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Scott Lewis

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March 18, 2013

Indianapolis Social Security Disability Attorney Scott Lewis Is Back!

After a bit of a break I am back to blogging.  I enjoy sharing my experiences concerning the Social Security Administration (SSA) with prospective and current clients through my blog, but I must admit, going to hearings and preparing cases for hearings can be time consuming.  So what has been happening since my last blog entry?  The best news for disabled Indiana residents is that the waiting time for a hearing has been getting shorter.  I have seen a noticeable difference in waiting times recently and wonder how long this current trend will last. What does this mean for you?  Depending on your financial situation, getting to a hearing even a few months sooner may be the difference between keeping your home or facing foreclosure, between having continuous access to health care or spending months without health insurance, or between obtaining monthly disability payments or completely depleting your life savings.  On the other hand, you may be in such a desperate situation that having to wait any time at all for a Social Security disability decision is enough to bring you to financial ruin.  So what can you do?  I tell my clients to look for low or no-cost healthcare through local hospitals and clinics, seek help from their local government trustees, and ask their physicians to help them find programs that provide medications at cheaper rates, just to name a few. These days, when I have clients who complain about their waiting time for a hearing, I find myself thinking how fortunate they are to only have to wait about a year to get a hearing.  You heard me right – they are fortunate, compared to my clients from not long ago who typically had to wait nearly two years to get a hearing!  Not only do the shorter wait times help our disabled clients get their benefits sooner, they also save those clients some money.  The sooner a claimant receives benefits, the fewer months of … Continued

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December 11, 2012

Depression and Your Indiana Social Security Disability Appeal

Depression seems to rear its head in the majority of the claims I handle in front of the Social Security Administration (SSA).  While some of my clients suffer from depression alone others may suffer from depression due to their physical disabilities.  I am sure I am not alone when it comes to a large portion of my clients suffering from depression, in fact I am sure the Administrative Law Judges who preside over the hearings I attend routinely examine medical records with a diagnosis of depression.  With this being a common thread I experience, just how do you win your disability claim when trying to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)? In my experience you need to take a long hard look at who you are getting psychological treatment from.  If you are receiving treatment from a general practitioner you may want to rethink your medical options.  The SSA usually wants you to be seeing someone who specializes in the disability you claim you have.  In other words, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a mental health therapist may be your best option when trying to prove you have symptoms of depression that are preventing you from working.  A well documented course of ongoing therapy with detailed progress notes can go a long way in convincing a Judge you are disabled.  Hospitalizations for mental illness can also show you are not getting better in spite of treatment and following prescribed medications.  Sometimes I will sit in a hearing and listen to my client testify and think they are certainly clinically depressed by their testimony, but realize at the same time that their medical records are minimal and they have not been seeing a doctor that the SSA is going to recognize.  The truth is you can be … Continued

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November 30, 2012

Getting Ready For Your Indiana Social Security Disability Hearing

Are you nervous about your upcoming disability hearing?  When I talk to my clients before their hearings, one of the most common things they talk about is how anxious they are.  Many of them seem to be on the verge of an anxiety attack when they enter the hearing room.  I attempt to prepare my clients for this big day by letting them know what the atmosphere of the hearing will be like, the types of questions they will be asked, and what they should talk about (or not talk about) when they answer those questions.  I have seen some attorneys and representatives who do not prepare their clients for their hearings at all, or they do so in the waiting room right before the hearing.  It is my practice to speak with each of my clients a day or two before the hearing; we have plenty of time to prepare, but it’s close enough to the hearing that the client will remember everything we talked about.  I usually spend between 45 minutes and an hour letting them know exactly what to expect at the hearing.  Of course, no matter how well-prepared we are, hearings can take many unexpected turns and there can always be surprises.  However, I know from experience how the majority of hearings are conducted and what issues are likely to arise, and I am able to explain to my clients what they should expect. Fist, it is important to remember the hearing is supposed to be informal.  In other words, most of the Administrative Law Judges do not follow strict trial rules and procedures.  Does this mean you can talk out of turn and interrupt others at the hearing?  No; you still must wait your turn and be respectful.  Most judges give everyone an opportunity to … Continued

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November 29, 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits For Back Pain

As an Indiana Social Security attorney, the majority of my clients suffer from back pain. I personally have occasionally experienced back pain that makes it hard to move around, and I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if the pain was present all of the time. I believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, to work a full time job if this was happening to me on a constant basis. I can sympathize with my clients when they describe their pain to me, but I also realize sympathy is not what they want. They want to be able to provide for themselves and their families when they are unable to work due to back problems. It is important for Social Security disability claimants to know there is a very specific way the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at impairments involving the spine. One of the first things the SSA looks at when examining claims involving the spine is whether or not the individual meets or equals a “Listing”. The SSA publishes a set of guidelines that details what the SSA considers to be disabling conditions. Listing 1.00 covers the musculoskeletal system.  Listing 1.04 specifically covers disorders of the spine, and in order to meet it you must have objective evidence (e.g., medical tests or imaging) of your impairment. MRIs can be of great importance when attempting to show you meet or equal this listing. You usually cannot depend on the SSA to send you for the appropriate testing and imaging; instead your own physician must conduct testing or refer you for testing that proves you have the required criteria. When I am trying to prove that a client meets or equals this listing, I send questionnaires to the treating physicians requesting they provide relevant details about the … Continued

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November 11, 2012

Diabetes and Winning Your Social Security Disability Claim

Practicing Social Security Disability law in Indianapolis has opened my eyes to how many people suffer from diabetes.  Many of my clients suffer from several different disabling conditions at the same time, and more often than not, diabetes is on their list.  At your disability hearing in front of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),  the judge is required to consider all of your severe impairments when determining whether you are disabled.  Therefore, it is very important to let your attorney or representative know if diabetes contributes to your inability to work.  I talk to my clients extensively about how diabetes keeps them from working so I can better understand their limitations and present them to the judge. Diabetes mellitus (or simply diabetes) occurs when a person’s blood glucose level, commonly called “blood sugar,” is unacceptably high, usually due to poor insulin production in the body.  Diabetes is labelled as “type I” or “type II”.  The symptoms of diabetes can include: Frequent urination Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet Fatigue Blurred vision In my practice, the most common reason my diabetic clients find themselves unable to work is the tingling or burning known as neuropathy in their hands and feet.  They also suffer other symptoms that keep them from working when they are unable to control their diabetes with medication or insulin.  In my experience as a disability lawyer, the inability to stand and walk can greatly reduce the number and types of jobs a person can perform.  Many of my clients with neuropathy or swelling in their legs and feet cannot sit for very long without pain, and they are required to elevate their legs to relieve that pain.  These limitations reduce their “physical residual functional capacity” – the types of activities they are physically able to perform … Continued

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October 30, 2012

SSI Benefits for Children With Learning Disabilities

Indiana children with learning disabilities may be entitled to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  A significant portion of my law practice is devoted to helping children and their families receive Social Security disability benefits.  My staff and I take great pride in being able to explain the application and appeals process to parents of disabled children, and we make sure that they are fully prepared when it is time to appear at a hearing before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge.  I have found that some other disability attorneys simply do not handle children’s cases, or they are unfamiliar with what it takes to win these claims.  Some parts of children’s cases are the same as adult cases; for example, the appeals process has the same steps for adults and for children.  However, other elements of children’s claims are quite different from adult claims, especially when it comes to showing how the claimant’s impairments are severe enough to be disabling under Social Security’s rules.  Knowing what the Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for in children’s cases can be the key to a successful outcome. In my experience as a disability attorney representing children and their families, I find it especially beneficial to submit certain types documentation of a child’s disabilities to the SSA.  These records can include, but are not limited to: Medical records from treating physicians, especially specialists, who treat the child for any physical or mental impairments. Written statements from treating physicians concerning the severity of the child’s disabling condition Report cards IQ tests Individualized Education Program (IEP)  or 504 Plans developed at the child’s school Written statements from teachers concerning the child’s academic progress and behavior Behavior reports, written progress reports, and other written correspondence from the child’s teacher For each of my clients, I request … Continued

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October 4, 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits and Strokes

I have represented many of my Indiana neighbors who have experienced strokes, and one thing is certain – none of them have been exactly alike.  Some of my clients experienced a wide variety of physical and mental impairments leading up to their strokes, while others seemed to be perfectly healthy until they experienced their strokes.  One thing they all had in common, though, was that having a stroke altered their lives in ways many of us may could never imagine.  As a Social Security disability attorney, I realize that the particular facts of each case always matter.  With that in mind, I collect medical documentation for each of my clients that will paint a clear picture of the symptoms that person experiences, and how it affects his daily life. As I mentioned before, a person may experience many different symptoms after a stroke, and the ability to recover from those symptoms can vary greatly from individual to individual as well.  Some of the symptoms include, but are not limited to: Numbness, tingling, and weakness Difficulty with speech Problems with balance and walking Cognitive problems Vision problems Headaches The Social Security Administration (SSA) does recognize stroke and the symptoms that accompany a stroke as disabling conditions.  In technical terms, a stroke is referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA).  The SSA addresses stroke in its Listing of Impairments under listing 11.04: Central Nervous System Vascular Accident.  I have found that the SSA and most Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) consider these listings first when trying to determine whether a condition is disabling.  However, many times they fall back on a more generalized look at an individual’s physical residual functional capacity to determine if she is disabled.  When the ALJ looks at your physical residual functional capacity, he is deciding whether the symptoms … Continued

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October 1, 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits For Bipolar Disorder

I receive numerous calls every week from Indiana residents telling me they have been denied disability benefits.  People suffering from bipolar disorder or other mental impairments make up a portion of those phone calls.  I cannot represent every potential disability client who calls my office, and there are several factors I have to consider before deciding to represent someone.  Some callers tell me they are bipolar, but they have never been diagnosed by a doctor and are not receiving any treatment.  Unfortunately, your belief that you have bipolar disorder is probably not going to be enough for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to find you disabled. Even if you experience the symptoms of  bipolar disorder,  the SSA is going to want documentation from treating sources to help prove your disability claim is valid. I do understand the difficulty in finding appropriate treatment for mental illness.  If you do not have health care coverage, the cost to visit a therapist, see a psychiatrist, or pay for medication is unaffordable, even for people who are employed.    Fortunately, some hospitals and nonprofit organizations have programs to help people without funds obtain treatment for mental disorders.  I strongly encourage my clients to seek these programs out and do the best they can to get the care they need. Most of my clients receiving care for a mental disability see two different kinds of mental health professionals.  Usually the person who prescribes mental health medications is a psychiatrist.  The patient has periodic appointments with the psychiatrist, who assesses the patient’s need for medications, prescribes the appropriate drugs, and monitors the patient’s progress.  Another individual commonly seen by my clients is a therapist.  The patient often spends more time with a therapist than with a psychiatrist, usually in the form of group or individual counseling.  Most … Continued

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September 27, 2012

Autism and Child Social Security Disability Benefits

One of the most rewarding parts of my job as a disability lawyer is helping disabled children and their families get the benefits they deserve.  After hearing about the daily struggles  families face when they have disabled children, it is hard not to take a personal interest in their cases.  I believe a larger percentage of my practice is made up of Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) claims involving children than in the practices of many of my fellow Social Security disability attorneys.  In fact, sometimes other attorneys refer children’s cases to me because they simply do not handle children’s disability claims.  I have noticed that more and more of my child clients have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and I have found that many of these cases have unique issues that must be addressed in order to enhance the chances of a favorable outcome. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses six “domains” of functioning to determine how a child’s daily living is affected by the child’s disability.  These domains are: Acquiring and using information Attending and completing tasks Interacting and relating with others Moving about and manipulating objects Caring for yourself Health and physical well-being. A child is considered disabled if the child either has “marked” limitations in two of these domains, or “extreme” limitations in one of them. I have found that many autistic children have extreme limitations in interacting and relating with others.  Individuals with autism may have difficulty holding simple conversations with others, suffer from language difficulties, or repeat words or phrases (echolalia).  I have noticed many of these children do not have the ability to recognize the simple social cues most of us take for granted.  In my experience, most of these kids are smart, and I mean really smart, but their inability to interact … Continued

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September 18, 2012

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Social Security Disability

In my practice I often represent individuals with bowel and urinary problems, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is no exception.  The symptoms my clients describe make me a real believer that they are unable to function in a work environment without accommodations that most employers are unwilling to make.  Some of my clients find it embarrassing to discuss their symptoms, so they do not provide the best testimony at their disability hearing.  I remind them that their hearings are confidential, and that no one outside of the hearing room will know what has been said.  Nonetheless, I understand their hesitancy to discuss these personal issues. One key to winning at your Social Security disability hearing is to make sure that the administrative law judge (ALJ) understands the nature of your Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes a book called the “Listing of Impairments”  that attempts to clearly define the conditions the SSA recognizes as disabling. Although IBS is not specifically addressed in these listings, some of its symptoms are included under Listing 5.06 for Inflammatory Bowel Disease and under other listings in Section 5: Digestive System Impairments.  Even if your Irritable Bowel Syndrome does not meet or equal a listing under Section 5, your symptoms may be severe enough to interfere with your ability to do work-related activities.  These symptoms can include, but are not limited to: Diarrhea that can be frequent and chronic Constipation that can be frequent and chronic Abdominal pain Feeling of fullness or bloating Gas Many of my clients with this disabling condition complain of having to make countless trips to the bathroom each day and of having uncontrollable bowel movements or “accidents” on many occasions.  If you have frequent bowel accidents, it is important to inform your medical treating source about … Continued

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