The Social Security Fairness for the Terminally Ill Act of 2011

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) co-introduced a bill titled The Social Security Fairness for the Terminally Ill Act of 2009. The bill sought to end the five month waiting period terminally ill recipients must endure before actually receiving disability benefits approved by Social Security. This drastically needed legislation did not make it out of Congress.

Not deterred, Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) has introduced The Social Security Fairness for the Terminally Ill Act of 2011. The bill is currently pending before Congress. The bill was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee on January 14, 2011.

This bill IS critically important. The CBS Evening News reported in 2008 that 16,000 terminally ill individuals approved for social security disability benefits died in 2006-07 while waiting to actually receive those benefits.

Social Security Deputy Director of Regional Communications Stephen Richardson has reportedly said the five month waiting period was established to give Social Security time to make sure the agency is paying out benefits only to people with long-term disabilities who are not receiving benefits from an employee pay plan.”

Heather Russell, through the efforts of her father, Herbert Russell, has become poster face for the tragedy too often faced by terminally ill individuals fighting to secure Social Security disability benefits. In May of 2009, Heather was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer—one of the most debilitating forms of cancer. The disease eventually spread into her brain, neck, pelvis, and adrenal glands. At the time of the diagnosis she was working for Home Depot. She continued to work until October 2009 when her treating physician instructed her to quit working.

Permanently disabled, Heath immediately applied for Social Security disability benefits which were denied by the Commissioner of Social Security because “she had done the paperwork incorrectly.” The terminally woman applied again, only to be told she was earning too much because of her employment with Home Depot.

In November 2009, the month after Heather had quit working by doctor’s orders, she was approved for Social Security disability benefits. Unfortunately, she had to wait that five months before she could actually receive her approved benefits. Heather died in late April 2010 without receiving a single benefit—she died a couple weeks short of her first scheduled disability payment.

Herbert Russell, and several compassionate members of Congress, has taken up the fight to remove the “red tape” from the Social Security disability benefits process, particularly as it applies to terminally ill individuals. Nine million adults received Social Security disability benefits in 2010 as well as 6.5 million child descendants of the deceased, disabled, and retired workers. The “red tape” associated with this many people illustrates why thousands of terminally ill individuals like Heather Russell die before they receive a single approved benefit.

Jim S. Adler & Associates cannot promise that any individual, terminally ill or just disabled, will not encounter “red tape” when applying for Social Security disability benefits. But we can assure such an individual that we will be there through every step of the “red tape” process to protect the interests of our clients; specifically, to seek and secure deserved benefits as quickly as possible.

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