March 6, 2015

Common Questions Concerning Children’s SSI Claims

In my Social Security disability practice, I meet many parents of children with special needs.  They have heard that Social Security has a program for children with disabilities, but they do not know how to find out more about it.  Here are some answers to some of the most common questions I hear from parents of disabled children. How do I know if my child meets the requirements for SSI? Qualifying for SSI is a two-step process.  SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is a needs-based program; therefore, your household must fall below a certain amount of income and resources to qualify at the first step.  Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast number that I can say, “If you make XX amount of money, you are over the limit” because Social Security’s formula is more complex than that – it depends on the size of your household, your expenses, and the like.  Similarly, there is a limit (currently $2,000 for a single person; $3,000 for a couple) on household resources (the value of the things you own), but there are exemptions for some things like your home and sometimes your vehicle.  Really, the only way you can definitely determine whether you meet the income and resources limits is to talk directly to Social Security. Once you qualify financially, Social Security determines whether your child meets the medical requirements.  This determination is much less black-and-white than the resources test.  They look at your child’s medical records and determine how her impairments limit her ability to function in six different “domains”: Acquiring and Using Information, Attending and Completing Tasks, Interacting and Relating with Others, Moving About and Manipulating Objects, Caring for Yourself, and Health and Physical Well-Being. Is it best to work with a lawyer in the process? In theory, Social Security’s process is … Continued

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February 27, 2015

Obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits for PTSD

Many people with severe mental disorders are unable to work, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is one of many mental disorders Social Security might consider disabling.  In my practice, I have represented numerous clients suffering such severe PTSD symptoms that they are unable to work, even though they might be physically healthy enough to meet the demands of various types of jobs.  PTSD symptoms typically arise after a patient has experienced or observed a terrifying event.  Many factors contribute to these symptoms, and all patients experience PTSD differently. While symptoms vary in type and intensity, many that I see in my Indiana Social Security Disability practice include: Recurrent memories of a traumatic event Mentally experiencing a traumatic event over and over (flashbacks) Nightmares about a traumatic event Avoiding situations that are reminders of a traumatic event Concentration difficulties Anger outbursts Hypervigilance Self-destructive behavior The Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses post-traumatic stress disorder in its Listing of Impairments.  PTSD is evaluated under Listing 12.06: Anxiety Related Disorders.  Social Security reviews your medical records for documentation of the types of symptoms you have, as well as the severity of your symptoms and their effect on your daily life.  In my experience it is important to have medical records, including progress notes from a qualified psychiatrist and therapist, showing you have been receiving regular treatment.  Unlike many physical conditions, where objective testing can be used to help prove the cause of your symptoms, mental health conditions must be proven using treatment records. Many of my clients with PTSD have told me that one of their major hurdles in finding and maintaining employment is their inability to interact appropriately with other people.  They explain that they have difficulty leaving their homes and interacting even with their families and friends; they would be unable … Continued

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February 18, 2015

Why Do they Ask All of those Questions at Social Security Disability Hearings?

The day of your Social Security disability hearing has arrived, and you are probably filled with anxiety and wondering what it is going to be like. Although I can’t cure my clients of all of their hearing-day jitters, I do make sure I spend about an hour talking to my clients prior to the hearing date so they will know what to expect. I describe what the hearing will be like from the time they enter the hearing room to the time they leave. We also go over all of the questions that the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) tend to ask during the hearing. One reason I go through these “practice questions” with my client is to prevent the client from being surprised by what the questions are. Another reason is to prevent me from being surprised by how the client answers them. The first questions the ALJ asks you will typically be very easy, including your name, address, and Social Security number. He might ask about your height and weight and whether you are right- or left-handed. The judge may also ask you about your living arrangements – whether you live in a house, apartment, or mobile home; who lives there with you; and your source of income. The best way to answer these questions is honestly and simply. Remember to stay on topic. Most of my clients are itching to talk about their disabling conditions right away, and that is understandable, but the judge needs to get through these questions before moving on. Next the ALJ will most likely ask you about jobs you have performed in the past. Social Security’s disability rules say that if your condition allows you to return to any of the work you have done in the past fifteen years, you are not … Continued

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February 6, 2015

Receiving Social Security Disability For Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is becoming a much more commonly diagnosed problem for the clients I represent in my Indiana Social Security disability law practice.  When I see an influx of certain types of cases, I am never sure whether the increase is due to the disease occurring more often, or to doctors making more accurate diagnoses.  Whatever the reason, my clients with Crohn’s disease are unable to perform full time jobs.  If you suffer from Crohn’s disease or any other gastrointestinal disorder that prevents you from working, I believe it is important for you to investigate the possibility of qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. While the symptoms associated with Crohn’s can vary among individuals, many of my clients complain of the following: Diarrhea Fatigue and weakness Fever Abdominal pain Weight loss The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes gastrointestinal disorders in Section 5.00 of its Listing of Impairments.  Crohn’s disease is often evaluated under Subsection 5.06: Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Many of my clients, though, do not meet all of the specific requirements of this listing.  In those cases, we must show that the symptoms they experience reduce their Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) so much that they cannot perform all of the duties required in full-time work.  Typically, my clients are unable to stay on task because they require frequent bathroom breaks or have debilitating abdominal pain.  They have days in which they are unable to leave their home due to the severity of their symptoms.  I have attended many Social Security disability hearings at which the Vocational Expert (VE) has testified that employers, as a rule, will not tolerate excessive bathroom breaks or two or more absences per month.  If a claimant’s medical records support a finding that he or she would leave the … Continued

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February 4, 2015

Schizophrenia And Disability Payments From The Social Security Administration

The symptoms of severe mental illness may prevent an individual from being able to work.  Schizophrenia is one such illness that the Social Security Administration recognizes as a disabling condition in its Listing of Impairments. Schizophrenia is addressed under Listing 12.03: Schizophrenic, Paranoid, and other Psychotic Disorders.  To meet this listing, you must be able to provide medical documentation of symptoms consistent with schizophrenia, including: Delusions or hallucinations Catatonic or other grossly disorganized behavior Incoherence, loosening of associations, illogical thinking, or poor speech content Emotional withdrawal or isolation Not only must you show that you have symptoms of schizophrenia, but you must also show that these symptoms cause at least two of the following: Marked impairments in your activities of daily living Marked impairments in your ability to maintain social functioning Marked impairments in your ability to maintain concentration, persistence, or pace Episodes of decompensation lasting at least two weeks that take place at least three times per year Some people who have been dealing with schizophrenia for a long time have been able to find medications or highly supportive living arrangements that allow them to be able to function relatively well day-to-day.  If your symptoms of schizophrenia are not currently severe enough to meet the previously-mentioned requirements, you might still be disabled under Listing 12.03 if one of the following applies: You have episodes of decompensation lasting at least two weeks that take place at least three times per year You are coping fairly well on your present medications and in your present environment, but you would decompensate if you experienced even a minimal increase in your mental demands or a change in your environment You have been living in a highly supportive living arrangement for over a year, and you are unable to function outside of it Even if … Continued

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January 28, 2015

Peripheral Neuropathy and Your Social Security Disability Claim

I represent many of my Indiana neighbors who cannot work because they suffer from peripheral neuropathy in their arms, legs, hands, or feet.  Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the nerves that relay messages from other parts of your body to your spinal cord and brain are damaged.  The effects of that damage can have a devastating impact on a person’s ability to function in the workplace. While peripheral neuropathy occurs in conjunction with a variety of medical conditions, the most common cause I see in my Indiana Social Security Disability Law Practice is diabetes.  Diabetic neuropathy can occur when consistently high blood sugar levels damage the nerves that transmit pain and other types of signals to the brain. My clients who suffer from peripheral neuropathy in their legs and feet often have difficulty standing and walking because they have trouble feeling their feet or because standing for too long causes pain.  The inability to stand and walk for at least half of a work day typically means that a person is limited to sedentary (sitting) occupations; people who have been told by their doctors that they must also elevate their legs when sitting to prevent swelling and pain are often prevented from performing sedentary work as well.  Additionally, pain, tingling, and numbness often prevent my clients from being able to concentrate long enough to meet the demands of full-time work. Peripheral neuropathy also occurs in the hands.  Hand pain, weakness, and numbness can be quite disabling, as the majority of occupations require the ability to perform fine and gross manipulation with the hands.  People with peripheral neuropathy in their hands may find themselves unable to do things most of us take for granted like writing, typing, buttoning, zipping, and grasping even the lightest of objects.  In many of the Social Security … Continued

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January 23, 2015

Hearings at the Indianapolis Social Security Office of Disability Adjudication and Review

You probably have seen television or movie depictions of courtrooms, so you may expect your Social Security disability hearing to take place in a big, old courtroom in a big, old courthouse with lots of pomp and circumstance. Every hearing office is a different, but if you have a disability hearing scheduled in Indianapolis, Indiana, your hearing will most likely be held at the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR) located at 151 North Delaware Street, Room 400, Indianapolis, Indiana.  The Indianapolis ODAR is on the fourth floor of a regular downtown office building.  As you leave the elevator on the fourth floor and turn left, you will see a security officer sitting at a desk.  He is there for your safety as well as that of the Social Security staff and Administrative Law Judges (ALJs).  The security guard will ask you for valid picture identification, such as a driver’s license, state identification card, or passport.  Before the date of your hearing, make sure your identification has not expired!  Also be prepared to empty all of your pockets and remove your hat if you are wearing one.  You will be scanned with a metal detector, and the security guard will inspect any bags or purses you are carrying with you. You may not carry deadly weapons, such as guns and knives, into the Social Security office.  Women carrying pepper spray in their purses will also be turned away.  If you have any of these items with you when you come to the hearing office, you will most likely be asked to take them back to your vehicle. Once you have passed the security check, you will be directed to give your name to a staff person at the office window.  The staff member will confirm that you have a … Continued

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January 16, 2015

I Can’t Work a Full Time Job; Can I Get Social Security Disability?

Many people think of a “disabling condition” as one that prevents a person from performing the physical requirements of a job, such as lifting a certain amount of weight or being able to stand at a work station.  However, many of my clients suffer from impairments that, rather than affecting their physical strength, prevent them from being able to work a full eight hour day or make it in to work every day of the work week.  For example, some of my clients deal with debilitating fatigue; they can perform all the aspects of a job for a few hours but then are too exhausted to continue.  Others suffer from episodic illnesses in which they might be fully functional for a few days or even a few weeks at a time, but they have frequent flares of their symptoms that completely debilitate them for days.  Some of these clients are able to hold down a part-time job but would never be able to work a forty-hour workweek. If you have a severe medical impairment that prevents you from working a full-time job, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  It is important to remember, though, that Social Security has rules about how much you can earn while working part time.  If your monthly earnings are higher than their rules allow, Social Security will automatically find that you are not disabled.  Social Security calls this cutoff “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA); in 2015, if you make more than $1,090.00 per month gross (before taxes are taken out) your earnings are above SGA.  If you are statutorily blind, the income threshold is quite a bit higher; you can make up to $1,820 before you exceed the SGA level.  If you are working part-time and … Continued

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December 24, 2014

Time Constraints on Appealing Your Indiana Social Security Disability Case

All too often, people call me for help in appealing their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims, only to find out they have waited too long.  If Social Security denies your claim for Social Security disability benefits, you have sixty days to appeal that decision.  (Actually, Social Security allows five extra days for mailing time, so you have a total of sixty-five days from the date of your denial letter.)  If you have not submitted the appropriate forms before the deadline, Social Security will very likely dismiss your claim.  If that happens, you will probably have to start all over with another initial application. There can be times when the Social Security Administration (SSA) will accept an appeal filed after the deadline, but they will only do so if there is “good cause” for the late filing.  If you forgot the deadline, lost the paperwork, or just didn’t get the forms filled out on time, Social Security probably will not find that you have good cause.  On the other hand, if you were hospitalized, had a death in your immediate family, or never received the denial letter because Social Security sent it to the wrong address, there is a good chance that the SSA will accept your late filing.  Social Security makes a decision about good cause on a case-by-case basis.  The best thing to do is to file the appeal as soon as possible after you receive the denial. How can you make sure you don’t miss Social Security’s filing deadlines?  Here are some tips: Keep your Social Security office informed about changes in your address and/or telephone number. Follow up with Social Security regarding your claim.  In my office, we follow up about once a month during the initial application and reconsideration stages … Continued

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December 12, 2014

Consultative Exams: What Are They And Should You Go?

Many disability claimants are caught off guard when they receive a notice from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a scheduled doctor’s appointment.   These doctor appointments are called consultative examinations (CE’s).  The SSA will sometimes send SSDI and/or SSI claimants to these examinations if they feel like more information is needed to determine a disabling condition.  It is important that the claimants attend these CE’s.  Failure to appear at a CE may result in the SSA denying the claim. Who are the doctors? The doctors that perform the CE’s are not employed directly by Social Security, but are private doctors that are contracted out by the SSA.  In my experience, this can be good and bad.  The good part is that since the doctors are independent physicians, they should be evaluating the claimant’s condition objectively.  The flip side of this is that since these physicians only see the claimants for a single short visit, (usually around 15 minutes) a thorough evaluation may not be performed. What is the purpose of these exams? The most likely purpose that a claimant is sent to a consultative examination is because of a lack of medical records.  If a claimant is claiming a disability, but there are not any or enough medical records to back it up, or the records are from a long time ago, the claimant’s case reviewer will most likely send the claimant out for a CE.  Hopefully the SSA will attempt to give the claimant a fair shot despite the lack of medical records, but it is usually best not to rely on a consultative examination to prove your disability.  Another scenario that my office sees is when the case reviewer or the judge wants a specific test done that they think could prove or disprove the claimant’s case. … Continued

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