ElderLaw News

ElderLaw News is a weekly e-newsletter that brings you reports of legal developments and other trends of vital interest to seniors and their advocates. This newsletter is brought to you by The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., William S. Fralin, Esq., President.

Compassionate Allowances Initiative

In October of 2008, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced the commencement of the national Compassionate Allowances Initiative, a means to expedite the processing of disability claims for applicants whose medical conditions are so severe that their conditions obviously meet the Social Security’s standards.

According to the Commissioner of Social Security, Michael Astrue, “getting benefits quickly to people with the most severe medical conditions is both the right and the compassionate thing to do.  This initiative will allow us to make decisions on these cases in a matter of days, rather than months or years.”

Before announcing the initiative, the SSA held public hearings to receive information from experts on rare diseases and cancers.  The agency also sought assistance from the National Institutes of Health. As a result, the SSA initially launched the expedited decisions process with a total of 50 conditions that included 25 cancers and 25 rare diseases.  The SSA vowed that, over time, more conditions would be added to the list.

True to their word, in February of this year, the SSA announced that early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, as well as four related dementias have been added to SSA’s Compassionate Allowances Initiative.  The four related dementias include: frontotempral dementia (FTD) - Pick’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, mixed-dementia, and primary progressive aphasia.  To determine which diseases and conditions to include, the SSA held several public outreach hearings throughout the country that included testimony from medical experts as well as testimony from those directly affected by the disease and conditions.  The July 2009 Compassionate Allowance Initiative Hearing on Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias held in Chicago included testimony from the CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, several of the nation’s top Alzheimer’s disease researchers, and care givers and individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease who discussed the challenges they face during the disability application process. 

During the day-long hearing, SSA officials heard about the terminal nature of Alzheimer’s disease, the disabilities that often prohibit work in even the earliest stages of the disease, and the lack of effective treatments to modify or halt the progression of the disease.  The Alzheimer’s Association praised the SSA for understanding that cognitive impairments caused by Alzheimer’s disease leave individuals unable to maintain gainful employment and deserving of an expedited disability determination.  The Association reiterated that Social Security benefits are important to those with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias who are unable to work and have no other source of income.  Individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias who apply for Social Security benefits are often initially denied, but usually win on appeal.  The problem is that the appeals process can take years.  Until now, individuals with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease have faced a myriad of challenges when applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), including a long decision process, initial denials, and multiple appeals.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the recent decision by the SSA to add these conditions will simplify and streamline the SSDI/SSI application process and significantly decrease the wait time to receive much-needed benefits.

In the words of Michael Astrue: “This is America.  It is simply not acceptable for people to wait years for a final decision on a disability claim.  I am committed to a process that is as fair and speedy as possible. The launch of Compassionate Allowances is another step to ensuring Americans with disabilities, especially those with certain cancers, and rare diseases, get the benefits they need quickly.”

For more information on the Compassionate Allowances Initiative and/or on Alzheimer’s disease, please go to http://www.ssa.gov or http://www.alz.org.


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The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C. is an elder law firm. We represent older persons, disabled persons, their families, and their advocates. The practice of elder law includes estate planning, estate and trust administration, powers of attorney, advance medical directives, titling of assets and designations of beneficiaries, guardianships, conservatorships, and public entitlements such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and SSI, disability planning, income tax planning and preparation, care management, and fiduciary services. For more information about The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., please visit our website at http://www.chroniccareadvocacy.com.

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