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Mobile Social Security Disability Law Blog

SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS AND COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT FOR 2015

The Social Security Administration has released the official Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for 2015. The COLA associated with Social Security disability benefits, will be reflected in the January 2015 benefit check and will have a 1.7% increase.

GOOD NEWS FROM THE VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that it processed 1.3 million disability compensation and pension claims in fiscal year 2014 - the highest number in VA history. The number of claims processed in fiscal year 2014 surpassed the number of claims processed in fiscal year 2013 by more than 150,000 claims. In addition to processing more claims, the VA has reduced its disability claims backlog (defined as a disability claim that has been pending for more than 125 days) by 60 percent since March 2013. According to VA statistics, veterans waited an average of 119 days less for a decision on their claim than veterans did in fiscal year 2013.

SECOND ANNUAL MOBILE BAR ASSOCIATION CANNED FOOD DRIVE

Gardberg, Clausen & Kemmerly, P.C.'s Associate Attorney, Robyn Cannon, is spearheading this year's Mobile Bar Association Canned Food Drive benefitting the Bay Area Food Bank. Last year, members of the Mobile Bar Association collected over 500 pounds of food for those in need. We hope to surpass last year's contribution and we need your help!

CAMP LEJUNE TOXIC WATER VICTIMS

In 2012, Congress passed the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejume Families Act, which provided, in part, for health care (for veterans who served at least 30 days in Camp Lejune) and co-pay reimbursements for veterans and family members who lived at Camp Lejune from January 1, 1957, through December 31, 1987, and who suffered from any of the fifteen diseases deemed related to the toxic water. The covered diseases include esophageal cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia, multiple myeloma, myleodysplasic syndromes, renal toxicity, hepatic steatosis, female infertility, miscarriage, scleroderma, neurobehavioral effects, and Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Organ Transplants and Social Security Disability

The Social Security disability program is almost never black and white. There are very few disease that will automatically qualify you to receive benefits. A common question I am asked is, "Does have [fill in the blank disease] make me disabled?" The answer is almost always, "It depends."

VA TO OFFER ELECTRONIC CLAIM FORMS

Beginning next March, the Department of Veterans Affairs will offer standardized electronic forms. The VA hopes to streamline and speed up the claim filing process with the use of the electronic forms. In the past, veterans could file claims and appeals on any piece of paper - often causing delay and confusion. VA Secretary Robert McDonald hopes the electronic forms will make the process easier for veterans and ensure the most accurate decision on the claim. The VA is also standardizing the intent-to-file form allowing veterans or their survivors one year from filing the intent-to-file form to gather documentation and evidence for the claim.

Employing Simple Methods in the Pursuit of Veteran's Disability Benefits

I recently attended a NOVA (National Organization of Veterans' Advocates) conference where the focus in assisting Veterans in their pursuit of disability benefits centered on a very common sense tactic: being simple. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been in the news for several issues but perhaps no single issue is more important than the backlog of appeals. The appeals backlog has prevented many veterans from receiving the benefits they are due. Therefore, the focus at the NOVA conference presented advocates a game-plan to get back to the basics and to hopefully expedite the appeals process for the veterans we assist. These two areas stood out the most to me:

BOARD OF VETERAN'S APPEALS REVERSES DENIAL OF SERVICE CONNECTION FOR DISEASES RELATED TO CHEMICAL AND TOXIN EXPOSURE

Steve House, a Veteran serving at Camp Carroll in South Korea, developed diabetes mellitus, type II. As a result of developing diabetes, the veteran developed peripheral neuropathy and erectile dysfunction. Veteran filed a claim for service connection for diabetes and a claim for secondary service connection for the resulting conditions. The Veteran was denied service connection by the VA based on the fact that the Veteran was not specifically exposed to Agent Orange as he did not serve in Vietnam or the Korean DMZ.

Changes to the Social Security Disability Hearing Process

Beginning September 6, 2014, new SSA rules went into effect that affect how the Office of Disability Adjudication & Review processes Requests for Hearings. For every hearing request received, the acknowledgement will now include language that the hearing may be conducted via video. If a claimant wishes to object to having a video hearing, he or she must file the objection in writing within 30 days of receiving the notice. This objection must be submitted via mail in the envelope included in the notice or via fax.

VA ISSUES FINAL RULE REGARDING SUBSTITUTION IN CASE OF DEATH OF CLAIMANT

Unfortunately, many veterans pass away before a decision can be made on his or her claim for benefits or before an appeal is completed. In such circumstances, survivors of the deceased veteran may, in some circumstances, take the place of the veteran and continue the claim or appeal. 39 U.S.C. ยง 5121A provides, in part, that if a veteran claimant dies on or after October 10, 2008, while a claim or appeal is pending: