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Medical Records and Social Security Disability - The importance of medical records to a Social Security disability claim cannot be understated. These documents are the primary source of evidence on which the Social Security Administration (SSA) will base its decision. Your medical records provide objective evidence of your disabling conditions and diagnoses. This may include key information such as notes from important procedures, like surgeries, or your doctor’s interpretation of test results and magnetic imaging. For mental health claims, session notes from a therapist or psychiatrist can show the SSA that you are receiving consistent and ongoing mental health treatment and reflect the severity of your condition. Therefore, it is critical that all of this documentation is made available to Social Security to ensure that they have a complete record before them when they make a decision on your disability claim. At the initial application and reconsideration stages, Social Security will gather your medical records based on the information you have provided them. You will want to make sure that whoever is reviewing your claim at these levels is kept up to date regarding the medical providers you have seen and the dates of any future appointments. If you have an attorney helping you at these levels, their office can work with your reviewer to ensure that they have all of the information needed to obtain any outstanding medical records. A complete medical file is especially important when preparing for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The wait time to get to a hearing can be quite long, so it is essential to keep your attorney informed of any changes to your treatment, including any new procedures or diagnoses, which may occur during this time period. These updates allow your attorney to keep track of your treatment providers during the wait, which can help prevent … Continued
Are You Considering an Initial Application for Social Security Disability Benefits? - Starting an initial application for Social Security Disability benefits can be a daunting task.  First, you must determine which program or programs you may be eligible for.  Several different programs make up Social Security Disability.  The two main programs are Retirement Survivor Disability Insurance (RSDI or SSDI) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. Both programs are Social Security disability benefits, but you become eligible in different ways.  For RSDI, you are required to have enough work credits to be eligible.  If you have worked at least five of the last ten years and paid taxes on those earnings, you probably have the necessary work credits.  Your monthly benefit amount is based off your past earnings.  To be eligible for SSI benefits, you must have limited household income and resources.  Less common Social Security Disability benefits may come from Disabled Widow(er)’s Benefits or Disabled Child Benefits.  While you may be eligible for more than one program, Social Security will only award monthly benefits for the program that pays the highest amount. Next, you will need to decide how you would like to apply.  You can apply online on Social Security’s website, call Social Security at 1(800) 772-1213 to set up a phone appointment, or visit your local Social Security field office.  For SSI claims, you will need to talk to someone at your local Social Security office, either in person or by phone, to make sure you meet the resource requirements needed to apply. When applying for disability benefits, you should gather together some information that Social Security asks for in every claim.  This information includes: Places you have received medical treatment- Including date ranges, reasons for treatment, and contact information for the providers Places you have worked in the last 15 years- Including dates of employment, how much you … Continued
Hip Pain and Social Security Disability - Hip degeneration or injuries can be very disabling. Over time, you may notice increased inflammation, swelling, or significant pain. If you are unable to work because of a hip impairment, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. If hip impairments or other conditions prevent you from working, you may want to consult an attorney right away to discuss whether you should apply for disability benefits. Do your injuries cause you to use a cane, walker, or wheelchair to get around? If your medical provider has given you a prescription for one of these assistive devices, you should keep a copy. That prescription can prove to Social Security that your assistive device is medically necessary. The need for an assistive device can significantly reduce the number of jobs that can be performed in a work setting. Social Security also evaluates disability claims using its Listing of Impairments, which outlines certain criteria that Social Security can use to determine whether a person is disabled. Typically, Social Security evaluates hip or joint impairments under Listing 1.02- Major Dysfunction of a Joint(s). In order to prove the severity of your condition, objective testing such as MRIs, x-rays, or CT scans are crucial. Additionally, medical records from surgeries, physical therapy, or injections can show your current level of functioning. Social Security will consider limitations you have sitting, standing, or walking that are caused by your hip impairments. It is important to show Social Security that you are complying with your treatment plan, especially if your symptoms are not resolving. If your limitations prevent you from performing or keeping a job, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney to help you through the Social Security disability process.  Hip degeneration is not the only  impairment that our … Continued
Fibromyalgia and Social Security Disability Benefits - Is your Fibromyalgia so severe that you are unable to work?  If this is the case, it may be in your best interest to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits right away.  It is very possible that Fibromyalgia is not the only thing keeping you from working.  This condition combined with other physical or mental conditions may create an inability to work.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) is required to consider all of your conditions in combination to determine if you are disabled. While the cause of Fibromyalgia is yet to be determined, many of my clients complain of very similar symptoms.  These symptoms can include, but are not limited to: Muscle pain-This can be widespread and tender to the touch. Fatigue-Even with adequate sleep, many individuals feel tired. Focus, concentration, and memory problems-This is sometimes referred to as “Fibro Fog”. I have noticed many of my clients have other common symptoms.  These can include migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and depression. The SSA does recognize Fibromyalgia as a disabling condition, but it can be hard to prove without proper supporting medical evidence.  While many primary care providers diagnose Fibromyalgia and prescribe medications for its treatment, it may be in your best interest to see a rheumatologist to help support your case with the Social Security Administration.  A qualified rheumatologist can perform a “tender point” test to help show you meet the criteria for disability benefits.  Also, a medical source statement from a treating medical professional stating the diagnosis, duration, symptoms, and your inability to work can help persuade the SSA or an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) you are deserving of disability benefits. With all Social Security disability cases, time is of the essence.  It is important to file your claim in … Continued
Children’s Social Security Disability and the Right Lawyer - Not all Social Security Disability lawyers take children’s social security disability cases.  There may be many reasons for this, but one thing is for sure- claims for children are unlike adult disability cases.  Selecting a lawyer with experience handling children’s claims for benefits can make the process smoother for you and your child.  While the Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates claims for both children and adults, the underlying question is very different.  For adults, that question is “can you work”?  We do not expect children to work, so how does the SSA evaluate them?  This blog will briefly examine how the SSA analyzes children’s benefits claims. The SSA publishes disability guidelines called the Listing of Impairments.  These guidelines set forth specific criteria for evaluating certain impairments to determine if they meet their definition of disability.  Many children do not meet or equal these requirements to receive Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) benefits.  However, this does not mean that the claim is denied.  The Social Security Administration will then look at six domains to determine if your child is disabled: Acquiring and Using Information Attending and Completing Tasks Interacting and Relating with Others Moving About and Manipulating Objects Caring for Yourself Health and Physical Well-Being A child’s limitations must be considered “marked” in two of these domains or considered “extreme” in one domain to be disabled.  These domains can be a bit tricky, as you can see by their somewhat vague titles.  Some of the domains relate to mental impairments while others relate more to physical impairments.  One part of my job as a Social Security disability attorney is to help the SSA understand how your child’s limitations fit into a domain. A consistent, ongoing, and well-documented treatment record is needed to prove the persistence and severity of your child’s symptoms.  Additionally, … Continued
Knee Pain and Social Security Disability - Can I receive Social Security Disability for knee pain?  Have you suffered an injury to your knees or experienced gradual deterioration in your knees that limits your ability to work? Knee pain can be so severe that an individual is not only unable to stand for long, but it can also limit his/her ability to tolerate prolonged sitting.  When it comes to weight bearing joints like the knees, daily exertion can lead to worsening symptoms.  Common problems include pain, swelling, and instability.  If you are unable to work due to knee problems, I suggest you apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income immediately. The inability to stand, walk, or ambulate effectively can limit the performance of most jobs above the sedentary level.  Many vocational experts (VEs) state that most jobs performed while standing up require the ability to stand or walk at least six hours out of an eight-hour day.  If a cane or other assistive device is required, it may prevent the performance of any competitive employment.  In my experience, the number of jobs can greatly decrease if a claimant has been prescribed a cane or walker.  Limiting the number of jobs a claimant can perform, known as eroding the job base, can be the key to a favorable Social Security determination. Many of my clients with chronic knee problems report swelling and pain, even while sitting.  Sometimes, they report that elevation of their legs can reduce that swelling and pain.  Many VEs will testify in disability hearings that elevation of the legs over a certain height can preclude work at the sedentary exertional level.  A statement from a qualified medical source supporting the need to elevate the legs, the height of the elevation, and the duration of the elevation can be crucial to establishing … Continued
You’ve Paid for it; Social Security Disability Benefits are Not a Gift - In addition to having medical conditions that prevent you from working, a wage earner first must have worked long enough to have earned work credits to become eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.  These credits are earned by contributing to the Social Security system through your FICA taxes.  This is not some type of federal government handout, it is a benefit program, you as a worker, have paid into.  If you receive these monthly benefits, then contributions have been paid throughout the years to make sure you were eligible for benefits. Like most other insurance programs, your insured status can expire if “premiums” are not paid.  The date a claimant’s eligibility for SSDI benefits expires is known as a Date Last Insured (DLI).  Typically, a person who has earned enough credits through FICA taxes to the federal government has a DLI that expires approximately five years after they stop working.  A person seeking SSDI benefits must be found to be disabled prior to this date.  If you wait too long to apply for SSDI benefits, this date may actually be in the past.  When this situation occurs (which is known as a remote DLI), it can be increasingly difficult to convince the SSA you were disabled further and further in the past.  The SSA may only consider medical records from on or before your date last insured and give little or no weight to your current medical condition.  As an attorney, these remote DLI issues can be difficult to argue.  I believe it is in your best interest to apply for disability as soon as you feel you cannot work full time to ensure that you have the best chance of winning your claim. As the title of this blog implies, Social Security Disability Insurance is something you … Continued
A Few Quick Thoughts About Social Security Disability - I represent hundreds of clients every year in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims and there are things that I take for granted people know.  However, since they don’t do this every day, they simply do not.  In this blog I’ll share some things that I believe should be mentioned. Apply right away. What are you waiting for?  File an application the first day you are unable to work full time.  Sure, there may be technical and medical reasons why you do not qualify, but the application is free.  If you do not have an attorney to explain these medical and technical reasons to you, let the Social Security Administration (SSA) explain them.  I have seen clients wait too long to file an application and find themselves having a harder time because their disability insurance had expired.  Also, it is important to note that SSI payments can only be paid retroactively from your date of application. File your appeals timely! Most appeals only allow for 60 days plus a short grace period for mailing time.  You do not want to have to start over from the beginning, so get the Request for Reconsideration or Request for Hearing completed quickly. If you can afford it, see your doctors. Most Social Security disability cases are won through medical records.  Objective tests, progress notes, and physician statements can be crucial in proving you qualify for the benefits you need to support you and your family. When you go to your hearing, strive to ensure your medical record is up to date. If you do not have an attorney, do not count on the SSA to get your medical records.  Why would you?  Up to this point, they have continually denied your claim.  There is no one that has … Continued
How Long Do I Have to Be Disabled to Get Social Security Disability Payments? - Because the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not have a “short term” disability provision, you must meet certain durational requirements to qualify for disability payments.  The SSA requires that your severe impairment has lasted or is expected to last at least twelve months.  While this may seem pretty straight forward, it is a common reason for denying claims for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. It can be very difficult to determine if you are going to recover from your physical or mental impairments.  If the SSA denies your claim because they think you will get better within twelve months, they are making an educated guess based on the type, severity, and medical treatment you are receiving.  Many of my clients that have been denied for this reason on the initial application find themselves with a favorable decision from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) later down the road. So, do you have to wait twelve months before you apply for disability benefits?  I believe you should apply for benefits the day you are unable to work.  For disability cases, the alleged onset date and application date are important for determining how much backpay you may be entitled to receive.  There are restrictions on how far back the SSA can go from your application date for benefits, so I encourage my clients to file their claim as soon as they stop earning Substantial Gainful Activity (GAS) amounts.  For SSI applicants, the SSA can only pay benefits from the date of application, so it is very important to file the application as soon as possible to ensure full benefit amounts for backpay purposes. I don’t believe I’ve had a claimant that did not want to get better.  Just because the SSA says they believe your condition will … Continued
Testifying at Your Social Security Disability Hearing About Your Pain - Pain is probably the most common complaint my clients have concerning their inability to work.  Physical pain can manifest itself in about any area of your body, and describing it to someone else is not always easy. Chances are when you find yourself at a Social Security disability hearing, you are going to need to explain your pain to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  This blog describes some of the more common questions I find that Judges ask about pain. Where is the pain located?  During this portion of testimony, I find many of my clients want to point to where they are affected by pain with hand gestures.  It is important to remember your hearing is being recorded, and you will need to describe in more detail with words exactly where you feel pain.  For example, if you have back pain, you would need to say “it is in my lower back and radiates down my right leg” if that is the case. What does the pain feel like?  Descriptive terms like dull, throbbing, stabbing, sharp, burning can usually give a Judge a good idea of what you are experiencing.  These are not the only words that can describe your pain, but it is important for you to be able to describe what you feel as you are the only one that knows exactly what you feel. How often do you have the pain?  It is fine to say you experience pain all the time if that is the case, but if it is only when you perform certain activities, you should explain it in more detail to the Judge.  This is where you may want to describe difficulties standing, walking, sitting, lifting, and performing daily activities. Can you rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10 … Continued