Confronted with the unexpected possibility of a heart transplant, a Phoenix marketing manager found help on the Internet.
Phoenix, Arizona – Disability was something that just popped up in front of Dalene Fuqua’s eyes-literally. Suffering from thickening of a heart muscle, known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, she was stunned to learn that in October 2006 she might need a heart transplant. Wanting to learn more about other options besides a transplant, the Phoenix resident went to the research center: the Internet.
No sooner had she looked up her condition when a pop-up appeared. It asked, “Do you know you could be a candidate for disability?” For more information, she was directed to Allsup.com.
Ms. Fuqua had never given disability a thought. The marketing manager for a telecommunications company where she worked for 33 years, she had gone to the same cardiologist for a long time. In 2004, she had her first heart-related medical procedure: an alcohol abrasion. Originally devised in England, the procedure injects alcohol into the troubled muscle to decrease the thickening.
She went to South Carolina for the procedure and felt better immediately. However, within a year and a half her symptoms returned. That was when her cardiologist raised the possibility of a heart transplant, which sent Ms. Fuqua on her Internet quest.
The pop-up that drew her attention was placed by Allsup, the nation’s leading Social Security Disability Insurance representation company. CEO and founder Jim Allsup started his company in 1984, after working for the Social Security Administration, to help people just like Dalene Fuqua collect SSDI benefits.
A nationwide company with headquarters in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis, Allsup’s success rate is a staggering 97 percent. The company is so highly regarded that, in October 2006, the Better Business Bureau presented Allsup its Torch Award for excellence in customer service. Since 1984, the disability advocacy company has helped more than 100,000 people nationwide obtain more than $1.5 billion in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Medicare benefits.
The wait time just to process a case can be daunting. At the Phoenix office, a claimant in February 2008 will wait an average of 462 days for a favorable or unfavorable initial decision. Across the nation, the waiting lines are getting even longer.
A key reason for this growth is the shrinking Social Security Administration (SSA) field staff, largely due to retirement. SSA’s work force was 30 percent smaller in 2002 compared with 20 years earlier. From August 2005 to January 2007, about 2,000 field office employees left SSA without being replaced. Meanwhile, since 1990, the number of disabled workers drawing SSDI benefits has more than doubled, from 3 million to 6.8 million, as the aging baby boom generation begins to put far greater demands on the agency’s resources.
About 1.4 million disability claimants nationwide wait for their cases to be resolved. The benefit provides individuals who have severe physical and mental disabilities with living expenses when they are no longer able to work. Some wait more than two years for decisions in their cases.
In a report on the disability backlog released Jan. 7, 2008, the Government Accountability Office said rising numbers of disability claims, staff losses and turnovers, and management weaknesses have contributed to the backlog and longer waits by claimants for resolution. An overall loss of experienced staff combined with increasing workloads and resource constraints can reduce the success of any initiative aimed at reducing backlogs, the report stated.
“The disability backlog challenge is so immense that it will take an all-hands-on-deck approach to resolve,” Mr. Allsup said. “Government and industry must work together to meet the demands of the disabled today and in the future. We see the impact of the problem every day as we work with tens of thousands of disabled individuals and their families.
“There is no question the Social Security Administration needs more resources to meet this challenge,” the CEO said. “Companies like Allsup contribute by providing solutions in the marketplace-helping disabled Americans navigate-and reduce the time spent in the SSDI process. It is important that citizens with disabilities know they have options available to assist them in their time of need.”
Taking her lead from the Internet pop-up, Ms. Fuqua called Allsup and braced herself for a long journey of progress and setbacks. But she knew it was important to apply, especially when she considered the need to support herself and her son. “When I first talked with an Allsup representative,” she said, “it was brought to my attention that I could be declined and that Allsup would back me up. So, I knew approval could take a couple years.”
Sure enough, after starting the application process in November 2006, which includes completing a detailed questionnaire with Allsup representatives’ help, Ms. Fuqua’s initial submission was denied July 9, 2007.
“When I got the notice in the mail, I was disappointed and thought maybe I don’t have a case after all,” Ms. Fuqua said. “I contacted my Allsup representative, and she told me not to worry. I felt better knowing Allsup was still going to bat for me.”
Throughout the application process, Ms. Fuqua said, “I was very pleased with the number of times Allsup contacted me and how courteous everyone was when I called to check in.” She was especially pleased that, when her original representative left the company, the new representative picked right up without a hitch.
Allsup representative Christine Craig said she and Ms. Fuqua worked closely together on the phone, following up on status calls and making sure the disability questionnaire was updated and complete. In fact, it was Allsup that called Ms. Fuqua in February 2008 with the good news that her SSDI reconsideration had been approved. Her date of entitlement was Feb. 1, 2006, meaning she would receive a lump sum for two years’ worth of SSDI along with regular monthly payments.
“That was a great call,” Ms. Fuqua said when Allsup passed along the good news. “It was a relief that I didn’t have to start all over trying to get disability.”
With her financial future brighter, she still faces physical challenges. Since she was awarded SSDI, Ms. Fuqua has undergone another heart procedure. “I’m taking it easy,” she said, “trying to recover from that.” Her main concern throughout the disability application process was to provide stable financial support for her son, and with Allsup’s help she now can rest easier during her recuperation.
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