Are you unable to work because of a disability? Get the answers you need on Social Security Disability to protect your rights

Keefe Disability Law has compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions in response to the overwhelming number of people who need help with the Social Security Disability process in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. If you are disabled and need help with disability benefits, read on to learn how to protect your legal rights.

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  • I recently found out I have breast cancer. It looks like my treatment will take a lot of time over the next three months. Is it possible to keep working while undergoing treatment for breast cancer?

    It is amazing how many appointments can be needed to treat cancer. While you need your paycheck and your insurance, you may wonder how you can undergo chemotherapy and radiation and still keep your job. You may also be concerned that the side effects of chemotherapy will prevent you from working. You might be surprised to learn that many women do continue to work even while undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

    You've probably seen movies in which the chemotherapy made the patient more ill than the cancer did. The side effects that you will experience will depend on the types of medications you are given, their dosages, and the length of treatment. The most common side effects of chemotherapy include:

    • Fatigue
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Lack of appetite
    • Hair loss
    • Mouth sores
    • Increased risk of infection
    • Bruising or bleeding
    • Changes in menstrual cycles

    Ask your doctor about the side effects associated with your specific chemotherapy medications and how they can best be managed. Schedule accordingly. For instance, if you will be undergoing weekly chemotherapy that will leave you tired and nauseated for about 24 hours after treatment, you might want to consider scheduling your treatments for Friday nights. Then you would have the weekend to rest.

    If you have severe side effects from chemotherapy, you will need to temporarily adjust your schedule. You may even have to take time off from work. This is a big deal, especially if you are dependent on your job for health care benefits and to make ends meet.

    Before talking to your supervisor, make sure you know your employer's sick leave policy. Employers are required by federal law to provide “reasonable accommodations” for anyone with a disability. When cancer affects your ability to participate in life activities, it qualifies as a disability. Reasonable accommodation for cancer can include:

    • Providing an altered work schedule or flextime
    • Granting time off for doctor visits, treatment, and recovery from treatment
    • Allowing short breaks during the workday so you can rest
    • Temporarily reassigning some of your tasks to another employee
    • Allowing job sharing
    • Making changes to the workplace environment (such as turning up the heat or offering a padded chair) to increase comfort
    • Allowing an employee to work from home
    • Allowing a leave of absence

    When you tell your boss about your diagnosis, be clear that you want to keep working. Make a list of reasonable accommodations that will help you do your job while you recover. The request cannot cause your employer “undue hardship”; however, most accommodations cost less than $500.

    If the effects of the cancer or its treatment become severe, you may need to take time off. People who receive a cancer diagnosis are protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. The FMLA allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work for medical reasons. The 12 weeks do not have to be continuous.

    To qualify for FMLA, you must meet the following conditions:

    • You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months before the FMLA request.
    • You must have worked more than 1,250 hours in that calendar year.
    • Your employer must have at least 50 employees.

    If you have to take leave, short-term disability insurance can help you make ends meet. If your cancer keeps you out of work for a year or longer, you may want to look into Social Security disability insurance (SSDI). For more information about applying for SSDI for breast cancer, request a free copy of Boston Social Security attorney John Keefe’s book titled Unlocking the Mystery – The Essential Guide for Navigating the Social Security Disability Claims Process, or contact Keefe Disability Law at 888-904-6847.

  • I live and work in Boston and have been diagnosed with COPD. I want to keep working and I heard that exercise was good for me, but it seems like it will just cause more shortness of breath. Is this true?

    Absolutely not. There is a myth that COPD patients should stay still and calm to avoid breathing problems. But the truth is that exercise will actually help you to breath better, in addition to helping your heart and lungs to function at their best. 

    Here are a few of the benefits of exercise for COPD patients:

    • Your energy level, strength, resistance to infection and bone strength all increase.
    • You will get a better night’s sleep and find it easier to relax.
    • You will experience less shortness of breath.
    • Risk factors for heart disease will decrease.
    • Your blood pressure and blood sugar levels will decrease.
    • There will be fewer side effects of the medications you take for COPD, including steroids.
    • You will find that your mood is elevated, and if you suffer from depression, those symptoms will lessen.

    However, before you begin an exercise program, you should talk to your doctor to help choose what is the best and safest for you. He or she may recommend a pulmonary rehabilitation program, which combines education, exercise, counseling and nutrition to help you with your endurance and strength. In the meantime, talking with our SSA disability benefit specialists could help ease your financial burden while you make these important health decisions.

    At Keefe Disability Law, we meet many people like you who want to do the best things they can to slow the progress of COPD and live life as fully as possible. And, as Social Security disability lawyers, we can help you with your financial decisions if you decide to apply for New England SSA disability benefits. Just give us a call toll free at 888-904-6847 to speak to a specialist.

  • I have a son with Down syndrome who is about to turn 18. He has always worked hard in school and now wants to work at a job and get his own apartment in Boston. Can he find a job and is there any financial help for him to achieve his goals?

    You should be proud of the job you have done raising your son. It sounds like he has a great attitude and plenty of support from his family. In short, the answer to your question is yes. Many people with Down syndrome are successfully employed all over the country, although they may not be able to work full-time and often receive low wages for their efforts. 

    For these reasons, the Social Security Administration (SSA) disability program offers two types of assistance for citizens with Down syndrome: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). As a disability lawyer in Massachusetts, John Keefe represents claimants for both types of assistance.

    SSDI provides benefits to disabled workers all over the country. Applicants for SSDI must be at least 18 years of age and be able to prove their disability through medical records.

    SSI is a special government program for disabled workers who are in extreme financial need. Your son, depending on his current and future earnings, might qualify for either of these two government assistance programs.

    In order to get started applying for New England disability with and for your son, your best bet is to contact a specialist in disability law. With over 70% of all initial SSA disability applications being denied and some cases dragging on for over two-and-a-half years, a lawyer can smooth the road and make sure you avoid mistakes that could slow the process for you and your son.

    Call Keefe Disability Law today toll free at 888-904-6847 to find out what we can do for you.

  • I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and am still working at my Massachusetts job. Is there anything I can do to keep working longer and stay off disability?

    Yes! There is. Exercise. While there is no known cure for arthritis, many patients have found that physical activity is helpful in managing their disease.

    Most arthritis sufferers fear exercise because they feel that it will damage their joints and cause more pain. Actually, lack of exercise can make RA worse and even affect your cardiac health. Exercise can help to maintain mobility and ward off cardiovascular disease. It has even been linked to prevention of RA.

    How much and what type of physical activity you do should be decided between you and your doctor or a physical therapist. However, the Arthritis Foundation recommends three general types, You can visit their website for more information:

    • Flexibility (stretching, range-of-motion) exercises
    • Strengthening (Resistance) exercises
    • Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercises

    So get out and get moving! Medical science and common sense are both behind you. You really can manage your condition by moving more.

    Keefe Disability Law wants you to keep working at your Massachusetts job just as long as you can. If your condition has made it more and more difficult for you to work, contact us for information on filing for Social Security disability benefits. You can call us toll free at 888-904-6847 or fill in the form on this page for a free case review.

  • If I apply for Massachusetts Social Security disability benefits and am receiving other benefits, can my claim be denied?

    If you are receiving benefits from a private disability insurance company, your eligibility will not be affected. However, if you are receiving other public funds for your disability, you may have some trouble.

    Workers' compensation is usually paid out through a public fund. It is designed to help workers with a job-related injury or illness. Because this type of benefit may be paid by federal or state agencies, employers or insurance companies, your Social Security benefit can be affected. The SSA website explains it like this:

    • If you receive workers' compensation or other public disability benefits and Social Security disability benefits, the total amount of these benefits cannot exceed 80 percent of your average current earnings before you became disabled.

    Generally speaking, if you receive payments from any federal, state, or local government source, you should ask questions of a good disability lawyer or other professional. Keefe Disability Law in Boston handles cases like yours every day. Call us toll free at 888-904-6847 to schedule a free case review.

  • I was approved for state welfare benefits. Why is Social Security denying me?

    Programs like Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children (EAEDC) in Massachusetts or Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled (APTD) in New Hampshire are state welfare programs.

    State disability programs use different criteria to evaluate disability than Social Security does, and often this standard is easier to meet. Social Security's definition of disability involves multiple steps and the claimant must meet the criteria at each step along the way.  This means that qualifying for state disability programs doesn't always mean the claimant will qualify for Social Security disability.

    That said, records from your state disability approval can be helpful in your Social Security claim. If you were approved for state disability benefits, let your attorney know so that these records can be requested and submitted to Social Security.

  • I applied for Social Security disability benefits months ago, and I don't know what is going on in my case. How long will it take to get a decision?

    Applying for Social Security benefits can be a long, drawn out process, with periods of waiting where it seems as if nothing is happening. Social Security has a big backlog of cases to review at the initial and reconsideration levels. Typically, people experience a four to six month wait to receive a decision at the initial and reconsideration stages. Once you request a hearing before an administrative law judge, it will take, on average, twelve to fifteen months for your hearing to schedule.

  • My family member knows everything that I go through. Can he testify during my hearing?

    We always encourage claimants to bring family members or friends to the hearing for support.  That family member can sit down with the claimant and the attorney before the hearing to discuss the case and help the claimant feel comfortable leading up to the hearing. 

    Believe it or not, there are only rare instances when a judge feels it is necessary to hear from someone other than the claimant.  During the hearing, the ALJ wants to get to know the claimant and understand the difficulties she is facing because of her impairments.  Often, testimony from an additional person only clouds the issues and takes attention away from the claimant's personal experiences.  Also, it is inevitable that the family member's testimony will differ, at least slightly, from the claimant's testimony and an ALJ is permitted to use those inconsistencies to evaluate the claimant's credibility. That's why it is almost always best to focus the testimony on the claimant and bring family members or friends for support before and after the hearing.