Recent Blog Posts

Anatomy of a Social Security Hearing Decision Part I: How do I know if I won? - If you have a Social Security disability hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), you probably will leave the hearing without knowing whether you won or not.  Most claimants have to wait between thirty and ninety days to receive the ALJ’s decision in the mail.  (Sometimes it can take even longer if the judge needs to get additional information.) When you receive your decision and look it over, you still might have trouble telling whether you won or not!  The decisions have a lot of information in them, and it can be hard at first glance to figure out what’s important.  The first page of your decision will look something like this:     The first clue you have about the outcome of your case is the title at the top.  There are four possibilities: Notice of Decision – Fully Favorable:  Congratulations!  You won!  A “fully favorable” decision means that the ALJ found that you became disabled as of your alleged onset date and continue to be disabled.  An ALJ also issues a favorable decision when the claimant agrees at the hearing to change his or her alleged onset date or to accept a closed period of disability. Notice of Decision – Partially Favorable:  This decision is typically mostly good news, but not always.  In short, a partially favorable decision is one in which the judge found that you are (or were) disabled for some of the time since your alleged onset date, but not for all of that time.  If you received a “partially favorable” decision, it could mean one of two things: The judge gave you a closed period of disability.  In other words, the ALJ found that you became disabled as of your alleged onset date (or at a point later in time) but also … Continued
The Indianapolis Office of Disability Adjudication and Review - Most people who apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) end up having to go to a hearing if they pursue their claim after the initial denial.  If you live in central Indiana and have a hearing, you will likely end up at the Indianapolis hearings office. The address of the Indianapolis Office of Disability, Adjudication, and Review (ODAR) office is 151 N. Delaware Street, Room 400, Indianapolis, Indiana, 46204.  The hearing office is in Market Square Center, but most people call it the “Gold Building” due to the gold glass windows on the outside of the building.  There is metered street parking and a parking garage east of the building.   You should plan to bring money to pay for parking; Social Security does not validate parking for you.  Once inside the building, take the elevators to the fourth floor. When exiting the elevators, look to your left and you will see a security officer. It is important to remember that the hearing office is a federal facility, so certain rules apply.  The security officer will ask to see valid photo identification, such as a drivers’ license or state ID card.  Make sure your license or ID card is not expired!  If it is, the judge may postpone your hearing until you obtain valid identification.  The security officer will also scan everyone entering the office with a metal detection wand.  It is important that you do not attempt to bring in guns, knives, or other sharp objects that could be used as weapons.  Once you are cleared by security you should check in at the window and have a seat in the waiting area. The Social Security Administration (SSA) employs Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) to preside over the hearings.  The judges are men and women … Continued
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
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
Social Security Disability for Breast Cancer - While many people fully recover and are able to return to work after being diagnosed with breast cancer, some do not.  Unfortunately, for some people, the treatments and procedures do not work, or they not work well enough to allow the patient to return to her previous level of functioning.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes breast cancer and other types of cancers as disabling conditions. Even though a breast cancer diagnosis can be scary and life-altering, in my Indianapolis Social Security Disability practice I see many of these types of claims denied.  Here are a few common reasons Social Security gives for denying breast cancer claims: Your condition has not lasted, or is not expected to last, twelve months or longer.  Often, the Social Security reviewers will review your diagnosis and medical records, see that you are receiving treatment, and conclude that you will improve enough to return to work within twelve months from the date you were diagnosed.  If that turns out to be the case, then you will not be eligible for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits, no matter how severely you were disabled during the months you were receiving treatment.  However, for many people, treatment extends beyond twelve months or leaves them with residual symptoms that do not improve, even if the cancer goes into remission.  For example, some of my clients acquire neuropathy in their arms from the effects of chemotherapy, and others have painful scarring that prevents them from being able to use their arms the way they used to.  Therefore, even if Social Security denies your claim because you are expected to get better, it is a good idea to appeal that denial to keep your claim going in case your recovery does not go as well as expected. Your … Continued
Finding an Indiana Social Security Disability Lawyer for your Child - If you have had a difficult time finding an attorney to represent you in your child’s claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you may not be alone.  When I speak to new clients in my Indianapolis Social Security disability law practice, they often tell me that many of the Social Security disability attorneys they had consulted simply do not take children’s cases.  Some Administrative Law Judges have told me that children’s SSI cases can be more difficult to win than adult cases.  In my experience, the chances of winning a child’s case are affected by the same factors that affect adults’ cases – we need good treatment records, statements from a treating physician supporting the claimant’s descriptions of his or her symptoms, and good preparation for the hearing.   I take great pride in helping the families of disabled children, and I believe my experience with these cases helps to ensure that my clients have the best chance possible at a favorable outcome. One of the reasons some attorneys may be reluctant to accept children’s cases is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses different criteria in evaluating a child’s disability that it does when it evaluates an adult’s impairments.  For example, Social Security has a separate Listing of Impairments for adults and children.  Further, the SSA evaluates children’s and adults’ functional limitations using different frameworks.  The main issue in an adult’s case is whether his or her disability is severe enough to prevent full-time work.  Obviously, since children do not work, Social Security cannot analyze a child’s functional limitations in this manner.  Instead, the SSA determines whether a child has “marked” limitations in at least two (or “extreme” limitations in at least one) of six areas of functioning Social Security calls “domains”: Acquiring and using information:  the child’s ability … Continued
Can I Get Social Security Disability For COPD? - If your symptoms are severe enough, Social Security can find you disabled if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  However, a diagnosis on its own is not enough.  In my practice, I find that COPD is disabling to my clients in two ways – either because their COPD symptoms are so severe that they are unable to work, or because their COPD symptoms combine with symptoms from other impairments to keep them from working. I am surprised at how many of my clients have breathing difficulties.  Their diagnoses range from asthma to emphysema.  My experience with clients with breathing problems is that their symptoms generally do not improve with time.  If you find you are unable to work due to COPD or any other breathing problem, it may be in your best interest to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as soon as possible. The Social Security Administration (SSA) examines COPD in its Listing of Impairments under listing 3.02 for chronic pulmonary insufficiency.  The listings in section 3 cover many other types of respiratory impairments as well, including asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, persistent pulmonary infections, and cor pulomale due to chronic pulmonary vascular hypertension.  If you have COPD or any other respiratory problem, Social Security will probably order a “pulmonary function test” to objectively determine the extent of the obstruction to your airways.  If you are already being treated by a pulmonologist, you may have already had one or more pulmonary function tests performed.  Social Security will request records from your doctor, which will include these test results as well as your doctor’s diagnoses and clinical impressions. Another way to meet the requirements of the listings in section 3 is to show that you have frequent respiratory exacerbations that require physician intervention.  If … Continued
Is it Easy to Get Social Security Disability? - I don’t think so.  Almost every day I hear from somebody who tells me about a neighbor or relative who gets Social Security Disability payments even though there is “nothing wrong with him.”  The fact is there are guidelines and rules that must be met in every Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) case.  When people tell me stories like the one I just mentioned, my guess is they are not fully informed about the facts regarding the particular case.  Social Security processes each claim for disability very thoroughly, so to think Social Security hands out benefits like candy is just not the truth. First, individuals must meet certain rules regarding resources and whether you have worked enough to be eligible.  The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program considers various factors regarding financial resources and income to determine eligibility.  The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program is available to workers who have worked long enough to earn eligibility for benefits.  Unfortunately, some individuals do not qualify for either program; one example is a parent who has taken several years off of work to care for young children but has a spouse who works full time.  The best way to determine whether you qualify is to apply for both programs and let the SSA determine your eligibility. Second, medical records are generally necessary to prove a case and receive benefits.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes certain impairments as disabling.  Simply saying you have something wrong with you is usually not enough if you cannot provide medical evidence to back you up.  While the SSA will send you to a consultative medical examination, in my experience the results of these examinations are not given a great amount of weight by the disability reviewers or by Administrative Law Judges … Continued
Social Security Disability Payments for Neurological Impairments - There are many medical conditions that can so severely affect an individual’s mental and physical functioning as to qualify that person for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. In my Indianapolis Social Security disability practice I represent many Indiana residents suffering from neurological impairments. Many of those clients suffer from a combination of mental and physical symptoms that prevent them from performing what the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA); in other words, they cannot work a full-time job. In cases involving adults with neurological impairments, the SSA will first consult the listings in Section 11 of its Listing of Impairments. The Listing of Impairments is a guideline published by the Social Security Administration outlining certain criteria that, if met, are considered to be proof that the claimant is disabled. The conditions addressed in the Listings are as follows: • Epilepsy (convulsive or non-convulsive) • Central nervous system vascular accident • Benign brain tumors (malignant brain tumors are evaluated under listings for cancer) • Parkinsonian syndrome • Cerebral palsy • Spinal cord or nerve root lesions • Multiple sclerosis • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis • Anterior poliomyelitis • Myasthenia gravis • Muscular dystrophy • Subacute combined cord degeneration • Other degenerative diseases, such as Huntington’s chorea, Friedreich’s ataxia, or spino-cerebellar degeneration • Cerebral trauma • Syringomyelia Most of the criteria in the Listings for these impairments require evidence of the following: (a) A medical diagnosis and appropriate medical testing (b) Sensory, motor, and/or speech dysfunction (c) Compliance with prescribed treatment See the specific listings for the requirements for each particular impairment. In my experience, a person whose diagnosis and symptoms meet the criteria of the listings should be found disabled in the early stages of the disability process, as long as appropriate medical … Continued
Can I Receive Social Security Disability Payments For Fibromyalgia? - The short answer is yes, you can receive Social Security disability benefits if you have fibromyalgia.  In my experience, though, you may face some obstacles along the way.  Although doctors have been diagnosing fibromyalgia for many years, it was not until 2012 that the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued guidelines addressing fibromyalgia as a disabling condition in policy ruling SSR 12-2p. While SSR 12-2p requires that a diagnosis of fibromyalgia be made by a licensed physician, it has been my experience that having a diagnosis from a rheumatologist greatly improves the likelihood that the SSA will accept that diagnosis as valid.  As with any type of impairment, Social Security gives greater weight to the diagnoses and clinical findings of a physician who specializes in treating your disabling condition. SSR 12-2p states that a diagnosis of fibromyalgia alone is not sufficient proof of a disabling condition.  Social Security will review the doctor’s treatment notes to make sure that the doctor’s clinical findings and treatment notes over time show that your physical strength and functional abilities are limited enough to be disabling.  A short summary of the criteria the SSA considers in determining whether your diagnosis of fibromyalgia is disabling includes: 1.  A history of widespread pain that has persisted for at least three months 2.  At least one of the following: a.  At least eleven positive tender points on examination b.  Repeated manifestation of at least six fibromyalgia signs or co-occurring conditions, especially fatigue, cognitive or memory problems, waking unrefreshed, depression, anxiety disorder, or irritable bowel syndrome 3.  Evidence ruling out other disorders that could cause these symptoms If you have fibromyalgia, you probably know that this short summary cannot begin to convey how completely your symptoms affect your life.  The pain you experience on a daily basis and the other … Continued