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September 6, 2017

Updating Your Social Security Disability Claim with Your Attorney

With the huge backlog of pending Social Security disability claims, you may think your case has been lost in a sea of paperwork.  My staff strives to let our clients know that just because they haven’t heard from us on recent progress with the Social Security Administration (SSA), we have not forgotten about them.  My staff spends much of the day updating cases and explaining the lengthy wait times to clients waiting to finally get their day in court.  It can be frustrating for clients, and contrary to what some may say, there is no preferential treatment given to a claimant because they hire a certain attorney. So what can you do during this long wait time?  Continue to see your doctors for necessary treatment as long as you can afford to.  Let your attorney know of any update to your medical condition, and if you do not have an attorney then let the SSA know about treatment. It is especially important to provide updates on any new treatment providers you have seen, as this will be particularly useful when it comes time to obtain medical records. Many things can happen while waiting for a hearing—your physical or mental condition may get better, get worse, or stay the same. Another important aspect of keeping your case updated is to let your attorney know if your contact information has changed.  During times of financial hardship, telephone numbers and addresses can change repeatedly.  When it comes time for your day in court, it is imperative that the SSA and/or your lawyer can contact you. We encourage our clients to contact us whenever they have a status update.  The appeals process goes through various stages.  Given the time limits for filing critical paperwork, keeping in contact with your attorney is essential.

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May 21, 2015

Why Are Medical Records So Important to My Social Security Disability Claim?

Whenever I talk about the keys to a Social Security disability claim, I emphasize the importance of medical records.  Medical records are important because the Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot find you disabled under its rules without finding that you have a “medically determinable impairment.”  In other words, you must be able to provide acceptable medical evidence, such as objective test results or treatment notes showing diagnoses from acceptable medical sources, that proves that you have a medical condition that prevents you from being able to work. Why are Medical Records Important? While the SSA will most likely send you for an independent consultative examination to determine your diagnoses and symptoms, it is important to have medical records showing that you have been diagnosed and treated on your own.  I have often seen decisions in which an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has concluded that a claimant’s impairment must not be as severe as he or she is alleging because the claimant did not receive significant medical treatment for it. Medical records are helpful in proving that you are disabled because they contain the diagnoses and clinical findings of medical providers who have treated you on a regular basis.  If those diagnoses and findings come from a doctor who specializes in treating your condition, Social Security will likely give them significant weight in determining whether your condition prevents you from working. What Kinds of Medical Records are Important? The most valuable records I can submit on behalf of my clients are objective test results.  X-rays, MRIs, nerve conduction studies, pulmonary function tests, and other tests give hard data showing the severity of certain conditions.  In fact, with appropriate test results it may be possible to show that you are disabled without even having to talk about whether you can perform work-like … Continued

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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 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

Filed under: Appeals Process, Claims Process, Evaluation Process, Hearings Process, Medical Treatment, Social Security Disability Benefits Claims Process || Tagged under:
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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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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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March 13, 2014

Bipolar Disorder and Social Security Disability Benefits

Bipolar disorder is a type of mental disorder.  It is usually distinguished by periods of depression that alternate with periods of “mania.”  Sometimes these episodes can be so severe that they impact a person’s ability to live a normal life.  There are five levels of moods associated with bipolar disorder: Severe Mania Hypomania Normal Mood Mild/Moderate Depression Severe Depression Some common signs that go along with these changing moods: Feeling more “high” than normal or very irritable Holding unreasonable beliefs about one’s own abilities Not sleeping much, but having a large amount of energy Talking so quickly that no one else can understand and experiencing racing thoughts Being very distracted or not being able to concentrate Acting very impulsively or recklessly In severe cases, experiencing delusions or hallucinations Bipolar disorder is not curable, but it can be manageable.  Management options may include psychotherapy or medication. The Social Security Administration (SSA) classifies bipolar disorder as an “affective disorder.”  According to the SSA, an affective disorder is “characterized by a disturbance of mood, accompanied by a full or partial manic or depressive syndrome. Mood refers to a prolonged emotion that colors the whole psychic life; it generally involves either depression or elation.”  Bipolar disorder is listed under Section 12.04 of the Listing of Impairments. When evaluating your Social Security disability case, Social Security will try to determine your “residual functional capacity” (RFC).  Your RFC is defined as your ability to do work-like activities in a work-like setting on a “regular and continuing” basis.  In other words, the SSA is trying to determine your ability to work a normal eight hour a day job. Even though bipolar disorder may not affect your ability to accomplish physical activities, such as standing, carrying, or using your hands, it does affect your ability to work in other ways.  For example, Social … Continued

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January 13, 2014

Medical Records and Being Prepared For Your Social Security Disability Hearing

In my practice as an Indianapolis Social Security disability attorney, I find that good communication is essential for me to provide the best possible representation for my clients.  My office takes pride in responding promptly and attentively to our clients’ calls, emails, and letters.  However, I am often surprised by clients who do not hold up their end of the deal!  My office mails several types of forms to our clients to help us collect the information we need to build a good case, and when clients do not return those forms promptly, it can really hurt our ability to prepare for their hearings. One of my office’s most important jobs in preparing for your hearing is submitting medical records that show the nature and extent of your disabilities.  We strive to work quickly and efficiently to request, follow up, and submit your medical records, but we cannot do any of those things unless you tell us where you have been receiving treatment.  As soon as we know when your hearing is scheduled, we will ask you to provide a complete list of your medical providers.  It can take weeks – sometimes over a month – for medical offices to process our requests for records, so if you wait to give us this information until a few days before your hearing, we probably won’t have all of your records submitted before the hearing is held. In my opinion, not having complete medical records available at your hearing will put you at a distinct disadvantage.  First, most of the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who decide Social Security disability appeals review the claimant’s file before the hearing.  The ALJ wants to know if you have been receiving consistent treatment, if you have been hospitalized for your condition, and if you have had any surgeries or other invasive treatments.  In short, the ALJ wants to make sure that your medical records provide objective evidence to support your … 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 20, 2011

Consultative Examinations and Your Social Security Disability Benefits

Scott Lewis is an Indianapolis Social Security disability lawyer who is experienced in helping individuals in obtaining the Social Security disability benefits they deserve.  Mr. Lewis has also read the results and talked to his Indiana disability clients about consultative examinations.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses consultative examinations when they determine there is either not enough supportive information from your treating physician(s) or you simply do not have a physician to provide information to support your disability claim. A consultative examination (CE) is an examination covering psychiatric, psychological, or physical impairments.  The consultative examination is conducted by medical professionals contracted by the government to provide information regarding the severity of the disabling condition the claimant has asserted as a mental or physical impairment. Indiana disability attorney Scott Lewis fields many questions from his clients about these consultative examinations.  Many individuals ask Mr. Lewis if it is mandatory that they attend the examinations.  Mr. Lewis often tells his clients that not attending a consultative examination could result in denial of the disability claim.  Active participation in the disability process when you are asked to help move the process along may help you receive a favorable outcome.  If you cannot attend your consultative examination, let the Social Security Administration know so it can be rescheduled at a time more convenient for you. There can be drawbacks to relying on a consultative examination for an approval of your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim.  These examinations are usually very brief.  In Mr. Lewis’ experience, they are not a good substitute for a long standing relationship with a treating physician.  You also must remember a consultative examination is usually a single appointment by a physician who has never seen you before.  Obviously this is probably not a good … Continued

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