An Update to Cancer Exposure at Camp Lejeune

Cancer Exposure at Camp LejuneIn February of 2016, we notified you that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has acknowledged that exposure to Camp Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water increases your risk for cancer and other medical conditions. Now the rules that will allow potentially thousands of veterans stationed at the base — or surviving spouses — to receive automatic disability benefits if they have been diagnosed with one of eight diseases, have been finalized.

If you or your spouse were stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 cumulative days, between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and you have been diagnosed with adult leukemia, aplastic anemia, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, liver cancer, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or Parkinson’s disease, you could be eligible for Disability Benefits from the VA. You will have to submit evidence of the diagnosis and service information.

Please be aware, according to the VA, it is currently taking about 133 days to process Disability Claims.

Getting Back to Work: SSI Employment Support Programs

money-ssiSupplemental Security Income (SSI) pays cash benefits to eligible, low-income individuals who are 65 or older, or have a disability, or who are blind.  SSI is run by the Social Security Administration. There is no requirement to pay into the Social Security retirement system before you can receive SSI benefits, which is different from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  View our Quick Guide on Disability Insurance for more information.

One thing that both SSI and SSDI have in common is a system of support programs to help you get back to a well-paying job when your medical condition no longer keeps you from working. Please see our blog on SSDI Employment Supports for information on the Ticket to Work Program, which is available to both SSDI and SSI recipients.

In this blog, we would like to share a brief overview of SSI specific employment supports that help determine how much your benefit will be when you try to return to work:

Earned Income Exclusion

The first $65 of the earnings you receive in a month, plus one-half of the remaining earnings will not be counted when determining your benefit amount. This means that they count less than one-half of your earned income when they figure your SSI benefit amount.

Section 1619 – Special SSI Payments for People Who Work

You can still be eligible for SSI and Medicaid while working (under section 1619(b) of the Social Security Act) as long as your earnings remain under your state’s threshold amount, you need the Medicaid coverage, and you continue to be eligible for SSI except for your earnings (meaning you still have a disability).  After you return to work, your Medicaid coverage can continue, even if your earnings (alone or in combination with your other income) become too high for a SSI cash payment.

Reinstating SSI Benefits without a New Application

If you lose your eligibility for SSI because of your work situation, you may be able to restart your SSI benefits again at any time within 5 years, without a new application.  Basically this means if you lose your job or take a pay cut, but are still disabled, your SSI payments will resume immediately.

If you have been ineligible for SSI and/or Medicaid for any reason other than work or medical recovery, you may be able to restart your SSI cash payment and/or Medicaid coverage within 12 months without a new application.

Student Earned Income Exclusion

If you are under the age of 22 and regularly attending school, they don’t count up to $1,780 of your earned income when figuring your SSI benefit.

Property Essential to Self-Support (PESS)

They do not count some resources that are essential to your means of self-support when they decide if you are still eligible for SSI.  For example, they don’t count up to $6,000 of the equity value of a non-business rental property, if that property has an annual rate of return of at least 6%.

For more information about the detailed rules surrounding working while receiving SSI benefits, please visit https://www.ssa.gov/redbook.

This can be very confusing information, so for a complete overview of the entire SSI program go to https://www.ssa.gov/ssi/text-understanding-ssi.htm. You can also call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office for assistance.

Understanding your options can help you get back to work and get back to normal.

Getting Back to Work: SSDI Employment Supports

triage-cancer-blog-return-to-workReturning to work after being out because of a serious medical condition can be a scary prospect.  It usually takes a person quite a long time to get approved for SSDI benefits, so the thought of giving up those benefits is alarming if you are not 100% sure you’re ready to work.  The Social Security Administration understands that fear, and has you covered, with what they call “employment supports.”

This is a quick overview of SSDI employment supports and how they work together:

Step 1. The Trial Work Period (TWP)

This is an opportunity for you to test your ability to work, during which time you will continue to receive SSDI payments, no matter how much you earn as long as you still have a disability and are reporting your work to the SSA.  The details:

  • The TWP lasts for 9 months
  • The 9 months do not have to be in a row
  • The 9 months must take place within a 60 month timeframe

Step 2. The Extended Period of Eligibility (EPE)

This period begins the month after your TWP ends.  So, if you’ve worked and received benefits for 9 months, on your 10th month you would be in your EPE.  This means you might be eligible for another 36 months of benefits depending on how much you are earning. This one is a little trickier:

  • During your EPE, you will receive benefits for any month you work and your earnings are not considered a substantial gainful activity (SGA).
  • During your EPE there is a grace period. Meaning, if you suddenly get a raise or get more hours at work and your earnings are considered substantial, you will receive benefits for that month and the following 2 months.
  • Your benefits will end if your earnings are substantial in any month after the EPE ends.

Step 3. Expedited Reinstatement (EXR)

Step 3 only comes into play if you have returned to work and your SSDI benefits have ended because your earnings are considered substantial.  EXR is a safety net, meaning it’s there for you when everything is going great, you’re back to work, and then all of a sudden your medical condition flairs up.  The details:

  • If your benefits ended within the last 5 years due to an increase in your earnings, but you still have your original medical condition, you do not have to reapply for benefits.
  • Instead, you will receive 6 months of temporary benefits while your case goes under medical review. Also, if you are found not to be eligible for benefits after that review, you don’t have to pay back the temporary benefits you received.

Please visit www.ssa.gov/redbook/documents/TheRedBook2016.pdf to get a full understanding of the rules surrounding going back to work.

Getting Back to Work: Ticket to Work Program

triage-cancer-blog-return-to-workIf you are receiving disability benefits because of a cancer diagnosis, you may be considering going back to work. You may even be eager to get back to the normalcy of working.  As Americans, we get a great sense of worth and identity from our jobs.  Work is also a great social outlet for a lot of people.  After a cancer diagnosis, working can mean more than financial independence.  It can also mean moving beyond your diagnosis.

Well, when you’re ready to return to work, the Social Security Administration is ready to help.  They have a robust program designed to assist you to find work after a disability: the Ticket to Work Program.

Ticket to Work
If you are receiving SSI or SSDI, and are between the ages of 18 and 64, you qualify for a program called Ticket to Work.  This is a free and voluntary service that can help you go to work, get a good job that may lead to a career, and become financially independent.  Essentially, this program matches you with career planners and vocational rehabilitation services that will help you make a plan for getting back to work, and then help you execute that plan.  They will review your resume, set up interviews, conduct job training, and much more.  They will also provide information about your disability benefits and what they will look like when you go back to work.  Here are some things you should understand about the Ticket to Work program:

  • Opening a Ticket to Work does not mean you will automatically lose your SSDI or SSI benefit. If you open a Ticket to Work and make timely progress with either an employment network or a state vocational rehabilitation counselor, your medical condition will not be reviewed and you will continue to receive you normal benefit until you start actually working.
  • Opening a Ticket to Work will not cancel your Medicare benefit. Even if you go back to work and make enough to stop your SSDI benefit, you are still eligible to keep Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) for up to 93 months.
  • Opening a Ticket to Work will not necessarily cancel your Medicaid benefit. If you make enough to stop your SSI benefit, but are still under the earnings threshold set by your state, you could still be eligible for Medicaid.  Even if you make more than your state earnings threshold, you could be eligible for a Medicaid buy-in program.  You need to speak with your state Medicaid office to find out what that threshold is in your state. Click here to find your state Medicaid agency.

Another concern you may have about returning to work too early is sacrificing the SSDI or SSI benefit that took you so long to get in the first place.  Social Security has a work incentive program called Expedited Reinstatement.  Basically this means that if your benefits ended within the last 5 years due to an increase in your earnings, and you still have your original medical condition, you do not have to reapply for benefits.  Instead, you will receive 6 months of temporary benefits while your case goes under medical review.  If you are found not to be eligible for benefits after that review, you don’t have to pay back the temporary benefits you received.

Don’t be afraid to get back out into the workforce if you are able.  Cancer can be very isolating and working can be just the thing you need to feel better and move on from your diagnosis.

2017 Raise for Social Security & SSI

Triage Cancer Blog SSA Disability Insurance

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced that the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2017 will be a 0.3 percent increase for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

That means that the SSI federal benefit rate in 2017 will increase by $2 to $735 per month for an individual, and by $3 to $1,103 per month for an eligible couple.

The estimated average monthly Social Security benefit payment will increase by $5 to $1,360 for retired workers, and by $4 to $1,300 for surviving spouses.

This marks the first COLA in two years, as there was no adjustment in 2016.

We will have to wait until next month to learn what the Medicare premiums for 2017 will be.

For more information on the other benefit changes for 2017, visit https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/colafacts2017.pdf

How to Find Legal Assistance

how-to-find-an-attorneyTriage Cancer tries to give you information to help you navigate the system without an attorney, but sometimes you may need more help.  It can be overwhelming, on top of everything else, to try and figure out where to find a reputable attorney.  Here are some tips to hopefully make things easier!

How do I find an attorney? 

There are quite a few ways, ranging from a recommendation from your Uncle Earl to certified lawyer referral services.

  • Recommendations – If you’re friendly with any lawyers, these lawyers may be able to refer you to other lawyers who have experience with your type of problem. You can also ask your friends, co-workers and employers if they know any lawyers. Business owners and professionals such as bankers, ministers, doctors, social workers and teachers might also be able to give you the name of a lawyer.
  • Certified lawyer referral services – Most state and local bar associations have lawyer referral services. With these services you can typically search by practice area and location to narrow down your options. This type of service refers potential clients to attorneys. After interviewing you, the referral service staff will match you with a lawyer who is experienced in the appropriate area of the law. There is usually a small charge for the initial consultation with a lawyer and this will vary based on service.  However, you should be informed of this fee prior to the consultation.
    • One of the benefits of using this type of service is that they may be able to provide an attorney at a reduced rate. Lawyer referral services are required to make arrangements to serve people with limited means.
    • Another benefit is that they will screen your call to determine whether you in fact have a legal claim — or need some other type of assistance. If you do need another type of assistance, the referral service can refer you to government agencies or other organizations that may be better suited to assist you.

The American Bar Association has complied all of the Lawyer Referral Programs by state.

LawHelp.org may also be a useful resource.  This website is designed to provide individuals that have lower incomes with referrals to local legal aid and public interest law offices, basic information about legal rights, court forms, self-help information, court information, and links to social service agencies.

How much will an attorney cost?

Each attorney operates different, but generally, for issues like employment discrimination or disability claims, attorney’s work on contingency. This means the attorney will get a percentage of the settlement if you win the case.  If you enter into this sort of agreement, make sure you get it in writing and that it includes, among other things, the agreed-upon percentage.

  • Employment attorneys usually work on a contingency, with no cap.
  • The maximum a disability attorney can charge, by law, is 25% of your past-due benefits for his or her services, up to a maximum of $6,000. Past due benefits is the amount owed to you based on the date the Social Security Administration rules your disability began.  If you lose your claim, the attorney gets nothing except court costs and certain other expenses – out of your pocket.
  • Legal aid agencies – Depending on your income and the nature of your legal problem, you may be able to get free or low-cost legal help in non-criminal cases from a legal services program. Check the Internet or white pages of your telephone book to see if such an organization is located in your area. A State Bar-certified lawyer referral service or local bar association may be able to refer you to a legal services program. A law school clinic may also be able to assist you.

For other types of attorneys make sure you understand what they are going to charge you and when they will expect a payment, before you sign any sort of written contract. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to ensure you understand each charge.

Also, remember that after an initial consultation, you are under no obligation to hire that attorney.  If you don’t feel comfortable with that lawyer or don’t think that they can adequacy represent you, you should keep shopping around!

It may also be the case that the attorney suggests that you first go through a governmental agency, like a state fair employment agency.  In that case, you can find the contact information for those agencies in your state at http://triagecancer.org/resources/stateresources.

Are You a Veteran & Applying for Disability?

Then you should know about the ABA Veterans Claims Assistance Network . . .

The American Bar Association Veterans’ Claims Assistance Network (ABA VCAN), along VCANwith the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), is providing a program where volunteer lawyers work with unrepresented veterans with pending disability claims.

With the help of legal assistance, veterans will complete their claim packages for expedited review by the VA and will receive disability compensation.

The ABA’s goal is to help address the VA claims backlog and get veterans the disability benefits to which they are entitled.

For more information about ABA VCAN, click here.

Sign Up for a “my Social Security” Account

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for administering retirement and disability benefits.  Disability insurance or even early retirement benefits can be critical to an individual who is no longer able to work due to a cancer diagnosis.  However, many individuals don’t even know if they are eligible for these benefits, and if they are, how much they might receive.

Triage Cancer Blog my Social Security AccountThat is why it is important to sign up for a “my Social Security” account.  These online accounts provide secure and convenient access to earnings records, estimates for retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits.

In the past, the SSA would automatically mail this information to every person with a social security number annually.  However, the easiest way to ensure regular access to updated information is to sign up for a “my Social Security” account at https://secure.ssa.gov/RIL/SiView.do.

To sign up you must:

  • Have a valid E-mail address,
  • Have a Social Security number,
  • Have a U.S. mailing address, and
  • Be at least 18 years of age.

For more information, visit https://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/materials.html#&a0=8.

Join us in Chicago, on Friday, April 8th

chicago-theatre-890350_640For the third year in a row, Cancer and Careers will travel to the Windy City to host a free, daylong event focused on the challenges working people with cancer face in their efforts to balance treatment/recovery and employment.
 
Cancer and Careers’ Chief Mission Officer Rebecca Nellis will co-present with Triage Cancer’s Chief Operating Officer, Monica Bryant to provide patients, survivors, healthcare professionals, caregivers, and employers the information and tools they need to address important issues.  Among the topics that will be covered: disclosure, privacy & online brand; working through treatment and returning to work, including legal rights; managing finances; and health insurance options. In addition to the in-person presentations, attendees will be given helpful materials – including guides, workbooks & one-sheets – to take with them, for easy reference.
 
The Conference will be held at the Hotel Chicago Downtown and begins with breakfast at 8:00 AM. Lunch and parking are provided as well. To register, go to www.cancerandcareers.org/en/midwest. We hope to see you there!
 
If you’re unable to join us in April, we’ll be partnering with Triage Cancer again – this time in NYC – for Cancer and Careers’ annual National Conference on Work & Cancer, on June 17th. Triage Cancer has been an integral partner on this, CAC’s biggest event, since it launched six years ago. So we’re excited to have them involved again. Both Joanna Morales, Triage Cancer’s CEO, and Monica Bryant, will be there to present. For information and to register for the National Conference, go to www.cancerandcareers.org/conference. Travel scholarships are available for the National Conference; applications are due by April 15th.
 
If you’re on the West Coast, save the date of Saturday, October 15, 2016, when we’ll host our second West Coast Conference, in Los Angeles. Again, Triage Cancer will be there! Details and registration will be available at the end of March, at www.cancerandcareers.org/en/westcoast.

Can’t Afford to Take Time Off?

A cancer diagnosis can bring a lot of unexpected expenses. And if you have to take Triage Cancer Blog SSA Disability Insurancetime off work, how do you still pay your bills? Disability insurance can help you manage the costs of a cancer diagnosis.

However, navigating the various disability insurance options can be a challenge. The first step is to learn about the different types of disability insurance you may be qualified to receive.

If you are unable to work because of your medical condition, depending on your diagnosis, time spent working and contributing to the Social Security retirement system in the past, you may be eligible for federal disability benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), state disability insurance programs, disability insurance offered by your employer, or private disability insurance that you buy directly from an insurance company.

SSDI is a federal program through the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provides a monthly payment for those who have worked for a sufficient amount of time, contributed to the Social Security retirement system by paying taxes, and meet SSA’s definition of disability. After receiving SSDI benefits for two years, recipients are also entitled to Medicare.

SSI is also a SSA program that pays monthly benefits to the elderly, blind, and people who have disabilities and very low income and assets. These payments begin immediately, and you would be able to receive them during the SSDI waiting period if you qualify for both SSI and SSDI. Typically, people who receive SSI benefits and are eligible for Medicaid.

Both the SSDI and SSI programs have the same standard of “disability.” To be considered “disabled” by Social Security, you must be “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (or any work activity where you earn more than $1,130 in 2016) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of 12 months.”

If you are approved you will receive a letter with a date of “disability onset,” this date is the date that SSA believes your disability began and the start date of your “waiting period.” You must wait five months from this date before you will begin to receive SSDI benefits. Your monthly disability payment is calculated using a formula that takes into account how much you have paid in Social Security taxes over your work history.

If your initial application for SSDI or SSI is not approved you have the option of appealing the denial. In most states you can request a reconsideration of your application. If you are still denied, you may request a hearing by an administrative law judge (ALJ). If you are deemed disabled after appeals processes, you may receive retroactive payments.

In addition to the federal disability insurance programs, some states offer state disability insurance. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico offer short-term disability insurance benefits to those who are unable to work due to a medical condition.

Private and employer-sponsored disability insurance is another option for you to consider. Private insurance is available for purchase directly from an insurance company. In some cases, employers offer both short and long-term disability coverage for their employees. A policy usually provides regular payments that replace a portion of your salary. One important thing to note is that you may qualify for your employer-based policy, even if you don’t qualify for SSDI or SSI.

Resources

Triage Cancer has resources to help you find out more about disability insurance and how it can help you:

  • Review our quick guide on Disability Insurance to see what type of disability insurance benefits might be available to you.
  • We also have a recent webinar, Demystifying Disability Insurance, delivered by Monica Bryant, Esq., CEO of Triage Cancer, which provides more detailed information on these options!

For more information about the Social Security Administration’s disability benefits, visit: www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi or read this guide: www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10029.pdf.