May 5, 2015

Asperger’s Syndrome and Obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits

Often, my blog topics reflect certain disabling conditions or Social Security disability issues that seem to be becoming more prevalent in my practice.  Asperger’s Syndrome is definitely one of these conditions; I represent many children and adults who have been given this diagnosis. Of course, the most recent DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was released in May of 2013) no longer contains a diagnosis of “Asperger’s Syndrome”; the disorder, along with other disorders such Pervasive Development Disorder NOS, is now included under the diagnosis of “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”  As people with Asperger’s and their families know, it doesn’t matter what it’s called; the symptoms and limitations remain. People with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder typically have social communication and interaction deficits and restrictive, repetitive patterns of behavior.  These symptoms often interfere with an adult’s ability to work or with a child’s ability to function at an age-appropriate developmental level.  If you or your child have these symptoms, you could be eligible for benefits under Social Security’s Disability Insurance (SSDI) program or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Whether you are an adult or a child on the autism spectrum, the first way the Social Security Administration (SSA) assesses whether your impairment is disabling under its rules is by referring to the entry for “autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders” in its Listing of Impairments.  The relevant listing for adults is Listing 12.10; the relevant listing for children is Listing 112.10.  First, Social Security will determine whether you meet the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis.  Next, it will evaluate how severely your symptoms affect your ability to function.  For adults, this means an adjudicator will determine how markedly your symptoms impair your activities of daily living, your social functioning, and your ability to maintain … Continued

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April 28, 2015

Symptoms of Depression That May Make you Eligible for Social Security Disability Payments

Many of the clients I serve in my Indianapolis disability practice suffer from some type of depressive disorder.  Sometimes their symptoms of depression are caused by or exacerbated by physical impairments, but often depression is a disabling condition all by itself. Depression raises some unique obstacles in pursuing a Social Security disability claim.  Deadlines must be met, appointments must be kept, and paperwork must be completed in a timely and thorough manner.  If you have depression, though, you may lack the energy to keep track of your paperwork or even open your mail.  You might be so socially and emotionally isolated that you do not attend appointments or return telephone calls.  You may have difficulty maintaining attention long enough to complete questionnaires about your symptoms and work history.  If you aren’t able to fulfill these obligations, it is likely your claim will be dismissed.  It can be really helpful if you allow a family member or friend to help you make sure everything gets finished completely and on time. The Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses the disability nature of depression and other affective disorders in its Listing of Impairments at Listing 12.04.  To meet the requirements of this listing, you first much be able to show that you have medically documented symptoms such as: “Anhedonia,” or a persistent, all-encompassing loss of interest in your daily activities, even things you used to like to do Disturbance in your appetite causing weight gain or loss Sleep disturbance Psychomotor agitation (unintentional, purposeless movement) or retardation (listlessness, inability to physically carry out everyday activities) Lack of energy Guilt or feelings of worthlessness Problems concentrating or thinking Suicidal thoughts Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia It is not enough for you to explain to Social Security what your symptoms are and how they affect you.  You must … Continued

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March 30, 2015

Diabetes and Your Social Security Disability Claim

If you suffer from diabetes and your symptoms keep you from being able to work, you may be eligible for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. The prevalence of diabetes among my clients seems to be ever increasing.  Some of my clients suffer from Type I diabetes, which typically starts in childhood.  However, most of my clients with diabetes have Type II diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes.  Unfortunately, many of my clients have medical impairments that greatly increase their risk of developing diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.  Others develop risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, and physical inactivity due to the physical limitations caused by their other medical impairments.  If you suffer from diabetes, even if you do not consider it to be the most disabling condition you have, its effects on your ability to work may be substantial.  When talking to Social Security about your disabling conditions, it is always important to discuss all of your impairments, even if you don’t think a particular condition like diabetes would be disabling to you all by itself.  Social Security determines your limitations based on the combination of all of your functional limitations that result from any and all medically determinable impairments you have. While the Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses diabetes in Section 9.00 of its Listing of Impairments, diabetes is no longer a listed impairment.  (Social Security removed the listing for diabetes in 2011.)  Instead, Social Security notes that the effects of diabetes on different body systems might allow you to meet or equal other sections of the Listings.  In Social Security Ruling 14-2p, the SSA identifies some examples of the effects of diabetes, including: Diabetic neuropathy (evaluated under Listing 11.14 for peripheral neuropathies) Diabetic retinopathy (evaluated under … Continued

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March 19, 2015

Objective Testing and Your Social Security Disability Claim

Proving you are disabled to the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not always easy.  Before the SSA will even consider how your symptoms affect your ability to work, you must show that you have a “medically determinable impairment.”  Telling Social Security that you have pain or fatigue or memory loss is not enough, by itself, to establish a medically determinable impairment.  You must also be able to provide objective evidence that explains why you have those symptoms. The most direct evidence you can provide is objective test results.  These tests might include: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and X-rays: these tests show the location and severity of physical damage to your musculoskeletal system that might cause symptoms such as pain. Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies: this type of test shows whether you have nerve damage that might cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, or weakness. Electroencephalography (EEG): this test helps to show abnormal activity in your brain that might cause symptoms from seizures or sleep disorders. CT Scans: these tests show damage to your organs that might cause symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue. Blood tests: these tests can show the presence or absence of different substances in your blood, which in turn can help prove that you have certain anti-immune disorders or other diseases. Stress tests: these tests measure the effects of exertion on your heart and can help quantify the severity of your cardiovascular symptoms. Echocardiograms: the results of these tests can show abnormalities in your heart that might cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, or fatigue. Not all medical conditions can be proven using objective testing, though. Mental health disorders, migraines, fibromyalgia, and pain disorders are notoriously difficult to prove because there are no reliable tests available to confirm them … Continued

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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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