July 16, 2009
Do Medical Experts (ME) or Vocational Experts (VE) Always Testify at an Administrative Law Judge Hearing?
Indianapolis Social Security Disability claimants often ask if the Social Security Administration (SSA) will always have experts testify at their Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing. In simple terms, the answer is “no, not always.” There are multiple reasons why an expert may not testify at the disability hearing. Some ALJ’s simply do not use a Medical Experts (ME) or Vocational Experts (VE). Other ALJ’s may use one expert but may not use the other expert. Although the reasons vary, some reasons could include the availability of these experts and whether or not the ALJ has already looked at your case and may decide you are getting a favorable decision before you have even walked through the door. Many experienced Administrative Law Judges feel that they can make a fair decision based on the claimant’s testimony and the medical records. Hopefully, they have looked thoroughly at the claimant’s medical records and will come to a fact based decision as to what the limitations are regarding the claimant’s disability. Once the ALJ has established the limitations, they consider whether the claimant can perform their past employment, or with the restrictions determined, whether they can perform other employment. Are your chances of winning your disability claim better if there are no experts? In Indianapolis Social Security Disability Attorney Scott D. Lewis’s opinion, probably not. While expert testimony can help lay out the framework for a decision, most Administrative Law Judge’s are going to go through the same process without the aid of expert testimony. An attorney representing you in your disability claim should be ready for the presence of experts and have an appropriate line of questions ready if needed. If you have questions regarding your Social Security Disability claim, contact Attorney Scott Lewis for a free consultation at (317) 423-8888.
July 8, 2009
It may be a surprise to know that not long ago Social Security disability claimants could have received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for having alcoholism and substance abuse problems. Presently, alcoholism and substance abuse problems may be a huge barrier to obtaining these same benefits. In 1996, Congress passed an act that prevented claimants that suffer from alcoholism and/or substance abuse to receive SSDI benefits. Claimants that suffer from substance abuse addictions or alcoholism may find themselves receiving an unfavorable decision by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Before taking a look at the effects of the substance abuse or alcoholism, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will focus on the physical or mental impairment of the Social Security claimant. If the SSA determines there is a disabling condition, the SSA will then consider the medical evidence showing a history of alcoholism or substance abuse. At that point, the SSA will decide if the alcoholism or drug abuse is a contributing factor to that person’s disability. The key question is whether the alcoholism or drug abuse “materially” contributes to the disabling condition. Social Security may ask that if the addiction was not there, would the claimant still be disabled. It is important in these types of claims for the social security claimant to seek treatment and be in a treatment program. Not all Administrative Law Judges are sympathetic to the plight of an addiction. So if you are attempting to seek social security disability it is important to keep the above in mind when assessing your eligibility for Social Security benefits. Indiana Attorney Scott D. Lewis is an experienced Social Security Disability Lawyer that can help you with your claim. Contact Scott Lewis for a free consultation at (317) 423-8888.
July 6, 2009
Finally, your Social Security Disability claim has been scheduled for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and you have been told it is a “video hearing”. Most Indianapolis Social Security Disability claimants may wonder what a video hearing is and why are they scheduled to have one? Video hearings are hearings where the judge is at a different location from the claimant and will appear on a large colored television screen at your location. The judge is able to speak, hear, or see anyone at the hearings office location. The Social Security Administration (SSA) states that your privacy is protected and the hearing transmission is done in a secure manner. A video hearing consists of the same elements as hearing in person. The video hearing is not video taped but the SSA does make an audio recording. At the local hearings room, there will be the claimant, a court reporter, and if the claimant desires representation, a Social Security Disabiltiy Attorney or representative. Sometimes a medical expert and/or a vocational (job) expert may testify at the hearing. The Social Security Administration (SSA) believes that using video technology may be a faster way to get a hearing, may be more convenient, and also may be more efficient. The Indianapolis Social Security Hearing’s Office is currently one of the most backlogged hearings offices in the country. Many video hearings take place in Indianapolis due to the tremendous backlog. While it might be true that video hearings may be a way to expedite your social security disability case heard by a judge, there may also be some drawbacks. A hearing held in front of a judge rather than by video may be more personal. This may give the judge the opportunity to actually look at the claimant in close proximity enabling the judge to assess the claimant’s physical or even mental disability by being able to directly observe the claimant … Continued
July 2, 2009
As an Indianapolis Social Security Disability Attorney, many of my clients ask if their Social Security Disability benefits will run out or only last for a short period of time. The answer to this particular question is “no”, but there are specific reasons that it may stop. For example, if your disabling condition gets better and/or you have reached recovery, then your payments will stop. Additionally, if you return to work and earn over a certain amount of money per month, again, your payments will stop. The Social Security Administration (SSA) refers to this as “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA). In 2009, the SGA is $980/month for non-blind recipients. The SSA periodically reviews Social Security recipient’s files to determine whether or not their disability continues to be severe enough to prevent them from working. Once you reach retirement age, your Social Security disability benefits will automatically turn into Social Security retirement benefits. The year that you were born will determine at what age Social Security will recognize as your eligible retirement age. If you have any further questions regarding the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs, please call my law firm and ask for Attorney Scott D. Lewis for a free consultation.
July 1, 2009
Frequently, Indiana Social Security Disability benefits recipients wonder if their disability worsens, will their disability payments incease? If you are currently receiving Social Security Disability benefits, your payments will not change if your condition worsens or if you have an additional severe impairment. Upon the original disability determination made by the Social Security Administration (SSA), the SSA takes into account various factors when deciding the amount of your disability payment. Once these factors have been determined, your payment amount is established and your payments will not change due to a worsening condition or an additional impairment. Unlike other disability programs that base your disability on percentages, such as the Veterans Administration, Social Security disability payments are pretty much an all or nothing proposition. With this in mind, it is important to let the Social Security Administration know about all of your impairments, and also the severity of each impairment when filing your initial claim and throughout the entire claims process. On the other hand, it is possible that your payment may increase. If you notice an increase in your payments, it’s likely an automatic annual cost of living adjustment. Since 1975, the SSA established “Cost of Living Adjustments” (COLA) in order to keep pace with inflation. These increases will automatically be given to you in December of each year. For more information concerning Social Security Disability benefits, contact Indianapolis Attorney Scott Lewis for a free consultation at (317) 423-8888.
June 22, 2009
When it comes to your disability claim, your onset date can be very important. The onset date can affect how much of your past due benefits you will be paid and/or if you are eligible for benefits at all. As defined in the Social Security Act and/or regulations, the onset date of disability is the first day a person is disabled. When determining your onset date, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will look at work history, medical findings, and the claimant’s allegations. The aforementioned are usually looked at as a whole to determine the onset date. It should be noted, the date the claimant stopped working or the claimant’s allegations are important in deciding onset only if it falls in line with how severe the medical condition is as evidence by the medical records. In Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claims, the earlier the onset date can be established, the longer the period of disability and it usually helps to maximize the amount of past due benefits that can be received. It is important to remember that a person attempting to receive SSDI must also meet the requirement of insured status. Insured status must be met at the time when a disability preventing an individual from performing substantial gainful activity is determined. While this is just a brief framework of how the Social Security Administration may look at your disability and your onset date, it should not be relied on for legal advice. For more information concerning onset dates and Social Security Disability benefits, contact the SSA or Indianapolis Attorney Scott Lewis for a free consultation at (317) 423-8888.
June 11, 2009
In May 2009, the Social Security Administration (SSA) released the 2008 statistics on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients by state and county. Indianapolis area residents may be interested in knowing how their county rates compared to surrounding counties when it comes to the distribution of SSI funds. The complete list can be found on the SSA’s website. Below is a sample of the 2008 statistics of the state of Indiana and Indianapolis and its surrounding counties: State or County Total Category Age SSIrecipientsalsoreceivingOASDI Aged Blind anddisabled Under 18 18-64 65 orolder Indiana 108,148 5,617 102,531 23,621 71,977 12,550 34,221 Boone County 363 34 329 74 235 54 121 Hamilton County 1,161 141 1,020 241 713 207 322 Hancock County 457 30 427 98 300 59 142 Hendricks County 693 53 640 171 435 87 211 Johnson County 1,061 69 992 258 674 129 331 Marion County 20,453 1,160 19,293 5,321 12,659 2,473 5,937 Morgan County 806 35 771 148 574 84 273 Shelby County 601 37 564 133 400 68 196 If you have questions regarding Indiana Supplemental Security Income benefits, contact Social Security Disability Attorney Scott Lewis for a free consultation at (317) 423-8888
June 5, 2009
Many Indiana Social Security Disability Benefit recipients wonder when their disability benefits will change to Social Security retirement benefits. Retirement benefits and disability benefits are both Social Security benefits. Social Security benefits are paid out of two trust funds: the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund and the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund. If you are a person who is receiving disability benefits, when you reach your full retirement age, the Social Security Administration (SSA) stops paying them from the DI trust fund and changes payment to come from the OASI trust fund. Your monthly earnings will not change. Although, because you’ll then be getting full retirement benefits based on age rather than disability benefits based on your medical condition, your disability will no longer be the basis for your entitlement. This means no more periodic re-evaluations by the SSA to see if you still meet the definition of disability and no restrictions on earnings should you return to work. According to the SSA, depending on the year you were born, full retirement age is the following: 1937 or Earlier – Retirement age is 65 1938 – Retirement age is 65 and 2 months 1939 – Retirement age is 65 and 4 months 1940 – Retirement age is 65 and 6 months 1941 – Retirement age is 65 and 8 months 1942 – Retirement age is 65 and 10 months 1943-1954 – Retirement age is 66 1955 – Retirement age is 66 and 2 months 1956 – Retirement age is 66 and 4 months 1957 – Retirement age is 66 and 6 months 1958 – Retirement age is 66 and 8 months 1959 – Retirement age is 66 and 10 months 1960 and later – Retirement age is 67 In summary, when you reach full retirement age, nothing will change, except for Social Security purposes, your benefits will be … Continued
June 4, 2009
Most people are not familiar with the Social Security disability claims process. When you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, the success of your claim often depends on providing good supporting medical records. It is important to know what medical documentation that the Social Security Administration (SSA) needs. Without an attorney, it is the SSA’s responsibility to secure your medical records. An attorney has experience in knowing how to request this information from doctors and other medical professionals. Indiana Social Security Disability Attorney Scott D. Lewis sees a variety of medical records every day and knows how important good supporting medical documentation can be in getting your Social Security benefits approved. Here are a few key things to keep in mind when seeing your doctor and accumulating medical records: An abundance of pertinent records relating to your disability will usually help the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in finding a favorable result in your case. Try to make it easy on the Social Security Administration (SSA) by seeing your doctor(s) on a regular basis and providing the SSA with good medical records. Adequate progress notes can help in obtaining a favorable decision. If your physician can document your disabilities on a consistent basis showing the disabilities you are having, it can greatly enhance your case. Tests verifying your disabilities can have an impact on a favorable outcome. MRI’s, EKG’s, and various other objective tests showing the severity of your disability are things the SSA and your attorney can use to substantiate your case. A clear diagnosis or assessment of your disability is critical in getting your benefits. The Listing of Impairments defines disabilities that the Social Security Administration recognizes. If you have a distinct diagnosis by your physician that meets or equals one of these listings your ability to obtain Social … Continued
June 3, 2009
Indiana residents may wonder how the Social Security Administration (SSA) determines if they are disabled. In order to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, the SSA must find you disabled. There are many factors that go into answering this question. Outlined below is the five-step process that the SSA uses to decide if you are disabled. Indianapolis Social Security Disability Attorney Scott D. Lewis suggest that you keep the following in mind when you decide to file a claim. Are you working? If you are employed and your monthly earnings average more than a certain amount designated by the SSA, the SSA generally will not consider you disabled. The amount changes each year. For the current figure, visit the SSA website. If you are not working, or your monthly earnings average the current amount or less, then they will look at your medical condition. Many times, Social Security claimants are unclear of what earnings count. If you have questions, contact Attorney Scott Lewis. Is your medical condition “severe”? For the SSA to decide that you are disabled, your medical condition must significantly limit your ability to do basic work activities, such as sitting, standing, walking, and remembering, for at least one year. If your medical condition is not that considered severe, you will not be considered disabled. If your condition is severe, the SSA goes on to the next step. Is your medical condition on the SSA’s List of Impairments? The SSA has a List of Impairments that describes medical conditions that are considered so severe that you automatically qualify as being disabled. If your condition (or combination of medical conditions) is not on this list, they will look to see if your condition is as severe as a condition that is on the list. If the severity of your medical condition meets or equals that of a … Continued