is not well understood by the medical community. The study can be read here. A new diagnostic tool for CFS has huge Social Security Disability implications. For years I have seen claimants alleging CFS have great difficulty getting approved for Social Security Disability benefits. The Administrative Judges who hear CFS disability cases have a difficult time believing claimants with CFS because CFS is easy to allege and almost impossible to prove. If CFS claimants now have an opportunity to present an objective and scientific test proving they have CFS, then I believe their chances of getting approved would increase dramatically. It will be interesting to see if this new test finds acceptance in the medical community. At the very least, this study gives CFS claimants a reason to be optimistic.
With the downturn in the economy and the increased number of people facing layoffs, it is important to know that your medical coverage can continue if you are eligible for COBRA health benefits. If your job is terminated between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2009, you and your family may be able to join COBRA and pay a reduced premium for nine months at a group rate which is usually lower than what an individual would pay. This government subsidy allows former employees to maintain their health care coverage, sometimes with pre-existing conditions which could include injuries related to the workplace. This subsidized plan is not available if the company closed or went bankrupt. For more information, see the Department of Labor webpage: http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq_consumer_cobra.HTML
There’s a bill, co-sponsored by the chairs of the Labor Committees in the New York Senate and Assembly, which is working its way through the legal system that makes sense for permanently totally disabled workers. Bravo to New York for realizing that people who are found by the federal government Social Security Law standards to be permanently totally disabled should not have to go through the system to get workers’ compensation benefits, since it’s obvious that if you’re permanently disabled you can’t work — even light duty at your old job — nor can or should you look for another job. North Carolina has not started this cause and it’s a shame — it’s frustrating to clients, frustrating to attorneys and a waste of the Court’s time. The Federal judge has already determined that the person is fully disabled based on evidence– how can that person go out looking for a new job? Workers Comp rulings should look to what the SSA has already considered and ruled on. There’s a link, and it would save everyone a lot of time if it was brought to light in North Carolina.