July 10, 2014

How Do Drugs And Alcohol Use Affect My Disability Claim?

Your social security disability claim may be denied due to alcohol or drug use.  The way this information usually gets to the Social Security Administration (SSA) is through the medical records.  Most doctors offices ask questions concerning drugs and alcohol when patients go in for a check up.  Some hospitals will conduct drug tests while patients are in for a procedure. Below is a paraphrased version of what the SSA’s Federal Regulation 416.935 says concerning drugs and alcohol: If the SSA finds that you are disabled, they must determine if your drug or alcohol addiction is a contributing factor to your disability.  This does not apply to claimants when applying because of blindness. If you stopped using drugs or alcohol, would the SSA still find you disabled? Would your current physical or mental limitations remain if you stopped using drugs or alcohol? If the SSA determines that your remaining limitations (after removing the drug or alcohol use) would not be disabling, you may not receive benefits. If the SSA determines that your remaining limitations (after removing the drug or alcohol use) are still disabling, you may be found favorable for benefits. How the SSA looks at drug and alcohol use varies from case to case.  In cases where the claimant is claiming mental health issues, the SSA will look and determine, in their opinion, if the claimant stopped using drugs or alcohol, would the condition still exist?  This can be a gray area with mental health cases because far too often I see drugs or alcohol become a coping mechanism for mental issues. If you have drug or alcohol issues, your case may be harder to win, but this does not mean that it is impossible.  We must prove to the SSA that the drug or alcohol issues are independent … 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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May 29, 2014

Social Security Disability Benefits for Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

A traumatic brain injury (TBI)  occurs when an external mechanical force causes damage to the brain.  These injuries may occur as a result of vehicle accidents, firearms, falls, construction accidents, or sports injuries.  A TBI may cause temporary or permanent impairment of brain functioning and might cause structural damage to the brain as well.   Symptoms from TBIs vary depending on the severity of the injury.  In moderate or severe cases, unconsciousness may occur within seconds or minutes.    Milder injuries may cause symptoms including but not limited to: headaches, vomiting/nausea, dizziness, balance problems, and fatigue.  Some common long term symptoms of moderate to severe TBIs may include but are not limited to: changes in appropriate social behavior; problems with sustained attention, processing speed, and executive functioning; and alexithymia.  Alexithymia is a condition in which an individual has problems identifying, understanding, processing, and describing emotions. the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology reports that 60.9% of patients diagnosed with TBI suffer from alexithymia. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes traumatic brain injuries in its Listing of Impairments at Section 11.18 – Cerebral Trauma.  In evaluating whether your TBI meets a listing, though, the SSA refers to other listings that address the specific body systems affected by your injury.  For example, if you suffer psychological or behavioral symptoms resulting  from your TBI, you may meet Listing 12.02 - Organic Mental Disorders.  If your TBI leads to seizures, you may meet listing 11.02 - Convulsive Epilepsy or 11.03 - Nonconvulsive Epilepsy. In order to meet Social Security’s definition of disability, your impairment must have lasted or be expected to last at least twelve months.  TBIs can be difficult to evaluate under Social Security’s standard because their long-term prognoses can be difficult to forecast accurately.  Some TBIs cause very severe symptoms at first but gradually improve, while others grow worse over time.  Therefore, it is very important in your Social Security disability case … Continued

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May 22, 2014

Is My Initial Consultation Really Free?

Your initial consultation with our office is free, and there are many reasons why.  When you call our office to initially discuss your claim, you will probably have many questions.  So will we.  We will need to talk to you to get an idea of whether you qualify for one of Social Security’s disability programs.  Also, during this first interaction with you we can get pertinent information that will give us a better “feel” for how we can help you.  Some of the questions we will probably ask you include, but are not limited to:  Are you still working?  It is possible to qualify for Social Security disability benefits even if you are working, but there are limits on the number of hours you can work and the amount of monthly gross income you can earn. When is the last time you worked?  What is your household income?  The Social Security Administration (SSA) has two disability programs: eligibility for Social Security Disability insurance (SSDI) is based on the number of work credits you have earned in the past ten years; Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is based on your household income and financial resources. What medical conditions do you have that keep you from being able to work?  These conditions can be mental, physical, or a combination of both; Social Security typically requires medical evidence showing that you have been diagnosed with these conditions and are receiving treatment for them. There are many other factors involved in a Social Security disability claim, including your age, education, and prior work experience.  You may wonder why these things are important.  The SSA determines your ability to work based on many things.  In some cases, Social Security takes into account the fact that there are fewer job opportunities in the economy for people over the age of fifty. … Continued

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May 20, 2014

Heart Disease According to the Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes many cardiovascular impairments as disabling conditions.  Many people use the term heart disease interchangeably with cardiovascular impairments.  The SSA defines a cardiovascular impairment as  “any disorder that affects the proper functioning of the heart or the circulatory system (that is, arteries, veins, capillaries, and the lymphatic drainage).  The disorder can be congenital or acquired.”  The SSA lists cardiovascular impairments under Section 4.00 in the Listing of Impairments.  The Listings define certain diagnoses, clinical findings, and symptoms that the SSA considers disabling.  If you can provide appropriate medical evidence showing that your impairment meets the definitions set out in the Listings, you might be found disabled without having to demonstrate how your impairment keeps you from being able to work. Below are a few cardiovascular impairments that the Social Security Administration addresses in its Listing of Impairments. Chronic Heart Failure Chronic heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body.  Some signs and symptoms of heat failure may include: increased rate of breathing, increased difficulty for normal breathing, pulmonary edema, cardiac asthma (wheezing), and/or apex beat or gallop rhythm.  Heart failure stems from the myocardium muscle losing efficiency, which is usually caused by damage or or overloading of the muscle.  The leading cause of chronic heart failure is coronary artery disease.  The SSA recognizes chronic heart failure in Section 4.02 of the Listing of Impairments.  To meet this listing you must be able to show certain levels of systolic or diastolic failure, severe symptoms as a result of your heart failure, or multiple episodes of acute congestive heart failure. Ischemic Heart Disease  Ischemic heart disease is more commonly known as coronary artery disease.  This condition happens when blockages in the arteries reduce blood flow.  Ischemia is defined as “reduced blood supply.”  The leading cause of ischemic heart disease … Continued

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May 7, 2014

Social Security Disability Benefits for Pancreatitis

The pancreas is a large gland located behind the stomach.  It is part of the endocrine and nervous systems.  The pancreas produces many important hormones that circulate in the blood.  It also produces digestive enzymes that help break down food.  Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed.  Damage to the pancreas can occur when pancreatic enzymes activate before they are secreted.   There are two main types of pancreatitis: Acute pancreatitis happens over a very short period of time.  This type of pancreatitis is usually caused by gallstones or heavy drinking.  Symptoms may include: Fever Nausea/vomiting Upper abdominal pain/swollen or tender abdomen Increased heart rate Chronic pancreatitis usually results after a case of acute pancreatitis.  Chronic pancreatitis can ultimately stem from gallstones, hereditary disorders, cystic fibrosis, certain medicine, or heavy alcohol use.  Symptoms may include: Any symptoms of acute pancreatitis Weight loss Diabetes In order to be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, you must have a disability that has lasted at least twelve months, is expected to last at least twelve months, or is expected to end in death.  If you have chronic pancreatitis, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits if you can show that your condition is disabling according to Social Security’s rules. One of the first things you must do in a Social Security disability claim is to show that you have a “medically determinable impairment.”  In other words, your condition must be diagnosed using acceptable medical clinical or laboratory techniques.  It is important to see a specialized physician such as a gastroenterologist or endocrinologist if you are diagnosed with pancreatitis.  Not only will a specialist be most likely to accurately diagnose and treat your condition, medical records from a specialized physician are likely to be given more weight by Social Security’s disability evaluators … Continued

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April 24, 2014

Can I Receive Social Security Disability Benefits for Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is a fairly common digestive disease.  The severity and the longevity of the disease can vary greatly, though.  For some patients, a treatment of conservative therapy with bowel rest may be sufficient; others may require more aggressive antibiotics or even surgery. The exact cause of diverticulitis is unknown.  It was previously thought that a high fiber diet may help alleviate the pressure in the colon, thereby lowering the chances of diverticulitis forming.  However, in a study designed to test this theory exactly, it was shown that patients with a high fiber diet actually had an increased frequency of developing diverticulitis. Most cases of diverticulitis are diagnosed by use of a CT scan.  CT scans are cited to be very accurate (98% effective) in diagnosing diverticulitis.  Symptoms of diverticulitis may include one or more of the following: abdominal pain nausea vomiting fever cramping constipation While the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not have a listing that directly addresses diverticulitis in its Listing of Impairments, your diverticulitis may be disabling enough that you meet Social Security’s definition of disability in a different way.  In order to receive Social Security disability benefits for diverticulitis, you must prove one of  two things: the symptoms you experience are at least equal in severity to the symptoms of  another condition in Social Security’s Listings, or the symptoms you experience prevent you from performing all of the demands of a full-time job on a regular and continuing basis. One possible way a claimant might qualify for Social Security disability benefits for diverticulitis is to equal the listing for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).  IBD is listed under Section 5.06 of the SSA’s Listing of Impairments, and it has many of the same symptoms as diverticulitis.  To meet the listing for IBD you must show one of the following: two … Continued

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April 14, 2014

Kidney Failure and Social Security Disability Benefits in Indiana

If you suffer from kidney failure, also known as renal failure, you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits.  Kidney failure is recognized by the Social Security Administration in its Listing of Impairments under section 6.00 – Genitourinary Impairments. Kidney failure is a medical condition in which the kidneys fail to filter the waste products from the blood.  There are two main types of kidney failure: acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease.  In acute kidney injury, the condition will develop over a short period of time – it can be as little as a few days in some cases.  Chronic kidney disease may take much longer to show signs and symptoms, as it takes much more time to develop.  In order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you must have a condition that is expected to last at least twelve months or to end in death. Signs and symptoms of kidney disease may include the following: High levels of urea in the blood, which may result in: Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea Weight loss Blood in urine/nocturnal uniration/unusual amounts of urine Buildup of phosphates in the blood, which may cause: Itching Bone damage Muscle cramps Buildup of potassium, which may result in: Muscle paralysis Abnormal heart rhythms Fluid-filled cysts on the kidneys, causing pain in the patient’s back or side Low amounts of hemoglobin in the blood, which my result in: Tiredness/weakness Memory problems/difficulty concentrating There are two listings for kidney failure in the SSA’s Listing of Impairments.  These listings are summarized below; visit Social Security’s website here for the full text of these listings. Section 6.02 – Impairment of renal function, due to any chronic renal disease that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.  To meet this listing, a claimant must … 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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