Suicides in the U.S. Military: An Epidemic; What about Workers’ Compensation?

Today’s post comes from guest author Leila A. Early, from The Jernigan Law Firm.

In 2012, suicides in the U.S. military were at a record high of 349, which was higher than the 295 American combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2012. This number is up from 301 in 2011. The Pentagon has had a difficult time dealing with this epidemic, which likely stems from military personnel being in combat for more than a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, complicated by anxiety over being forced out of the military due to a “shrinking force.”

In 2011, 65% of soldiers who attempted suicide had a history of behavioral problems; however, only 45% of those who actually killed themselves had such a history. If there are signs that these service members were asking for help, they were not getting the help that they needed.

What’s interesting is that the U.S. military keeps statistics on suicides, and when the numbers go up to alarming rates the  hope is that something will be done to investigate. For years, workers’ compensation lawyers have heard about suicides from employees who did not get proper medical care, who could not handle the abuse that sometimes happens within the system, and who could no longer stand the pain of permanent injuries, disability and resulting depression. But where are the statistics on these deaths? The insurance industry either has this information or it could get it. As a matter of public policy, should they be required to report it?

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Media Portrays Social Security as an Avenue to Benefits for the Unemployed – WRONG! It’s Not That Simple…

The Social Security Administration turns down many worthy applicants when they first apply.

Today’s post comes from guest author Susan C. Andrews, from Causey Law Firm.

     There is a lot in the news these days about the Social Security Disability Program, with some pundits suggesting people are getting on benefits simply because they are unemployed, or because they claim to be injured or ill when in fact they are able-bodied and fully capable of working. Every day, all day, I work with people filing for Social Security Disability benefits. So I work with the program’s rules – yes, there are rules for deciding these cases – it is not enough just to claim to be disabled. And I come face to face with individuals who are struggling, sometimes with a major health issue such as cancer, or rheumatoid arthritis, or Multiple Sclerosis. Other folks have multiple health problems that have combined to force them from the labor market. All of them have medical records, often reams of them, documenting diagnoses, chronicling surgeries and other treatment regimens. This is one big thing I think the general public does not know: a person must have one or more diagnoses from a qualified physician that could account for the symptoms and limitations he or she is reporting to Social Security. There must be convincing medical documentation. Much of my day is spent obtaining and reviewing the medical records of my clients, and ensuring that the decision-makers at Social Security also see them.

…the medical condition must be not only serious, but also prolonged.

     Many people are not familiar with Social Security’s definition of disability or the program’s rules, so they do not realize that the disabling medical condition or conditions must be serious enough to have prevented the person from working for AT LEAST 12 continuous months. If the individual has not yet been out of the labor market for a period of at least one year, it must be very clear that this will be the case. In situations where there is doubt about this, Social Security typically turns down the claim. I have had callers who have been unable to work for a few months while going through chemotherapy treatment for cancer, but have been able to get back to work in less than one year. They do not qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. So the medical condition must be not only serious, but also prolonged.

     One broadly held belief about Social Security Disability is, in fact, true: The Social Security Administration turns down many worthy applicants when they first apply. It is necessary to appeal (the first appeal is called a Request for Reconsideration). Often, a second denial follows. Then it is necessary to request a hearing in front of a judge. For a person who is too sick to work, not feeling well, and home alone trying to navigate this system, it can be daunting. One of the joys of my practice is our capacity to lend support to such individuals, to take the reins of the case and drive it forward, so my client can concentrate on taking care of herself or himself while I and my staff handle the legal stuff.

     We are able to offer representation to people at any stage in the process, including initial application. We are happy to talk with callers who are weighing their options, and simply need information in order to know whether to apply for benefits in the first place. There is no charge for such calls, so do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions about Social Security Disability.

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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Five US Airports that Put Employees and Passengers At Risk For Environmental Tobacco Smoke

Secondhand Smoke Is Deadly

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman, from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

Air pollution from secondhand smoke five times higher outside smoking rooms and other designated smoking areas than in smoke-free airports

 

Average air pollution levels from secondhand smoke directly outside designated smoking areas in airports are five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study conducted in five large hub U.S. airports also showed that air pollution levels inside designated smoking areas were 23 times higher than levels in smoke-free airports. In the study, designated smoking areas in airports included restaurants, bars, and ventilated smoking rooms.

Five of the 29 largest airports in the United States allow smoking in designated areas that are accessible to the public. The airports that allow smoking include Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Denver International Airport, and Salt Lake City International Airport. More than 110 million passenger boardings—about 15 percent of all U.S. air travel—occurred at these five airports last year.

“The findings in today’s report further confirm that ventilated smoking rooms and designated smoking areas are not effective,” said Tim McAfee, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “Prohibiting smoking in all indoor areas is the only effective way to fully eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.”

2006 Surgeon General’s Report concluded that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Although smoking was banned on all U.S. domestic and international commercial airline flights through a series of federal laws adopted from 1987 to 2000, no federal policy requires airports to be smoke-free.

“Instead of going entirely smoke-free, five airports continue to allow smoking in restaurants, bars or ventilated smoking rooms. However, research shows that separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot fully eliminate secondhand smoke exposure,” said Brian King, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health and co-author of the report. “People who spend time in, pass by, clean, or work near these rooms are at risk of exposure to secondhand smoke.” 

Secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS, respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger acute cardiac events such as heart attack. Cigarette use kills an estimated 443,000 Americans each year, including 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke.

For an online version of this MMWR report, visit http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr.  For quitting assistance, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit www.smokefree.govExternal Web Site Icon.  Also, visit www.BeTobaccoFree.govExternal Web Site Icon for information on quitting and preventing children from using tobacco. For real stories of people who have quit successfully, visit http://www.cdc.gov/tips. For state-specific tobacco-related data, visit CDC’s State Tobacco Activities Tracking and Evaluation System at http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/statesystem.

Read More About “Secondhand” Environmental Smoke

Apr 23, 2011
“Secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure causes lung cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in nonsmoking adults and children, resulting in an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths …
 
Feb 20, 2008
An Atlantic City NJ casino card dealer employed at the Claridge Hotel who was exposed to second hand tobacco smoke was awarded workers’ compensation benefits. NJ Judge Cosmo Giovinazzi award $150,00 for lost …
 
Nov 14, 2012
“Secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure causes lung cancer and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in nonsmoking adults and children, resulting in an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths .
 
Oct 06, 2011
Lubick (2011) discussed the global health burden of secondhand smoke, and Burton (2011)emphasized a new and alarming consequence of smoking in indoor environments—“thirdhand smoke”—a term first coined in 2006 …

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What Does That Stand For? Commonly Used Acronyms in Workers’ Compensation Cases

Today’s post comes from guest author Brianne Rohner, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Every profession has certain turns of phrase or acronyms they use on a daily basis that, to the layperson, mean very little and may only serve to add confusion to an already difficult issue. The legal profession and the representation of injured workers is no different. Injured workers often find themselves traveling down a confusing road armed only with directions written in an unfamiliar or foreign-sounding language. The experienced attorneys at our firm navigate clients down this road on a daily basis.  

Below is a list of commonly used acronyms to assist in understanding what is happening with your workers’ compensation case when everyone around you is suddenly speaking another language. Please keep in mind that the accompanying definitions are very general, and you should seek the advice of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for more information or assistance with your case. Please also see the links for other blog posts for more information on some of these issues.    

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Chemical Exposure: Devastating Consequences

Today’s post comes from guest author Charlie Domer from The Domer Law Firm.

Chemical exposure in the workplace can have an insidious–yet devasating–effect on a worker.  In a wide-ranging article, the New York Times presented an in-depth view of chemical exposure at furniture factories in North Carolina: “As OSHA Emphasizes Safety, Long-Term Health Risks Fester” The article focused on the questionable ability of OSHA to regulate workplace chemicals, as well as the personal (and neurological) toll caused by such exposure.

Somewhat absent from the discussion was a focus on workers’ compensation benefits for these workers.  Occupational exposure is not limited to repetitive back injuries or other orthopedic conditions.  While soemtimes more difficult to detect or pinpoint, exposure to serious chemicals in the workplace can result in health consequences for the exposed worker.  In Wisconsin, for example, an injured worker can bring a claim for the medical effects caused by exposure to workplace chemicals.  These occupational exposure claims ,if supported by a medical physician, entitle the injured worker to benefits under the Wisconsin worker’s compensation act.  Pinpointing the precise chemcial causing the exposure can be difficult, but a worker can attempt to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from the employer that identifies chemicals/toxins being used.  Presenting that information to a qualified physician can assist in determining causation.  

In many cases, a worker can experience a permanent sensitization to certain chemicals–precluding the ability to continue working at the same employer or facility.  In these scenarios, a worker may have the right to bring a claim for a loss of earning capacity or even be retrained into a new field that avoids the exposure.

 

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Holding Individuals Accountable For Workplace Safety Violations

Today’s post comes from guest author Leila A. Early from The Jernigan Law Firm.

British Petroleum (BP) supervisors Donald J. Vidrine and Robert Kaluza were indicted on manslaughter charges in the deaths of 11 fellow workers in connection with the 2009 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. David Rainey, a BP deepwater explorer, was charged with obstruction of Congress and lying about the size of the spill. These indictments were in addition to a record $4.5 billion in criminal fines that BP agreed to pay for the disaster, which will be paid out over 5 years.

 Mr. Vidrine and Mr. Kaluza were negligent in their supervision of key safety tests performed on the drilling rig, and they failed to phone engineers on shore to alert them of problems in the drilling operation. These charges carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison on each “seaman’s manslaughter” count, 8 years in prison on each involuntary manslaughter count and a year in prison on a Clean Water Act count. Mr. Rainey obstructed Congressional inquiries and made false statements by underestimating the flow rate to 5,000 barrels a day even as millions were gushing into the Gulf. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

 By charging individuals, the government was signaling a return to the practice of prosecuting officers and managers, and not just their companies, in industrial accidents where reckless and wanton conduct is involved. The practice of charging individuals was more prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s but has recently been a rare occurrence, with company fines being the only penalty sought. Some wonder if the $4.5 billion criminal settlement is enough to penalize a corporation after 11 people were killed, and that if a culture of  disregard for safety exits in a corporation that is “too big to fail” then the only way to stop that culture is to send those who knew about it to jail. We shall see. 

 

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How Does Social Security Help Me Get Back to Work?

The SSA has programs to help disabled people rejoin the workforce.

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

As I discussed in a previous post, you don’t have to be on Social Security Disability (SSD) forever. Many people find that their medical conditions improve and they want to try to get back to work. However, it’s hard to get back into the workforce after being out of it for a long time, and people are worried about losing their eligibility for benefits if they try to go back to work but are unsuccessful.

Social Security recognizes that it can be difficult for people to get back into the labor market and that people would be reluctant to go back to work if they would automatically lose entitlement to their disability benefits. To address these concerns, Social Security runs several programs to help people transition back into the workforce while maintaining financial eligibility.

Social Security has many programs and policies to help people return to work, but I will discuss two of these programs in some detail. These are the Ticket to Work program and the Trial Work Period.

The Ticket to Work program gives disabled individuals access to a network of services that offer retraining and vocational rehabilitation. This is a free, completely voluntary program. Once you reach out to them, you will Continue reading »

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Overpayment Of Unemployment Due To Payment of Workers’ Compensation Benefits – NOW WHAT?!?

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case from Causey Law Firm.

Injured workers transition from time loss compensation under their workers’ compensation claim to unemployment compensation when they are released to return to work but do not have a job available to them. In many cases, disputes arise as to whether the release to work and termination of workers’ compensation payments is appropriate. Often, the worker tries to find physically-appropriate work while collecting unemployment compensation during the dispute process but, once their attorney secures payment of back benefits under the workers’ compensation claim, an overpayment of unemployment benefits has occurred due to the overlap between the two systems. When this happens, workers should:

  1. Notify the unemployment insurance system that they are continuing to seek payment from the workers’ compensation system, but that they are involved in an appropriate job search during the dispute process.
  2. Immediately share with the workers’ compensation attorney any notices or orders received from the unemployment insurance system. These are usually NOT mailed to the attorney of record in a workers’ compensation claim and the notices often have limited time periods within to file a protest or request for reconsideration of the determination.
  3. Hold in savings from the workers’ compensation payment the claimed unemployment overpayment amount during the dispute process until a final overpayment notice has been issued, or have the workers’ compensation attorney hold this amount in their trust account. If this is not possible, be prepared to enter into a repayment agreement with the unemployment insurance system once a final overpayment figure has been determined.
  4. Seek assistance from the workers’ compensation attorney to document all attorney fees and costs paid as part of the effort to obtain back benefits under the workers’ compensation claim. Submit this documentation to the unemployment insurance system and request a reduction in the claimed overpayment to take these attorney fees and costs into account.
  5. Continue to send any notices or orders to the workers’ compensation attorney.
  6. Once the overpayment has been repaid, check to see if the receipt of workers’ compensation back benefits changes your tax obligations. In many states, workers’ compensation payments are not taxable income, but unemployment benefits are taxable. If there is a significant payment of back benefits under the workers’ compensation claim, it may be worthwhile to file an amended tax return with the IRS to document the lower taxable income figure.

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I Can’t Find Work; Does That Mean I’m Disabled?

Having physical or mental impairment will not automatically make you entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.

Today’s post comes from guest author Roger Moore from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Many people believe that if they suffer from a physical and/or mental impairment and can’t find work, this means they should be on Social Security Disability. This simply isn’t true.

Disability is not necessarily tied to your ability to obtain work, or your inability to perform one main occupation. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your employability not just in your immediate locality, but also in the state and region in which you live.

While only employment opportunities in your immediate areas are considered for workers’ compensation, the same is not true for social security disability. If you are unable to find work in your immediate area, the SSA requires you to move to a locality where a job exists. Note that the SSA’s responsibility doesn’t include having to find you employment, but only to establish that you are physically and mentally capable of performing that job if a position became available.

Additionally, your inability to perform the work you’ve done for years or decades does not automatically qualify you for disability. The SSA will consider skills you’ve acquired from your work life in determining whether those skills allow you to “transfer” to or perform other occupations. It’s important to also remember that the SSA isn’t really concerned with how much those other occupations may pay. If you can work full-time in a position that is available in your state and region, this will normally disqualify you from receiving disability.

The conditions which the SSA imposes upon a claimant are unfortunately, not always feasible or fair. Nevertheless, as it is the current state of the law, compliance is required.

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