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March 19, 2015

Objective Testing and Your Social Security Disability Claim

Proving you are disabled to the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not always easy.  Before the SSA will even consider how your symptoms affect your ability to work, you must show that you have a “medically determinable impairment.”  Telling Social Security that you have pain or fatigue or memory loss is not enough, by itself, to establish a medically determinable impairment.  You must also be able to provide objective evidence that explains why you have those symptoms. The most direct evidence you can provide is objective test results.  These tests might include: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and X-rays: these tests show the location and severity of physical damage to your musculoskeletal system that might cause symptoms such as pain. Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies: this type of test shows whether you have nerve damage that might cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, or weakness. Electroencephalography (EEG): this test helps to show abnormal activity in your brain that might cause symptoms from seizures or sleep disorders. CT Scans: these tests show damage to your organs that might cause symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue. Blood tests: these tests can show the presence or absence of different substances in your blood, which in turn can help prove that you have certain anti-immune disorders or other diseases. Stress tests: these tests measure the effects of exertion on your heart and can help quantify the severity of your cardiovascular symptoms. Echocardiograms: the results of these tests can show abnormalities in your heart that might cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, or fatigue. Not all medical conditions can be proven using objective testing, though. Mental health disorders, migraines, fibromyalgia, and pain disorders are notoriously difficult to prove because there are no reliable tests available to confirm them … Continued

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December 24, 2014

Time Constraints on Appealing Your Indiana Social Security Disability Case

All too often, people call me for help in appealing their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims, only to find out they have waited too long.  If Social Security denies your claim for Social Security disability benefits, you have sixty days to appeal that decision.  (Actually, Social Security allows five extra days for mailing time, so you have a total of sixty-five days from the date of your denial letter.)  If you have not submitted the appropriate forms before the deadline, Social Security will very likely dismiss your claim.  If that happens, you will probably have to start all over with another initial application. There can be times when the Social Security Administration (SSA) will accept an appeal filed after the deadline, but they will only do so if there is “good cause” for the late filing.  If you forgot the deadline, lost the paperwork, or just didn’t get the forms filled out on time, Social Security probably will not find that you have good cause.  On the other hand, if you were hospitalized, had a death in your immediate family, or never received the denial letter because Social Security sent it to the wrong address, there is a good chance that the SSA will accept your late filing.  Social Security makes a decision about good cause on a case-by-case basis.  The best thing to do is to file the appeal as soon as possible after you receive the denial. How can you make sure you don’t miss Social Security’s filing deadlines?  Here are some tips: Keep your Social Security office informed about changes in your address and/or telephone number. Follow up with Social Security regarding your claim.  In my office, we follow up about once a month during the initial application and reconsideration stages … Continued

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December 12, 2014

Consultative Exams: What Are They And Should You Go?

Many disability claimants are caught off guard when they receive a notice from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a scheduled doctor’s appointment.   These doctor appointments are called consultative examinations (CE’s).  The SSA will sometimes send SSDI and/or SSI claimants to these examinations if they feel like more information is needed to determine a disabling condition.  It is important that the claimants attend these CE’s.  Failure to appear at a CE may result in the SSA denying the claim. Who are the doctors? The doctors that perform the CE’s are not employed directly by Social Security, but are private doctors that are contracted out by the SSA.  In my experience, this can be good and bad.  The good part is that since the doctors are independent physicians, they should be evaluating the claimant’s condition objectively.  The flip side of this is that since these physicians only see the claimants for a single short visit, (usually around 15 minutes) a thorough evaluation may not be performed. What is the purpose of these exams? The most likely purpose that a claimant is sent to a consultative examination is because of a lack of medical records.  If a claimant is claiming a disability, but there are not any or enough medical records to back it up, or the records are from a long time ago, the claimant’s case reviewer will most likely send the claimant out for a CE.  Hopefully the SSA will attempt to give the claimant a fair shot despite the lack of medical records, but it is usually best not to rely on a consultative examination to prove your disability.  Another scenario that my office sees is when the case reviewer or the judge wants a specific test done that they think could prove or disprove the claimant’s case. … Continued

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November 26, 2014

What Is The Timeline For My Social Security Disability Claim?

Many claimants wonder what the timeline looks like for a Social Security disability claim from start to finish.  The waiting time for a claim can depend on many factors and can vary greatly from case to case. Step 1: Initial Application In my experience, the average waiting time for a decision on the initial application is about 4 months, but this is only an estimate. This wait time can depend on multiple things.  One factor is how quickly your medical providers respond to the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s requests for medical records.  The SSA will request any relevant medical records from the medical providers you listed on your initial application.  In my experience, the turnaround time for medical records can range from one week to a few months.  Another factor that impacts the waiting time at this stage is how long it takes the SSA to obtain additional information it needs about your disabling conditions.  This additional information can come in the form of consultative exams (one-time assessments by doctors who examine you on the SSA’s behalf) or questionnaires about your work history and your activities of daily living.  Finally, the wait time can be longer or shorter based on the SSA’s current workload. Step 2: Request for Reconsideration In my experience, claimants wait approximately 3 months for a decision on a request for reconsideration, but this is only an estimate. The waiting time at this step has the greatest variation among my clients.  Some clients receive a decision within a few weeks, especially if they have not received any additional medical treatment since they completed their initial application.  Others wait months as their adjudicators work to obtain additional information, especially if the claimants have experienced big changes in their disabling conditions since completing the initial application.  Usually this step simply entails a medical records update and … Continued

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November 24, 2014

The Social Security Administration’s Five Step Process

Curious as to how the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes their decision on whether a claimant is disabled or not?  The SSA uses a five-step process, called the “sequential evaluation process,” to evaluate whether claimants’ disabilities are severe enough to prevent them from working.  The steps of the process are as follows: Are you working? Yes: If you are working at the time you apply and your earnings are above “substantial gainful activity,” the SSA will find you not disabled. “Substantial gainful activity” means that your gross earnings average more than $1070 a month (or $1800 per month if you are blind), Social Security generally will not consider you disabled.  The amount per month changes from year to year. Note that Social Security is looking only at your earnings, not at your total income.  If you receive money for something other than work activity, like insurance benefits or investment income, Social Security does not consider it at this step. No: If you are not working, or if your gross earnings average less than $1070 per month (or $1800 per month if you are blind), the evaluation proceeds to step two. Is your medical condition “severe?” Yes: Your medical condition is “severe” under Social Security’s rules if: It is a “medically determinable impairment.”  Typically, you must have a diagnosis from a doctor with medical evidence supporting that diagnosis; an explanation from you of the symptoms you experience is not enough. It meets the duration requirement.  Your condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least twelve consecutive months, or it must be expected to end in death. It significantly limits your physical or mental abilities to do basic work activities. No: If your condition has no more than a minimal effect on your ability to basic work activities, the SSA will find you not disabled. Does your … Continued

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July 10, 2014

How Do Drugs And Alcohol Use Affect My Disability Claim?

Your social security disability claim may be denied due to alcohol or drug use.  The way this information usually gets to the Social Security Administration (SSA) is through the medical records.  Most doctors offices ask questions concerning drugs and alcohol when patients go in for a check up.  Some hospitals will conduct drug tests while patients are in for a procedure. Below is a paraphrased version of what the SSA’s Federal Regulation 416.935 says concerning drugs and alcohol: If the SSA finds that you are disabled, they must determine if your drug or alcohol addiction is a contributing factor to your disability.  This does not apply to claimants when applying because of blindness. If you stopped using drugs or alcohol, would the SSA still find you disabled? Would your current physical or mental limitations remain if you stopped using drugs or alcohol? If the SSA determines that your remaining limitations (after removing the drug or alcohol use) would not be disabling, you may not receive benefits. If the SSA determines that your remaining limitations (after removing the drug or alcohol use) are still disabling, you may be found favorable for benefits. How the SSA looks at drug and alcohol use varies from case to case.  In cases where the claimant is claiming mental health issues, the SSA will look and determine, in their opinion, if the claimant stopped using drugs or alcohol, would the condition still exist?  This can be a gray area with mental health cases because far too often I see drugs or alcohol become a coping mechanism for mental issues. If you have drug or alcohol issues, your case may be harder to win, but this does not mean that it is impossible.  We must prove to the SSA that the drug or alcohol issues are independent … 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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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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April 22, 2013

Pain and Your Social Security Disability Hearing

I have found through many years of practicing disability law that each person’s experience of pain is unique.  I have noticed that some of my clients who have similar diagnoses and test results describe the nature and intensity of their pain very differently, and their pain affects each one’s ability to complete daily activities to a different degree.  I believe it is important when testifying at your Indiana disability hearing to be realistic about how your pain feels and how severe your pain is. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing has access to your medical records and is aware of your diagnoses and test results; he will listen to your descriptions of your pain and try to decide if they are consistent with the information in your records. Many times at hearings, the ALJ or your representative will give you a “pain scale” to rate the severity of the pain you experience. A typical pain scale will describe “0” as no pain at all and a “10” as pain so bad you have to go to the hospital.  The ALJ will then ask you to assess your pain on a typical day after you have taken your prescribed medications.  Even when my clients deal with severe pain every day, I tell them to think hard before telling the judge that they experience pain at a “10” on an average day, unless they really do go to the emergency room several times a week.  If the ALJ thinks you are exaggerating your pain symptoms at your hearing, he might not believe other parts of your testimony, either.  In my opinion, it is important to tell the truth at your hearing.  These judges have presided over numerous hearings and have a lot of experience deciding whether people are being honest … Continued

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