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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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January 6, 2016

Finding an Indiana Social Security Disability Lawyer for your Child

If you have had a difficult time finding an attorney to represent you in your child’s claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you may not be alone.  When I speak to new clients in my Indianapolis Social Security disability law practice, they often tell me that many of the Social Security disability attorneys they had consulted simply do not take children’s cases.  Some Administrative Law Judges have told me that children’s SSI cases can be more difficult to win than adult cases.  In my experience, the chances of winning a child’s case are affected by the same factors that affect adults’ cases – we need good treatment records, statements from a treating physician supporting the claimant’s descriptions of his or her symptoms, and good preparation for the hearing.   I take great pride in helping the families of disabled children, and I believe my experience with these cases helps to ensure that my clients have the best chance possible at a favorable outcome. One of the reasons some attorneys may be reluctant to accept children’s cases is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses different criteria in evaluating a child’s disability that it does when it evaluates an adult’s impairments.  For example, Social Security has a separate Listing of Impairments for adults and children.  Further, the SSA evaluates children’s and adults’ functional limitations using different frameworks.  The main issue in an adult’s case is whether his or her disability is severe enough to prevent full-time work.  Obviously, since children do not work, Social Security cannot analyze a child’s functional limitations in this manner.  Instead, the SSA determines whether a child has “marked” limitations in at least two (or “extreme” limitations in at least one) of six areas of functioning Social Security calls “domains”: Acquiring and using information:  the child’s ability … Continued

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December 31, 2015

Can I Get Social Security Disability For COPD?

If your symptoms are severe enough, Social Security can find you disabled if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  However, a diagnosis on its own is not enough.  In my practice, I find that COPD is disabling to my clients in two ways – either because their COPD symptoms are so severe that they are unable to work, or because their COPD symptoms combine with symptoms from other impairments to keep them from working. I am surprised at how many of my clients have breathing difficulties.  Their diagnoses range from asthma to emphysema.  My experience with clients with breathing problems is that their symptoms generally do not improve with time.  If you find you are unable to work due to COPD or any other breathing problem, it may be in your best interest to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as soon as possible. The Social Security Administration (SSA) examines COPD in its Listing of Impairments under listing 3.02 for chronic pulmonary insufficiency.  The listings in section 3 cover many other types of respiratory impairments as well, including asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, persistent pulmonary infections, and cor pulomale due to chronic pulmonary vascular hypertension.  If you have COPD or any other respiratory problem, Social Security will probably order a “pulmonary function test” to objectively determine the extent of the obstruction to your airways.  If you are already being treated by a pulmonologist, you may have already had one or more pulmonary function tests performed.  Social Security will request records from your doctor, which will include these test results as well as your doctor’s diagnoses and clinical impressions. Another way to meet the requirements of the listings in section 3 is to show that you have frequent respiratory exacerbations that require physician intervention.  If … Continued

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December 11, 2015

Is it Easy to Get Social Security Disability?

I don’t think so.  Almost every day I hear from somebody who tells me about a neighbor or relative who gets Social Security Disability payments even though there is “nothing wrong with him.”  The fact is there are guidelines and rules that must be met in every Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) case.  When people tell me stories like the one I just mentioned, my guess is they are not fully informed about the facts regarding the particular case.  Social Security processes each claim for disability very thoroughly, so to think Social Security hands out benefits like candy is just not the truth. First, individuals must meet certain rules regarding resources and whether you have worked enough to be eligible.  The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program considers various factors regarding financial resources and income to determine eligibility.  The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is available to workers who have worked long enough to earn eligibility for benefits.  Unfortunately, some individuals do not qualify for either program; one example is a parent who has taken several years off of work to care for young children but has a spouse who works full time.  The best way to determine whether you qualify is to apply for both programs and let the SSA determine your eligibility. Second, medical records are generally necessary to prove a case and receive benefits.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes certain impairments as disabling.  Simply saying you have something wrong with you is usually not enough if you cannot provide medical evidence to back you up.  While the SSA will send you to a consultative medical examination, in my experience the results of these examinations are not given a great amount of weight by the disability reviewers or by Administrative Law Judges … Continued

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November 3, 2015

Social Security Disability Payments for Neurological Impairments

There are many medical conditions that can so severely affect an individual’s mental and physical functioning as to qualify that person for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. In my Indianapolis Social Security disability practice I represent many Indiana residents suffering from neurological impairments. Many of those clients suffer from a combination of mental and physical symptoms that prevent them from performing what the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA); in other words, they cannot work a full-time job. In cases involving adults with neurological impairments, the SSA will first consult the listings in Section 11 of its Listing of Impairments. The Listing of Impairments is a guideline published by the Social Security Administration outlining certain criteria that, if met, are considered to be proof that the claimant is disabled. The conditions addressed in the Listings are as follows: • Epilepsy (convulsive or non-convulsive) • Central nervous system vascular accident • Benign brain tumors (malignant brain tumors are evaluated under listings for cancer) • Parkinsonian syndrome • Cerebral palsy • Spinal cord or nerve root lesions • Multiple sclerosis • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis • Anterior poliomyelitis • Myasthenia gravis • Muscular dystrophy • Subacute combined cord degeneration • Other degenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s chorea, Friedreich’s ataxia, or spino-cerebellar degeneration • Cerebral trauma • Syringomyelia Most of the criteria in the Listings for these impairments require evidence of the following: (a) A medical diagnosis and appropriate medical testing (b) Sensory, motor, and/or speech dysfunction (c) Compliance with prescribed treatment See the specific listings for the requirements for each particular impairment. In my experience, a person whose diagnosis and symptoms meet the criteria of the listings should be found disabled in the early stages of the disability process, as long as appropriate medical … Continued

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October 7, 2015

Can I Receive Social Security Disability Payments For Fibromyalgia?

The short answer is yes, you can receive Social Security disability benefits if you have fibromyalgia.  In my experience, though, you may face some obstacles along the way.  Although doctors have been diagnosing fibromyalgia for many years, it was not until 2012 that the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued guidelines addressing fibromyalgia as a disabling condition in policy ruling SSR 12-2p. While SSR 12-2p requires that a diagnosis of fibromyalgia be made by a licensed physician, it has been my experience that having a diagnosis from a rheumatologist greatly improves the likelihood that the SSA will accept that diagnosis as valid.  As with any type of impairment, Social Security gives greater weight to the diagnoses and clinical findings of a physician who specializes in treating your disabling condition. SSR 12-2p states that a diagnosis of fibromyalgia alone is not sufficient proof of a disabling condition.  Social Security will review the doctor’s treatment notes to make sure that the doctor’s clinical findings and treatment notes over time show that your physical strength and functional abilities are limited enough to be disabling.  A short summary of the criteria the SSA considers in determining whether your diagnosis of fibromyalgia is disabling includes: 1.  A history of widespread pain that has persisted for at least three months 2.  At least one of the following: a.  At least eleven positive tender points on examination b.  Repeated manifestation of at least six fibromyalgia signs or co-occurring conditions, especially fatigue, cognitive or memory problems, waking unrefreshed, depression, anxiety disorder, or irritable bowel syndrome 3.  Evidence ruling out other disorders that could cause these symptoms If you have fibromyalgia, you probably know that this short summary cannot begin to convey how completely your symptoms affect your life.  The pain you experience on a daily basis and the other … Continued

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September 24, 2015

What happens to my child’s SSI benefits at age eighteen?

When a child turns eighteen, he or she becomes an adult under Social Security’s rules.  Therefore, if you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for your child, you should be prepared for Social Security to re-evaluate your child’s medical condition once he or she turns eighteen. The Social Security Administration uses different criteria for children and adults when determining disability.  First, Social Security has a separate Listing of Impairments for children and for adults.  While many of the listings are substantially similar, the specific criteria for many of the listed impairments are different for adults than for children. Additionally, Social Security evaluates functional limitations quite differently between adults and children.  For adults, Social Security determines the claimant’s “residual functional capacity;” that is, how much he or she is physically and mentally able to do in a work-like setting.  The evaluators determine how much the claimant can lift; how long he or she can sit, stand, and walk; and whether he or she has any difficulties dealing with the mental demands of work.  After determining a claimant’s residual functional capacity, Social Security determines whether a person with those abilities can work full time.  If not, the claimant is disabled. For children, on the other hand, functional limitations are assessed by whether the child has “marked” or “extreme” limitations in certain domains of functioning including acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, caring for himself, and health and physical well-being.  If a child is markedly impaired in two of those areas of functioning compared to other children his or her age, the child is disabled. Because the requirements change when a child becomes an adult, Social Security re-evaluates the child’s medical condition during the year prior to his or her eighteenth … Continued

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June 19, 2015

Social Security Disability Claimants Are People Too

I talk to hundreds of people each year about Social Security disability.  My clients have a vast array of diagnoses, and all of them are suffering in some way.  Many of them have the added pain of feeling guilty that they have to apply for disability benefits. If you keep up with the news and the opinion pages, you probably know that Social Security disability benefit recipients are being vilified across the media.  Pundits claim that disability beneficiaries don’t want to work; journalists are quick to investigate and expose people who are “scamming the system.” My experience with disability claimants, though, is very different.  One of the most-repeated phrases I hear when I talk to my clients is, “If I was able to work, I’d be working.”  They have tried, but their physical or mental limitations have kept them from finding work.  If they do find work, they often are not able to keep up their attendance or their work pace and end up getting fired.  Many of my clients have work records dating back decades – they have worked all their lives, but now they cannot keep it up.  They have contributed to “the system” by having Social Security taxes taken out of their paychecks every week for years, but now they feel guilty for trying to use the disability insurance for which they paid.  Some of them have bodies that have just worn down after long years of heavy labor; others are suffering the long-term effects of an accident or sudden illness. Another misconception weaving its way through the media circuit is that it is easy to “get disability.”  From reading some articles, you’d think that a person can wake up one morning with some aches and pains, head down to the Social Security office to sign up, … Continued

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October 30, 2014

Indiana SSDI Benefits and Your Date Last Insured

The Social Security Administration’s eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be confusing.  If you have applied for SSDI benefits, you may have been told about your Date Last Insured (DLI).  Your DLI is one of the first things Social Security checks when determining whether you are eligible for disability benefits. Most workers either have Social Security taxes deducted from their paychecks or pay them when they file their tax returns on self-employment income.  For each quarter (three-month period) that you earn enough money, Social Security awards you a credit for that quarter.  You must accumulate enough work credits to be eligible for Social Security’s different programs. For Social Security Disability Insurance, not only must you have enough work credits, but you must have enough of them in the last ten years in order to qualify.  Social Security’s formula for calculating the required number of credits is complicated; the number of credits you need varies depending on your age.  However, if you are over the age of thirty you generally need to have worked and earned credits for five of the last ten years.  (If you are younger than age thirty, you generally need to have work credits for about half the time since you turned twenty-one.) Therefore, as time passes after you stop working and earning credits, the fewer of your work credits count toward your eligibility for disability.  Eventually you will reach the point at which you no longer have enough work credits to qualify for disability.  This point is your Date Last Insured.  If it has been several years since you have worked, your DLI may be in the past.  If this is the case, you may still be eligible for SSDI, but you will have to show that you became disabled before your DLI.  If you stopped … Continued

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