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April 22, 2013

Pain and Your Social Security Disability Hearing

I have found through many years of practicing disability law that each person’s experience of pain is unique.  I have noticed that some of my clients who have similar diagnoses and test results describe the nature and intensity of their pain very differently, and their pain affects each one’s ability to complete daily activities to a different degree.  I believe it is important when testifying at your Indiana disability hearing to be realistic about how your pain feels and how severe your pain is. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing has access to your medical records and is aware of your diagnoses and test results; he will listen to your descriptions of your pain and try to decide if they are consistent with the information in your records. Many times at hearings, the ALJ or your representative will give you a “pain scale” to rate the severity of the pain you experience. A typical pain scale will describe “0” as no pain at all and a “10” as pain so bad you have to go to the hospital.  The ALJ will then ask you to assess your pain on a typical day after you have taken your prescribed medications.  Even when my clients deal with severe pain every day, I tell them to think hard before telling the judge that they experience pain at a “10” on an average day, unless they really do go to the emergency room several times a week.  If the ALJ thinks you are exaggerating your pain symptoms at your hearing, he might not believe other parts of your testimony, either.  In my opinion, it is important to tell the truth at your hearing.  These judges have presided over numerous hearings and have a lot of experience deciding whether people are being honest … Continued

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April 19, 2013

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Social Security Disability Benefits

In my experience as an Indiana Social Security disability attorney, my clients who suffer from conditions that cause the loss or limited use of their upper extremities (i.e., their shoulders, arms, and/or hands) have great difficulty finding and maintaining employment.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) generally recognizes that a person with this type of disability finds greatly reduced numbers of jobs available to them in the national and local economy.  When I represent clients at Social Security disability hearings, Vocational Experts (VEs) often appear at the hearings to testify about the availability of jobs for people with specific limitations.  If a claimant is found to be unable to use his dominant hand to perform its full range of movements, the VE usually testifies that there are few, if any, jobs available that will accommodate such limitations. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) may cause numbness, tingling, or burning in the fingers, thumb, and hand; sometimes these sensations are also present in the wrist.  Some individuals with CTS experience pain when attempting to use their hands to perform even the simplest of tasks.  While the cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may not be known, it is believed that using or overusing one’s hands in work-related situations may be a dominant factor in causing the symptoms.  Many of my clients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have spent significant time performing occupations in which they used their hands extensively working on assembly lines, performing data entry, or using tools. In my experience, some people get temporary relief from CTS with treatments including wearing splints and receiving injections, but they only seems to be short-term fixes.  Some people require surgery to help alleviate the pain and numbness.  This surgery, commonly known as a “carpal tunnel release,” does work for some individuals, but many others have symptoms that … Continued

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April 15, 2013

Depression and Your Indiana Social Security Disability Hearing

I represent my Indiana neighbors in hundreds of disability hearings each year, and find the diagnosis of depression in the majority of them.  From my experience talking to these individuals, I understand how disabling depression can be and how it can prevent anyone from holding down a full-time job.  When the Social Security Administration (SSA) analyzes your claim, it must consider all of the impairments you have, both physical and mental, alone and in combination.  It is important, therefore, when you apply for benefits to let the SSA know about all of the problems that you have that affect your ability to work. One of my biggest challenges representing people with depression comes when I have a client who is receiving all of her mental health diagnoses and treatment from her family physician.  While your family doctor can make a diagnosis of depression and prescribe medications for it, she is not a mental health specialist.  One factor an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) considers when determining whether your depression is severe enough to keep you from being able to work is whether you are getting treatment from a specialist.  If you have heart problems, most judges expect you to receive treatment from a cardiologist; if you have back problems they want to see records from an orthopedist.  In the same way, if you have depression or another mental health impairment, most ALJs think that you should be receiving treatment from a psychiatrist and attending counseling with a psychologist, social worker, or other mental health professional.  Your chances of winning your claim may be greatly enhanced if you are seeing a psychiatrist and therapist on a regular basis. When I represent a client with depression, I try to obtain statements from his psychiatrist or therapist to submit to the ALJ.  A specialist … Continued

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April 10, 2013

Is it a Good Idea To Continue My Social Security Disability Hearing?

Sometimes it is necessary to think about continuing, or postponing, your disability hearing.  As a disability attorney, I generally do not like to continue hearings.  Because the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have such crowded schedules, we have to wait a long time to get to a hearing, and rescheduling a hearing often means even more months of waiting before we finally get in front of the judge.  In my experience, most judges do not want to continue hearings either.  They want to keep things moving along quickly once a case gets to the hearing level. One reason an ALJ does not like to continue a Social Security disability hearing, especially on the day of the hearing, is because a lot of resources have been expended in preparing to hear the case.  Many hearings include vocational and medical experts paid by the Social Security Administration who have reviewed the case file and are ready to testify that day.  If the hearing is rescheduled, all of those experts will have to return to testify on another day. Why, then, would a judge consider rescheduling a hearing?  Oftentimes it is because the case file does not contain all of the claimant’s medical records.  Your medical records are a very important part of your case because they provide hard evidence of your diagnoses, symptoms, and prognosis.  Without all of your records, the ALJ will not be able to get a complete picture of your medical conditions.  If all of your records are not available in time for the hearing, though, the ALJ will often proceed with the hearing, taking your testimony and the testimony of any experts present.  The judge will then hold the record open for a specific amount of time so that the additional medical documents can be furnished at a later … Continued

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March 18, 2013

Indianapolis Social Security Disability Attorney Scott Lewis Is Back!

After a bit of a break I am back to blogging.  I enjoy sharing my experiences concerning the Social Security Administration (SSA) with prospective and current clients through my blog, but I must admit, going to hearings and preparing cases for hearings can be time consuming.  So what has been happening since my last blog entry?  The best news for disabled Indiana residents is that the waiting time for a hearing has been getting shorter.  I have seen a noticeable difference in waiting times recently and wonder how long this current trend will last. What does this mean for you?  Depending on your financial situation, getting to a hearing even a few months sooner may be the difference between keeping your home or facing foreclosure, between having continuous access to health care or spending months without health insurance, or between obtaining monthly disability payments or completely depleting your life savings.  On the other hand, you may be in such a desperate situation that having to wait any time at all for a Social Security disability decision is enough to bring you to financial ruin.  So what can you do?  I tell my clients to look for low or no-cost healthcare through local hospitals and clinics, seek help from their local government trustees, and ask their physicians to help them find programs that provide medications at cheaper rates, just to name a few. These days, when I have clients who complain about their waiting time for a hearing, I find myself thinking how fortunate they are to only have to wait about a year to get a hearing.  You heard me right – they are fortunate, compared to my clients from not long ago who typically had to wait nearly two years to get a hearing!  Not only do the shorter wait times help our disabled clients get their benefits sooner, they also save those clients some money.  The sooner a claimant receives benefits, the fewer months of … 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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October 4, 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits and Strokes

I have represented many of my Indiana neighbors who have experienced strokes, and one thing is certain – none of them have been exactly alike.  Some of my clients experienced a wide variety of physical and mental impairments leading up to their strokes, while others seemed to be perfectly healthy until they experienced their strokes.  One thing they all had in common, though, was that having a stroke altered their lives in ways many of us may could never imagine.  As a Social Security disability attorney, I realize that the particular facts of each case always matter.  With that in mind, I collect medical documentation for each of my clients that will paint a clear picture of the symptoms that person experiences, and how it affects his daily life. As I mentioned before, a person may experience many different symptoms after a stroke, and the ability to recover from those symptoms can vary greatly from individual to individual as well.  Some of the symptoms include, but are not limited to: Numbness, tingling, and weakness Difficulty with speech Problems with balance and walking Cognitive problems Vision problems Headaches The Social Security Administration (SSA) does recognize stroke and the symptoms that accompany a stroke as disabling conditions.  In technical terms, a stroke is referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA).  The SSA addresses stroke in its Listing of Impairments under listing 11.04: Central Nervous System Vascular Accident.  I have found that the SSA and most Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) consider these listings first when trying to determine whether a condition is disabling.  However, many times they fall back on a more generalized look at an individual’s physical residual functional capacity to determine if she is disabled.  When the ALJ looks at your physical residual functional capacity, he is deciding whether the symptoms … Continued

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September 27, 2012

Autism and Child Social Security Disability Benefits

One of the most rewarding parts of my job as a disability lawyer is helping disabled children and their families get the benefits they deserve.  After hearing about the daily struggles  families face when they have disabled children, it is hard not to take a personal interest in their cases.  I believe a larger percentage of my practice is made up of Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) claims involving children than in the practices of many of my fellow Social Security disability attorneys.  In fact, sometimes other attorneys refer children’s cases to me because they simply do not handle children’s disability claims.  I have noticed that more and more of my child clients have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and I have found that many of these cases have unique issues that must be addressed in order to enhance the chances of a favorable outcome. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses six “domains” of functioning to determine how a child’s daily living is affected by the child’s disability.  These domains are: Acquiring and using information Attending and completing tasks Interacting and relating with others Moving about and manipulating objects Caring for yourself Health and physical well-being. A child is considered disabled if the child either has “marked” limitations in two of these domains, or “extreme” limitations in one of them. I have found that many autistic children have extreme limitations in interacting and relating with others.  Individuals with autism may have difficulty holding simple conversations with others, suffer from language difficulties, or repeat words or phrases (echolalia).  I have noticed many of these children do not have the ability to recognize the simple social cues most of us take for granted.  In my experience, most of these kids are smart, and I mean really smart, but their inability to interact … Continued

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September 18, 2012

Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Social Security Disability

In my practice I often represent individuals with bowel and urinary problems, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is no exception.  The symptoms my clients describe make me a real believer that they are unable to function in a work environment without accommodations that most employers are unwilling to make.  Some of my clients find it embarrassing to discuss their symptoms, so they do not provide the best testimony at their disability hearing.  I remind them that their hearings are confidential, and that no one outside of the hearing room will know what has been said.  Nonetheless, I understand their hesitancy to discuss these personal issues. One key to winning at your Social Security disability hearing is to make sure that the administrative law judge (ALJ) understands the nature of your Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) publishes a book called the “Listing of Impairments”  that attempts to clearly define the conditions the SSA recognizes as disabling. Although IBS is not specifically addressed in these listings, some of its symptoms are included under Listing 5.06 for Inflammatory Bowel Disease and under other listings in Section 5: Digestive System Impairments.  Even if your Irritable Bowel Syndrome does not meet or equal a listing under Section 5, your symptoms may be severe enough to interfere with your ability to do work-related activities.  These symptoms can include, but are not limited to: Diarrhea that can be frequent and chronic Constipation that can be frequent and chronic Abdominal pain Feeling of fullness or bloating Gas Many of my clients with this disabling condition complain of having to make countless trips to the bathroom each day and of having uncontrollable bowel movements or “accidents” on many occasions.  If you have frequent bowel accidents, it is important to inform your medical treating source about … Continued

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