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June 9, 2016

Anatomy of a Social Security Disability Hearing Part III: The Decision

When the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) makes a determination about your disability claim, he or she does not simply send you a letter that says “Congratulations! You have been found disabled!” or “Sorry, but you do not qualify for disability.”  The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires the ALJ to provide you with a thorough explanation of the decision.  When you get your hearing decision letter, the first part will briefly tell you whether you won or lost.  Attached to that letter will be the actual decision, which is typically about five to fifteen pages long.  The overall document is a little overwhelming, so here is a breakdown of the different parts: Jurisdiction and Procedural History This part of the decision summarizes the technical details about the case, including: The type of benefits for which you applied (Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income) The dates of your application, denials, and appeals requests The names of the attorney and any experts who appeared at the hearing A summary of anything that happened after the hearing (e.g., additional evidence added to the record) Any other procedural issues Issues This part of the decision recites the definition of disability according to Social Security’s rules.  If you have a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim, it will also discuss your Date Last Insured (DLI).  The final sentence of this section is a statement of whether the judge did or did not find that you are disabled under Social Security’s rules. Applicable Law This part of the decision is complete “boilerplate” – that is, it is a generic description that doesn’t contain any details unique to your case.  Every decision from every ALJ contains this language.  This section describes the five-step sequential evaluation that the judge must follow in making a decision.  It also … Continued

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May 20, 2016

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

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May 17, 2016

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

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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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August 26, 2014

What Should I Say At My Social Security Disability Hearing?

When I prepare my Indiana neighbors for their day in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the majority of the conversation revolves around what type of questions the ALJ will ask them.  I have represented clients in front of many different judges, and I have found that each ALJ has a unique style of asking questions – some ask a lot of questions; others prefer to have the representative take most of the client’s testimony.  Therefore, I try to tailor each of my clients’ preparation to be ready for the particular judge who will be hearing the case.  In spite of their differences, though, in my experience most judges cover the same general topics in their hearings. Many, but not all, judges are going to check your credibility.  While objective test results can prove that you have a certain medical diagnosis, the severity of the pain or other symptoms you experience due to that diagnosis can only be explained by you.  Therefore, the judge will likely ask you to explain your symptoms, rate your pain, or describe the ways your pain or other symptoms limit your ability to perform certain tasks.  If a judge believes you are exaggerating or lying about these things, you may find yourself with an unfavorable outcome.  I try to always tell my clients to be truthful yet realistic about what they can or cannot do.  In my experience, credibility is especially important for my clients whose disabilities cannot be diagnosed with objective testing, like mental illness, fibromyalgia, or migraines. Most judges will ask you about your activities of daily living.  These can include but are not limited to cleaning your home, doing dishes, laundry, yard work, bathing or showering, dressing yourself, taking care of children, shopping, using the computer, hobbies, and going out with friends and … Continued

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November 9, 2011

Social Security Disability Attorneys In Indianapolis May Be Able To Give You A Good Idea Of Whether Or Not You Won Your Claim

When you leave your Social Security disability appeal hearing you may scratch your head and wonder what exactly just happened.  Indianapolis Social Security disability lawyer Scott Lewis, at times, can give his clients a pretty good idea of what just transpired in the hearing room.  Mr. Lewis represents hundreds of Indiana Social Security disability claimants each year and has found there can be some signs during a Social Security disability hearing that may indicate an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is leaning one way or another regarding the decision in your appeal.  There are a few factors that may help determine what the outcome will be. Who was your Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)?  Administrative Law Judge approval percentages on Social Security disability claims can be all over the board.  Some Judges may approve a very small number of claims, while other Judges may approve a large percentage of the claims they preside over.  Indiana Social Security lawyer Scott Lewis has represented his Indiana neighbors in front of all of the current Administrative Law Judges in the Indianapolis ODAR office and usually has a pretty good idea how often they find individuals disabled.  Also, there are statistics put out by the Social Security Administration (SSA) showing the approval rates for Administrative Law Judges. What did the Medical Expert (ME) testify to at your hearing?  Medical experts are sometimes used at Social Security disability hearings.  These experts are supposed to analyze the medical records in your Social Security disability file to determine what your medical condition is, whether or not you meet one of Social Security’s Listing of Impairments, and what your limitations may be related to your mental or physical condition.  Some Administrative Law Judges do not use medical experts, but if they do, at times they can rely heavily on their testimony.  It … Continued

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May 11, 2011

Your Social Security Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and the Luck of the Draw

Feeling lucky?  Sometimes an Indiana disability appeal claimant will ask Indianapolis disability attorney Scott Lewis if he/she can select a judge to hear their Social Security disability appeal.  His answer is “No, you pretty much get who you are assigned.”  What does that mean to you?  Indianapolis attorney Scott Lewis tries his best to prepare his clients to be ready for the judge that will hear their case.  If your Social Security disability attorney or representative has been in front of a certain judge before they will probably know better how to prepare you for your hearing. The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Administrative Law Judges are people just like you and me.  While they are all trained to conduct the Social Security disability hearings in a particular fashion, many judges craft their own style of hearing.  In the Indianapolis Office or Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR), there are a variety of personalities of judges and with an entire floor now devoted to video hearings with judges from various states it can make for a very wide viewpoint of how the disability hearing process should be conducted.  But, make no mistake, as an adult attempting to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments the question is whether or not you can work. So your Indiana Social Security disability hearing is scheduled and you finally know who your Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will be, so what is next?  Indiana disability attorney Scott Lewis attempts to let his clients know what type of questions their particular judge is most interested in, how detailed your answers should be, and in general the framework this judge will use in conducting the hearing. It is also important to understand the judge’s claim approval rating in which can vary greatly.  For example, some Administrative Law Judges … Continued

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April 25, 2011

Will The Judge Tell Me If I Won Or Lost At The End Of My Indiana Social Security Disability Hearing?

So you have waited quite a long time for your upcoming Social Security disability hearing and think you will finally get an answer to your appeal.  Well the truth is, you probably have another waiting period to endure before you receive a decision in the mail.  Indianapolis Social Security attorney Scott D. Lewis often gets asked by his clients when will they find out if they have won or lost their Indiana Social Security disability appeal.  There are a few different scenarios that can take place at the conclusion of your Social Security disability hearing. If you are one of the lucky few, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) may make a bench decision.  After a  judge hears testimony, if he/she believes the claimant is disabled, he/she can make a fully favorable bench decision.  In Indianapolis disability attorney Scott Lewis’ experience a bench decision can speed up the time it takes in processing a disability claim.  The Administrative Law Judge usually reads into the record his/her reasons for granting the disability claim.  Some judges make bench decisions on a routine basis when granting claims, while other judges rarely, if ever, use bench decisions.  So what happens if you are not a lucky recipient of a bench decision?  You shouldn’t think you have lost your disability claim because there are other ways judges decide disability claims. Many judges do not make the decision on your disability claim the day you are in court.  Although almost all Social Security disability hearings have a similar theme, many judges decide claims using a different process.  Some Administrative Law Judges will have already looked over your file before the hearing.  These judges then get testimony from the claimant and then make a decision.  Other judges may not have looked at your record at all before the … Continued

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