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New Regulation for Substance Abuse Disability Benefits

Posted by Louis B. Lusk | Mar 01, 2013 | 0 Comments

New Regulation for Substance Abuse Disability Benefits

For the past fifteen years, substance abuse largely hasn't been considered a free-standing disability under Social Security disability law. However, no formal regulation made this clear, and often Social Security disability benefits were applied disparately in hearing offices across the country. Just this month, the Social Security Administration published a new regulation in its Federal Register, which gives this policy the force of law. Now, you are not entitled to disability benefits if the only basis for your disability is drug addiction or substance abuse. However, you may still be entitled to benefits if your addiction is linked to other mental health or physical conditions. It's important to know the history of the law and how it can affect you. History of Substance Abuse and Social Security Disability The Division of Policy Evaluation at the Social Security Administration recently provided a run-down of the history of substance abuse and eligibility for benefits. Changes to the rules in the last decades actually reflect plans to limits benefits for those with drug addiction and alcoholism. The Social Security Act Amendments of 1972 were the first laws to restrict eligibility for persons with “drug or alcohol dependencies.” These amendments required that drug addicts and alcoholics “receive payments only through a representative payee” and that they “participate in treatment” if appropriate to their condition and available to them. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, the number of beneficiaries with substance abuse problems rose. As a result, a mid-1990s congressional act limited the amount of time that drug addicts and alcoholics would be eligible for benefits. The Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994 included provisions that “placed a 3-year time limit” on benefits for persons whose “primary impairment was drug addiction or alcoholism.” By 1996, Congress passed the Contract with American Advancement Act, which ended benefits for those whose “primary impairment was drug addiction, alcoholism, or both.” The termination of benefits included both Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance. As of January 1, 1997, prior beneficiaries were ineligible for these payments. Who was affected most? Statistics gathered by the Social Security Administration in 1996 showed that most beneficiaries were male (79 percent), a majority were between the ages of 40-49 (39 percent), and a “disproportionately large share were black” (approximately 40 percent). Who is Eligible for Benefits Under the New Rule? There are certain mental and physical conditions that may have been caused by substance abuse but are nonetheless irreversible, regardless of whether an individual stops using drugs or alcohol. The Social Security Administration takes these conditions into account, and certain claimants are still eligible for benefits. The Social Security Administration goes through a series of questions to determine eligibility for a person who suffers from substance abuse. Primarily, does your drug abuse or alcoholism “materially contribute” to the disability that you're claiming? The government will not provide benefits to persons who would not be disabled if they abstained from substance abuse. Next, the Social Security Administration will determine if you have a disability listed under the category of “Substance Addiction Disorders,” for which you can claim benefits. In order to meet these requirements, you must have changes to your mental or physical health due to your previous substance abuse. You must also have a mental or physical impairment caused by your substance abuse, which include these conditions: organic mental disorders, depression, anxiety, liver damage, gastritis, pancreatitis, seizures, peripheral neuropathies, and personality disorders. This is a lot of information to take in, but the key thing to remember is that if you have a disabling condition related to substance abuse that persists even though you aren't currently abusing drugs or alcohol, you could still have a claim for disability benefits under the new regulation. Contact an experienced attorney today to discuss your claim. See Related Blog Posts: Social Security Disability and Mental Health Problems Compassionate Allowances and Social Security Disability

About the Author

Louis B. Lusk

About Louis B. Lusk – Disability Attorney Attorney Louis B. Lusk has helped thousands of disabled individuals recover Social Security disability and SSI disability benefits.  He is an active member of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives (NOSSCR), an organizat...

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