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In the News – For those with Disabilities

Appealing for benefits is best done under the guidance of an experienced disability lawyer.

News topics for those dealing with the challenges of a disability.

Author: Attorney Lonnie Roach

There’s so much going on every day in the world it’s hard to keep up with all the issues that affect the daily lives of people with disabilities. In an effort to keep you informed, we hope that you will find the following news items interesting and helpful.

Social Security Expands Compassionate Allowances Program


On August 16, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration announced that the agency has added 12 additional medical conditions to its list of disorders that are designated eligible for Compassionate Allowances (CAL).

The Compassionate Allowance program enables Social Security to quickly identify medical conditions that meet Social Security’s definition of disability and includes certain cancers, brain disorders and some rare disorders what affect children.

Through updated technology, Social Security is able to target those applicants with the most serious disorders and reduce the waiting time to reach a determination.

This process is accelerated by obtaining medical records electronically and some claims can be granted based on medical diagnosis alone.

Social Security decides which disorders are CAL based on comments it receives from the public, the Social Security Determination Services community, medical and scientific experts, and research provided by the National Institutes of Health.

The new conditions are:

  •    Refractory Hodgkin Lymphoma
  •   Choroid Plexus Carcinoma
  •   Desmoplastic Mesothelioma
  •   Charlevoix Saguenay Spastic Ataxia (ARSACS)
  •   CIC-rearranged Sarcoma
  •   Congenital Zika Syndrome
  •   Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy – Adult
  •   Pericardial Mesothelioma
  •   Renpenning Syndrome
  •   Taybi-Linder Syndrome
  •   SCN8A Related Epilepsy with Encephalopathy
  •   SYNGAP1-related NSID

SNAP Benefits to Increase in October 2021

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as “food stamps,” provides help to more than 42 million people each year, most of them households with children and elderly and disabled members.

The Biden administration recently approved updates to SNAP, giving needy families the largest increase in benefits to date. This increase is separate from the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of March 2020 which addressed temporary food needs during the pandemic. Congress does not need to approve this increase and it will not expire.

Anti-hunger advocates, nutrition experts, and recipients of benefits have contended for many years that the current Thrifty Food Program (TFP) underestimates the cost of a healthy diet.

In 2018, Congress directed the U.S., Department of Agriculture to reevaluate the dietary guidelines of TFP and on August 16 the department released revised nutrition standards. Benefit amounts vary by state, but the average monthly benefit of $121 will increase by $36. All 42 million beneficiaries will receive additional aid beginning in October, helping to reduce hunger and poverty.

Loan Forgiveness for Disabled Students

In August the Biden administration announced it would erase student loans for 323,000 students who are “totally and permanently disabled” or TPD.

This loan discharge totals more than $5.8 billion in student loans and applies to borrowers who are identified through existing data by the Social Security Administration or the Veterans Administration as TPD. A student who receives a TPD discharge will no longer be required to repay federal student loans or complete a TEACH Grant service obligation.


The Veterans Administration will contact borrowers who are TPD and advise them they are eligible.

No action is required by the borrower; the Veterans Administration will inform the holders of federal student loans to discharge the loan or service obligation. The SSA will contact students and let them know they are eligible to apply. Students must then provide documentation of SSDI or SSI benefits when they apply. Students who think they may qualify for a loan discharge, but have not been notified that they are TPD by either the SSA or the Veterans Administration, can complete a TPD discharge application and submit it to the U.S. Department of Education with supporting documentation.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education is making changes to two other policies.

The department will stop sending requests to borrowers for earnings information indefinitely and propose to eliminate the 3-year monitoring period required under current regulations.

When Will Social Security Hearings Take Place in Person?

In March 2020 the Social Security Administration closed its offices for in-person hearings and services due to the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to protect the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, as well as their own employees.

Federal agencies were required to submit a return-to-office plan to President Biden in early August, but the Social Security Administration has yet to submit its plan.

Some advocates for people with disabilities are concerned and pushing for in-person hearings to begin again.

They argue that many people with disabilities do not have reliable access to the Internet and as a result, applications have decreased. The issue of reopening has been complicated by the spread of the Delta variant and surge in new cases and hospitalizations. At this time, hearings offices remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Social Security is still scheduling hearings by phone or online video.

A phone hearing is just like an in-person hearing, with a number of participants on the telephone, including the claimant and their representative, the Administrative Law Judge, and a hearing reporter. Phone hearings are not mandatory; a claimant can request a postponement until Social Security can offer another option. Social Security is also offering online video hearings using a free platform called Microsoft Teams. Claimants and their representatives can attend from any private location with a secure Internet connection using a camera-enabled phone, a tablet, or a computer.

If a claimant requests a postponement, Social Security will send a notice with the new hearing date, time and location at least 20 days before the date of the new hearing.

Though delaying an in-person hearing is possible, phone or video hearings may be the best choice for claimants right now.

syringe vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine

As the holidays approach and the weather grows colder, people are spending more time inside with family and friends.

Even though more people are adhering to CDC guidelines on social distancing and wearing masks, cases of COVID-19 are increasing rapidly. People with disabilities are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 as the general population. With the recent approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, advocates for people with disabilities are asking questions, concerned that the vaccine may not be distributed in a non-discriminatory process and that the vaccine may be unaffordable for many. Organizations like the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) and the National Council on Disability are pressuring the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that distribution of the vaccine complies with federal anti-discrimination laws. The CCD stated: “Disability status and age should not be used to deny or deprioritize people for a vaccine, such as categorically excluding people with certain disabilities or functional impairments or prioritizing people based on projections of long-term survivability.”

The recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for the vaccine to be given first to front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Individuals who have a high risk of complications if infected and people over 65 will receive the vaccine next. The vaccine is expected to be available to the general population sometime in the spring. States will handle vaccine distribution and are not required to follow CDC guidelines, but most are expected to. Disability advocates believe people with developmental disabilities should be included in the first phase. Under current plans, individuals with developmental disabilities are eligible for the vaccine only if they live in a long-term care facility or are residents of an institution. Advocates argue this procedure should also include disabled people living in group homes or living in their own homes and receiving services.

If you have been denied disability don’t give up! Contact a Disability lawyer at 512-454-4000 for a free consultation and get the benefits you deserve.

In October, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released interim final regulations requiring Medicare to cover the full cost to patients of any Covid-19 vaccine.

Coverage will also be free for Medicaid recipients. Additionally, CMS announced partnerships with CVS and Walgreens to provide vaccines at no cost to seniors and staff in long-term facilities.

New Rules for Travelers with Service Animals

The Department of Transportation has authorized new regulations limiting air travel with service animals.

The new regulations are in response to health and safety issues faced by airlines due to an increased number of animals brought on board and replace somewhat vague guidelines forcing airlines to make up their own rules.

  •    The only animals allowed onboard will be dogs and only dogs that are considered service dogs, trained to perform tasks for a passenger with disabilities.
  •   Emotional support animals will no longer qualify as service animals.
  •   A Department of Transportation form must be completed certifying that the dog is trained, well-behaved, and in good health.
  •   The dog must be leashed, harnessed, or tethered and fit within the handler’s foot space.
  •   Carriers may limit a disabled passenger to two service animals.
  •   Other animals will be considered pets and may travel in a plane’s cargo hold; airlines may charge a fee for this service.
  •   Passengers traveling with a service dog must be allowed to check in online rather than physically at the airport.

With fewer people traveling because of the coronavirus, it’s difficult to say how much of an impact these changes will have.

However, the new regulations, which take effect the beginning of next year, are expected to provide safer and smoother travel for people with disabilities who must travel with an animal.

Algorithms May Be Impacting the Hiring of People With Disabilities

An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

A recent report issued by the Center for Democracy and Technology has found that software algorithms used by companies in their hiring process are having a negative impact on people with disabilities who are looking for jobs. Titled “Algorithm Hiring Tools: Innovative Recruitment or Expedited Disability Discrimination,” the report discusses the different ways computer algorithms fail to capture the complex experiences of individuals living with a disability. This is particularly evident in employee recruitment and hiring processes.

One in four adults in the U.S. lives with a disability and the employment rate of people with disabilities in the United States is about 37% compared with 79% of the population that is not disabled.

There are many different forms of disability, making it difficult to detect bias in the employment process. For example, a hiring tool might analyze facial movements and tone of voice to evaluate a candidate’s job interview or the candidate’s performance in an online game. A blind person seeking employment will experience different barriers than a person with a mobility impairment or a cognitive disorder. One of the main problems seems to be platform accessibility. How would a vision impaired candidate access a test with graphics and images? How would a candidate with a motor disability move a mouse or answer multiple choice questions? How would a candidate on the autism spectrum react to an exercise in reading facial expressions? To further complicate the problem, many candidates are afraid to disclose their disability.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination of people with disabilities through inaccessible hiring processes or questions and exercises that do not measure skills and qualities directly related to the specific job they are applying for.

The algorithms most employers rely on in the hiring process have been modeled after positive traits of successful employees. By failing to consider the difficulties faced by candidates with disabilities, companies risk promoting discrimination in the workplace.

The Center for Democracy and Technology has some suggestions to improve the hiring process for people with disabilities and make it more equitable.

  •   The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) should update its guidelines on employee selection tools to respond to changes in technology.
  •    Organizations must realize the limitations of algorithmic tools when assessing individuals with disabilities.
  •   Organizations should consider whether the qualities they are measuring (for example, “optimism,”) are necessary in the position.
  •   Organizations should inform each prospective candidate about the details involved in tests they are taking.
  •   Alternative tests should be available to candidates who believe algorithmic testing may be unfair to them.
  •   Organizations should develop employment policies to offset these issues.

Perhaps the biggest responsibility in resolving these issues lies with the software vendors.

They should design their products with an emphasis on accessibility – with the help and feedback of people with disabilities.

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Disability benefits are an important source of income for those who are unable to work. If you are not able to work due to accident or illness, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability or Long Term Disability benefits. If you have applied for benefits and been denied, contact the attorneys at Bemis, Roach and Reed for a free consultation. Call 512-454-4000 and get help NOW.

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Author: Attorney Greg Reed has been practicing law for 29 years. He is Superlawyers rated by Thomson Reuters and is Top AV Preeminent® and Client Champion Gold rated by Martindale Hubbell. Through his extensive litigation Mr. Reed obtained board certification from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Greg is admitted to practice in the United States District Court - all Texas Districts and the United States Court of Appeals-Fifth Circuit. Mr. Reed is a member of the Travis County Bar Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, past Director of the Capital Area Trial Lawyers Association, and an Associate member of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mr. Reed and all the members of Bemis, Roach & Reed have been active participants in the Travis County Lawyer referral service.

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