May is National ALS Awareness Month. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, more commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways in the brain and spinal cord. More than 5,600 people each year are newly diagnosed with ALS. As many as 30,000 Americans may currently be affected by this fatal condition. Social Security can help.
People who have ALS meet the medical qualifications for Social Security disability benefits. ALS is one of Social Security's "Compassionate Allowances."
The Compassionate Allowances initiative identifies claims where the nature of the applicant's disease or condition clearly meets the statutory standard for disability. With the help of sophisticated new information technology, the agency can quickly identify potential Compassionate Allowances and then quickly make decisions and begin monthly benefit payments.
Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue made the Compassionate Allowances initiative a top priority soon after he began his tenure as commissioner in 2007. Social Security launched the Compassionate Allowances program in 2008 with a list of 50 diseases and conditions. There are now more than 100 Compassionate Allowances conditions -- and counting. Commissioner Astrue's dedication to Compassionate Allowances has earned him a humanitarian award and the attention of President Barack Obama.
"Commissioner Astrue has worked tirelessly to ensure that disabled Americans receive the Social Security disability benefits they've earned in a timely way," Obama said.
We develop the list of Compassionate Allowances conditions from information received at public outreach hearings, comments received from the disability community, counsel of medical and scientific experts, and research with the National Institutes of Health. Also, we consider which conditions are most likely to meet our definition of disability.
For more information on the Compassionate Allowances initiative, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/ compassionateallowances.
Later this month, we will take part in an American tradition to pay tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces on Memorial Day -- especially honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country.
If you are a military service member who was wounded and needs to apply for disability benefits, it's important to know that you will receive expedited processing. Our wounded warriors initiative is for military service members who become disabled while on active duty on or after Oct. 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurs.
Depending on the situation, some family members of military personnel, including dependent children and, in some cases, spouses, may be able to receive benefits. Learn more about it at www.socialsecurity.gov/ woundedwarriors.
Did you know that May also is National Military Appreciation Month? Even more reason to let members of our military know how much we value what they do for us and our nation.
To learn more about the Social Security benefits for those who have served in the military, read our publication, Military Service and Social Security. You can find it online at www. socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10017.html, or send an email to OPI.Net.Post@ssa.gov, or call us at (800) 772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) to ask for a free copy to be mailed to you.
Memorial Day also is a good time to remind families of fallen military heroes that we may be able to pay Social Security survivors benefits. If the person you depended on for income has died, you should apply for survivors benefits. Learn more about Social Security survivors benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.
The men and women of the Armed Forces serve us each and every day. At Social Security, we're here to serve them too.
tracey L. weaver is district manager of the Oneonta office of the Social Security Administration. 'Senior Scene' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/seniorscene.