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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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October 20, 2014

Social Security Administration’s Disability Hearings By Video

With a backlog of pending disability cases in Indiana and across the country, many people have received notices informing them their Social Security disability hearing might be held by video teleconference.  You have the opportunity to object to the use of video teleconferencing; if you do Social Security must arrange a hearing for you in which you meet the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) face-to-face.  There are various factors to consider in deciding whether or not to object to a video hearing. The pros to having an in-person hearing: You are in the same room as the ALJ.  It is possible that in person, the ALJ can better observe your physical and mental condition.   The ALJ can observe you entering and exiting the courtroom; if you use an assistive device the judge will be able to see it.  Further, in-person hearings may allow participants to observe facial expressions and body language the video screen may not be able to portray as clearly. Local ALJs are more likely to know about the local healthcare system.  When a judge who lives five states away looks at your medical records, he or she may not recognize your medical providers or even know what type of doctors they are.  A local ALJ is also more likely to know if it is difficult to access free or reduced-cost healthcare in your community.  In my experience, a local judge probably has seen records from the same local healthcare providers on numerous occasions and understands the quality and quantity of healthcare available at those facilities. Expert witnesses are more likely to appear in person as well.   If a judge takes testimony from a Medical Expert (ME), the ME typically appears either by telephone or in the ALJ’s courtroom.  The ME at your hearing has never seen you in … Continued

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September 1, 2014

Medical Expert Testimony at Your Social Security Disability Hearing

When the day finally arrives for your Social Security disability hearing, you may find that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has asked one or more doctors to testify about your ability to do work-related activities. Some, but not all, Administrative Law Judges call on medical experts to testify at hearings. You may be wondering how a doctor who has never seen you before can testify about your medical conditions and how they affect your ability to work.   In my experience, medical expert testimony at a disability hearing has both advantages and disadvantages.  An experienced disability attorney knows how to prepare for a hearing to maximize those advantages while defending against the disadvantages. Some doctors who testify at hearings appear in person, but many testify over the phone. Social Security pays each medical expert a flat fee to review a claimant’s medical file and provide unbiased testimony at the hearing.  In my experience, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has difficulty finding qualified doctors to testify; most practicing physicians have neither the time nor the financial incentive to work as a medical expert for Social Security.  Most of the doctors I see at hearings are retired general practitioners.  While  the ALJs typically request testimony from doctors who specialize in the claimant’s impairments, it is often difficult for Social Security to find such a specialist who is available to testify. Each medical expert at your hearing is expected to have reviewed all of the medical records in your file and be prepared to present his opinions on the following issues: Your medical diagnoses Whether your impairments meet or equal the definitions set out in Social Security’s “Listing of Impairments” The physical and/or mental work-related limitations caused by your impairments The ALJ will likely ask the medical experts some additional questions, and you or your representative will have an opportunity to ask questions as well. Many judges … Continued

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April 8, 2014

Initial Application Process for Social Security Disability Benefits

In my Indiana Social Security disability law practice, I receive many phone calls each day from people who want to know what they need to do to apply for Social Security disability benefits.  Many of them have worked their whole lives, and they are uncertain and afraid because they can no longer provide income for their families.  They need help figuring out whether they qualify for Social Security benefits and what they need to do to start the application process. My staff and I are happy not only to advise people about the application process; we also provide representation for people who are not sure they want to proceed with the initial application on their own.  Some people feel confident enough to go to Social Security’s website to complete the application on their own, or they are willing to wait a few weeks to get an appointment with their local Social Security office to start an application.  However, for those who want professional assistance from the very first step, an attorney or qualified representative can make sure that the application is completed quickly and completely. The majority of people who apply for Social Security disability receive a denial of their initial application.  However, the information you provide in your initial application is the foundation for your entire disability case, so it is important to be as thorough as possible.  Here is a list of a some of the important information you will need to provide in your initial application: Information about past and present marriages, including when you were married or divorced, and identifying information about your spouse(s) The names and addresses of your employers for the past two years How much you earned in wages for the past two years For each of your jobs in the past fifteen … 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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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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