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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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February 23, 2017

Terminal Illness or TERI cases and Social Security Disability

One of the unfortunate realities of my job is that some of my clients are diagnosed as terminal. While being diagnosed with a terminal illness may seem like an obvious favorable decision for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make, that may not always be the case. Even with this diagnosis the SSA may need more information and can be slow in making a determination.  Hopefully your medical provider, family, and Social Security attorney or representative can gather the information to make it easier for the SSA to make the right decision quickly.   The Social Security Administration avoids the words “terminal illness” and instead calls these cases TERI cases. The SSA defines a TERI case as “a medical condition that is untreatable and expected to result in death.”  Once this type of designation exists, the SSA attempts to expedite the case in the early and later stages of processing.  The SSA has guidelines for identifying these cases and processing them in a particular way.   Getting a medical source statement from your treating physician can be very important. Not only a statement saying the individual is terminal, but also supporting medical evidence establishing a clear diagnosis.  Objective testing and progress notes should be submitted to the SSA to show the severity of the condition.  Many physicians are hesitant to make such statements until all medical avenues have been exhausted.  If you find yourself in this situation it may be in your best interest to let your physician know you are dealing with the Social Security Administration.   If you or a family member finds themselves in this situation, I urge you to contact the SSA as soon as possible to start this process. Qualified Social Security disability attorneys and representatives can also provide guidance on filling out paperwork and … Continued

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October 7, 2015

Can I Receive Social Security Disability Payments For Fibromyalgia?

The short answer is yes, you can receive Social Security disability benefits if you have fibromyalgia.  In my experience, though, you may face some obstacles along the way.  Although doctors have been diagnosing fibromyalgia for many years, it was not until 2012 that the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued guidelines addressing fibromyalgia as a disabling condition in policy ruling SSR 12-2p. While SSR 12-2p requires that a diagnosis of fibromyalgia be made by a licensed physician, it has been my experience that having a diagnosis from a rheumatologist greatly improves the likelihood that the SSA will accept that diagnosis as valid.  As with any type of impairment, Social Security gives greater weight to the diagnoses and clinical findings of a physician who specializes in treating your disabling condition. SSR 12-2p states that a diagnosis of fibromyalgia alone is not sufficient proof of a disabling condition.  Social Security will review the doctor’s treatment notes to make sure that the doctor’s clinical findings and treatment notes over time show that your physical strength and functional abilities are limited enough to be disabling.  A short summary of the criteria the SSA considers in determining whether your diagnosis of fibromyalgia is disabling includes: 1.  A history of widespread pain that has persisted for at least three months 2.  At least one of the following: a.  At least eleven positive tender points on examination b.  Repeated manifestation of at least six fibromyalgia signs or co-occurring conditions, especially fatigue, cognitive or memory problems, waking unrefreshed, depression, anxiety disorder, or irritable bowel syndrome 3.  Evidence ruling out other disorders that could cause these symptoms If you have fibromyalgia, you probably know that this short summary cannot begin to convey how completely your symptoms affect your life.  The pain you experience on a daily basis and the other … Continued

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March 28, 2014

Expedited Social Security Disability Hearings for Veterans

“Starting March 17, 2014, veterans who have a VA compensation rating of 100% permanent and total (P&T) may receive expedited processing of applications for Social Security disability benefits.” This is a direct quote from the Social Security Administration’s website. This is great news for 100% disabled veterans.  In my Indiana law office, we have already seen the results of this rule.  Social Security has called us to schedule expedited hearings for several of my clients who are disabled veterans, in some cases cutting months off of their expected waiting time for their hearings. Unfortunately, I have had to explain to my clients that just because the VA has assigned them a disability rating of 100% permanent and total, it does not mean that Social Security is required to find them disabled as well.  The Veteran’s Administration and Social Security have different rules and different definitions of disability, so they do not always reach the same conclusion after evaluating the same person.  While your VA disability rating letter is important evidence in your Social Security disability claim, it does not guarantee you will be found disabled.  The only advantage this rule gives to veterans with a 100% VA rating is a faster processing time for their claims. There are a few ways to apply for Social Security Disability benefits: Complete your application online. Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778 for deaf or hard of hearing). Call or visit your local Social Security Administration office. If you want to apply in person, it is best to call beforehand to schedule an appointment. To receive the expedited hearing: Identify yourself as a “veteran rated 100% P&T” If you apply in person or over the phone, inform the Social Security representative that you have a veteran rating of 100% P&T. If … Continued

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January 23, 2014

Back Pain and Social Security Disability Benefits

In my Indianapolis Social Security disability practice, most of my clients include back pain as an impairment that keeps them from working.  If you have ever suffered from back pain, you may understand why these individuals claim they are simply in too much pain to perform even the most simple tasks.  You can receive disability benefits for back pain, but it will take more than simply claiming that your back hurts.  In my experience, you are going to need medical records that support your claim.  In this blog I will describe what I find helpful in proving your case. Objective testing – Tests such as MRIs and x-rays can show the severity of your condition.  In my experience these tests, especially MRIs, can make a big difference in proving that your pain is caused by a severe medical impairment.  Some findings that indicate severe impairments include nerve root impingement and severe stenosis. Medical procedures –  What are you doing to try to resolve the problem?  If you are not receiving treatment for your back pain, or if you are resisting the treatment options presented by your doctor, Social Security may conclude that your pain does not bother you that much.  Some of the procedures doctors recommend for back pain include surgery, injections, and physical therapy. Medical source statements –  Sometimes winning your disability claim requires an extra push and some support from your medical provider.  My office strives to get our client’s treating physicians to complete medical source statements.  These statements include Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessments and questionnaires regarding whether you meet or equal Social Security’s Listing of Impairments as described below. One of the ways Social Security can find you disabled is if you meet or equal its Listing of Impairments.  Listing 1.04 details how an individual can … Continued

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January 13, 2014

Medical Records and Being Prepared For Your Social Security Disability Hearing

In my practice as an Indianapolis Social Security disability attorney, I find that good communication is essential for me to provide the best possible representation for my clients.  My office takes pride in responding promptly and attentively to our clients’ calls, emails, and letters.  However, I am often surprised by clients who do not hold up their end of the deal!  My office mails several types of forms to our clients to help us collect the information we need to build a good case, and when clients do not return those forms promptly, it can really hurt our ability to prepare for their hearings. One of my office’s most important jobs in preparing for your hearing is submitting medical records that show the nature and extent of your disabilities.  We strive to work quickly and efficiently to request, follow up, and submit your medical records, but we cannot do any of those things unless you tell us where you have been receiving treatment.  As soon as we know when your hearing is scheduled, we will ask you to provide a complete list of your medical providers.  It can take weeks – sometimes over a month – for medical offices to process our requests for records, so if you wait to give us this information until a few days before your hearing, we probably won’t have all of your records submitted before the hearing is held. In my opinion, not having complete medical records available at your hearing will put you at a distinct disadvantage.  First, most of the Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) who decide Social Security disability appeals review the claimant’s file before the hearing.  The ALJ wants to know if you have been receiving consistent treatment, if you have been hospitalized for your condition, and if you have had any surgeries or other invasive treatments.  In short, the ALJ wants to make sure that your medical records provide objective evidence to support your … Continued

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January 9, 2014

Is Chronic Pain Syndrome Recognized as a Qualifying Disability?

Even though the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) listing of impairments is relatively long, chronic pain syndrome is not specifically listed. But this does not mean that you cannot receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for your condition.   The SSA’s listing of impairments is very detailed and has listings for most health issues. There are a handful of listings that might be related to your back pain.  They may include but are not limited to: 1.00 Musculoskeletal System 5.00 Digestive System 11.00 Neurological 12.00 Mental Disorders 14.00 Immune System Disorders If you have chronic pain due to any of the conditions on the SSA’s listing of impairments, it is possible that the SSA will approve your claim in the initial application or the reconsideration stages.  However, this is rarely the case.  It is normal for a claim to go all the way to the hearing stage, which usually takes about a year. In my experience, to have the best possible chance at winning your disability claim, you need to have as thorough and up to date medical records as possible.  No matter how severe your chronic back pain is, it does not qualify by itself for Social Security Disability benefits.  We must prove to the judge that even though you do not meet listing exactly, your limited functionality keeps you from working a normal eight hour per day job.   If your case does meet a listing exactly, we must prove that you have a “residual functioning capacity ” (RFC) low enough that you cannot work a normal eight hour job.  In determining your RFC the Social Security Administration may look at a few things including but not limited to: Sitting, standing, and walking limitations Lifting and carrying limitations Postural limitations Limitations of manipulation of your hands If you have … Continued

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January 8, 2014

Can I Receive Social Security Disability Benefits for Autism?

In my Indiana Social Security disability practice I am seeing a growing number of cases involving autism. Autism is a developmental disorder that is usually diagnosed within the first three years of a person’s life. It mainly hinders an individual’s communication and social interaction skills. Both children and adults can receive Social Security disability benefits for autism. Autism is diagnosed based on the patient’s behavior. According to many medical sources an individual must display at least six symptoms to be diagnosed as autistic. Of these six symptoms two must be impairments in social interaction, one must be an impairment in communication, and one must be restricted and repetitive behavior. Some examples of these symptoms include: not making friends with children of the same age, problems starting or participating in conversations, and insisting on always taking the same route to a destination. Autism is classified as a pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). Autism and other PDDs are defined by irregular social interactions and communication as well as very limited interests and highly repetitive behavior. PDDs are not characterized by any emotional problems, sickness, or fragility. Social Security defines adult autism in its Listing of Impairments under section 12.10 – Autistic Disorder and Other Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires two types of evidence to show that a claimant meets this listing. First, the claimant must demonstrate medical findings to support his or her diagnosis. Second, the claimant must show a certain level of impairment in functioning. Below is the listing for adult autism from the SSA’s Listing of Impairments. Medically documented findings of all of the following: Qualitative deficits in reciprocal social interaction Qualitative deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication and in imaginative activity Markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests Resulting in at least two of the following: … Continued

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