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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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July 31, 2017

Can I Receive Social Security Disability for Bipolar Disorder?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes Bipolar Disorder as a disabling condition that can result in disability payments.  My clients often tell me Bipolar Disorder prevents them from getting and keeping a job.  While the symptoms may vary from person to person, I see many of my clients simply not having the ability to concentrate or focus long enough to maintain employment. The SSA acknowledges Bipolar Disorder in its Listing of Impairments under listing 12.04 Depressive, Bipolar, and Other Related Disorders.  If you meet or equal this listing, you may be eligible for benefits.  However, there also may be technical criteria that must be met.  Since there is no objective testing that can show the presence of Bipolar Disorder; hospitalizations, ongoing therapy records, and medication compliance may be the key to receiving benefits. In my Social Security Disability practice, one of the challenges to these cases can be consistent and ongoing therapy records, as the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder is not going to be enough.  The SSA generally wants to see a client-patient relationship documenting the ongoing mental illness and compliance with medications prescribed.  If the symptoms still exist after pursuing consistent treatment, then your claim may be given greater weight. A medical source statement from a treating mental health specialist can help the Social Security Administration and/or an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determine your condition is severe enough to receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  Some health care professionals are unwilling to produce these types of documents, but it may be in your best interest to ask if they will take the time to do so.  In my experience, these statements should contain a clear diagnosis, how long the condition has lasted and is expected to last, the symptoms, and an opinion on … Continued

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September 9, 2016

“Off task” at work – does it matter at my Social Security disability hearing?

Social Security disability hearings can be confusing – the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), your attorney, and the experts use a lot of jargon that may make it sound like they are speaking a completely new language.  The basic issue that all of these people are discussing is whether you can perform the duties of a full-time job.  However, Social Security’s rules require that the ALJ provide a detailed explanation of why he or she thinks you can or cannot work.  The ALJ must determine your “residual functional capacity” (RFC), which is a description of what kinds of work-like activities, if any, you are able to perform in spite of your impairments.  The judge must specifically address all the different physical and mental limitations you have. The elements of your physical residual functional capacity – your ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, reach, stoop, etc. – are pretty self-explanatory.  The judge must assess how much of an eight-hour work day you are able to do each of these things.  However, as you probably know well, your medical conditions cause problems in many more areas than just your ability to do physical activities.  If you have pain, mental health diagnoses, or medication side effects, you likely have difficulty with mental tasks as well.  Your skills in concentrating, solving problems, and interacting with others are just as vital to your ability to keep a job as your physical capabilities are. Unfortunately, though, it can be difficult to describe how mental limitations affect your ability to work.  Here are some ways you may notice that your mental limitations affect your daily life: You have difficulty sitting through an entire TV show or reading a whole magazine article because your back pain bothers you so much. You start lots of projects, but you never finish … Continued

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July 7, 2016

Do I have a good Social Security disability case?

I hear this question probably more than any other question from my clients.  When I was in law school, one of my professors told me, “The facts always matter,” and a Social Security disability case is no exception.  It’s also important to know how Social Security applies its rules to the facts of your case when you are trying to show that you are unable to work.  While there are many variables that affect your chances of winning your claim, I have found that some factors are more important than the others. Medical treatment: One of the first things I ask potential clients is whether or not they are seeing doctors.  In order to find that you are disabled, Social Security must be able to find that you have a medically determinable impairment that affects your ability to work.   You must also have medical records that support the statements you make about how badly your symptoms affect you.  You can’t assume that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing will know that you are a trustworthy person who doesn’t exaggerate.  Even if the ALJ does find that you are a credible person, he or she will still want to see objective testing (like x-rays or MRIs) and/or progress notes from your physician that back up your testimony.  The ALJ will want proof that you are being treated by doctors who specialize in your type of impairments – for example, that you are seeing an orthopedic doctor if you have degenerative disc disease, a rheumatologist if you have fibromyalgia, a psychiatrist if you have bipolar disorder, or a neurologist if you have migraine headaches.  If your doctor is willing to provide a written statement about your work-related limitations, it can also improve your chances of a favorable outcome. Age, education, and work experience: … Continued

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May 27, 2016

Anatomy of a Social Security Hearing Decision Part II: Approval of the fee agreement

If you were represented at your disability hearing by an attorney or qualified representative, your favorable Social Security hearing decision will contain an “Order of Administrative Law Judge” either approving or disapproving your fee agreement.  That order also explains that you have fifteen days to respond to the judge if you do not agree with his or her order.  Some of my clients, after reading this order, call me because they are worried that they need to respond in order for their case to move forward.  Fortunately for them, though, this language is just another part of Social Security’s form letter.  I explain to them that if they are still willing to hold to their end of the fee agreement, they don’t have to do anything. Social Security has rules about how much an attorney can charge you for his or her services related to your Social Security disability case.  When you hired your attorney, you most likely signed a fee agreement that said you only had to pay your attorney if you were awarded benefits and received back pay.  Under Social Security’s rules, your attorney can typically charge 25% of your back pay, but no more than $6,000.  If you have an attorney who regularly practices Social Security disability law, the attorney probably has an agreement with Social Security that allows him to receive his fees directly from Social Security.  That way, neither you nor your attorney has to worry about calculating the amount of the fee and ensuring timely payment. However, that direct payment of fees can only occur if Social Security finds that your fee agreement complies with Social Security’s rules.  Therefore, when an Administrative Law Judge finds a claimant disabled, he or she must then review the fee agreement to make sure it is in compliance.  … 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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April 11, 2016

What are ADLs, and why does Social Security care so much if I go on vacation or keep my house clean?

Many of my clients do not understand why the Social Security Administration (SSA) is so interested in their day-to-day activities.  It might help to think about it this way: since you are not able to work, Social Security can’t ask you how your current symptoms affect your work activities.  Therefore, they have to look instead at what you are actually able (or unable) to do in your daily life.  Social Security refers to these things as your “Activities of Daily Living,” or ADLs. During the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application process, Social Security sends each claimant a questionnaire called an Adult Function Report.  This form asks specific questions about how your impairments affect your ability to do what you need to do to get through a typical day.  Similarly, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing will ask questions about your ADLs, including your ability to: Clean your house (sweep, mop, dust, wash dishes, etc.) Shop for groceries Take care of your yard Drive a car Bathe, shower, and take care of your personal hygiene Dress yourself Do laundry Cook or prepare meals Care for children, other family members, or pets Participate in hobbies Spend time with friends Travel on vacations When you answer questions about your ADLs, it’s important to keep in mind why Social Security is asking them.  The ALJ is not trying to find out of you are a conscientious housekeeper or if you are an interesting person to hang out with.  It can be really hard – embarrassing, even – to admit that you aren’t able to take a shower or wash your dishes as often as you think you should.  It is painful for a lot of my clients to realize that it has been years since they … Continued

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September 28, 2015

Do I Need an Attorney at My Social Security Disability Hearing?

At a recent Social Security disability hearing in Indianapolis, I brought one of my employees along to observe.  When I asked my employee for his impressions after the hearing, he said, “I can see why it’s so important to have an attorney with you at your hearing!”  Since I represent claimants at hundreds of these hearings every year, I have forgotten what it’s like to walk into the hearing room having no idea what is going to happen.  I hadn’t realized all of the little things (and some big things) an attorney can do to maximize the effectiveness of your Social Security disability hearing.  Here are a few reasons why I believe it may be in your best interest to hire an attorney or representative to assist you in your Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim. Your attorney can ask you questions the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) did not ask.  Without the aid of a lawyer you may be limited to answering only the questions the ALJ asks.  For instance, if you are alone at your hearing and the judge is concentrating on your bad knee when your real problem is your back, the judge may not let you discuss your back as much as you would like.  You may take for granted the judge knows about your back problems when he/she does not.  An attorney who has discussed your case with you and who knows your medical records may be able to give you the chance to testify about issues the judge may have missed when reviewing your file.  The ALJs and their staff do their best to be prepared for your hearing, but sometimes your medical file does not paint a full picture of all of your impairments.  This is especially true if … Continued

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