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July 31, 2017

Can I Receive Social Security Disability for Bipolar Disorder?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes Bipolar Disorder as a disabling condition that can result in disability payments.  My clients often tell me Bipolar Disorder prevents them from getting and keeping a job.  While the symptoms may vary from person to person, I see many of my clients simply not having the ability to concentrate or focus long enough to maintain employment. The SSA acknowledges Bipolar Disorder in its Listing of Impairments under listing 12.04 Depressive, Bipolar, and Other Related Disorders.  If you meet or equal this listing, you may be eligible for benefits.  However, there also may be technical criteria that must be met.  Since there is no objective testing that can show the presence of Bipolar Disorder; hospitalizations, ongoing therapy records, and medication compliance may be the key to receiving benefits. In my Social Security Disability practice, one of the challenges to these cases can be consistent and ongoing therapy records, as the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is not going to be enough.  The SSA generally wants to see a client-patient relationship documenting the ongoing mental illness and compliance with medications prescribed.  If the symptoms still exist after pursuing consistent treatment, then your claim may be given greater weight. A medical source statement from a treating mental health specialist can help the Social Security Administration and/or an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determine your condition is severe enough to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  Some health care professionals are unwilling to produce these types of documents, but it may be in your best interest to ask if they will take the time to do so.  In my experience, these statements should contain a clear diagnosis, how long the condition has lasted and is expected to last, the symptoms, and an opinion on … Continued

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June 20, 2017

Why should you have a brief for your Social Security disability hearing?

At the Law Office of Scott D. Lewis, we submit representative briefs to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) prior to our clients’ disability hearing.  In my experience as an Indiana Social Security disability attorney, I find this to be helpful for a variety of reasons.   A well-structured brief can give the ALJ a concise framework for highlighting the important and relevant aspects in regards to a claim for disability. To begin, the brief can outline the procedural aspects or issues with a claim, and show the ALJ what steps or actions have been taken in anticipation of the hearing.  A good brief will show the theory for disability of the case, such as whether the claim meets any Listing of Impairments or whether any of Social Security’s vocational guidelines.  It should cite to a claimant’s medical records to demonstrate the severity of symptoms, point out any objective medical testing, and highlight any medical source statements from treating sources.  A brief should also show how a claimant’s residual functional capacity is so diminished that no full-time jobs could be performed.   In my practice as a Social Security Disability attorney, I find that a brief serves two strong purposes.  First, it allows the ALJ to know what arguments I am asserting for my clients and provides the evidence to support it.  Medical records can contain hundreds of pages of documents, so giving the ALJ the locations of important documents all in one location can prevent some key piece of evidence from being overlooked. Second, I find that it helps me prepare for the hearing. After assembling the brief, I have a stronger understanding of the client, the medical record, and the strategy I plan to use to win the case. Does every ALJ read every brief submitted? Probably not, however … Continued

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June 12, 2017

Is Your Back Pain Preventing You From Working?

I have represented thousands of my Indiana neighbors in their Social Security disability claims, and I can easily say back pain is the most common disabling condition I see.  This pain can be so severe an individual cannot stand, walk, or even sit for any extended period of time.  These types of postural limitations can create an inability to hold down any type of job.  Many of my clients need to change positions constantly, lie down, and take very strong medication just to make the pain bearable. When reviewing your case, there are specific things the Social Security Administration (SSA) will examine.  For example, do you have objective testing showing the severity of your condition?  Just complaining about back pain is usually not going to get you benefits.  Objective testing like X-rays and MRI’s indicating the severity of your condition can be key in a finding of disability. Are you complying with or seeking appropriate treatment?  In my experience, the SSA and most judges want to see that you are trying to make your back better.  This is often done through medication, physical therapy, electrical stimulation, injections, and surgeries.   Exhausting some, or all, of these avenues and still experiencing severe pain can show the SSA you are complying with treatment and that the pain still persists. The SSA has various rules it uses when evaluating back problems.  It can find you disabled by using its Listing of Impairments or by deciding whether or not you have such severe functional limitations you are unable to work an eight-hour day, five days a week.  It is also important to remember the SSA will examine all of your impairments in combination when deciding if you are disabled.  Many of my clients have more than one severe impairment that is creating their inability to … Continued

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April 26, 2017

Breathing Problems and Social Security Disability

Many of my clients having breathing problems as either their sole issue or as just another problem among the many they experience. Breathing problems such as Emphysema, Asthma, COPD, or any other impairment can make it extremely difficult to work.  Sometimes it is very apparent just by talking to an individual, while other times it is more obvious when they are exerting themselves.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) does consider breathing problems when determining a disabling condition.  It may be wise for you to file a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim if you find this or any other condition prevents you from working. My clients often complain that their breathing problems cause many symptoms including but not limited to: Shortness of Breath Fatigue Chest pain Constant coughing Wheezing Chronic Respiratory Infections Unfortunately, many lung problems can be permanent in nature. As with all disabling conditions, the SSA will usually need medical documentation to prove your disabling condition.  A Pulmonary Function Test may help to persuade the SSA your condition is severe enough to receive disability payments.  The Social Security Administration examines pulmonary disorders under the provisions in its Listing of Impairments.  Listing 3.00 Respiratory Disorders outlines the information the SSA uses to determine if a person meets or equals this disabling condition. Receiving the correct type of treatment can be the key to a successful outcome in a Social Security disability appeal. A qualified pulmonologist may be able to provide the medical documentation needed for the SSA to grant your claim.  It is important to remember to let the SSA know you have issues with your breathing, even though it may not be your primary reason for filing a disability claim.  The SSA can consider all of your impairments in combination when deciding if … Continued

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March 30, 2017

How Important Are My Employees To You?

Years of practicing Social Security Disability law have taught me the importance of having an exceptional office staff. Good Social Security help can be hard to find.  From answering initial client concerns to the final day in court, I find my staff to be diligent and caring.  My current staff greatly exceeds my expectations on a daily basis.   My receptionist, Lisa, is one-of-a-kind. She takes the time to listen to our clients.  Even after receiving many phone calls, she takes the initiative to talk with me about her concerns regarding our clients.  She continually asks questions to learn more about the Social Security process and expand her knowledge.  Many of my clients specifically ask for Lisa when they call, knowing she will remember them and address their needs.  The face of my office is at the reception desk, and I am fortunate Lisa is there to greet my clients.   My right hand man is Attorney Robert Tyree. I can trust Rob with every aspect of representing clients and running day-to-day operations of the business.  Rob is quick to answer questions and offer solid legal advice. His professionalism and steady hand cannot be overstated.  In my line of work, there is no task or job I would not trust Rob to handle.   Attorney Nick Moskalick heads up brief writing and formulating legal arguments for hearings. Nick also has daily interaction with new and existing clients, answering their questions and concerns.  Nick has been a welcome addition to the office, constantly striving to make each case stronger.  Nick discusses each case with me and informs me of positives and negatives that may impact a Social Security appeal.   The medical records section is driven by Attorney Jake Jones. Obtaining medical records to support your disability claim is an essential … Continued

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February 23, 2017

Terminal Illness or TERI cases and Social Security Disability

One of the unfortunate realities of my job is that some of my clients are diagnosed as terminal. While being diagnosed with a terminal illness may seem like an obvious favorable decision for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make, that may not always be the case. Even with this diagnosis the SSA may need more information and can be slow in making a determination.  Hopefully your medical provider, family, and Social Security attorney or representative can gather the information to make it easier for the SSA to make the right decision quickly.   The Social Security Administration avoids the words “terminal illness” and instead calls these cases TERI cases. The SSA defines a TERI case as “a medical condition that is untreatable and expected to result in death.”  Once this type of designation exists, the SSA attempts to expedite the case in the early and later stages of processing.  The SSA has guidelines for identifying these cases and processing them in a particular way.   Getting a medical source statement from your treating physician can be very important. Not only a statement saying the individual is terminal, but also supporting medical evidence establishing a clear diagnosis.  Objective testing and progress notes should be submitted to the SSA to show the severity of the condition.  Many physicians are hesitant to make such statements until all medical avenues have been exhausted.  If you find yourself in this situation it may be in your best interest to let your physician know you are dealing with the Social Security Administration.   If you or a family member finds themselves in this situation, I urge you to contact the SSA as soon as possible to start this process. Qualified Social Security disability attorneys and representatives can also provide guidance on filling out paperwork and … Continued

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January 31, 2017

Social Security Disability and the Durational Requirement

As a Social Security Disability Attorney, I see the Social Security Administration (SSA) turn people down for a variety of reasons. One of the common ways you may be turned down for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is because the SSA states you do not meet its Durational Requirement.  This is a fairly easy way for them to turn down your claim, but you can appeal this decision and many times find yourself with a favorable outcome in the long run.   What is the “Durational Requirement”? The language the SSA uses requires that you must have an impairment lasting or expected to last at least 12 months.  As you can tell, this can be a pretty subjective standard.  The SSA makes this determination on the current medical records they have on hand.  Unfortunately, your medical record may be incomplete when they make this determination.  You can appeal this decision and if you believe you are unable to work and will continue to be unable to work it is most likely in your best interest to file a Request for Reconsideration or Request for Hearing to move your case along.  You have approximately 60 days to file these appeals and it is very important to do so in a timely manner so you do not have to file another initial application.   It is also important to note your impairment must prevent you from performing Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) for at least 12 months in a row. What this essentially means is that you cannot receive disability benefits when your wages are over SGA.  This is a monetary amount establishing a cap you cannot go over.  Many of my clients have difficulty grasping this concept when they are holding down a full time job while … Continued

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November 18, 2016

Do You Know Why You Are Disabled?

That seems like a strange question doesn’t it? My clients tell me they are disabled, but many have a hard time saying it in a way the Social Security Administration (SSA) understands. Many people have Social Security disability questions.  There can be many reasons why it is hard to explain your inability to work.  You may have a rare condition the SSA is not very familiar with; you may have a combination of impairments that, all added together, make you unable to work; you may have to argue you meet special rules the SSA recognizes; or you may just simply be unable to work a full time job.  Trust me, claiming you are disabled to the SSA can be confusing and difficult, or it can be as easy as they want to make it for you.  That’s why knowing what to tell them can possibly create a make or break situation.   In my experience, you need to be careful how you phrase things to the Social Security Administration. First of all, being disabled is not a joke.  Going to physical and mental examinations the SSA sends you to and taking it lightly may result in that particular examiner noting your attitude to the SSA.  All the way through the process, you need to express accurately to the SSA what you are experiencing.   Fill out the forms the SSA gives you truthfully and in their entirety. Some claims can be processed favorably without much human interaction by giving the SSA ALL of the information they request.  Be proactive in your claim, especially at the initial level, to ensure the SSA gets all pertinent information.  Unfortunately, after initial denials, while waiting for a hearing, your claim may not be looked at again until you find yourself in front of an Administrative Law … Continued

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July 7, 2016

Do I have a good Social Security disability case?

I hear this question probably more than any other question from my clients.  When I was in law school, one of my professors told me, “The facts always matter,” and a Social Security disability case is no exception.  It’s also important to know how Social Security applies its rules to the facts of your case when you are trying to show that you are unable to work.  While there are many variables that affect your chances of winning your claim, I have found that some factors are more important than the others. Medical treatment: One of the first things I ask potential clients is whether or not they are seeing doctors.  In order to find that you are disabled, Social Security must be able to find that you have a medically determinable impairment that affects your ability to work.   You must also have medical records that support the statements you make about how badly your symptoms affect you.  You can’t assume that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing will know that you are a trustworthy person who doesn’t exaggerate.  Even if the ALJ does find that you are a credible person, he or she will still want to see objective testing (like x-rays or MRIs) and/or progress notes from your physician that back up your testimony.  The ALJ will want proof that you are being treated by doctors who specialize in your type of impairments – for example, that you are seeing an orthopedic doctor if you have degenerative disc disease, a rheumatologist if you have fibromyalgia, a psychiatrist if you have bipolar disorder, or a neurologist if you have migraine headaches.  If your doctor is willing to provide a written statement about your work-related limitations, it can also improve your chances of a favorable outcome. Age, education, and work experience: … Continued

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April 11, 2016

What are ADLs, and why does Social Security care so much if I go on vacation or keep my house clean?

Many of my clients do not understand why the Social Security Administration (SSA) is so interested in their day-to-day activities.  It might help to think about it this way: since you are not able to work, Social Security can’t ask you how your current symptoms affect your work activities.  Therefore, they have to look instead at what you are actually able (or unable) to do in your daily life.  Social Security refers to these things as your “Activities of Daily Living,” or ADLs. During the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application process, Social Security sends each claimant a questionnaire called an Adult Function Report.  This form asks specific questions about how your impairments affect your ability to do what you need to do to get through a typical day.  Similarly, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing will ask questions about your ADLs, including your ability to: Clean your house (sweep, mop, dust, wash dishes, etc.) Shop for groceries Take care of your yard Drive a car Bathe, shower, and take care of your personal hygiene Dress yourself Do laundry Cook or prepare meals Care for children, other family members, or pets Participate in hobbies Spend time with friends Travel on vacations When you answer questions about your ADLs, it’s important to keep in mind why Social Security is asking them.  The ALJ is not trying to find out of you are a conscientious housekeeper or if you are an interesting person to hang out with.  It can be really hard – embarrassing, even – to admit that you aren’t able to take a shower or wash your dishes as often as you think you should.  It is painful for a lot of my clients to realize that it has been years since they … Continued

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