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December 4, 2017

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

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November 28, 2017

Why is There a Job Expert at my Social Security Disability Hearing?

When attending a Social Security disability hearing, you most likely will see or hear testimony from a Vocational Expert (VE), also known as a Job Expert.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) employs Vocational Experts to testify about the classification of work you have performed in the past and to answer hypothetical questions from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) as to what occupations can be performed with various physical or mental restrictions.  A VE can testify by telephone or in person. Their background usually consists of placing individuals in the job market through various means, such as vocational rehabilitation.  Usually at the end of your Social Security Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) hearing, the ALJ will pose hypotheticals or examples to the VE.  The ALJ will usually ask the VE what jobs are available to an individual based on their age, education, and past work experience with certain workplace restrictions the ALJ thinks may be applicable to each individual claimant.  Many ALJs will ask numerous hypotheticals.  This gives the ALJ the opportunity to later decide which hypothetical he or she will use for each individual claimant’s decision.  Your attorney/representative will have the opportunity to cross-examine the VE after the ALJ is done. The Vocational Expert will advise the ALJ as to the description and number of jobs in the local and/or national economies. I have found many of my clients have difficulty understanding the role of the VE.  It is important to note that when an ALJ asks examples where there are jobs in the economy that can be performed, it does not always mean you have lost your case.  I tell my clients that they should continue to listen because many ALJs work their way through various hypotheticals until no jobs are available for the claimant.  This is … Continued

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November 17, 2017

Can I Receive Social Security Disability for an Anxiety Disorder?

I represent many people with mental disorders, and anxiety is no exception.  This diagnosis can stand alone, or at times, it may be accompanied by other mental and physical disorders.  I have found that some of my clients’ symptoms from anxiety can be so severe that they are unable to interact with friends, family, or even leave their house to do routine activities.  With severe symptoms, the thought of dealing with the public, co-­­workers, and supervisors can be difficult, if not impossible.  In my experience, to win a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim, essential information from a treating qualified mental health professional is generally needed. Anxiety can also cause problems with maintaining focus.  My clients often report issues with racing thoughts, trouble focusing, increased phobias, problems with change in routine, or difficulty sleeping at night.  Additionally, panic attacks can be a major issue for clients who suffer from anxiety.  These attacks can have varying degrees of frequency, duration, or severity; they can even lead to a need for emergency medical treatment.  Any of these symptoms can cause issues in the workplace that would prevent an individual from staying on task and completing a work day. By showing the Social Security Administration that you experience these symptoms through medical records or testimony, it can strengthen your claim for disability benefits. The Social Security Administration recognizes Anxiety Disorder in its Listing of Impairments under Listing 12.06.  At times, it can be difficult to meet or equal one of these listings, so it is important to receive treatment and have records from hospitalizations, treatment and progress notes, and any medical source statements your mental health professional can provide. Compliance with treatment can be a huge factor in receiving disability payments.  If you are not taking medications as … Continued

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November 6, 2017

Indiana Social Security Disability Appeals

Have you filed a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim and been denied?  Being timely when filing your appeal can be very important in getting your disability claim resolved.  During free initial client consultations, I see that many claimants have simply filed initial application after initial application without ever filing an appeal.  The Social Security Administration has steps you must initiate in order to follow through with your claim if you have been denied.  In my experience, starting over each time with an initial application is usually not in your best interest.   If you are denied on an Initial Application, you have sixty days to file what is called a “Request for Reconsideration”.  This is basically telling the SSA you believe they have made a mistake and are asking them another look at your claim.   They will assign a reviewer to your claim and usually make a decision within 60-90 days.  If you are again denied, you must request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  Again, time is of the essence and you only have sixty days to file the correct paperwork.  There are exceptions that the SSA will look at on a case-by-case basis if you turn in your paperwork late.  In my experience, relying on the SSA to accept an untimely filing is probably not your best bet.  One of the reasons many people hire an attorney is to have a trained professional in this area to help ensure deadlines are met.   The Social Security Administration has various rules and regulations that are used to process disability claims.  Considering the numerous claims they receive, providing them with all of the information they need in a timely and complete fashion can only enhance your chances of winning your disability claim.  … Continued

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October 26, 2017

Social Security Disability and Diabetes

In my Indianapolis, Indiana Social Security disability practice, I handle numerous cases involving Diabetes.  Since there can be so many varying degrees of severity with Diabetes, I try to find out how it affects each individual client regarding their ability to work.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes Diabetes as a disabling condition either by itself or combined with other severe impairments. Diabetes can occur when the body does not produce enough glucose due to a lack of insulin.  Medical treatment and dietary control can sometimes help to control Diabetes, but other times it does not.  Uncontrolled Diabetes can create a variety of symptoms and these can include but are not limited to: Neuropathy (Nerve damage in the feet and/or hands. This is by far the most common symptom I see in my practice.) Retinopathy (Vision impairment) Fatigue Nephropathy (Kidney disease) Extreme hunger and/or thirst Frequent urination Just having the above symptoms is not enough to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  They must be severe enough to meet or equal one of the SSA’s Listing of Impairments or prevent you from working a full-time job.  Most of my clients with Diabetes say that the neuropathy they experience makes them unable to work.  They complain of numbness and/or tingling in their hands and/or feet that prevents them from standing and walking or using their hands for fine and gross manipulation. As with all disability claims, medical documentation can be essential to a favorable outcome.  Compliance with medical treatment can show that even though you are taking prescribed medication (including insulin), your severe impairment still exists.  Objective testing such as nerve conduction studies for neuropathy and vision tests for retinopathy can go a long way in convincing an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that you are … Continued

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September 6, 2017

Updating Your Social Security Disability Claim with Your Attorney

With the huge backlog of pending Social Security disability claims, you may think your case has been lost in a sea of paperwork.  My staff strives to let our clients know that just because they haven’t heard from us on recent progress with the Social Security Administration (SSA), we have not forgotten about them.  My staff spends much of the day updating cases and explaining the lengthy wait times to clients waiting to finally get their day in court.  It can be frustrating for clients, and contrary to what some may say, there is no preferential treatment given to a claimant because they hire a certain attorney. So what can you do during this long wait time?  Continue to see your doctors for necessary treatment as long as you can afford to.  Let your attorney know of any update to your medical condition, and if you do not have an attorney then let the SSA know about treatment. It is especially important to provide updates on any new treatment providers you have seen, as this will be particularly useful when it comes time to obtain medical records. Many things can happen while waiting for a hearing—your physical or mental condition may get better, get worse, or stay the same. Another important aspect of keeping your case updated is to let your attorney know if your contact information has changed.  During times of financial hardship, telephone numbers and addresses can change repeatedly.  When it comes time for your day in court, it is imperative that the SSA and/or your lawyer can contact you. We encourage our clients to contact us whenever they have a status update.  The appeals process goes through various stages.  Given the time limits for filing critical paperwork, keeping in contact with your attorney is essential.

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August 31, 2017

Do I Need To Appear At My Social Security Disability Appeals Hearing?

From time to time I am asked “do I need to be at my hearing?”  Always, I let my clients know that they should make every effort to appear in person.  In my practice as an Indiana Social Security Attorney, it is almost always in your best interest to attend your hearing.  My thoughts are, if you have waited this long for the big day to finally arrive and have your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim be resolved, why wouldn’t you show up?  Unless, of course, you were physically or mentally unable to be there. There are circumstances when an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will use his/her discretion to allow the claimant to appear by telephone.  Events such as hospitalization, car trouble, or incarceration may warrant such an appearance.  If you can let your attorney know well in advance, you may have a better chance of having a telephonic appearance granted by the Judge. In my experience, if you are physically and mentally able to attend your hearing in person, it may help your case.  One reason I do not prefer video hearings is that the ALJ may not be able to observe all of your problems the way they do in person.  A telephone hearing makes matters even worse.  I want the Judge to be able to see your physical or mental conditions in person.  Your inability to walk steadily, inability to sit uninterrupted during the hearing, and facial expressions could support the underlying medical records.  If the Social Security Administration (SSA) was going to make a determination on your medical records alone, that probably would have already happened.  A hearing is your chance to present your case in person and you do not want to pass on that opportunity, if at all … Continued

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June 20, 2017

Why should you have a brief for your Social Security disability hearing?

At the Law Office of Scott D. Lewis, we submit representative briefs to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) prior to our clients’ disability hearing.  In my experience as an Indiana Social Security disability attorney, I find this to be helpful for a variety of reasons.   A well-structured brief can give the ALJ a concise framework for highlighting the important and relevant aspects in regards to a claim for disability. To begin, the brief can outline the procedural aspects or issues with a claim, and show the ALJ what steps or actions have been taken in anticipation of the hearing.  A good brief will show the theory for disability of the case, such as whether the claim meets any Listing of Impairments or whether any of Social Security’s vocational guidelines.  It should cite to a claimant’s medical records to demonstrate the severity of symptoms, point out any objective medical testing, and highlight any medical source statements from treating sources.  A brief should also show how a claimant’s residual functional capacity is so diminished that no full-time jobs could be performed.   In my practice as a Social Security Disability attorney, I find that a brief serves two strong purposes.  First, it allows the ALJ to know what arguments I am asserting for my clients and provides the evidence to support it.  Medical records can contain hundreds of pages of documents, so giving the ALJ the locations of important documents all in one location can prevent some key piece of evidence from being overlooked. Second, I find that it helps me prepare for the hearing. After assembling the brief, I have a stronger understanding of the client, the medical record, and the strategy I plan to use to win the case. Does every ALJ read every brief submitted? Probably not, however … Continued

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June 12, 2017

Is Your Back Pain Preventing You From Working?

I have represented thousands of my Indiana neighbors in their Social Security disability claims, and I can easily say back pain is the most common disabling condition I see.  This pain can be so severe an individual cannot stand, walk, or even sit for any extended period of time.  These types of postural limitations can create an inability to hold down any type of job.  Many of my clients need to change positions constantly, lie down, and take very strong medication just to make the pain bearable. When reviewing your case, there are specific things the Social Security Administration (SSA) will examine.  For example, do you have objective testing showing the severity of your condition?  Just complaining about back pain is usually not going to get you benefits.  Objective testing like X-rays and MRI’s indicating the severity of your condition can be key in a finding of disability. Are you complying with or seeking appropriate treatment?  In my experience, the SSA and most judges want to see that you are trying to make your back better.  This is often done through medication, physical therapy, electrical stimulation, injections, and surgeries.   Exhausting some, or all, of these avenues and still experiencing severe pain can show the SSA you are complying with treatment and that the pain still persists. The SSA has various rules it uses when evaluating back problems.  It can find you disabled by using its Listing of Impairments or by deciding whether or not you have such severe functional limitations you are unable to work an eight-hour day, five days a week.  It is also important to remember the SSA will examine all of your impairments in combination when deciding if you are disabled.  Many of my clients have more than one severe impairment that is creating their inability to … Continued

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July 17, 2015

If My Initial Application For Social Security Disability Benefits is Denied, Should I Reapply?

Should you appeal your initial application denial or reapply if you are denied disability benefits?  If the Social Security Administration (SSA) states your disability is not severe enough to receive benefits, appealing the decision is usually the right move.  Many individuals believe that by simply reapplying the SSA may approve their new application, but statistically this is not accurate.  In my experience, it is in your best interest to appeal the initial denial. After your initial application is denied you have sixty (60) days to file a Request for Reconsideration.  Many individuals refer to this as an appeal.  The Request for Reconsideration is basically saying to the SSA that they made a mistake and need to take another look at your claim.  When you file your reconsideration, the SSA should also gather any new evidence for your claim as well.  If you submit the appeal on your own, you should include the updated information when prompted.  If an attorney or representative completes your appeal for you, they should be in touch with you for updated information. Unfortunately, the majority of these requests are also denied.  Once again you will have sixty (60) days to file an appeal and request a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  Some statistics have shown you odds of winning your claim will increase at this stage. The majority of successful disability claims ultimately end up in front of an ALJ.  An administrative Law Judge is not bound by prior decisions by the SSA and is supposed to take a fresh look at your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim. In my experience as a Social Security Disability attorney it is very important to appeal your denied claim within the time limits set forth by the SSA.  It is also … Continued

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