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July 24, 2014

Social Security Disability Benefits for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a medical condition in which the patient’s liver is inflamed.  In some cases, HCV can lead to cirrhosis (replacement of liver tissue with scar tissue) of the liver.  Hepatitis C is usually spread via organ transplants, transfusions, intravenous drug use, or poorly sterilized medical equipment.  HCV was only proven to be a different condition from hepatitis A and hepatitis B in 1989.  HCV only infects humans and chimpanzees. Chronic infection occurs in about 80% of HCV patients.  A chronic infection is characterized by the presence of viral replication for more than six months.  Most patients with chronic HCV infection exhibit few symptoms, if any, during the first few decades after their initial infection.  Early symptoms may include fatigue or mild cognitive problems.  After several years of an individual being infected, hepatitis C may lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.  Some other symptoms may include: Joint pain Belly pain Itchy skin Sore muscles Dark urine Jaundice Traditionally, the typical treatment for hepatitis C has been interferon injections.  Unfortunately, though, these injections tend to cause flu-like side effects.  New drugs are being introduced to replace interferon treatment, and if a patient’s HCV symptoms are not severe, his doctor may recommend waiting for the new drugs to be released rather than enduring interferon treatment.  Patients with hepatitis C are typically advised to avoid alcohol and any type of medication or drug that is harmful to the liver. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a listing for chronic liver disease in its Listing of Impairments at Section 5.05. Simply being diagnosed with hepatitis C is not enough on its own to meet the criteria to receive Social Security disability benefits.  Your medical records must also show that you have complications such as hepatorenal or hepatopulmonary syndrome, internal bleeding, or fluid in the peritoneal or pleural cavity. Even if you do … Continued

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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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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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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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October 2, 2013

Is Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) a disabling impairment for Social Security Benefits?

Many Indiana residents who have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) contact my Indianapolis office to ask if their condition will qualify them for Social Security disability benefits. If you have HIV/ AIDS and your symptoms keep you from being able to work, you may qualify for benefits from the Social Security Administration. There are two ways to show the Social Security Administration (SSA) that your HIV/AIDS is a disabling condition; you can show that your symptoms “meet the listing” for HIV, or you can show that your combination of impairments reduce your capacity to perform work activities. HIV infection is addressed by §14.08 of Social Security’s Listing of Impairments.  If your medical records show that you fulfill the criteria of this listing, Social Security will most likely find that you are disabled.  First, your medical records must contain documentation that you have HIV infection, either from laboratory test results or other evidence.  Then, you must show that you have at least one of the following: Bacterial infections such as mycobacterial infection, nocardiosis, Salmonella bacteremia, or other recurrent infections requiring hospitalization or frequent IV antibiotic treatment Fungal infections such as aspergillosis; certain types of candidiasis, coccidioidomycosis, cryptococcosis; histoplasmosis; mucormycosis; or Pneumocystis Protozoan or helminthic infections such as cryptosporidiosis, isosporiasis, or microsporidiosis that cause diarrhea; extra-intestinal strongyloidiasis; or some types of toxoplasmosis Viral infections such as certain types of cytomegalovirus disease, certain types of herpes simplex, certain types of herpes zoster, or progressive multifocal leukoencephalopthy Malignant neoplasms such as certain types of carcinoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, lymphoma, or squamous cell carcinoma HIV encephalopathy with progressive cognitive or motor dysfunctio HIV wasting syndrome with chronic diarrhea or chronic weakness with fever Chronic, treatment-resistant diarrhea requiring IV hydration or feeding Chronic or treatment-resistant infection such as sepsis, meningitis, pneumonia, septic arthritis, endocarditis, or sinusitis Repeated manifestations of HIV infection that do not fit in the above categories but result in significant, documented symptoms and marked limitation in your activities of daily living, social functioning, … Continued

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December 11, 2012

Depression and Your Indiana Social Security Disability Appeal

Depression seems to rear its head in the majority of the claims I handle in front of the Social Security Administration (SSA).  While some of my clients suffer from depression alone others may suffer from depression due to their physical disabilities.  I am sure I am not alone when it comes to a large portion of my clients suffering from depression, in fact I am sure the Administrative Law Judges who preside over the hearings I attend routinely examine medical records with a diagnosis of depression.  With this being a common thread I experience, just how do you win your disability claim when trying to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)? In my experience you need to take a long hard look at who you are getting psychological treatment from.  If you are receiving treatment from a general practitioner you may want to rethink your medical options.  The SSA usually wants you to be seeing someone who specializes in the disability you claim you have.  In other words, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a mental health therapist may be your best option when trying to prove you have symptoms of depression that are preventing you from working.  A well documented course of ongoing therapy with detailed progress notes can go a long way in convincing a Judge you are disabled.  Hospitalizations for mental illness can also show you are not getting better in spite of treatment and following prescribed medications.  Sometimes I will sit in a hearing and listen to my client testify and think they are certainly clinically depressed by their testimony, but realize at the same time that their medical records are minimal and they have not been seeing a doctor that the SSA is going to recognize.  The truth is you can be … Continued

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November 30, 2012

Getting Ready For Your Indiana Social Security Disability Hearing

Are you nervous about your upcoming disability hearing?  When I talk to my clients before their hearings, one of the most common things they talk about is how anxious they are.  Many of them seem to be on the verge of an anxiety attack when they enter the hearing room.  I attempt to prepare my clients for this big day by letting them know what the atmosphere of the hearing will be like, the types of questions they will be asked, and what they should talk about (or not talk about) when they answer those questions.  I have seen some attorneys and representatives who do not prepare their clients for their hearings at all, or they do so in the waiting room right before the hearing.  It is my practice to speak with each of my clients a day or two before the hearing; we have plenty of time to prepare, but it’s close enough to the hearing that the client will remember everything we talked about.  I usually spend between 45 minutes and an hour letting them know exactly what to expect at the hearing.  Of course, no matter how well-prepared we are, hearings can take many unexpected turns and there can always be surprises.  However, I know from experience how the majority of hearings are conducted and what issues are likely to arise, and I am able to explain to my clients what they should expect. Fist, it is important to remember the hearing is supposed to be informal.  In other words, most of the Administrative Law Judges do not follow strict trial rules and procedures.  Does this mean you can talk out of turn and interrupt others at the hearing?  No; you still must wait your turn and be respectful.  Most judges give everyone an opportunity to … Continued

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November 29, 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits For Back Pain

As an Indiana Social Security attorney, the majority of my clients suffer from back pain. I personally have occasionally experienced back pain that makes it hard to move around, and I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if the pain was present all of the time. I believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, to work a full time job if this was happening to me on a constant basis. I can sympathize with my clients when they describe their pain to me, but I also realize sympathy is not what they want. They want to be able to provide for themselves and their families when they are unable to work due to back problems. It is important for Social Security disability claimants to know there is a very specific way the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at impairments involving the spine. One of the first things the SSA looks at when examining claims involving the spine is whether or not the individual meets or equals a “Listing”. The SSA publishes a set of guidelines that details what the SSA considers to be disabling conditions. Listing 1.00 covers the musculoskeletal system.  Listing 1.04 specifically covers disorders of the spine, and in order to meet it you must have objective evidence (e.g., medical tests or imaging) of your impairment. MRIs can be of great importance when attempting to show you meet or equal this listing. You usually cannot depend on the SSA to send you for the appropriate testing and imaging; instead your own physician must conduct testing or refer you for testing that proves you have the required criteria. When I am trying to prove that a client meets or equals this listing, I send questionnaires to the treating physicians requesting they provide relevant details about the … Continued

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November 11, 2012

Diabetes and Winning Your Social Security Disability Claim

Practicing Social Security Disability law in Indianapolis has opened my eyes to how many people suffer from diabetes.  Many of my clients suffer from several different disabling conditions at the same time, and more often than not, diabetes is on their list.  At your disability hearing in front of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),  the judge is required to consider all of your severe impairments when determining whether you are disabled.  Therefore, it is very important to let your attorney or representative know if diabetes contributes to your inability to work.  I talk to my clients extensively about how diabetes keeps them from working so I can better understand their limitations and present them to the judge. Diabetes mellitus (or simply diabetes) occurs when a person’s blood glucose level, commonly called “blood sugar,” is unacceptably high, usually due to poor insulin production in the body.  Diabetes is labelled as “type I” or “type II”.  The symptoms of diabetes can include: Frequent urination Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet Fatigue Blurred vision In my practice, the most common reason my diabetic clients find themselves unable to work is the tingling or burning known as neuropathy in their hands and feet.  They also suffer other symptoms that keep them from working when they are unable to control their diabetes with medication or insulin.  In my experience as a disability lawyer, the inability to stand and walk can greatly reduce the number and types of jobs a person can perform.  Many of my clients with neuropathy or swelling in their legs and feet cannot sit for very long without pain, and they are required to elevate their legs to relieve that pain.  These limitations reduce their “physical residual functional capacity” – the types of activities they are physically able to perform … Continued

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