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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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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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December 20, 2016

Digestive Problems and Social Security Disability

The impact of digestive problems can be very disabling. I have seen a large increase in the amount of these cases in my practice.  Whether it is due to better detection by physicians or an ever increasing amount of individuals suffering from these disorders, it is obvious these conditions can make a huge impact on a person’s life. While it may seem to you that the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not understand the difficulties you are experiencing, they do acknowledge these disorders in its Listing of Impairments. Listing 5.00 Digestive System-Adult may address a condition you are experiencing.  The Listing of Impairments is a guideline the SSA uses to establish criteria they acknowledge as disabling.  The SSA will usually not only send you to a consultative examination, but obtain and review your medical records from treating physicians to determine if you meet these guidelines.  Unfortunately, in my experience, many individuals are not found disabled on initial application and find themselves appealing their Social Security Disability (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim. The SSA should determine your Residual Functional Capacity (RFC). Your RFC is basically what your limitations are after your impairments are taken into account. I find many of my clients have symptoms such as, but not limited to: Diarrhea Constipation Abdominal pain Nausea Vomiting Bloating Bleeding Obviously, these are only a representative sample of symptoms. The severity of these symptoms vary greatly among my clients.   The SSA may find you disabled because of the severity of these symptoms. Your symptoms could cause you to be off task too often to compete in a work environment.  You may also have too many absences due to your health to maintain employment.  Digestive issues can create a number of problems that make you unable to work.   I represent … 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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October 2, 2014

Lupus and Your Indiana Social Security Disability Claim

As an attorney representing many individuals across Indiana in their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims, I see a wide variety of disabling conditions.  Recently I have encountered more individuals diagnosed with lupus than before.  I would like to discuss some of the symptoms of lupus and how the Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses these symptoms when evaluating how lupus affects a person’s ability to work. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect many parts of the body.  While it is considered a chronic disease, the severity can differ from individual to individual.  Symptoms of lupus can include, but are not limited to: Joint pain or swelling Oral ulcers Severe fatigue Fever Chest pain Rash Sensitivity to sun or light Anemia Involuntary weight loss The SSA does recognize lupus in its Listing of Impairments.  If your symptoms meet or equal the requirements in Listing 14.02: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, you may be granted Social Security disability benefits.  Another way to win your disability claim with the SSA is to show that your “physical residual functional capacity” is so low you simply cannot work.  You may not be able to sit, stand, or walk long enough at a time or lift enough weight to be able to perform a substantial number of jobs in the national economy.  The pain and fatigue you experience from lupus may also prevent you from staying on task, working a full eight hour day, or making it to work every day.  If you are unable to perform work tasks adequately and consistently for eight hours per day, five days per week, you may meet Social Security’s definition of disability because you are unable to perform a full-time job. In my experience, comprehensive, up-to-date medical records from a specialist can greatly enhance … Continued

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September 12, 2014

Social Security Disability Benefits for HIV/AIDS

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is a disease that affects the body’s immune system.  AIDS is the last stage of the infection caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).  By attacking the immune system, HIV hinders the body’s ability to fight off infections.  HIV can be transmitted through sexual contact, exposure to infected bodily fluids, childbirth, or breastfeeding. Some symptoms of HIV infection may include a flu-like illness appearing two to four weeks after exposure to the virus.  After this illness, there is usually a latency period, typically lasting from 3 years to over 20 years, in which the patient will have very few, if any, symptoms.  Near the end of the latency period, fever, weight loss, gastrointestinal problems, and muscle pains may occur. Once HIV infection progresses to AIDS, more symptoms may occur.  These could include pneumocystis pneumonia, cachexia (HIV wasting syndrome), esophageal candidiasis, or respiratory tract infections.  People with AIDS also have a greater chance of contracting infections, viruses, and cancers. In order to meet the Social Security Administration (SSA)‘s listing for HIV infection, you must  have documentation of laboratory testing showing you are infected.  You also must be able to show that you suffer from one of the following: Bacterial infections: mycobacterial infections, nocardiosis, or salmonella (recurrent non-typhoid); or multiple recurrent bacterial infections requiring hospitalization or intravenous antibiotic treatment three or more times in a twelve (12) month period Fungal infections: aspergillosis, candidiasis (at a site other than the skin, urinary tract, intestinal tract, or oral or vulvovaginal mucous membranes), cocidiodomycosis (at a site other than the lymph nodes),  cryptococcosis (at a site other than the lungs), histoplasmosis (at a site other than the lungs or lymph nodes), mucormycosis, or pneumonia (or extrapulmonary infection) Protozoan or helminthic infections: cryptospridiosis, isosporiasis, or microsporidiosis, with diarrhea lasting for one (1) month or longer; extra-intestinal strongyloidiasis, or toxoplasmosis of an organ other than the liver, spleen, or lymph nodes Viral … Continued

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April 24, 2014

Can I Receive Social Security Disability Benefits for Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is a fairly common digestive disease.  The severity and the longevity of the disease can vary greatly, though.  For some patients, a treatment of conservative therapy with bowel rest may be sufficient; others may require more aggressive antibiotics or even surgery. The exact cause of diverticulitis is unknown.  It was previously thought that a high fiber diet may help alleviate the pressure in the colon, thereby lowering the chances of diverticulitis forming.  However, in a study designed to test this theory exactly, it was shown that patients with a high fiber diet actually had an increased frequency of developing diverticulitis. Most cases of diverticulitis are diagnosed by use of a CT scan.  CT scans are cited to be very accurate (98% effective) in diagnosing diverticulitis.  Symptoms of diverticulitis may include one or more of the following: abdominal pain nausea vomiting fever cramping constipation While the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not have a listing that directly addresses diverticulitis in its Listing of Impairments, your diverticulitis may be disabling enough that you meet Social Security’s definition of disability in a different way.  In order to receive Social Security disability benefits for diverticulitis, you must prove one of  two things: the symptoms you experience are at least equal in severity to the symptoms of  another condition in Social Security’s Listings, or the symptoms you experience prevent you from performing all of the demands of a full-time job on a regular and continuing basis. One possible way a claimant might qualify for Social Security disability benefits for diverticulitis is to equal the listing for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).  IBD is listed under Section 5.06 of the SSA’s Listing of Impairments, and it has many of the same symptoms as diverticulitis.  To meet the listing for IBD you must show one of the following: two … Continued

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April 8, 2014

Initial Application Process for Social Security Disability Benefits

In my Indiana Social Security disability law practice, I receive many phone calls each day from people who want to know what they need to do to apply for Social Security disability benefits.  Many of them have worked their whole lives, and they are uncertain and afraid because they can no longer provide income for their families.  They need help figuring out whether they qualify for Social Security benefits and what they need to do to start the application process. My staff and I are happy not only to advise people about the application process; we also provide representation for people who are not sure they want to proceed with the initial application on their own.  Some people feel confident enough to go to Social Security’s website to complete the application on their own, or they are willing to wait a few weeks to get an appointment with their local Social Security office to start an application.  However, for those who want professional assistance from the very first step, an attorney or qualified representative can make sure that the application is completed quickly and completely. The majority of people who apply for Social Security disability receive a denial of their initial application.  However, the information you provide in your initial application is the foundation for your entire disability case, so it is important to be as thorough as possible.  Here is a list of a some of the important information you will need to provide in your initial application: Information about past and present marriages, including when you were married or divorced, and identifying information about your spouse(s) The names and addresses of your employers for the past two years How much you earned in wages for the past two years For each of your jobs in the past fifteen … 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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