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September 9, 2016

“Off task” at work – does it matter at my Social Security disability hearing?

Social Security disability hearings can be confusing – the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), your attorney, and the experts use a lot of jargon that may make it sound like they are speaking a completely new language.  The basic issue that all of these people are discussing is whether you can perform the duties of a full-time job.  However, Social Security’s rules require that the ALJ provide a detailed explanation of why he or she thinks you can or cannot work.  The ALJ must determine your “residual functional capacity” (RFC), which is a description of what kinds of work-like activities, if any, you are able to perform in spite of your impairments.  The judge must specifically address all the different physical and mental limitations you have. The elements of your physical residual functional capacity – your ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, reach, stoop, etc. – are pretty self-explanatory.  The judge must assess how much of an eight-hour work day you are able to do each of these things.  However, as you probably know well, your medical conditions cause problems in many more areas than just your ability to do physical activities.  If you have pain, mental health diagnoses, or medication side effects, you likely have difficulty with mental tasks as well.  Your skills in concentrating, solving problems, and interacting with others are just as vital to your ability to keep a job as your physical capabilities are. Unfortunately, though, it can be difficult to describe how mental limitations affect your ability to work.  Here are some ways you may notice that your mental limitations affect your daily life: You have difficulty sitting through an entire TV show or reading a whole magazine article because your back pain bothers you so much. You start lots of projects, but you never finish … Continued

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August 19, 2016

If I Had a Stroke, Can I Receive Social Security Disability?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) can determine whether or not you can receive disability payments for the after-effects of a stroke.  While there are two separate disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the medical requirements to receive payments are the same.  The mental and physical residuals from a stroke can make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain full time employment. Your first step is to file an initial application.  Some individuals who have suffered a stroke may have difficulty even starting the application process due to difficulties with communication, memory, and typing or writing.  Get help from a friend or family member to start the application if you need to; Social Security recommends that you designate a “third party” whom they can contact if they need additional information.  The application process is designed by Social Security to be completed by an individual without the assistance of an attorney or representative.  However, I have helped many clients file an initial application because they preferred to have the help of someone familiar with the process.  For someone dealing with memory loss, difficulty speaking, and problems getting around, it can be helpful to have an attorney or representative take charge of the case to make sure everything gets submitted on time and to patiently assist with the completion of Social Security’s forms and questionnaires. How does the SSA evaluate individuals suffering from a stroke when determining disability?  First, they decide whether you “meet a listing.”  The SSA publishes a Listing of Impairments that details the information they consider for each specific condition.  Stroke is covered in the listing for neurological impairments under Section 11.04.  What happens if you do not meet or equal the listing for stroke?  Social Security then evaluates whether your residual functional capacity … 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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March 11, 2016

Your Residual Functional Capacity and Your Social Security Disability Claim

If you have a Social Security disability claim, you have probably heard or read about your “residual functional capacity” or, for short, your “RFC.”  In short, your RFC is an assessment of your physical and mental abilities to work.  Social Security evaluates your ability to perform specific functions that are required in all types of work, such as: Sitting Standing Walking Lifting, pushing, and pulling Climbing Kneeling, stooping, and crouching Reaching Handling Fingering Tolerating exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, noise, or workplace hazards Understanding and remembering work instructions Completing tasks Interacting with other people Maintaining good attendance at work and staying on task during work time Adjusting to changes in the workplace Why does the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluate your RFC?  To find you disabled, Social Security has to find that you are unable to work.  Jobs in the economy are classified based upon exertional level, skill level, and required education level.  They are further categorized according to the different physical and mental capabilities required to perform them.  Different types of limitations have differing levels of effect on your ability to work in a wide range of jobs.  For example, if you have difficulties using your hands and are found to only occasionally be able to handle or finger, you are likely prevented from doing most jobs because almost all jobs require you to use your hands fairly often.  Conversely, even if you are completely unable to climb ladders, kneel, or tolerate temperature extremes, Social Security will likely find a broad range of jobs that you would be able to perform in spite of those limitations. Probably the most prominent factor in an RFC is your exertional level – how much weight you can lift and how often, and how long you can stand and walk.  Jobs can be … Continued

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July 9, 2014

Social Security Disability Benefits for Fibromyalgia in Indiana

Fibromyalgia is a condition where a person experiences widespread pain and painful responses to pressure.  Fibromyalgia may also be associated with depression, anxiety, and other stress related disorders.  Other symptoms may be, but are not limited to the following: Fatigue Sleep disturbances Joint stiffness Bowel/bladder issues Numbness/tingling Cognitive dysfunction Difficulty swallowing The cause of fibromyalgia is unknown.  Currently, it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and neurobiological factors.  There is some evidence that certain genes increase the risk of developing fibromyalgia.  These happen to be the same genes that are associated with other functional somatic syndromes and depression. Lifestyle may also contribute to developing fibromyalgia.  Stress is believed to be a factor in developing fibromyalgia.  Lifestyles like such as smoking, obesity, or lack of physical activity may also increase the risk in developing fibromyalgia. A single test to diagnose fibromyalgia does not exist.  Most doctors diagnose patients with a process called a differential diagnosis.  This means that the doctors take into consideration the patient’s age, gender, symptoms, medical history, and other factors to narrow down the diagnosis to the most likely option. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) defines fibromyalgia with the following criteria: A history of widespread pain lasting more than 3 months, affecting all 4 quadrants of the body (both sides, above and below the waist). Tender points – there are 18 designated tender points (even though a person may feel pain in other areas).  However, a diagnosis is not based on the tender points alone. Fibromyalgia is not degenerative or fatal, but the chronic pain is persistent.  Most patients report that their pain does not improve over time.  There is no universally accepted treatment or cure for fibromyalgia.  Some doctors do recommend psychological therapy, medication, and/or exercise to help with the symptoms. The Social Security … 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 23, 2014

Back Pain and Social Security Disability Benefits

In my Indianapolis Social Security disability practice, most of my clients include back pain as an impairment that keeps them from working.  If you have ever suffered from back pain, you may understand why these individuals claim they are simply in too much pain to perform even the most simple tasks.  You can receive disability benefits for back pain, but it will take more than simply claiming that your back hurts.  In my experience, you are going to need medical records that support your claim.  In this blog I will describe what I find helpful in proving your case. Objective testing – Tests such as MRIs and x-rays can show the severity of your condition.  In my experience these tests, especially MRIs, can make a big difference in proving that your pain is caused by a severe medical impairment.  Some findings that indicate severe impairments include nerve root impingement and severe stenosis. Medical procedures –  What are you doing to try to resolve the problem?  If you are not receiving treatment for your back pain, or if you are resisting the treatment options presented by your doctor, Social Security may conclude that your pain does not bother you that much.  Some of the procedures doctors recommend for back pain include surgery, injections, and physical therapy. Medical source statements –  Sometimes winning your disability claim requires an extra push and some support from your medical provider.  My office strives to get our client’s treating physicians to complete medical source statements.  These statements include Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessments and questionnaires regarding whether you meet or equal Social Security’s Listing of Impairments as described below. One of the ways Social Security can find you disabled is if you meet or equal its Listing of Impairments.  Listing 1.04 details how an individual can … Continued

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January 9, 2014

Is Chronic Pain Syndrome Recognized as a Qualifying Disability?

Even though the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) listing of impairments is relatively long, chronic pain syndrome is not specifically listed. But this does not mean that you cannot receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for your condition.   The SSA’s listing of impairments is very detailed and has listings for most health issues. There are a handful of listings that might be related to your back pain.  They may include but are not limited to: 1.00 Musculoskeletal System 5.00 Digestive System 11.00 Neurological 12.00 Mental Disorders 14.00 Immune System Disorders If you have chronic pain due to any of the conditions on the SSA’s listing of impairments, it is possible that the SSA will approve your claim in the initial application or the reconsideration stages.  However, this is rarely the case.  It is normal for a claim to go all the way to the hearing stage, which usually takes about a year. In my experience, to have the best possible chance at winning your disability claim, you need to have as thorough and up to date medical records as possible.  No matter how severe your chronic back pain is, it does not qualify by itself for Social Security Disability benefits.  We must prove to the judge that even though you do not meet listing exactly, your limited functionality keeps you from working a normal eight hour per day job.   If your case does meet a listing exactly, we must prove that you have a “residual functioning capacity ” (RFC) low enough that you cannot work a normal eight hour job.  In determining your RFC the Social Security Administration may look at a few things including but not limited to: Sitting, standing, and walking limitations Lifting and carrying limitations Postural limitations Limitations of manipulation of your hands If you have … 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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November 29, 2011

What Does Social Security Mean By My Physical Residual Functional Capacity?

If you left an Indianapolis Social Security Disability Appeals courtroom and heard the words “physical residual functional capacity” and didn’t understand what they were talking about, you may not be alone.  Indiana Social Security disability attorney Scott Lewis can see why someone not familiar with the Social Security appeals process may not know why these terms are being used.  While the disability process may be confusing, at times it can also be predictable and some of the terms used at your hearing are usually used over and over at hearings to analyze disability claims. In cases where you are claiming a physical disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) usually tries to determine your residual functional capacity (RFC).  Your RFC in general terms is how much you can physically do despite the disabling condition you are experiencing.  Once it is determined what you RFC is the SSA will try to determine if you can return to your previous employment with the limitations you experience or if you cannot whether there are other occupations that exist in the economy that you can perform. Some of the things the Social Security Administration will look at when examining your RFC may include: How long you can sit, stand, and walk. How much you can lift and carry. Do you have postural limitations such as bending, squatting, or stooping? Do you have limitations on fine or gross manipulation with your hands? Indianapolis Social Security disability attorney Scott Lewis may attempt to get a RFC assessment completed by his client’s treating physician if necessary.  A favorable RFC by a treating physician may or may not be given weight by an Administrative Law Judge.  Mr. Lewis has found some treating physicians will not complete these forms and leave their patients on their own when trying to receive … Continued

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