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Scott Lewis

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December 26, 2013

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Social Security Disability Benefits

Does a breathing disorder keep you from working a full time job? It is possible to receive Social Security Disability benefits for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other breathing disorders. With a well-documented medical history that shows how your COPD affects your ability to work, a good claim can be made for Social Security Disability benefits. COPD is an obstructive lung disease that is characterized by very poor airflow. Many people who suffer from COPD have emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Currently there is no cure for COPD, and unfortunately studies show that it usually worsens over time. Most treatments for COPD aim to stop the progression of the disease, not to cure it. It is important that individuals with COPD do not contract any other lung or airway condition, as these can be very detrimental to your health. The most common symptoms of COPD include sputum (mucus) production, coughing, and shortness of breath. COPD can be caused by: Smoking Air Pollution Occupational Exposures Dust Chemicals Fumes Genetics To diagnose your COPD, your doctor will most likely look at your past medical history, record your symptoms, and conduct some lung function tests. The Social Security Administration appreciates a thorough medical history with well documented diagnoses. As part of the application process, Social Security may send you for a pulmonary function test to measure the effect of your COPD on your breathing capacity. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is classified in the Listing of Impairments under section 3.00 – Respiratory System. COPD falls under section 3.02 – Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency. In this section there are a few tests that look at lung force and volume. The results will depend on your height, but if your pulmonary function testing falls within certain ranges, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Even … Continued

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November 21, 2013

Will I receive any back pay for my Indiana Social Security Disabilty claim?

Are you an Indiana resident who has been denied disability benefits?  Are you unable to work due to your disability?  If you are wondering whether it is worth your time to appeal the decision, the answer is most likely yes. If you are successful in appealing your claim, you will most likely be due back pay.   The Social Security Administration (SSA) may owe you hundreds of dollars in back pay for your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim.  All the time you waited for a decision was not in vain.   As a disability attorney in Indianapolis, I often get calls from my clients who are ecstatic because they just received a rather large check for disability compensation back pay.  They now realize that it was worth all the frustration and waiting.     I applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  How much can I expect to get? For those applicants who are approved for SSDI, your back pay will most likely go back to the sixth full month after the date your disability began.  However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine exactly how far back your payments should go.  It will depend on your application date and onset date (the date the SSA decides you became disabled).  The amount of your monthly disability is based on your lifetime average earning covered by Social Security.  You can use tools such as a benefit calculator to help determine how much you will get.   What about back pay for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)? For those who are approved for SSI, your back pay has the potential to go back to your application date.  Social Security may issue large past-due SSI benefits in up to three installments.   There may be instances when the SSA can pay in a larger installment.  A person who has certain debts related to food, clothing, shelter, medicine or medically necessary services may qualify.    The whole process … Continued

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November 18, 2013

Will there be a 2014 Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security Disabilty recipients?

Good news for Indiana residents receiving Social Security Disability benefits.  There will be a 1.5 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits recipients.  The increase will begin with the December 2013 benefits, payable January 2014.  This is the fourth year in the row that we have seen an increase to Social Security benefits.  More than 57 million people received some type of Social Security benefit.    How is COLA determined?  COLAs are based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).  It is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor.  The purpose of COLA is to offset the effects of inflation on fixed incomes.  In 1960 President Eisenhower signed an amendment that allowed disabled workers of any age to receive payments.  At that time there were over 500,000 people receiving disability benefits, with an average benefit amount being $80.  It is hard to imagine what would happen without COLA.  In 1975, an eligible individual received $157.70 per month – imagine if beneficiaries were still receiving the same amount today! What do I have to do to receive my COLA? Absolutely nothing; the Cost-of-Living Adjustment is automatic.  Because there was an increase in the consumer price index from the third quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2013, you will get the COLA of 1.5 percent in 2014.  You will see the increase in your award benefit payment.  Will my award amount ever decrease?  Hopefully you will never see a decrease in payments.  However, you must report changes to your living arrangements to the Social Security Administration (SSA) within 10 days after the change occurs.  While these changes are very unlikely to affect your benefit amount if you receive Social Security Disability Insurance, they might affect your monthly benefit if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Some changes that can affect your SSI payment amount include: Moving to a … Continued

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October 22, 2013

The Social Security Administration scheduled me for a consultative exam. What is it, and do I have to go?

If you are an Indiana resident who has filed a claim for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may schedule you for a consultative exam.   As a disability attorney in Indianapolis, I get many calls from my clients asking about the consultative exam. The consultative examination is a physical or mental exam performed by a medical source at the SSA’s request and expense.  As the SSA reviews your claim, they want as much information as possible about your medical conditions in order to make a decision.The medical evidence may be insufficient to determine if you are disabled.  In some cases, claimant’s physicians do not furnish the required medical records. The SSA will send you a letter with information such as date, time and location of the exam.  It is very important that the SSA has your correct mailing address so that you get this information as soon as possible. The exam itself will likely be performed by a medical professional you have never seen before.  You can expect the exam to take between 20 and 60 minutes.   I have heard people complain that their consultative examinations were very short, or the doctor did not address all of their impairments, or the doctor was rude and did not seem to take them seriously.  The consultative doctors are supposed to evaluate your physical or mental abilities; they are not entering into a treatment relationship with you.  While the doctors are paid by the SSA for their time, they are supposed to give an unbiased opinion.  Therefore, when you go to your appointment, make sure you bring up all of your impairments to the doctor.  Answer all of the doctor’s questions truthfully and completely.  Remember, too, that the doctor is not just listening to your answers to those questions; he or she is also observing your behavior, speech, and movement and will include those observations in the … Continued

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October 8, 2013

Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for a Skin Disorder?

As a disability lawyer, I get many calls from my Indiana neighbors asking if their impairment will qualify them for Social Security Disability benefits. If you have a skin disorder and you are unable to work, you may qualify for benefits. Skin disorders that result from hereditary, congenital, or acquired pathological processes are identified in Section 8.00 of the SSA listing of impairments.  The following Skin Disorders are included in this category and may meet the SSA disability guidelines: Ichthyosis Bullous Disease Chronic infections of the skin or mucous membranes Dermatitis Hidradenitis Suppurativa Genetic photosensitivity disorders Burns The Social Security Administration will need medical documentation from “acceptable medical sources” to evaluate the presence and severity of your disorder.  Information commonly needed for a skin disorder disability claim is; the onset date, duration and prognosis, frequency of flare-ups, location, size and appearance.  To confirm a diagnosis the SSA may need laboratory findings such as biopsy and blood tests results.   Your symptoms (including pain) will be assessed to determine how they impact your daily life and your ability to work.  The effects of any treatment you receive to include medication, therapy and surgery will be assessed.  This information is useful in determining the severity of your impairment.  Your skin disorder may respond well to treatment, however the side effects can result in limitations. Any adverse effects of the treatment will be assessed.  Do not be discouraged if your condition does not meet the SSA listing.  If you continue the claims process, your claim will still be evaluated by the SSA.  Your limitations and symptoms may affect your ability to work without specifically meeting the listing. The SSA wants to determine if you can perform your past relevant job(s), or if there are other jobs you have the ability to perform.  Many of my Indiana clients with a skin disorder complain that they are unable to work because they have lesions that are painful and require extensive treatment.  … Continued

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October 4, 2013

What documentation do I need for my cirrhosis of the liver disability claim?

As a disability lawyer in Indiana, I speak to clients daily about the documentation they need to prove their Social Security disability claims.   Once you have applied for benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will, with your permission, request medical records from the physicians and other medical providers who have treated or evaluated you for your impairments.  As you proceed through the appeals process, the SSA will request updated information from your providers, and if you reach a hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will make sure that all of your medical records have been added to your Social Security file.  For some impairments, including cirrhosis of the liver, it is very important that your medical records include complete documentation of your symptoms and objective evidence of your condition. Cirrhosis of the liver is evaluated by the SSA as a digestive system impairment.  If you have cirrhosis of the liver, the SSA’s Listing of Impairments Section 5.05 for chronic liver disease requires documentation of at least one of the following: Hemorrhaging due to esophageal, gastric, or ectopic varices or portal hypertensive gastropathy, resulting in hemodynamic instability and requiring hospitalization for transfusion.  Acceptable documentation includes: Endoscopy X-rays Ascites or hydrothorax, in spite of continuing treatment, on at least two evaluations at least sixty days apart.  Acceptable documentation includes: Laboratory tests showing serum albumin of 3.0 g/dL or less Coagulation studies showing increased International Normalized Ratio (INR) Spontaneous bacterial peritonitis.  Acceptable documentation includes: Laboratory tests showing an absolute neutrophil count of at least 250 cells/mm3. Hepatorenal syndrome.  Acceptable documentation includes: Documentation of low arterial oxygenation Echocardiography (ECG) or lung perfusion scan showing intrapulmonary arteriovenous shunting Hepatic encephalopathy.  Acceptable documentation includes: Documentation of abnormal mental state or cognitive dysfunction Documentation of surgical portosystemic shunt placement Documentation of neurological abnormalities such as asterixis Electroencephalogram (EEG) Serum albumin … Continued

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October 2, 2013

Is Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) a disabling impairment for Social Security Benefits?

Many Indiana residents who have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) contact my Indianapolis office to ask if their condition will qualify them for Social Security disability benefits. If you have HIV/ AIDS and your symptoms keep you from being able to work, you may qualify for benefits from the Social Security Administration. There are two ways to show the Social Security Administration (SSA) that your HIV/AIDS is a disabling condition; you can show that your symptoms “meet the listing” for HIV, or you can show that your combination of impairments reduce your capacity to perform work activities. HIV infection is addressed by §14.08 of Social Security’s Listing of Impairments.  If your medical records show that you fulfill the criteria of this listing, Social Security will most likely find that you are disabled.  First, your medical records must contain documentation that you have HIV infection, either from laboratory test results or other evidence.  Then, you must show that you have at least one of the following: Bacterial infections such as mycobacterial infection, nocardiosis, Salmonella bacteremia, or other recurrent infections requiring hospitalization or frequent IV antibiotic treatment Fungal infections such as aspergillosis; certain types of candidiasis, coccidioidomycosis, cryptococcosis; histoplasmosis; mucormycosis; or Pneumocystis Protozoan or helminthic infections such as cryptosporidiosis, isosporiasis, or microsporidiosis that cause diarrhea; extra-intestinal strongyloidiasis; or some types of toxoplasmosis Viral infections such as certain types of cytomegalovirus disease, certain types of herpes simplex, certain types of herpes zoster, or progressive multifocal leukoencephalopthy Malignant neoplasms such as certain types of carcinoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, lymphoma, or squamous cell carcinoma HIV encephalopathy with progressive cognitive or motor dysfunctio HIV wasting syndrome with chronic diarrhea or chronic weakness with fever Chronic, treatment-resistant diarrhea requiring IV hydration or feeding Chronic or treatment-resistant infection such as sepsis, meningitis, pneumonia, septic arthritis, endocarditis, or sinusitis Repeated manifestations of HIV infection that do not fit in the above categories but result in significant, documented symptoms and marked limitation in your activities of daily living, social functioning, … Continued

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October 1, 2013

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) and your Indiana Social Security Disabilty Claim

As an Indiana resident seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), you must show that you are unable to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).  SGA is the performance of physical or mental activities in work for pay or profit.  Work is substantial if it involves significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both.   Even if work is performed on a seasonal or part-time basis, the SSA may still consider it substantial.  Work is gainful if it is a type of activity that is usually done for pay or profit, regardless of whether a profit is realized. The following types of activities are generally not considered SGA by Social Security: Self-care Household tasks Hobbies Therapy School attendance Clubs/social programs However, even if these activities are not considered SGA, Social Security may look at your ability to perform them when determining whether you are able to work.  If you are able to attend school full-time, or if you participate in hobbies that require a lot of physical activity, Social Security may consider those activities to be “work-like,” and find that even though you are not presently engaged in SGA, you are still able to work.  Therefore, during the application process, the SSA usually asks claimants about their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).If your impairments do not limit your ability to perform activities such as shopping, driving, and household chores, the SSA may believe you are capable of gainful employment.  The fact that you are not currently engaged in SGA does not necessarily mean that you are not capable of engaging in SGA. Substantial work may, under some conditions, be disregarded if it is discontinued or reduced after a short time because of your impairment.  This type of work is considered an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA).  Therefore, If you attempt to return to work after you have started an application … Continued

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September 16, 2013

Spinal Stenosis and Social Security Benefits

Many Indiana residents suffer from severe back problems that make it difficult if not impossible to work.  While back problems can vary, many individuals complain of back pain.  Back pain can result in an inability to stand, walk, and sit for certain periods of time.  If you have been denied disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and believe you are unable to work it may be wise to appeal that decision.  It is important to remember the majority of disability claims are denied by the SSA, and disabling conditions from your back are no exception. People suffering from Spinal Stenosis may experience pain so severe any chance of working an eight hour day would be very difficult.   In your spine there are spaces that may become narrow causing pressure on your spinal cord.  This can occur in any area of the spine. This may result in : Numbness Pain Difficulties in standing, walking, and sitting Weakness The need for the use of a cane or walker In my experience as an Indianapolis Social Security Disability Lawyer, I find it very important that my clients have appropriate objective medical testing to substantiate their claim for benefits.  A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test may be the key to meeting or equaling the standards needed to win your claim.  I have found that comprehensive medical documentation from a qualified treating specialist can enhance your odds of proving you are unable to work.  Statements from your treating physicians may also be given weight that is necessary to prove your claim. For many people frustration may set in when going through this process. It is important, in my opinion, that you pursue your appeal if you believe you are unable to work.  Always remember there are time limits when filing a request for … Continued

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May 2, 2013

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits

In my Indianapolis disability practice, I see an increasing number of people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other digestive impairments.  One difficulty these clients experience when trying to convince the Social Security Administration (SSA) they are disabled is that they usually do not have any outward signs and symptoms.  I represent hundreds of clients with many different impairments, and a good number of them require a cane, a walker, or even an oxygen tank.  My clients with digestive issues, though, do not usually need any sort of assistive device.  That being said, after working with clients who deal with IBS and other digestive issues, it is clear to me that their impairments keep them from being able to work a full-time job.   Of course, it is always important to have good, solid, comprehensive medical records, including objective testing, doctor’s statements confirming your disabling condition, and clinical descriptions of the symptoms that prevent you from working. The SSA addresses digestive impairments in its Listing of Impairments under Listing 5.00: Digestive Disorders.  These listings cover gastrointestinal hemorrhaging, chronic liver disease and liver transplantation, inflammatory bowel disease, short bowel syndrome, and weight loss due to digestive disorders.  The listings contain specific symptoms and test results you must demonstrate to the SSA in order to be found disabled based on your medical records.  If you review this listing but find that you do not experience all of the requirements of a listing, it does not mean that you are not disabled under the SSA’s rules; it simply means that you will have to provide additional evidence to show that you are disabled.  For example, a medical expert may review your records and determine that even though you do not precisely meet every requirement of a listing, your symptoms are sufficiently similar to … Continued

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