Over 20 Years Served

Mental health disabilities have historically been rarely discussed and often overlooked or misunderstood as a piece of the disability equation in seeking benefits for an individual. However, the last several years have seen some positive changes.

Mr. Fortuño’s work with individuals living with mental health disabilities began when he was working with the Sacramento AIDS Foundation in the early 90’s. Mental health issues were often not the primary focus of a disability diagnosis but mental health issues often arose as cases were being assessed as part of an AIDS diagnosis. Back then AIDS was rapidly killing people in staggering numbers nationwide and mental health disabilities, though present, were often not taken into account. That is not the case today.

Mental health disabilities have been increasingly recognized as a key (and often the central) piece in a new disability diagnosis/benefits case. Mr. Fortuño has seen this most recently working with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Mr. Fortuño & BEC have been giving presentations to NAMI chapters throughout the Greater Bay Area over the past year. These have been in response to the growing need to educate individuals and families about the complexities of mental health disabilities and their critical importance in successfully obtaining benefits.

Acknowledgment and early diagnosis of mental illness is crucial to the success of a Social Security Disability Benefits claim. For young people, getting a determination of the onset of their disability before the age of 22 is especially important. For example, if and when the primary (highest wage earner) working parent retires, becomes disabled or passes away, their adult disabled child (with a diagnosed onset before the age of 22) becomes eligible for a benefit based on the parent’s earnings. Not utilizing this benefit can result in a life-long reality of minimal financial and health coverage.

This is where BEC can be a critical piece of your family’s planning. We can help by giving a training presentation to a local organization or by working with individuals through Private Benefits Coaching.


Over 20 Years Served

Disability benefits raged to the center of national attention in the mid 1980’s as thousands of men, women and children across the country were being affected by as yet unknown disease, that took people devastatingly fast and in unstoppable numbers. As communities scrambled to serve these sick and dying individuals, many organizations sprung up across the country to support these dying individuals in any way possible at the time. At the time labeled a “gay men’s disease” did little to help the reality that this disease was affecting populations across the boards. As we now know today HIV/AIDS has no gender, ethnic or demographic boundaries and has consequently become a global pandemic.

Mr. Fortuño’s intensive benefits work began with such a grassroots organization based in San Francisco, CA in 1993. At the time AIDS Benefits Counselors (ABC) had really one objective and that was to assure these critically ill individuals that they would have adequate medical care and some sort of financial support and a roof over their heads until they died. Prior to this he work as a Case Manager at the Sacramento AIDS Foundation, CA in 1991.

Fast forward to 2009 and so much has changed. HIV/AIDS is now labeled as a chronic “managed care” condition!

No longer necessarily a death sentence if treated early and consistently. Disability Benefits are now a well known and widely needed specialty training in the corporate business world, as well as, the private sector. The lessons learned, rules and laws developed and changed over the past twenty-five plus years now serve individuals with all disabilities not just HIV/AIDS, but no one will discredit the pioneering work these HIV/AIDS organizations did to being all of this to the forefront of our national dialogue.

The one unfortunate outcome of all these fast paced changes, additions and revamped laws and guidelines concerning disability benefits; is that it has all become even more  complex, misunderstood, entangled and as a result often under utilized in everyday counseling. No formal or recognized training exists and generally everyone learns by trial and error to often at the disabled individual’s expense.

Mr. Fortuño’s experience in this area is where he honed and fine tuned his abilities and programs to NOW benefit the entire disabled community.

Over 10 Years Served

Mr. Fortuño began working with the Cancer Community in 1999, training social workers and volunteers at the University of California San Francisco’s Cancer Resource Center. The relationship was so fruitful that he continued doing disability benefits training as a volunteer and has established strong contacts within this dedicated group

Through his work at UCSF, Daniel met Barbara Buckley of the Northern California Cancer Association and developed an ongoing relationship with the NCCA, where he has been doing trainings at their annual conferences since 2003. Most recently, Mr. Fortuño provided disability benefits training to the East Bay branch of this organization in 2005 and he continues to collaborate with the Northern California Cancer Association today.

Social Security’s New Compassionate Allowance (CAL) Program  

Late in 2008 Social Security developed a list of 50 conditions which fall under the guidelines of their Compassionate Allowance program (CAL). Most of these conditions are cancers. Using the CAL program, if an individual qualifies under one of the designated diagnoses, it is possible to get Social Security benefits granted within 20 days. Mr. Fortuno has gotten multiple cases granted between 5 and 10 days.

The list of qualifying conditions can be found on the SSA website under Compassionate Allowance program (CAL).

Knowing about CAL and using it effectively can greatly ease the burden of individuals living with cancer and their families who are trying to navigate the benefits maze.

While working at AIDS Benefits Counselors (now the Positive Resource Center) in San Francisco, Mr. Fortuño worked with and trained the agency’s volunteer attorneys and helped them develop their own community based provider training programs.

Today, Mr. Fortuño works extensively with attorneys and fiduciaries through local and regional organizations like the Professional Fiduciary Association of California (PFAC) and the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), as well as legal & fiduciary firms that specialize in Special Needs Trusts (SNT) and those that deal with conservatorships.

Attorneys and fiduciaries who work with and serve this special group of clients are required to understand the workings of the public benefits system, which includes Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI), Medicare and Medicaid (Medi-Cal in CA) as well as state specific programs that impact their clients.

Historically there have been very few opportunities for these dedicated individuals to learn the intricacies of the complex network of state and federal programs. BEC has made it a part of its mission to make this critically important and required material available to them in an accessible form through its training programs and intensives, customized to their particular modality. Mr. Fortuño additionally takes on private referrals from attorneys and fiduciaries through BEC’s coaching.

Whatever your needs in this area, BEC is there to work with you to assure, either through training programs or private coaching, that your clients’ needs are met with the highest degree of professionalism and up to date information.