The year has been a good one at our office.  We have been able to keep our case load low to devote individual attention to each client.  Tiffany and I have been able to return calls promptly and move the cases along as quickly as possible.  I have had several opportunities to travel to other hearing offices when my clients have moved and I’m thankful that the clients let me stick with them, as it allowed me to travel to St. Petersburg, Orlando (several times!) and New Orleans.  I like seeing cases through to the end, so I was grateful they allowed me the opportunity to do so.

I am hopeful that the new year will bring us new challenges and an interesting array of clients.  As always, I am grateful that so many people trust me with their disability claims.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2015

The Christmas week is always a slow period at the Social Security Administration, with claims representatives and other administrative personnel taking some deserved time off.  Our office hopes that all of the staff at our District Offices and the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review are able to enjoy the season with friends and families.

 

Hope Fund: MS

December 21, 2015

As many people know, fighting MS is an issue near and dear to me.  I was encouraged to read an uplifting story recently published in the Florida Times Union about Michael Allen and his battle against the symptoms of MS.  I know you will find his story as inspiring as I did.

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For the last 20 years, Michael Allen has battled the many symptoms of multiple sclerosis.
The fatigue. The vision loss. The muscle pain. And, just as painful, the decades of memories that have been drifting away since he was 12 years old.

But Allen doesn’t resent his disease. He even considers it a blessing.

“While we could say that we’re upset with this whole MS diagnosis, I’m not,” Allen said. “Because it’s kind of like the story of Job in the Bible. God allowed certain things to happen to Job because he had such great faith.”

Today Allen lives with his wife, Jessica, and son, Giovanni. While his wife works as a nurse’s assistant, the family doesn’t have the money to move out of their apartment, which they fear is a poor influence on Giovanni, who is 9.

“We would love to somehow get of this building,” Allen said. “[It] is full of alcoholics and they throw parties every single night.”

Allen said the family is desperately trying to raise enough money for a security deposit on an apartment in an area that’s safer and “somewhere close to our church, too.”

Not only do the Allens want a safe environment for their son, away from the near constant partying of their neighbors, but their current apartment is on the second floor, making it difficult for Allen to get to his own front door.

Allen’s journey through MS started as a junior high student in South Daytona. Although the disease has affected his memory, he recalls the onset of his symptoms with clarity.

“I would run up the court and fall flat on my face suddenly,” Allen said. “There would be nothing I tripped over.”

Several years later, Allen began to go numb from the shoulders down.

After two weeks of extensive tests and neurological assessments, he received the diagnosis he both suspected and dreaded for years. Lesions on his brain confirmed that he had relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis.

He was 23.

“It made me want to end my life; I’ll say that,” said Allen, who added that he would often lapse into depression “thinking about having to do this for the rest of my life.”

Allen’s treatment for multiple sclerosis involves self-injectable interferon drugs to slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms. These drugs, said Allen, are similar to chemotherapy in their side effects and some even require seeing an oncologist.

Other medications caused Allen to feel intense nausea or feel as though his skin was on fire — while another had a side effect that left scarring.

Still, Allen has remained determined to live life as fully as possible. One way he does that is by traveling with Jessica and Giovanni to mixed martial arts events. In between the matches, they talk to fellow spectators about MS and encourage them to donate to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. They have also set up tables at events to hand out bracelets and distribute fliers to inform the public about the disease.

Over the past several months alone, the family has traveled to seven events to advocate on behalf of MS research.

Allen spends most of his days at Anchor Faith Church, which has been a sanctuary for him spiritually. He is open about his Christianity and the principles that he lives by each day. Allen said his faith in Jesus allows him to be patient when it comes to dealing with symptoms and courageous in the face of adversity.

His sense of determination is as compelling as it is genuine.

“A lot of people with disabilities get swept under the rug,” Allen said. “But I refuse to be insignificant.”

A recent article indicates that only a fifth of Americans currently trust the federal government or think it is well run, a new low, according to a major new poll released on November 23, 2015. As many as 55 percent said that “ordinary Americans” could do a better job than the government at solving national problems, the Pew Research Center found by interviewing 6,000 respondents from Aug. 27-Oct. 4.

“A year ahead of the presidential election, the American public is deeply cynical about government, politics and the nation’s elected leaders in a way that has become quite familiar,” the analysts wrote in the first such poll on government performance since 2010. The public is critical of how the government handles issues of immigration and poverty. But Americans also favor and approve of the government’s role in addressing issues ranging from terrorism and disaster response to education and the environment.

Asked whether they had a favorable view of individual federal agencies, respondents in the highest numbers approved, in rank order, of the Postal Service (84 percent), the National Park Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NASA and the FBI.

Least favored agencies, from the bottom up, were the Veterans Affairs Department (39 percent), the Internal Revenue Service, the Education Department, the Justice Department and the Food and Drug Administration.

The Social Security Administration is ninth place out of the seventeen agencies represented, with 55 percent of those polled having a favorable impression.  This is well-under the Postal Service’s 84 percent favorable rank, but significantly above the VA.

For the full article and a bar graph, go here:

http://www.govexec.com/management/2015/11/poll-trust-government-drops-while-agency-reputations-improve/123917/?oref=govexec_today_pm_nl

 

Why You Should Strategize For Social Security Now

Married couples (including divorced individuals who meet certain criteria) who were hoping to take advantage of two popular strategies to maximize Social Security will soon have to reconsider tactics.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, signed by President Obama on November 2, 2015, essentially eliminates the ‘File and Suspend’ and ‘Claim Now, Claim More Later’ provisions. The change means people will no longer be able to take advantage of these strategies designed to increase their monthly benefit and enhance their overall financial plan. But there is still a short window for people who were planning to take advantage of the strategies to move forward with their plans.

Here’s what’s changing and how it could impact you:

File and Suspend
Under the ‘File and Suspend’ strategy, a higher-earning spouse can file for Social Security at full retirement age (FRA) and delay receipt of benefits until age 70 to earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs). The lower-earning spouse can then file for spousal benefits. By filing and suspending, the higher-earning spouse’s benefit will continue to grow and earn delayed retirement credits while allowing the spouse to claim a spousal benefit.

After April 30, 2016, spouses or other dependents will no longer be able to collect off the suspended benefit. This effectively eliminates any incentive to file and suspend.

The good news is that the change doesn’t go into effect immediately. You can still take advantage of ‘File and Suspend’ through April 30, 2016. So, if you’re eligible and are considering doing so, now is the time to take action.

Claim Now, Claim More Later
Under the ‘Claim Now, Claim More Later’ strategy, the higher-earning spouse, at full retirement age, can file a restricted application for spousal benefits, allowing his or her own benefit to earn DRCs (assuming the lower-earning spouse has already filed). Once the higher-earning spouse reaches age 70, he or she switches to his or her own benefit, which has grown with delayed retirement credits.

Under the act, if a person is entitled to both a retirement benefit and a spousal benefit at the time of filing, he or she automatically receives the larger amount of the two regardless of his or her age when filing.

While this means an end to a strategy for many retirees, there is a window of opportunity for some. People who have turned 62 by the end of 2015 are still eligible to file a restricted application.

What Can You Do?
If you’re eligible to take advantage of these strategies before the changes take effect, you should consider doing so. You can learn more about Social Security claiming strategies by downloading Northwestern Mutual’s free guide “Social Security Simplified.” If you’re not old enough to take advantage of these strategies before the window closes, you should consider how this may impact your income in retirement. You will still be able to delay taking Social Security and increase your benefit by 8 percent for each year you delay between your FRA and age 70. But without the income these strategies would have provided, you will want to adjust your plan to create lifelong income in retirement.

A financial professional can help you evaluate your whole financial picture and work with you to develop a plan to create steady income that will last throughout your retirement.

The New York Times recently published an article reporting that the incidence rates of diabetes are declining.  While the yearly drops have not seemed substantial, the rate of new cases fell by about a fifth from 2008 to 2014 which is the first sustained decline since the disease started to explode 25 years ago.  The drop has been gradual and was not enough to be statistically  meaningful, but new data released last week shows that there is a confirmation of a very real drop.

There were 1.4 million new cases of diabetes in 2014 compared to 1.7 million in 2008.

The CDC is unclear if the efforts to prevent diabetes have been successful or if the disease simply peaked in the population, however there is growing evidence that eating habits (after years of deterioration) have begun to improve.

The New  York Times recently published an article showing that employers are much less likely to express interest in individuals with disabilities.  This information was uncovered after sending fake cover letters and resumes to thousands of employers that differed in only one regard:  the fact that the  individual was disabled.  The study revealed that employers expressed interest in candidates who disclosed a disability about 26 percent less frequently than in candidates who did not.

It suggested that this discrimination may account for why just 34 percent of working-age people with disabilities were employed as of 2013, versus 74 percent of those without disabilities.

Read the article here:

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/11/02/upshot/fake-cover-letters-expose-discrimination-against-disabled.html?_r=3&referer=https://www.google.com/

 

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