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Congress May Drop 5-Month Waiting Period for ALS Patients

One of the more frustrating quirks of disability law for both attorneys and our clients is the five-month waiting period in Social Security Disability Insurance cases.

The rule states that disability benefits, regardless of the condition involved, will not be paid out until five full months have passed after an individual becomes disabled. And there's no way around it. The best we can do as attorneys is argue that a client was disabled as early as possible after he or she stopped working.

But a new law could waive the five month waiting period in cases involving amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (better known as ALS or Lou Gherig's Disease).

The cause of ALS is unknown. The disease causes severe problems with motor function, speaking, and ultimately breathing.

Half of those with ALS die from the disease within 16 months of diagnosis, meaning that waiving the five-month waiting period could ensure those with the condition and their families receive critical benefits.

In 2000, a law was passed that allows those with ALS who receive SSDI benefits to immediately qualify for Medicare. All other disabilities require a 24-month waiting period for Medicare eligibility.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced the bill. It was originally sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) introduced a companion bill in the House.

As the bill has received wide bipartisan support, it has a good chance of being signed into law.

"Congress originally justified the five-month waiting period by saying it allows time for temporary conditions to reverse. Unfortunately, that's not currently possible for someone with ALS," Rep. King said in a statement. "Given the prognosis for those diagnosed with ALS, it defies common sense and decency to require these same individuals to wait for benefits they have paid for and most importantly deserve. I am proud to stand with the ALS community in support of this bipartisan bill."

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