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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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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 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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September 21, 2011

Why Does It Take So Long To Receive A Decision After Your Social Security Disability Hearing?

Indiana disability claimants who have endured a lengthy wait for their disability hearing should not be surprised to find themselves staring at their mailbox waiting for a decision to arrive.  Indianapolis Social Security disability attorney Scott Lewis receives many calls from his clients asking why it takes so long to find out whether or not they have won or lost their Social Security disability appeal.  Mr. Lewis understands it can be a frustrating wait when the bills are due and families are having a difficult time putting food on their tables. There is always a possibility there is still work to do on your Social Security disability claim after you leave the courtroom.  Perhaps the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is not through reviewing your case.  All Judges conduct hearings differently and some take testimony first and then look deeper into the medical documentation to make a decision.  If there were no experts at your hearing, the Judge may want to ask questions regarding employment to a vocational expert after the hearing has concluded. On the other hand, some Administrative Law Judges have made a decision during the hearing or as soon as you walked out the door. There can be other reasons for a lengthy wait. It may be a problem of too much workload put on Administrative Law Judges and their staff.  Considering the large number of claims that are backlogging the hearing offices, it would not be too far fetched to think they are having a difficult time keeping up.  Indianapolis disability lawyer Scott Lewis deals with numerous hearing offices and has noticed some offices are simply slower than others.  With that being said, there are certain judges that seem to work at break neck speed to get decisions out.  It is important to remember though that the … Continued

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January 21, 2011

Indiana Social Security Disability Hearing Bench Decisions

Indianapolis Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claimants often find themselves being denied their Social Security disability benefits. As these disability claimants fight for what they believe they deserve, they appeal the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) denial by requesting the SSA to reconsider their claim. This is called a “request for reconsideration.” Often, this request is again denied by the SSA which leads to a second appeal in which a disability claimant will request that their claim be heard in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). This appeal is called “a request for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge.” Indiana Social Security Disability lawyer Scott D. Lewis represents disability claimants who have been denied SSDI or SSI benefits.  At the law office of Scott D. Lewis, Attorney at Law, LLC, Mr. Lewis and his staff understand their client’s frustration when it comes to the appeals process and the length of time it takes to get in front of an ALJ.  As Mr. Lewis prepares for his client’s disability hearing, he continues to gather medical evidence to support his client’s disability claim, prepares a brief for the judge and also discusses with his clients what they can expect at the hearing.  Most of his clients are eager to know how soon after the hearing they will find out if they won their disability claim. Indianapolis disability attorney Scott Lewis explains to his clients to be prepared to go home from the hearing without knowing if they won their disability claim or not.  In most cases, the judge will give a written decision which may take months.  Written decisions vary in time based on the judge and other factors involved in decision writing.  In some instances, it is very clear that the claim should be granted and in these cases, the ALJ might issue … Continued

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