March 30, 2015

Diabetes and Your Social Security Disability Claim

If you suffer from diabetes and your symptoms keep you from being able to work, you may be eligible for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. The prevalence of diabetes among my clients seems to be ever increasing.  Some of my clients suffer from Type I diabetes, which typically starts in childhood.  However, most of my clients with diabetes have Type II diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes.  Unfortunately, many of my clients have medical impairments that greatly increase their risk of developing diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.  Others develop risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, and physical inactivity due to the physical limitations caused by their other medical impairments.  If you suffer from diabetes, even if you do not consider it to be the most disabling condition you have, its effects on your ability to work may be substantial.  When talking to Social Security about your disabling conditions, it is always important to discuss all of your impairments, even if you don’t think a particular condition like diabetes would be disabling to you all by itself.  Social Security determines your limitations based on the combination of all of your functional limitations that result from any and all medically determinable impairments you have. While the Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses diabetes in Section 9.00 of its Listing of Impairments, diabetes is no longer a listed impairment.  (Social Security removed the listing for diabetes in 2011.)  Instead, Social Security notes that the effects of diabetes on different body systems might allow you to meet or equal other sections of the Listings.  In Social Security Ruling 14-2p, the SSA identifies some examples of the effects of diabetes, including: Diabetic neuropathy (evaluated under Listing 11.14 for peripheral neuropathies) Diabetic retinopathy (evaluated under … Continued

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March 6, 2015

Common Questions Concerning Children’s SSI Claims

In my Social Security disability practice, I meet many parents of children with special needs.  They have heard that Social Security has a program for children with disabilities, but they do not know how to find out more about it.  Here are some answers to some of the most common questions I hear from parents of disabled children. How do I know if my child meets the requirements for SSI? Qualifying for SSI is a two-step process.  SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is a needs-based program; therefore, your household must fall below a certain amount of income and resources to qualify at the first step.  Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast number that I can say, “If you make XX amount of money, you are over the limit” because Social Security’s formula is more complex than that – it depends on the size of your household, your expenses, and the like.  Similarly, there is a limit (currently $2,000 for a single person; $3,000 for a couple) on household resources (the value of the things you own), but there are exemptions for some things like your home and sometimes your vehicle.  Really, the only way you can definitely determine whether you meet the income and resources limits is to talk directly to Social Security. Once you qualify financially, Social Security determines whether your child meets the medical requirements.  This determination is much less black-and-white than the resources test.  They look at your child’s medical records and determine how her impairments limit her ability to function in six different “domains”: Acquiring and Using Information, Attending and Completing Tasks, Interacting and Relating with Others, Moving About and Manipulating Objects, Caring for Yourself, and Health and Physical Well-Being. Is it best to work with a lawyer in the process? In theory, Social Security’s process is … Continued

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February 27, 2015

Obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits for PTSD

Many people with severe mental disorders are unable to work, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is one of many mental disorders Social Security might consider disabling.  In my practice, I have represented numerous clients suffering such severe PTSD symptoms that they are unable to work, even though they might be physically healthy enough to meet the demands of various types of jobs.  PTSD symptoms typically arise after a patient has experienced or observed a terrifying event.  Many factors contribute to these symptoms, and all patients experience PTSD differently. While symptoms vary in type and intensity, many that I see in my Indiana Social Security Disability practice include: Recurrent memories of a traumatic event Mentally experiencing a traumatic event over and over (flashbacks) Nightmares about a traumatic event Avoiding situations that are reminders of a traumatic event Concentration difficulties Anger outbursts Hypervigilance Self-destructive behavior The Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses post-traumatic stress disorder in its Listing of Impairments.  PTSD is evaluated under Listing 12.06: Anxiety Related Disorders.  Social Security reviews your medical records for documentation of the types of symptoms you have, as well as the severity of your symptoms and their effect on your daily life.  In my experience it is important to have medical records, including progress notes from a qualified psychiatrist and therapist, showing you have been receiving regular treatment.  Unlike many physical conditions, where objective testing can be used to help prove the cause of your symptoms, mental health conditions must be proven using treatment records. Many of my clients with PTSD have told me that one of their major hurdles in finding and maintaining employment is their inability to interact appropriately with other people.  They explain that they have difficulty leaving their homes and interacting even with their families and friends; they would be unable … 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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December 24, 2014

Time Constraints on Appealing Your Indiana Social Security Disability Case

All too often, people call me for help in appealing their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims, only to find out they have waited too long.  If Social Security denies your claim for Social Security disability benefits, you have sixty days to appeal that decision.  (Actually, Social Security allows five extra days for mailing time, so you have a total of sixty-five days from the date of your denial letter.)  If you have not submitted the appropriate forms before the deadline, Social Security will very likely dismiss your claim.  If that happens, you will probably have to start all over with another initial application. There can be times when the Social Security Administration (SSA) will accept an appeal filed after the deadline, but they will only do so if there is “good cause” for the late filing.  If you forgot the deadline, lost the paperwork, or just didn’t get the forms filled out on time, Social Security probably will not find that you have good cause.  On the other hand, if you were hospitalized, had a death in your immediate family, or never received the denial letter because Social Security sent it to the wrong address, there is a good chance that the SSA will accept your late filing.  Social Security makes a decision about good cause on a case-by-case basis.  The best thing to do is to file the appeal as soon as possible after you receive the denial. How can you make sure you don’t miss Social Security’s filing deadlines?  Here are some tips: Keep your Social Security office informed about changes in your address and/or telephone number. Follow up with Social Security regarding your claim.  In my office, we follow up about once a month during the initial application and reconsideration stages … Continued

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December 12, 2014

Consultative Exams: What Are They And Should You Go?

Many disability claimants are caught off guard when they receive a notice from the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a scheduled doctor’s appointment.   These doctor appointments are called consultative examinations (CE’s).  The SSA will sometimes send SSDI and/or SSI claimants to these examinations if they feel like more information is needed to determine a disabling condition.  It is important that the claimants attend these CE’s.  Failure to appear at a CE may result in the SSA denying the claim. Who are the doctors? The doctors that perform the CE’s are not employed directly by Social Security, but are private doctors that are contracted out by the SSA.  In my experience, this can be good and bad.  The good part is that since the doctors are independent physicians, they should be evaluating the claimant’s condition objectively.  The flip side of this is that since these physicians only see the claimants for a single short visit, (usually around 15 minutes) a thorough evaluation may not be performed. What is the purpose of these exams? The most likely purpose that a claimant is sent to a consultative examination is because of a lack of medical records.  If a claimant is claiming a disability, but there are not any or enough medical records to back it up, or the records are from a long time ago, the claimant’s case reviewer will most likely send the claimant out for a CE.  Hopefully the SSA will attempt to give the claimant a fair shot despite the lack of medical records, but it is usually best not to rely on a consultative examination to prove your disability.  Another scenario that my office sees is when the case reviewer or the judge wants a specific test done that they think could prove or disprove the claimant’s case. … Continued

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November 26, 2014

What Is The Timeline For My Social Security Disability Claim?

Many claimants wonder what the timeline looks like for a Social Security disability claim from start to finish.  The waiting time for a claim can depend on many factors and can vary greatly from case to case. Step 1: Initial Application In my experience, the average waiting time for a decision on the initial application is about 4 months, but this is only an estimate. This wait time can depend on multiple things.  One factor is how quickly your medical providers respond to the Social Security Administration (SSA)’s requests for medical records.  The SSA will request any relevant medical records from the medical providers you listed on your initial application.  In my experience, the turnaround time for medical records can range from one week to a few months.  Another factor that impacts the waiting time at this stage is how long it takes the SSA to obtain additional information it needs about your disabling conditions.  This additional information can come in the form of consultative exams (one-time assessments by doctors who examine you on the SSA’s behalf) or questionnaires about your work history and your activities of daily living.  Finally, the wait time can be longer or shorter based on the SSA’s current workload. Step 2: Request for Reconsideration In my experience, claimants wait approximately 3 months for a decision on a request for reconsideration, but this is only an estimate. The waiting time at this step has the greatest variation among my clients.  Some clients receive a decision within a few weeks, especially if they have not received any additional medical treatment since they completed their initial application.  Others wait months as their adjudicators work to obtain additional information, especially if the claimants have experienced big changes in their disabling conditions since completing the initial application.  Usually this step simply entails a medical records update and … Continued

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November 24, 2014

The Social Security Administration’s Five Step Process

Curious as to how the Social Security Administration (SSA) makes their decision on whether a claimant is disabled or not?  The SSA uses a five-step process, called the “sequential evaluation process,” to evaluate whether claimants’ disabilities are severe enough to prevent them from working.  The steps of the process are as follows: Are you working? Yes: If you are working at the time you apply and your earnings are above “substantial gainful activity,” the SSA will find you not disabled. “Substantial gainful activity” means that your gross earnings average more than $1070 a month (or $1800 per month if you are blind), Social Security generally will not consider you disabled.  The amount per month changes from year to year. Note that Social Security is looking only at your earnings, not at your total income.  If you receive money for something other than work activity, like insurance benefits or investment income, Social Security does not consider it at this step. No: If you are not working, or if your gross earnings average less than $1070 per month (or $1800 per month if you are blind), the evaluation proceeds to step two. Is your medical condition “severe?” Yes: Your medical condition is “severe” under Social Security’s rules if: It is a “medically determinable impairment.”  Typically, you must have a diagnosis from a doctor with medical evidence supporting that diagnosis; an explanation from you of the symptoms you experience is not enough. It meets the duration requirement.  Your condition must have lasted or be expected to last at least twelve consecutive months, or it must be expected to end in death. It significantly limits your physical or mental abilities to do basic work activities. No: If your condition has no more than a minimal effect on your ability to basic work activities, the SSA will find you not disabled. Does your … Continued

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November 20, 2014

Appealing Your Indiana Social Security Disability Claim for Cirrhosis of the Liver

Many people find that their initial application for Social Security disability benefits has been denied, even though they have a medical condition, such as cirrhosis of the liver, that may be very severe.  Statistically, you are more likely to be turned down for disability benefits on your initial application than you are to be approved.  Therefore, it is important to follow through with an appeal of  the denial of your claim to improve your chances of obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) identifies cirrhosis of the liver as a disabling condition that may entitle you to disability payments.  The SSA addresses this condition in its Listing of Impairments at Listing 5.05: Chronic Liver Disease.  This Listing spells out the criteria that allow a patient with cirrhosis of the liver to be found disabled.  If your medical records show that you have certain complications stemming from your diagnosis of cirrhosis, and if medical imaging and testing have severe enough results, you could meet Social Security’s criteria based on your medical records alone.  For more specific details of Listing 5.05, see this blog post. Even if your medical records do not show the specific conditions and test results required to meet the Listing, you may still be disabled under Social Security’s rules if you show that your cirrhosis of the liver symptoms and treatments prevent you from maintaining full time employment.  These symptoms can include, but are not limited to: Fatigue Jaundice or yellowing of the skin Weight loss Nausea Obviously, symptoms may vary from individual to individual, but the effects of these symptoms can powerfully affect your ability to work.  Further, if you have additional medical conditions that cause additional symptoms, the combined effects of all of your medical conditions may prevent you from being able to … Continued

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