In what will be a lengthy process, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) announced a new project designed to change the way that mental health professionals classify and diagnose mental illnesses. Currently, practitioners use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to identify various mental illnesses based primarily on the symptoms they present. The new process aims to create a more scientifically-based method of diagnosis that relies on genetics, objective laboratory evidence, imaging and other scientific methods.
The project is called “Research Domain Criteria”. In its first stage, the project is collecting and recording data on a variety of mental conditions. Eventually the data will be used to institute a new system of classification for mental disorders that is not primarily based on symptoms but instead looks at identifiable medical criteria.
Experts in the field agree that the process will take a long time and that a new system of classification and diagnosis is still many years off. In the meantime, the first update to the DSM in over a decade is scheduled to be released in the next few weeks. While the purpose of the NIMH project will be to eventually supplant the DSM, the present edition of that book is still the primary diagnostic tool for mental illness, and it was in need of updating. The new DSM – the fifth edition – updates and revamps the description and classification of mental conditions such as “mental retardation”, autism spectrum disorders and others.
Some of the changes that are expected in the fifth edition have been controversial, and researchers at NIMH hope that the eventual change to the way mental illnesses are diagnosed will alleviate some of the disagreements.
Markhoff & Mittman Head To Washington DC To Raise Awareness About The Social Security Disability Program
The attorneys from Markhoff & Mittman are heading to Capitol Hill this week to meet with members of Congress to express the importance of the social security disability program. Along members of the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR), they’ll be raising awareness about how important the program is.
Over the course of the entire month of May, The National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association will be hosting a bevy of events to raise awareness for fibromyalgia. This debilitating condition affects millions of individuals every year and the organization will be raising money and educating the public about fibromyalgia.
Our office recently created a Free Report on Fibromyalgia and Social Security Disability benefits. It’s important to remember that not everyone is entitled to disability benefits based on a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, but if your symptoms prevent you from performing your last job, or any other job, you might qualify for the federal benefit program.
After Wal-Mart fired a disabled employee who had complained of sexual harassment by a co-worker, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the company for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, and an employer that does not take appropriate action to stop such harassment can be found liable for violating the law.
In this case, the employee had a developmental disability. She alleges that a co-worker harassed her and touched her inappropriately for years while she was an employee at a Wal-Mart store in Ohio. Despite her contention that her managers knew about the harassment, she alleges that no one took steps to stop it or to punish the co-worker. The harassment and touching lasted for six years, according to the complaint filed by the EEOC on her behalf.
Although Wal-Mart finally fired the co-worker, it also terminated the plaintiff three weeks after she filed a formal complaint about the behavior. The alleged reason for the employee’s termination was that she had also engaged in inappropriate behavior. In contrast, the EEOC contends that the plaintiff was particularly vulnerable to being subjected to harassment because of her disability. Her disability also made it more difficult for her to file a complaint.
As the EEOC argues in the lawsuit, Wal-Mart was on notice about the harassment well before the plaintiff filed her formal complaint. It was at that time that the company’s legal obligation to investigate and address the harassment arose. By letting the harassment continue unstopped for six years, the company violated the ADA, says the EEOC.
Currently, disabled individuals who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are barred from holding more than $2,000 is assets to be eligible for the benefit. Now, a federal agency is asking the White House to reconsider that threshold, which has been in place for over 20 years.
According to the National Council on Disability, a non-partisan agency whose mission is to advise Congress on disability issues, significant changes to the SSI program are needed. The council asks that the asset limit be raised to $10,000 and tied to the rate of inflation. The current ceiling of $2,000 highlights the fact that individuals who receive SSI are among some of the most impoverished people in the country. Raising the asset limit to the still modest amount of $10,000 while still allowing a beneficiary to receive benefits would improve the quality of life for the disabled.
The council also asked the White House to make changes to the way that employment affects an SSI recipient’s benefits level. It wants to encourage disabled people to look for gainful employment without worrying about losing the entirety of their benefits immediately if they earn even a little bit of money. Currently, the rules for employment for SSI recipients are so strict that even sporadic or low-paying jobs can threaten the continuation of benefits.
Finally, the council notes that disabled individuals are particularly vulnerable to losses of benefits and opportunities due to the sequestration or other budget cuts. It asks the President to undertake a full review of the SSI program to insure that the disabled are protected from such events, and that the Medicaid program be adjusted to allow recipients to keep that insurance even if they see a rise in their income.
As the economy improves and we see a lowering of the unemployment rate overall, the job picture is still uncertain for the disabled.
Since 2008, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the employment rate for people with disabilities, the numbers of disabled individuals who hold jobs has consistently been lower than the employment rate of the general population. But the economic recession hit this population even more severely than the rest of the workforce, and many are still struggling to find gainful employment.
When unemployment began to skyrocket, disabled individuals were often the first people let go from their jobs. Employers who had previously been willing to accommodate reduced work hours or adjusted job duties could no longer afford to do so.
Although job growth has been inconsistent for those with a disability, experts believe that the employment picture will get better. Already statistics are showing more disabled people in the job pool than this time last year. That means more people are looking for jobs now versus a year ago. Then, the job outlook was so bleak than many disabled individuals simply gave up and applied for disability insurance instead of trying to find employment.
As the economy continues to improve, expect the employment rate for the disabled to improve along with it. Right now, unemployment for the general population is at about 7.5 percent and the rate for the disabled is at about 12.8 percent. Those numbers rise and fall a little bit each month depending on how many people are actively looking for work and how many jobs have been added to the economy.
If you are disabled and want to move into a mainstream apartment – that is, one that is not specifically designed for someone with a disability – you have the right to ask your landlord to make certain accommodations. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires landlords and building owners to make the public spaces in their buildings accessible to the disabled. You have the right to make reasonable modifications to the interior of your apartment as well, but your landlord is not required to pay for the changes.
Accommodations to Public Spaces
The public areas of apartment buildings must be made accessible to disabled individuals, but any modifications or accommodations must be reasonable. Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Designation of a handicapped parking space near the building’s entrance
- Installation of ramps and automatic doors into the public lobby of the building
- Widening of doorways or lowering of counters in places like the laundry room or office
Unreasonable demands, such as the installation of an elevator in a building that only has stairs, do not have to be met in order to create disabled housing.
Accommodations to Personal Apartments
While the landlord must pay for public accommodations, any modifications to a personal apartment must be made at the expense of the tenant. Modifications can help a disabled person live more comfortably and easily in the space, but any changes must be easily dismantled at the end of the lease so that other tenants may live in the space as well. Modifications might include the installation of grab-bars in the bathroom, the removal of carpet in the unit or even the lowering of a countertop in the kitchen, if it is not too difficult to do so.
In response to a deeply flawed article published by NPR, written by Chana Joffe-Walt, an apparent journalist whose mischaracterization and flat out misinformation regarding Social Security Disability benefits and the recipients receiving them, the former head of Social Security has responded in opposition.
Former Commissioner of Social Security, Michael Astrue, vigorously defended the disability program on MSNBC and discussed why the program has seen more applications, how the baby-boomer generation has had a major affect and why fraud IS NOT central to the increasing amount of disability awards.
In response to Joffe-Walt’s factually innaccurate piece, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), published a lengthy response for the sole purpose of setting the facts straight. I applaud the CCD for their thorough - and factual – analysis of the disability program, why the numbers have risen in recent years and lastly, why the program is vital for so many.
The attorneys from Markhoff & Mittman will be conducting a lecture on disability benefits as part of Lawline.com’s April Bridging The Gap series for attorneys everywhere. The CLE lecture can be attended live at Lawline’s studios in New York City, or can be viewed online anywhere.
Brian Mittman, owner and managing partner of Markhoff & Mittman, and Scott Daniels, an associate with the firm, have conducted several lectures in the past and have partnered up with Lawline.com to continue teaching attorneys across the country about disability law. Their ability to provide engaging insight on a highly controversial topic has rendered them experts in the field of disability law.
The US Census Department had revealed somber statistics for workers with disabilities in this country. Generally those with disabilities have more difficulty finding work than those without. When they do find a job, it is likely to be in a service field, such as a building custodian, truck driver, garbage collector or dishwasher. Positions in retail such as shelf stocker, cashier, product packer or grocery bagger are common among the disabled as well. By law, federal departments must fill diversity goals and hire qualified applicants.
In an already strained economic time, disabled workers have three times more of a chance to be unemployed than those without disabilities. Once employed, people with disabilities make only three-quarters, 75 cents on the dollar, to non disabled workers. Of those employed, more than 50 percent earned below $25,000 a year, where only 38 percent of those without disabilities earned this amount.
Officials at the Census Bureau explain that workers with disabilities make less than those colleagues without disabilities, in comparable positions.
6 percent of the working class was made up of those with disabilities between 2008 and 2010.
Since February, the US Department of Labor shows an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent among this group. People without disabilities have a 7.9 percent rate.
These statistics highlight the continuing strife that workers with disabilities are facing in the US. According to the Secretary of Labor, gathering this data is said to help further education and research about how to improve the employment situation for those workers with disabilities.
Contact us if you or a loved one is in need of a NY disability lawyer.