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January 22, 2020

What Happens To My Disability Claim If I Pass Away?

What happens to my disability claim if I pass away?  A sad reality of many disability claims is that a person applying for disability benefits may pass away before their claim is resolved. A disability claim can sometimes take two years or more to resolve.  For claimants with severe medical conditions, they may not survive the wait. If your medical condition is documented as terminal, or you are expected to pass away soon, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may expedite your claim.  Sadly, not all of these claims are expedited.  Many of my clients ask me about what could happen to their claim if they pass away.  Some of my clients have passed away from an unexpected cause and not from the conditions they assert are disabling.  Different cases have different facts and must be pursued in a way that have the best chance of getting these past due benefits.  In claims for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, your family may be entitled to benefits if they file a Substitution of Party claim. A Substitution of Party allows for one person in a priority list of family members to pursue past due benefits on behalf of the deceased. The following groups of people may become a Substituted Party: The spouse of the deceased Surviving children Surviving parents, or The legal representative of the estate of the deceased In order to become a Substituted Party, the SSA will need several tasks completed. A Form HA-539 must be completed and a copy of the claimant’s death certificate must be submitted to the SSA. Additionally, an attorney assisting the Substituted Party may need other documents to be signed to properly represent the claim. If a claimant has passed away while waiting for a hearing, the Substituted Party may be asked to appear … Continued

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December 18, 2019

Torn Rotator Cuffs and Your Social Security Disability Benefits

Torn rotator cuffs and your Social Security disability benefits.  A torn rotator cuff can not only be painful, but can limit your ability to lift, push, pull, and reach.  Your capacity to work can be greatly diminished, especially when the arm affected is your dominant upper extremity.  It is hard to imagine there are many jobs where you would not be required to use your arms in some capacity to perform work tasks.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes the limitations caused by a torn rotator cuff or other impairments that cause limitations to your upper extremities. If you have experienced a torn rotator cuff, you don’t need any reminders that there is usually pain involved.  Many of my clients complain of a dull aching pain when not using their arm, and a sharp, intense pain when in use.  Once you have tried more conservative treatments, such as medications, injections, and physical therapy, a qualified physician may recommend surgical procedures to alleviate the symptoms you experience.  These can include an open repair or arthroscopic repair.  Unfortunately, not all procedures are successful for all patients, and you may find that your symptoms still exist. I find many of my disability cases hinge on a client’s remaining Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).  An RFC is the maximum ability to perform functions (such as standing, sitting, or lifting) that someone can do when all their limitations are considered.  If you cannot perform your past work due to these limitations, the SSA will try to determine whether you can perform other jobs in the economy that require less exertional effort.  If it is determined there are not a substantial number of jobs available that you can perform, you may be found disabled and be entitled to Social Security disability benefits.  Other factors such as your age, … Continued

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November 1, 2019

Social Security Disability Benefits Because You Have Difficulties Concentrating and Focusing

Are you able to Social Security disability benefits because you have difficulties concentrating and focusing?  Problems with concentration and focus can have a huge impact on keeping a job.  While employers do have some tolerance for a worker to be off task, there is a limit to what they will allow. Excessive time off task can lead to the worker being terminated.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes this and can find you disabled because of it.  There may be various reasons for this problem, and if you can successfully show the SSA and/or an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that this is preventing you from maintaining employment, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. When talking to my clients, I find one of the major reasons they cannot work is due to pain.  Every person is different, and their tolerance for pain can vary.  At some point, the pain can be so severe that it will prevent someone from staying focused on their job tasks.  If pain is severe enough, many individuals find they are unable to concentrate long enough to complete even the simplest of job tasks.  Another common cause of difficulty with concentration or focus can be a severe mental condition.  Individuals with severe mental diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD may result in racing thoughts, disinterest in any activity, and a diminished cognitive ability to perform work on a continuing basis. I have noticed the SSA has difficulty recognizing these types of symptoms in the early stages of the claims process.  With so many initial applications, the SSA tends to evaluate claims largely on an objective basis rather than giving much credit to subjective complaints that can be caused by a severe diagnosis.  Fortunately, if you … Continued

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October 7, 2019

Your Heart Condition and Social Security Disability

Your heart condition and Social Security disability.  Just the thought of suffering a severe heart condition can be alarming and cause anxiety.  After all, a severe heart condition can cause many disabling symptoms or even death.  If you or someone you know is unable to work due to a heart condition, it is probably in their best interest to file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. There are many heart conditions a person can endure, and these can include, but are not limited to: Congenital Heart Disease Angina Heart Failure Arrhythmia Valve Disease High Blood Pressure Many of these conditions have symptoms that are severe enough to prevent an individual from performing substantial gainful activity.  Examples of these symptoms are: Chest Pain Shortness of Breath Weakness and Fatigue Dizziness Swelling in Extremities Irregular Heartbeat The Social Security Administration (SSA) acknowledges heart conditions in its Listing of Impairments under Listing 4.00 Cardiovascular System.  This publication by the SSA establishes guidelines to evaluate the severity of a heart condition to determine disability.  At times, these criteria can be difficult to meet or equal. If you do not meet these criteria, the SSA will look at how your symptoms cause you limitations in determining you Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).  For example, a claimant who experiences shortness of breath with prolonged exertion may be limited in standing or walking during a typical workday.  There can be various ways to prove that your heart condition is severe enough for you to be found disabled. In order to be successful in a disability claim for heart conditions, objective cardiovascular testing or procedure notes are important to demonstrate to the SSA how severe your condition really is. Examples of helpful testing include: Blood Tests Tilt Tests Angiograms Chest X-rays Echocardiograms Electrocardiograms … Continued

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September 11, 2019

Amputation and Social Security Disability Benefits

Amputation and Social Security disability benefits.  If you have an amputation, you could be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits if your limitations prevent you from working.  Having a finger or toe amputated causes different limitations than having a foot, hand, leg, or arm amputated. Therefore, Social Security does not automatically find a person disabled if they have had any amputation, but some criteria must be met. Under Social Security’s Listing of Impairments, amputations are evaluated at Listing 1.05.  To meet this listing, a claimant must have either amputation of: Both hands; or One or both lower extremities at or above the tarsal region, with stump complications resulting in medical inability to use a prosthetic device to ambulate effectively, which has lasted or is expected to last for at least 12 months If your condition does not fall under either of these scenarios, then Social Security will evaluate your disability claim based on the limitations your conditions cause you in a work setting. Your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) may be so diminished that you are unable to do your past work, or even any other work.  For instance, if you have had fingers on your dominant hand amputated, you may be unable to perform fine or gross manipulation that is necessary to perform the tasks required of most jobs in the economy.  In the case of a foot or toe amputation, you may find it difficult to stand for long enough to perform jobs that are not sedentary in nature.  There can be many reasons why an amputation can eliminate jobs in the national economy.  At your Social Security disability hearing, a Vocational Expert (VE) may testify as to what, if any, jobs exist for a person with such a limited Residual Functional Capacity.  In my experience, the limited use … Continued

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August 28, 2019

Where Do I Go for My Social Security Disability Hearing?

Where do I go for my Social Security disability hearing?  The answer to this question largely depends on where you live.  Social Security disability hearings can be held in a variety of places from a local hearing office to a local field office.  As your hearing approaches, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will mail you and your representative a Notice of Hearing.  This notice will indicate the time and place where and when the hearing will be held.  It will also contain other important information regarding details surrounding the hearing.   In the Indianapolis and surrounding areas, most Social Security disability hearings are held at 151 North Delaware Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204.  This office is referred to as the Office of Hearings Operations (OHO).  The fourth floor of this building is generally used for hearings held in person, while a portion of the fifth floor is used for video teleconference hearings.  It is important to remember when entering these areas that they are considered government facilities, and the use of metal detection and security officers are present.  You will need valid picture identification to be allowed to enter these areas.   You should arrive at your hearing at least 30 minutes prior to its scheduled start time.  At times, Administrative Law Judges will start hearings early as openings become available.  Arriving early can also give you time to consult with your attorney, or if you do not have one, to look over the medical evidence the SSA currently has for you.   If you are outside of the Indianapolis area, there are other OHO offices where you may be asked to go.  In Indiana, these are located in Fort Wayne, Valparaiso, and Evansville.  As stated earlier, some hearings are also held in field offices.  These are usually by video teleconference … Continued

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August 20, 2019

Am I Expected to Talk at My Social Security Disability Hearing?

Am I expected to talk at my Social Security disability hearing?  At your Social Security disability hearing, you will be asked to answer questions from an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The amount of time you speak and the content of your testimony will depend on your ALJ, your representative, and several other factors.  In some hearings, I have clients that wish to say as little as possible and other clients that want to say too much. When I prepare my clients for their hearings, we discuss which topics are important and which topics are irrelevant in determining whether a person is able to work. This prehearing preparation session is helpful to show my clients what type of information the ALJ is looking for. Your answers to these questions can greatly impact your chance of a favorable outcome. If your medical record is complete prior to your hearing, the most important evidence missing is your testimony.  You are the best person to describe the pain you experience from a physical condition or the impact of your mental health on your daily life. Many ALJs will ask what type of doctors you see, the procedures you have underwent, and what your prognosis is.  ALJs will ask you questions about how long you can sit, stand, walk, and lift; they will also ask you about how you are able to perform daily activities around your home. I think it is important to take a moment to discuss your daily activities, known as your “Activities of Daily Living.”  Many of my clients are confused as to how these questions impact their ability to work.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) is trying to see if you are doing work-like activities.  They often ask questions about your ability to clean the house, shop, drive, do yard … Continued

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August 12, 2019

Filing Your Social Security Disability Appeal on Time

Filing Your Social Security Disability Appeal on Time.  Before discussing time limits on filing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims, let me address a common question I receive from clients.  I often get asked whether an individual should appeal their current claim or file a new application.  There are very few reasons why you should file a new claim if you still have the ability to appeal a recent denial.  If you are filing a new claim just to see if the Social Security Administration (SSA) will find you disabled with a new application, I advise my clients that appealing an initial denial is likely the best course of action.  Most initial applications for Social Security disability benefits are denied.  My experience is that your chances of winning your claim increase by appealing your claim and pursuing a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  I have seen clients with numerous initial application denials in the past win their claim for benefits by going through the appeals process. The first step in the appeal process is called a “Request for Reconsideration.”  This is asking the Social Security Administration to take another look at your disability claim because you believe they have made an error.  The filing deadline is 60 days from the date on the denial letter plus an additional 5 days for mailing.  There are various reasons why an initial application for benefits can be denied.  These can include the following: exceeding allowable resource amounts, working and earning income above the levels the SSA allows, the SSA believes your disability is not severe enough, or other reasons.  After you determine the reason you were denied, you can decide if you believe you have a valid reason to ask the SSA to look at it … Continued

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August 5, 2019

Cancer and Social Security Disability

Cancer and Social Security Disability.  There are so many types of cancer with varying degrees of severity that it can be difficult to know what qualifies you for Social Security disability.  Just a diagnosis of cancer itself usually is not going to get you disability benefits.  Medical documentation is needed to prove the type and the severity of your condition. The Social Security Administration (SSA) analyzes cancer under Listing 13.00 (Malignant Neoplastic Disease).  If you take the time to read through this Listing, you can see there are very specific criteria needed to find a person disabled.  Sometimes a person does not have exactly what this Listing calls for, but the SSA may agree that they functionally equal the Listing instead. While a listing may be difficult to meet or equal, many times the SSA believes your capacity to work is so diminished by residual limitations that you simply cannot work a full-time job.  Many of my clients complain of residual effects including neuropathy, cognitive issues, decreased energy, or muscle weakness, among others. In severe cases when cancer is considered terminal, the SSA can grant disability benefits through a process called Compassionate Allowance.  If the SSA can quickly identify your condition as being this severe, it can expedite your claim.  This can eliminate the long process of appeals and hearings to get the benefits you are entitled to.  Your Social Security Disability lawyer can better explain the specific information necessary to be granted a Compassionate Allowance. With the varying types of cancer, each case is distinctly different.  Solid medical testing and documentation can greatly enhance your chances of winning your Social Security Disability claim.   Medical source statements from a treating physician can improve your chances of receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.  It is … Continued

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June 26, 2019

Will an Administrative Law Judge understand my rare medical condition?

Will an Administrative Law Judge understand my rare medical condition? I represent claimants with a wide variety of physical and mental conditions.  I regularly talk to claimants with a rare or unique diagnosis that are concerned that their diagnosis will not be properly understood by the Social Security Administration (SSA).  These individuals want to make sure that they have a legal team that will advocate for them to the SSA regarding their unique struggles.  My law office understands that the disability appeal process can be complicated on its own, and even more so if you don’t feel that anyone understands what your medical conditions put you through.  I try to make sure my clients know that I have a plan for each claim, no matter how common or rare their medical conditions may be.   If you look at SSA’s website for information regarding medical conditions, you may come across their Listing of Impairments. SSA has special rules regarding how a person with some common medical conditions should be evaluated for disability.  If a person with a medical condition discussed in the corresponding Listing meets the criteria established, SSA should find that person is disabled.  If you have a rare medical condition, you may not find that the SSA has a Listing for your condition. This does not mean that you can’t be found disabled, but that the SSA must determine your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC).  SSA will look at how your conditions and symptoms affect your ability to do work-like tasks and then determine if you can do any jobs with the limitations that you have.   So how do you prove your limitations? The first place the SSA will evaluate will be your medical records.  Therefore, it is important for you to follow up with your doctors as … Continued

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