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June 20, 2017

Why should you have a brief for your Social Security disability hearing?

At the Law Office of Scott D. Lewis, we submit representative briefs to the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) prior to our clients’ disability hearing.  In my experience as an Indiana Social Security disability attorney, I find this to be helpful for a variety of reasons.   A well-structured brief can give the ALJ a concise framework for highlighting the important and relevant aspects in regards to a claim for disability. To begin, the brief can outline the procedural aspects or issues with a claim, and show the ALJ what steps or actions have been taken in anticipation of the hearing.  A good brief will show the theory for disability of the case, such as whether the claim meets any Listing of Impairments or whether any of Social Security’s vocational guidelines.  It should cite to a claimant’s medical records to demonstrate the severity of symptoms, point out any objective medical testing, and highlight any medical source statements from treating sources.  A brief should also show how a claimant’s residual functional capacity is so diminished that no full-time jobs could be performed.   In my practice as a Social Security Disability attorney, I find that a brief serves two strong purposes.  First, it allows the ALJ to know what arguments I am asserting for my clients and provides the evidence to support it.  Medical records can contain hundreds of pages of documents, so giving the ALJ the locations of important documents all in one location can prevent some key piece of evidence from being overlooked. Second, I find that it helps me prepare for the hearing. After assembling the brief, I have a stronger understanding of the client, the medical record, and the strategy I plan to use to win the case. Does every ALJ read every brief submitted? Probably not, however … Continued

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June 12, 2017

Is Your Back Pain Preventing You From Working?

I have represented thousands of my Indiana neighbors in their Social Security disability claims, and I can easily say back pain is the most common disabling condition I see.  This pain can be so severe an individual cannot stand, walk, or even sit for any extended period of time.  These types of postural limitations can create an inability to hold down any type of job.  Many of my clients need to change positions constantly, lie down, and take very strong medication just to make the pain bearable. When reviewing your case, there are specific things the Social Security Administration (SSA) will examine.  For example, do you have objective testing showing the severity of your condition?  Just complaining about back pain is usually not going to get you benefits.  Objective testing like X-rays and MRI’s indicating the severity of your condition can be key in a finding of disability. Are you complying with or seeking appropriate treatment?  In my experience, the SSA and most judges want to see that you are trying to make your back better.  This is often done through medication, physical therapy, electrical stimulation, injections, and surgeries.   Exhausting some, or all, of these avenues and still experiencing severe pain can show the SSA you are complying with treatment and that the pain still persists. The SSA has various rules it uses when evaluating back problems.  It can find you disabled by using its Listing of Impairments or by deciding whether or not you have such severe functional limitations you are unable to work an eight-hour day, five days a week.  It is also important to remember the SSA will examine all of your impairments in combination when deciding if you are disabled.  Many of my clients have more than one severe impairment that is creating their inability to … 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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August 31, 2015

Being Truthful at Your Social Security Disability Hearing

You may have heard about the guy who leaves his Social Security disability hearing in a wheelchair, throws the wheelchair in the trunk of his car, and walks easily down the street.  Is this an urban legend, or do things like this really happen?  As an Indianapolis Social Security disability attorney I have never seen someone fake an impairment like that at a hearing.  I have had clients ask me, though, whether they should use or wear their assistive devices at their hearing.  My answer is always the same: if the hearing is a situation in which you would normally use your assistive device, by all means use it at the hearing.  Otherwise, leave it at home. Your credibility with the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing is very important.  In my experience, if the ALJ thinks you are untruthful about one thing, he may not believe anything else you say either.  Sometimes my clients are worried that the judge won’t be able to see how disabled they are if they don’t make a big deal out of their symptoms.  They go in to the hearing room acting as if it is the sickest day they have ever had.  Believe me, this type of behavior almost always give the ALJ the opposite impression – that the claimant is making things up.  For example, the judge may ask a claimant to rate her pain on a pain scale, where 0 is no pain at all, and 10 is pain so bad that she has to go to the hospital.  I have heard clients tell the judge that the pain they are experiencing during the hearing is a 10.  Obviously, they are not in the hospital; they are sitting in front of the ALJ at the hearing.  In my experience, it … Continued

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May 21, 2015

Why Are Medical Records So Important to My Social Security Disability Claim?

Whenever I talk about the keys to a Social Security disability claim, I emphasize the importance of medical records.  Medical records are important because the Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot find you disabled under its rules without finding that you have a “medically determinable impairment.”  In other words, you must be able to provide acceptable medical evidence, such as objective test results or treatment notes showing diagnoses from acceptable medical sources, that proves that you have a medical condition that prevents you from being able to work. Why are Medical Records Important? While the SSA will most likely send you for an independent consultative examination to determine your diagnoses and symptoms, it is important to have medical records showing that you have been diagnosed and treated on your own.  I have often seen decisions in which an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has concluded that a claimant’s impairment must not be as severe as he or she is alleging because the claimant did not receive significant medical treatment for it. Medical records are helpful in proving that you are disabled because they contain the diagnoses and clinical findings of medical providers who have treated you on a regular basis.  If those diagnoses and findings come from a doctor who specializes in treating your condition, Social Security will likely give them significant weight in determining whether your condition prevents you from working. What Kinds of Medical Records are Important? The most valuable records I can submit on behalf of my clients are objective test results.  X-rays, MRIs, nerve conduction studies, pulmonary function tests, and other tests give hard data showing the severity of certain conditions.  In fact, with appropriate test results it may be possible to show that you are disabled without even having to talk about whether you can perform work-like … Continued

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May 5, 2015

Asperger’s Syndrome and Obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits

Often, my blog topics reflect certain disabling conditions or Social Security disability issues that seem to be becoming more prevalent in my practice.  Asperger’s Syndrome is definitely one of these conditions; I represent many children and adults who have been given this diagnosis. Of course, the most recent DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was released in May of 2013) no longer contains a diagnosis of “Asperger’s Syndrome”; the disorder, along with other disorders such Pervasive Development Disorder NOS, is now included under the diagnosis of “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”  As people with Asperger’s and their families know, it doesn’t matter what it’s called; the symptoms and limitations remain. People with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder typically have social communication and interaction deficits and restrictive, repetitive patterns of behavior.  These symptoms often interfere with an adult’s ability to work or with a child’s ability to function at an age-appropriate developmental level.  If you or your child have these symptoms, you could be eligible for benefits under Social Security’s Disability Insurance (SSDI) program or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Whether you are an adult or a child on the autism spectrum, the first way the Social Security Administration (SSA) assesses whether your impairment is disabling under its rules is by referring to the entry for “autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders” in its Listing of Impairments.  The relevant listing for adults is Listing 12.10; the relevant listing for children is Listing 112.10.  First, Social Security will determine whether you meet the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis.  Next, it will evaluate how severely your symptoms affect your ability to function.  For adults, this means an adjudicator will determine how markedly your symptoms impair your activities of daily living, your social functioning, and your ability to maintain … Continued

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March 19, 2015

Objective Testing and Your Social Security Disability Claim

Proving you are disabled to the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not always easy.  Before the SSA will even consider how your symptoms affect your ability to work, you must show that you have a “medically determinable impairment.”  Telling Social Security that you have pain or fatigue or memory loss is not enough, by itself, to establish a medically determinable impairment.  You must also be able to provide objective evidence that explains why you have those symptoms. The most direct evidence you can provide is objective test results.  These tests might include: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and X-rays: these tests show the location and severity of physical damage to your musculoskeletal system that might cause symptoms such as pain. Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies: this type of test shows whether you have nerve damage that might cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, or weakness. Electroencephalography (EEG): this test helps to show abnormal activity in your brain that might cause symptoms from seizures or sleep disorders. CT Scans: these tests show damage to your organs that might cause symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue. Blood tests: these tests can show the presence or absence of different substances in your blood, which in turn can help prove that you have certain anti-immune disorders or other diseases. Stress tests: these tests measure the effects of exertion on your heart and can help quantify the severity of your cardiovascular symptoms. Echocardiograms: the results of these tests can show abnormalities in your heart that might cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, or fatigue. Not all medical conditions can be proven using objective testing, though. Mental health disorders, migraines, fibromyalgia, and pain disorders are notoriously difficult to prove because there are no reliable tests available to confirm them … Continued

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February 18, 2015

Why Do they Ask All of those Questions at Social Security Disability Hearings?

The day of your Social Security disability hearing has arrived, and you are probably filled with anxiety and wondering what it is going to be like. Although I can’t cure my clients of all of their hearing-day jitters, I do make sure I spend about an hour talking to my clients prior to the hearing date so they will know what to expect. I describe what the hearing will be like from the time they enter the hearing room to the time they leave. We also go over all of the questions that the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) tend to ask during the hearing. One reason I go through these “practice questions” with my client is to prevent the client from being surprised by what the questions are. Another reason is to prevent me from being surprised by how the client answers them. The first questions the ALJ asks you will typically be very easy, including your name, address, and Social Security number. He might ask about your height and weight and whether you are right- or left-handed. The judge may also ask you about your living arrangements – whether you live in a house, apartment, or mobile home; who lives there with you; and your source of income. The best way to answer these questions is honestly and simply. Remember to stay on topic. Most of my clients are itching to talk about their disabling conditions right away, and that is understandable, but the judge needs to get through these questions before moving on. Next the ALJ will most likely ask you about jobs you have performed in the past. Social Security’s disability rules say that if your condition allows you to return to any of the work you have done in the past fifteen years, you are not … Continued

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February 6, 2015

Receiving Social Security Disability For Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s disease is becoming a much more commonly diagnosed problem for the clients I represent in my Indiana Social Security disability law practice.  When I see an influx of certain types of cases, I am never sure whether the increase is due to the disease occurring more often, or to doctors making more accurate diagnoses.  Whatever the reason, my clients with Crohn’s disease are unable to perform full time jobs.  If you suffer from Crohn’s disease or any other gastrointestinal disorder that prevents you from working, I believe it is important for you to investigate the possibility of qualifying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. While the symptoms associated with Crohn’s can vary among individuals, many of my clients complain of the following: Diarrhea Fatigue and weakness Fever Abdominal pain Weight loss The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes gastrointestinal disorders in Section 5.00 of its Listing of Impairments.  Crohn’s disease is often evaluated under Subsection 5.06: Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Many of my clients, though, do not meet all of the specific requirements of this listing.  In those cases, we must show that the symptoms they experience reduce their Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) so much that they cannot perform all of the duties required in full-time work.  Typically, my clients are unable to stay on task because they require frequent bathroom breaks or have debilitating abdominal pain.  They have days in which they are unable to leave their home due to the severity of their symptoms.  I have attended many Social Security disability hearings at which the Vocational Expert (VE) has testified that employers, as a rule, will not tolerate excessive bathroom breaks or two or more absences per month.  If a claimant’s medical records support a finding that he or she would leave the … Continued

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January 16, 2015

I Can’t Work a Full Time Job; Can I Get Social Security Disability?

Many people think of a “disabling condition” as one that prevents a person from performing the physical requirements of a job, such as lifting a certain amount of weight or being able to stand at a work station.  However, many of my clients suffer from impairments that, rather than affecting their physical strength, prevent them from being able to work a full eight hour day or make it in to work every day of the work week.  For example, some of my clients deal with debilitating fatigue; they can perform all the aspects of a job for a few hours but then are too exhausted to continue.  Others suffer from episodic illnesses in which they might be fully functional for a few days or even a few weeks at a time, but they have frequent flares of their symptoms that completely debilitate them for days.  Some of these clients are able to hold down a part-time job but would never be able to work a forty-hour workweek. If you have a severe medical impairment that prevents you from working a full-time job, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  It is important to remember, though, that Social Security has rules about how much you can earn while working part time.  If your monthly earnings are higher than their rules allow, Social Security will automatically find that you are not disabled.  Social Security calls this cutoff “Substantial Gainful Activity” (SGA); in 2015, if you make more than $1,090.00 per month gross (before taxes are taken out) your earnings are above SGA.  If you are statutorily blind, the income threshold is quite a bit higher; you can make up to $1,820 before you exceed the SGA level.  If you are working part-time and … Continued

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