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New Jersey awards $19.5 million to HIV organizations

The Ocean County Board of Health was recently awarded $92,000 in state funds for HIV/AIDS prevention work. The entity is just one of 54 community organizations, hospitals, and health agencies collectively awarded more than $19.5 million by the state of New Jersey for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

In the United States, around 1.2 million people have HIV or AIDS, and approximately 50,000 new HIV infections are reported each year. Of those new cases, youth between 13 and 24 years of age make up more than 25%. However, the number of infected youth may be much higher, according to a recently released report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Specifically, the CDC estimates that about 60% of teens and young adults may be unaware of their positive HIV status.

Great advances in research and contemporary antiretroviral treatments have transformed the disease into a potentially manageable -- albeit chronic -- infection for many people. Under a doctor's supervision and care regimen, many HIV patients regain their physical health and are able to return to work.

The Social Security Administration recognizes HIV as a potential disability, with monthly assistance available under its Social Security disability benefits program. The amount of SSDI benefits depends on a person's previous work earnings and history. In addition, SSDI beneficiaries may also qualify for Medicare after receiving disability benefits for 24 months. For a child with HIV, Supplemental Security Income may be available for certain low-income households. All three sources of federal assistance may help cover the costs of hospital or hospice care, lab tests, and other medical services.

However, legal and medical definitions of a disability may not always be the same. To qualify for SSDI benefits, a person's symptoms typically must be severe enough to limit or restrict functioning in activities required for work, making substantial gainful work impossible. For example, the SSA may regard symptoms as work prohibitive when they affect a worker's communication, concentration, physical stamina, or other daily living activities.

Yet severe symptoms may not manifest until an HIV infection is accompanied by at least one AIDS opportunistic infection. In addition, modern treatments may mean that an HIV patient's health fluctuates, with only occasional bad days. In other cases, a patient may make a recovery, permitting a return to work.

For HIV patients who return to work when they are feeling better, the SSA has special rules for continuing benefits under certain conditions. Such programs might be a trial work period (at least nine months) or an extended period of eligibility. In addition, expedited reinstatement is often available to HIV patients who previously received SSDI benefits. Finally, Medicare benefits may also continue in some cases up to 93 months after SSDI payments cease.

Source: Manchester Patch, "Ocean County Board of Health Gets $92K State Grant to Prevent HIV/AIDS," Catherine Galioto, Nov. 24, 2012

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