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 17, 2014

Will My Doctor Be At My Social Security Disability Appeals Hearing?

It is highly unlikely  that your treating physician will attend your Social Security disability hearing.  Unless your doctor is a personal friend you can convince to attend your hearing, your doctor in almost all cases will not be there. First, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not require your doctor to attend.  Although some judges do call physicians to testify at hearings, those physicians are Medical Experts (MEs) paid by the SSA to examine your medical records and evaluate whether your condition is disabling under Social Security’s rules.  Will the ME at your hearing ever have examined you?  No.  Will this ME ever have even met you?  No.  The ME is supposed to give an impartial opinion regardless of the fact the SSA is paying him/her a fee to review the case and testify.  In my experience, there are good MEs and bad MEs, just like there are people who do a good job and people who do a bad job in any other profession.  In a perfect world, your doctor would be able to sit down with the judge and explain your impairments and how they affect you, but that’s most likely not going to happen. Second, your doctor is busy.  Even if you have a doctor who is kind and helpful, it is unrealistic to expect him or her to take time away from practicing medicine to attend your hearing. So what can you do to ensure the judge has good information from your treating physicians? Get the medical treatment you need.  Your explaining to the SSA that you have a bad back is not enough to show that you are disabled under its rules.  Social Security expects to see objective testing like x-rays or MRIs, progress notes from doctor visits, and records of medications you are taking. Make sure the SSA … Continued

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August 26, 2014

What Should I Say At My Social Security Disability Hearing?

When I prepare my Indiana neighbors for their day in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the majority of the conversation revolves around what type of questions the ALJ will ask them.  I have represented clients in front of many different judges, and I have found that each ALJ has a unique style of asking questions – some ask a lot of questions; others prefer to have the representative take most of the client’s testimony.  Therefore, I try to tailor each of my clients’ preparation to be ready for the particular judge who will be hearing the case.  In spite of their differences, though, in my experience most judges cover the same general topics in their hearings. Many, but not all, judges are going to check your credibility.  While objective test results can prove that you have a certain medical diagnosis, the severity of the pain or other symptoms you experience due to that diagnosis can only be explained by you.  Therefore, the judge will likely ask you to explain your symptoms, rate your pain, or describe the ways your pain or other symptoms limit your ability to perform certain tasks.  If a judge believes you are exaggerating or lying about these things, you may find yourself with an unfavorable outcome.  I try to always tell my clients to be truthful yet realistic about what they can or cannot do.  In my experience, credibility is especially important for my clients whose disabilities cannot be diagnosed with objective testing, like mental illness, fibromyalgia, or migraines. Most judges will ask you about your activities of daily living.  These can include but are not limited to cleaning your home, doing dishes, laundry, yard work, bathing or showering, dressing yourself, taking care of children, shopping, using the computer, hobbies, and going out with friends and … Continued

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March 28, 2014

Expedited Social Security Disability Hearings for Veterans

“Starting March 17, 2014, veterans who have a VA compensation rating of 100% permanent and total (P&T) may receive expedited processing of applications for Social Security disability benefits.” This is a direct quote from the Social Security Administration’s website. This is great news for 100% disabled veterans.  In my Indiana law office, we have already seen the results of this rule.  Social Security has called us to schedule expedited hearings for several of my clients who are disabled veterans, in some cases cutting months off of their expected waiting time for their hearings. Unfortunately, I have had to explain to my clients that just because the VA has assigned them a disability rating of 100% permanent and total, it does not mean that Social Security is required to find them disabled as well.  The Veteran’s Administration and Social Security have different rules and different definitions of disability, so they do not always reach the same conclusion after evaluating the same person.  While your VA disability rating letter is important evidence in your Social Security disability claim, it does not guarantee you will be found disabled.  The only advantage this rule gives to veterans with a 100% VA rating is a faster processing time for their claims. There are a few ways to apply for Social Security Disability benefits: Complete your application online. Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778 for deaf or hard of hearing). Call or visit your local Social Security Administration office. If you want to apply in person, it is best to call beforehand to schedule an appointment. To receive the expedited hearing: Identify yourself as a “veteran rated 100% P&T” If you apply in person or over the phone, inform the Social Security representative that you have a veteran rating of 100% P&T. If … 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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April 10, 2013

Is it a Good Idea To Continue My Social Security Disability Hearing?

Sometimes it is necessary to think about continuing, or postponing, your disability hearing.  As a disability attorney, I generally do not like to continue hearings.  Because the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have such crowded schedules, we have to wait a long time to get to a hearing, and rescheduling a hearing often means even more months of waiting before we finally get in front of the judge.  In my experience, most judges do not want to continue hearings either.  They want to keep things moving along quickly once a case gets to the hearing level. One reason an ALJ does not like to continue a Social Security disability hearing, especially on the day of the hearing, is because a lot of resources have been expended in preparing to hear the case.  Many hearings include vocational and medical experts paid by the Social Security Administration who have reviewed the case file and are ready to testify that day.  If the hearing is rescheduled, all of those experts will have to return to testify on another day. Why, then, would a judge consider rescheduling a hearing?  Oftentimes it is because the case file does not contain all of the claimant’s medical records.  Your medical records are a very important part of your case because they provide hard evidence of your diagnoses, symptoms, and prognosis.  Without all of your records, the ALJ will not be able to get a complete picture of your medical conditions.  If all of your records are not available in time for the hearing, though, the ALJ will often proceed with the hearing, taking your testimony and the testimony of any experts present.  The judge will then hold the record open for a specific amount of time so that the additional medical documents can be furnished at a later … 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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September 10, 2012

Does The Social Security Administration Consider How Much Pain I Experience?

Yes, the Social Security Administration is supposed to consider your pain when deciding if you are disabled.  The pain you experience from standing, walking, pushing, pulling, lifting, and sitting may make it difficult, if not impossible, to perform substantial gainful activity.  Many of my clients are not able to focus or concentrate long enough to work because the pain is so severe.  If you do experience pain, it is important to regularly report the frequency and intensity of your pain to your physician.  The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may be skeptical about your complaints of pain if your medical records do not show that you have talked to your doctors about them. Some of my clients suffering from physical disabilities tell me the pain they experience is simply too much to bear. They often enter an Indiana Social Security disability hearing prepared to let the ALJ know exactly what the pain is like on a day to day basis. As an attorney, I give my clients guidelines to help them explain their pain to the judge, and I urge them to be as truthful and straightforward as possible. Most of my clients listen to my advice, but sometimes, clients go into the courtroom and exaggerate their pain symptoms to an unbelievable degree. Being honest about everything at your disability appeal hearing is very important, from explaining what you are physically able to do to describing the pain you experience. In most hearings, the judge or I ask the claimant to rate his pain on a scale from zero to ten, where a rating of zero is no pain, and a rating of ten is pain so severe that you have to go to the hospital. To my surprise, some individuals testify that their pain is at level ten on a … Continued

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June 12, 2012

Being Honest At Your Indiana Disability Hearing

Most of us have certain subjects that we are not comfortable talking about.  Sometimes at a Social Security disability hearing, you will be asked questions that make you uneasy.  Those questions can range from details of your personal life to symptoms of your medical condition, and everything else in between.  Indianapolis attorney Scott D. Lewis encourages each of his clients to be honest with the Judge during the hearing.  Your answers at your hearing may have a huge impact on the outcome of your case. Your credibility may impact the Judge’s decision about whether your conditions are disabling.  While you may have numerous medical tests diagnosing various severe conditions, tests in general cannot show the severity of the pain you experience.  To understand the severity of your pain, the Administrative Law Judge will often rely on your testimony about the type and degree of pain you feel.  Different people have varying levels of pain tolerance, and you are the only one who can explain to the Judge how your pain affects you. It is important for claimants to realize that their medical records contain more information than medical diagnoses and treatment histories. For instance, your doctor often records information about your daily activities, such as whether you have been on vacation, working in your garden, or riding a bicycle.  So imagine that you are in your hearing and the judge asks you a personal question, and you think that an honest answer will lead the judge to believe that you are not disabled.  You may think the best thing to do is to give a dishonest answer so as not to jeopardize your case.  You may not realize, however, that the Judge already knows the answer to the question he is asking you because he has read about it in … Continued

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December 22, 2011

At My Indiana Social Security Disability Hearing The Judge Said I Need A Representative Payee, What Does That Mean?

At times Indiana Social Security disability appeals claimants are instructed at their hearings that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is going to recommend a representative payee.  Individuals not accustomed to the terms commonly used at Social Security disability hearings may wonder what the ALJ is talking about and what effect it may have on them.  Indianapolis Social Security disability lawyers like Scott D. Lewis many times find themselves explaining to their clients what transpired in the court room and what the meanings of particular words are. If you were at your Social Security disability hearing and the ALJ recommended that you be assigned a representative payee there can be a few reasons why this has happened.  In disability attorney Scott Lewis’ experience the main reason a representative payee is recommended is that the ALJ believes you are unable to manage your own funds.  Many times this may be due to a mental condition that makes it difficult for the Social Security disability recipient to take care of their own money. While the individual receiving benefits may be able to designate someone as their representative payee, if the Social Security Administration does not approve of that individual, the SSA may appoint someone entirely different.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) usually looks to family and friends to be assigned as an individual’s representative payee.  If family and friends are not available the SSA may look to various organizations to help in this capacity. If you have been denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits you can contact Indianapolis disability attorney Scott D. Lewis for a free case evaluation.  Mr. Lewis has experience with Social Security disability appeals and understands what Indiana residents are going through.  Call (317) 423-8888 and talk to Mr Lewis and his staff and … Continued

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