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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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August 3, 2016

What is a Contingent Fee Agreement?

If you have applied for Social Security disability benefits and have been denied, you may have been advised to hire an attorney to help you appeal your case.  However, you might be worried that you can’t afford an attorney – after all, aren’t lawyers famous for charging high hourly rates for every second they spend on each case?  Fortunately, if you hire an attorney or representative to help you with your disability appeal, your case will be handled with a “contingent fee agreement.” The Social Security Administration (SSA) has rules about how attorneys can charge clients for disability appeals.  Basically, if an attorney wants Social Security to approve his or her fee agreement, it must meet the following criteria: 1. You (the client) only have to pay the attorney if your claim is granted (if you “win” your appeal). 2. If you win, the attorney receives 25% of any back pay you receive. (“Back pay” is the money you receive from Social Security to cover the benefits you should have received while you were waiting for your claim to be processed and/or your appeal to go through.) 3. If your claim is granted at the initial application, request for reconsideration, or hearing level, the attorney can receive no more than $6,000, no matter how much back pay you receive. 4. If you lose at the hearing level and have to appeal your case to the Appeals Council or file a claim in federal court, most attorneys have a slightly different fee structure. Typically in those cases, the attorney receives 25% of your back pay without the $6,000 cap.  However, the attorney will likely have to submit a statement (called a “fee petition”) showing how much time he or she spent on your case in order for the fee to be approved. In … 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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May 27, 2016

Anatomy of a Social Security Hearing Decision Part II: Approval of the fee agreement

If you were represented at your disability hearing by an attorney or qualified representative, your favorable Social Security hearing decision will contain an “Order of Administrative Law Judge” either approving or disapproving your fee agreement.  That order also explains that you have fifteen days to respond to the judge if you do not agree with his or her order.  Some of my clients, after reading this order, call me because they are worried that they need to respond in order for their case to move forward.  Fortunately for them, though, this language is just another part of Social Security’s form letter.  I explain to them that if they are still willing to hold to their end of the fee agreement, they don’t have to do anything. Social Security has rules about how much an attorney can charge you for his or her services related to your Social Security disability case.  When you hired your attorney, you most likely signed a fee agreement that said you only had to pay your attorney if you were awarded benefits and received back pay.  Under Social Security’s rules, your attorney can typically charge 25% of your back pay, but no more than $6,000.  If you have an attorney who regularly practices Social Security disability law, the attorney probably has an agreement with Social Security that allows him to receive his fees directly from Social Security.  That way, neither you nor your attorney has to worry about calculating the amount of the fee and ensuring timely payment. However, that direct payment of fees can only occur if Social Security finds that your fee agreement complies with Social Security’s rules.  Therefore, when an Administrative Law Judge finds a claimant disabled, he or she must then review the fee agreement to make sure it is in compliance.  … Continued

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July 2, 2015

Will Hiring An Attorney Speed Up My Case?

Many Social Security disability claimants are under the impression that hiring an attorney will speed up the processing of their case with the Social Security Administration (SSA).  While hiring an attorney does not directly translate into a claim being processed more quickly by the SSA, there are many benefits of having an attorney on your case. Benefits at the Initial Application Stage Getting an attorney representative to help you with your initial application for benefits may help your chances of being found disabled.  As most disability claimants and attorneys know, the majority of people are denied on their initial application.  However, some benefits of our office helping a claimant complete an initial application may include: Helping you obtain a medical source statement from your doctor by providing questionnaires designed to get your doctor’s opinions on specific issues Social Security addresses: Social Security is supposed to give great weight to the opinions of your treating medical providers. Updating Social Security about changes in your condition and treatment: the more complete the medical records Social Security has, the more likely it will have enough evidence to make a favorable decision. Ensuring your application is complete: the application can be overwhelming to someone who has never done it before, but we are able to walk you through and ensure you provide complete and accurate information. Submitting medical records in support of your claim: while Social Security typically requests all of your medical records at the initial application stage, we are able to help follow up with providers Social Security cannot reach. Keeping track of your claim to make sure it is processed in a timely manner: we regularly follow up on each claim to make sure Social Security has everything it needs and to make sure the case is moving forward. While Social … Continued

Filed under: Appeals Process, Claims Process, Evaluation Process, Hearings Process, Social Security Disability Attorney || Tagged under:
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January 7, 2014

Is the Social Security Administration Helping Me With My Disability Claim?

If you have applied for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) I think it is a good idea to ask yourself whether you are receiving enough help from the Social Security Administration as your claim progresses.  There can be many frustrating and confusing areas of Social Security disability law that the Social Security Administration (SSA) may or may not help you with.  Many claimants in Indiana and nationwide do not realize they can hire an attorney or representative to answer many of their questions, help them with paperwork, and provide legal representation at their hearings on a contingency basis.  What are some ways an attorney can help to make the Social Security disability appeals process easier for you? Filing paperwork on a timely basis – There are certain deadlines in Social Security disability cases, and while the SSA may notify you about these time constraints, they are probably not going to help you make sure that you meet them.  An attorney or representative can help identify your limited time to appeal your claim and help you make sure you provide all the information the SSA has requested by the filing deadlines. Providing timely responses to your questions – Unfortunately for disability claimants SSA staff members are very busy.  Social Security’s reduced hours and limited staff make it difficult for many claimants to receive a timely response to their questions or to even get a chance to speak to a field office worker.  Have you ever sat on hold with a Social Security office for a very long time just to ask a very simple question?  My staff and I strive to respond to our clients in a timely manner in order to answer questions they may have regarding their claim.  We also follow up regularly with the … Continued

Filed under: Social Security Disability Attorney, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI) || Tagged under:
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November 18, 2013

Will there be a 2014 Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security Disabilty recipients?

Good news for Indiana residents receiving Social Security Disability benefits.  There will be a 1.5 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits recipients.  The increase will begin with the December 2013 benefits, payable January 2014.  This is the fourth year in the row that we have seen an increase to Social Security benefits.  More than 57 million people received some type of Social Security benefit.    How is COLA determined?  COLAs are based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).  It is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor.  The purpose of COLA is to offset the effects of inflation on fixed incomes.  In 1960 President Eisenhower signed an amendment that allowed disabled workers of any age to receive payments.  At that time there were over 500,000 people receiving disability benefits, with an average benefit amount being $80.  It is hard to imagine what would happen without COLA.  In 1975, an eligible individual received $157.70 per month – imagine if beneficiaries were still receiving the same amount today! What do I have to do to receive my COLA? Absolutely nothing; the Cost-of-Living Adjustment is automatic.  Because there was an increase in the consumer price index from the third quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2013, you will get the COLA of 1.5 percent in 2014.  You will see the increase in your award benefit payment.  Will my award amount ever decrease?  Hopefully you will never see a decrease in payments.  However, you must report changes to your living arrangements to the Social Security Administration (SSA) within 10 days after the change occurs.  While these changes are very unlikely to affect your benefit amount if you receive Social Security Disability Insurance, they might affect your monthly benefit if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Some changes that can affect your SSI payment amount include: Moving to a … Continued

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October 22, 2013

The Social Security Administration scheduled me for a consultative exam. What is it, and do I have to go?

If you are an Indiana resident who has filed a claim for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may schedule you for a consultative exam.   As a disability attorney in Indianapolis, I get many calls from my clients asking about the consultative exam. The consultative examination is a physical or mental exam performed by a medical source at the SSA’s request and expense.  As the SSA reviews your claim, they want as much information as possible about your medical conditions in order to make a decision.The medical evidence may be insufficient to determine if you are disabled.  In some cases, claimant’s physicians do not furnish the required medical records. The SSA will send you a letter with information such as date, time and location of the exam.  It is very important that the SSA has your correct mailing address so that you get this information as soon as possible. The exam itself will likely be performed by a medical professional you have never seen before.  You can expect the exam to take between 20 and 60 minutes.   I have heard people complain that their consultative examinations were very short, or the doctor did not address all of their impairments, or the doctor was rude and did not seem to take them seriously.  The consultative doctors are supposed to evaluate your physical or mental abilities; they are not entering into a treatment relationship with you.  While the doctors are paid by the SSA for their time, they are supposed to give an unbiased opinion.  Therefore, when you go to your appointment, make sure you bring up all of your impairments to the doctor.  Answer all of the doctor’s questions truthfully and completely.  Remember, too, that the doctor is not just listening to your answers to those questions; he or she is also observing your behavior, speech, and movement and will include those observations in the … Continued

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October 1, 2013

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) and your Indiana Social Security Disabilty Claim

As an Indiana resident seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), you must show that you are unable to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).  SGA is the performance of physical or mental activities in work for pay or profit.  Work is substantial if it involves significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both.   Even if work is performed on a seasonal or part-time basis, the SSA may still consider it substantial.  Work is gainful if it is a type of activity that is usually done for pay or profit, regardless of whether a profit is realized. The following types of activities are generally not considered SGA by Social Security: Self-care Household tasks Hobbies Therapy School attendance Clubs/social programs However, even if these activities are not considered SGA, Social Security may look at your ability to perform them when determining whether you are able to work.  If you are able to attend school full-time, or if you participate in hobbies that require a lot of physical activity, Social Security may consider those activities to be “work-like,” and find that even though you are not presently engaged in SGA, you are still able to work.  Therefore, during the application process, the SSA usually asks claimants about their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).If your impairments do not limit your ability to perform activities such as shopping, driving, and household chores, the SSA may believe you are capable of gainful employment.  The fact that you are not currently engaged in SGA does not necessarily mean that you are not capable of engaging in SGA. Substantial work may, under some conditions, be disregarded if it is discontinued or reduced after a short time because of your impairment.  This type of work is considered an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA).  Therefore, If you attempt to return to work after you have started an application … Continued

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November 28, 2011

Why Should I Hire an Attorney to Represent me in my Social Security Disability Claim?

Indianapolis Social Security disability attorney Scott D. Lewis is an experienced disability lawyer who represents individuals with their Social Security disability appeal. Some common questions an individual who is seeking disability benefits have are: “Do I really have to hire a lawyer to represent me in my Social Security disability claim?” “Should I hire an attorney to handle my Social Security disability claim?” “Will it benefit me to have representation at my Social Security disability hearing?” “If I hire an attorney, will I be able to get my disability hearing faster?” “How will I be able to afford to pay an attorney to represent me with my disability appeal?” If you have been recently denied Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you probably just read the above questions and thought to yourself that you have been thinking about these exact same concerns.  Here are the answers you have been looking for! Do you really have to hire a lawyer to represent you in your Social Security disability claim?  Quite simply, no.  SSDI or SSI claimants are not required to have a Social Security disability attorney or representative represent them in their disability appeal.  Having representation is a client’s right.  If you attend your SSDI or SSI hearing alone, most Administrative Law Judges will ask the claimant if they would like to continue their claim so they can seek representation.  Again, this is a right, not a requirement. Should you hire an attorney or representative to handle your Social Security disability claim?  This is a personal preference.  Some individuals decide that they would like to handle their claim on their own.  Although, statistically, more disability claims are won among individuals that are represented by an attorney or representative than those individuals that are not represented at their Administrative Law … Continued

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