New Orleans SSDI and Chronic Beryllium Disease

If you or a loved one has been exposed to a toxic level of beryllium and developed Chronic Beryllium Disease, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. You should seek guidance from experienced and proven New Orleans SSDI attorneys like those here at Ascend Disability Lawyers, LLC.

Beryllium is a natural mineral — like iron, copper and other more-well-known minerals. Beryllium is found buried and embedded in rock and compacted soil. When heated, beryllium is relatively soft and white/silver colored — like lead. For years now, it has been used heavily in US heavy industry, often added to aluminum, copper, or nickel to make metal alloys used to make various products like gyroscopes, springs, and non-sparking tools. Beryllium is especially useful as a component of electronics because it is a good thermal conductor (does not overheat as easily as other metals), it is a good electric conductor (necessary for processing speed), is non-magnetic (same), and is very light (like aluminum), but at the same time hard and inflexible (like iron). For these and other reasons, beryllium is much sought after and heavily used in many industries.

However, exposure to beryllium can cause serious health risks, including Chronic Beryllium Disease (“CBD”) or Berylliosis. This is a form of poisoning; being exposed to a sufficiently high level of beryllium is toxic. Most often, CBD is caused by breathing dust that contains Beryllium or inhaling fumes from burning or melting beryllium. For example, those engaged in soldering electronics are often melting alloys containing beryllium. Inhaling the fumes can cause lung tissue scarring which is painful and results in a reduced ability to breathe normally. Unfortunately, there is no cure for Chronic Beryllium Disease. Any lung tissue damage is permanent.

If severe enough, CBD can make it impossible for a person to work and, if that is the case, then the worker may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. SSDI is a disability program administered by the Social Security Administration. Almost every worker in New Orleans and in Louisiana is covered. Eligibility is determined by the number of weeks and months you have worked. If you have not worked a sufficient number of weeks and months, then you are not eligible. But the work qualifications are not high, so most workers are eligible. The other eligibility requirements are:

(1) A medical condition;

(2) That prevents the worker from working; and

(3) Has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months or result in death.

In simple terms, SSDI is for workers who are permanently disabled (unable to work). Severe beryllium poisoning generally impacts one’s ability to breathe, which is often diagnosed by doctors as restrictive lung disorder. CDB is a specific form of restrictive lung disorder.

If you have severe CDB, the key to obtaining SSDI benefits is to provide sufficient evidence in your application that you cannot engage in any sort of work, even office or computer-type work. Your chances of being awarded benefits are also higher if you are an older worker whose ability to retrain and start a new career is limited.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) engages in a five-step analysis when a worker applies for benefits. The first step inquires into whether the worker has a sufficient work history and whether the worker is currently working. That is usually an “easy” step to pass. Obviously, if you are still working, then you are not considered “disabled,” and your application for SSDI benefits will be denied. The definition of “working” is earning more than about $1180 per month. Assuming you have sufficient work credits and are not currently working, then the SSA will move to the next steps.

The second and third steps relate to the medical condition. If you or a loved one has been exposed to beryllium and is suffering from Chronic Beryllium Disease, then, likely, there are already medical records and a physician’s diagnosis. Typically with lung disorders, the question is severity. Many people suffer from mild lung conditions like asthma and allergies. However, mild lung conditions can be treated with medication and only provide a mild hindrance for one’s ability to work. The SSA maintains a long list of medical conditions that are considered severe enough to automatically qualify for SSDI benefits. But CBD is not on the list of automatic qualifiers. But, that does not end the inquiry.

As noted, restrictive lung disorders often place significant limitations on basic activities. The limitations are caused by insufficient oxygen reaching the heart and muscles, which is caused by the capacity constraints of the damaged lung tissue. Physical activities such as walking, lifting and carrying items, climbing, and even such light-duty tasks like typing are limited. Under some circumstances, the lack of sufficient oxygen impacts cognitive functioning. If the CBD you are suffering is determined to be “severe,” then you might be awarded SSDI benefits at steps two-three even though CBD is not one of the automatically-qualifying medical conditions.

However, even if the SSA makes an adverse determination at steps two-three, it is still possible for the SSA to make a determination of disability. The fourth and fifth steps involve an analysis of your ability to work. The SSA has a fancy name for this: a determination of your Residual Functional Capacity. This is a two-part determination — steps four and five. At step four, the SSA examines your most recent work history. Let’s assume that, during most of your career, you have worked at a metal ore processing plant (where you were exposed to the beryllium). Your job was very physical, involving constant walking, lifting, pushing, pulling and otherwise manipulating and working at heavy machinery.

In our example, at step four, the SSA is likely to determine that your CBD makes it impossible for you to continue working in your most recent employment capacity. Your restricted breathing now makes impossible for you to exert yourself physically like you used to do. So, you cannot work at the ore processing facility.

However, there is one final step — step five — which examines other possible work that you might be able to do. At this step, the SSA takes into account other possible jobs and careers and your ability to be trained to do those other types of work. Here the SSA considers factors including:

  • Education level;
  • Age;
  • Work history;
  • Allied industries; and
  • More.

Workers with restrictive lung disorder are generally only able to engage in sedentary types of work, such as computer and very light-weight office work. But if you have no computer or office-relevant skills, it is not easy to just start working with computers and in an office. The SSA takes skill level and education into account in making a disability determination. Likewise, shifting to an allied or related industry is easier than shifting to something completely foreign. Going from an ore processing plant to an office working with computers, or a similar transition, can be complicated. In addition, older workers are deemed less able to re-train and learn new skills. Thus, SSA takes age and ease of shifting to an allied industry into account in making a disability determination. Without more information, we cannot know for sure what decision the SSA would make in the example provided.

However, the key legal lesson is this: you cannot obtain SSDI benefits unless you apply. Do not get discouraged and just assume, “my application will be denied.” That is not necessarily true, especially given the number of factors considered by the SSA.

Contact Ascend Disability Lawyers, LLC Today — We Can Help

For more information, contact the proven New Orleans SSDI lawyers at Ascend Disability Lawyers, LLC. We can help you maximize your chances of success. We are a leading New Orleans SSDI law firm. We have years of experience helping Louisiana workers obtain the SSDI benefits to which they are entitled. Contact our office today via email or by calling (855) 631-2544.

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