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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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 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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January 7, 2014

Is the Social Security Administration Helping Me With My Disability Claim?

If you have applied for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) or SSI (Supplemental Security Income) I think it is a good idea to ask yourself whether you are receiving enough help from the Social Security Administration as your claim progresses.  There can be many frustrating and confusing areas of Social Security disability law that the Social Security Administration (SSA) may or may not help you with.  Many claimants in Indiana and nationwide do not realize they can hire an attorney or representative to answer many of their questions, help them with paperwork, and provide legal representation at their hearings on a contingency basis.  What are some ways an attorney can help to make the Social Security disability appeals process easier for you? Filing paperwork on a timely basis – There are certain deadlines in Social Security disability cases, and while the SSA may notify you about these time constraints, they are probably not going to help you make sure that you meet them.  An attorney or representative can help identify your limited time to appeal your claim and help you make sure you provide all the information the SSA has requested by the filing deadlines. Providing timely responses to your questions – Unfortunately for disability claimants SSA staff members are very busy.  Social Security’s reduced hours and limited staff make it difficult for many claimants to receive a timely response to their questions or to even get a chance to speak to a field office worker.  Have you ever sat on hold with a Social Security office for a very long time just to ask a very simple question?  My staff and I strive to respond to our clients in a timely manner in order to answer questions they may have regarding their claim.  We also follow up regularly with the … Continued

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December 26, 2013

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Social Security Disability Benefits

Does a breathing disorder keep you from working a full time job? It is possible to receive Social Security Disability benefits for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other breathing disorders. With a well-documented medical history that shows how your COPD affects your ability to work, a good claim can be made for Social Security Disability benefits. COPD is an obstructive lung disease that is characterized by very poor airflow. Many people who suffer from COPD have emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Currently there is no cure for COPD, and unfortunately studies show that it usually worsens over time. Most treatments for COPD aim to stop the progression of the disease, not to cure it. It is important that individuals with COPD do not contract any other lung or airway condition, as these can be very detrimental to your health. The most common symptoms of COPD include sputum (mucus) production, coughing, and shortness of breath. COPD can be caused by: Smoking Air Pollution Occupational Exposures Dust Chemicals Fumes Genetics To diagnose your COPD, your doctor will most likely look at your past medical history, record your symptoms, and conduct some lung function tests. The Social Security Administration appreciates a thorough medical history with well documented diagnoses. As part of the application process, Social Security may send you for a pulmonary function test to measure the effect of your COPD on your breathing capacity. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is classified in the Listing of Impairments under section 3.00 – Respiratory System. COPD falls under section 3.02 – Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency. In this section there are a few tests that look at lung force and volume. The results will depend on your height, but if your pulmonary function testing falls within certain ranges, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits. Even … Continued

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November 21, 2013

Will I receive any back pay for my Indiana Social Security Disabilty claim?

Are you an Indiana resident who has been denied disability benefits?  Are you unable to work due to your disability?  If you are wondering whether it is worth your time to appeal the decision, the answer is most likely yes. If you are successful in appealing your claim, you will most likely be due back pay.   The Social Security Administration (SSA) may owe you hundreds of dollars in back pay for your Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claim.  All the time you waited for a decision was not in vain.   As a disability attorney in Indianapolis, I often get calls from my clients who are ecstatic because they just received a rather large check for disability compensation back pay.  They now realize that it was worth all the frustration and waiting.     I applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).  How much can I expect to get? For those applicants who are approved for SSDI, your back pay will most likely go back to the sixth full month after the date your disability began.  However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will determine exactly how far back your payments should go.  It will depend on your application date and onset date (the date the SSA decides you became disabled).  The amount of your monthly disability is based on your lifetime average earning covered by Social Security.  You can use tools such as a benefit calculator to help determine how much you will get.   What about back pay for Supplemental Security Income (SSI)? For those who are approved for SSI, your back pay has the potential to go back to your application date.  Social Security may issue large past-due SSI benefits in up to three installments.   There may be instances when the SSA can pay in a larger installment.  A person who has certain debts related to food, clothing, shelter, medicine or medically necessary services may qualify.    The whole process … Continued

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November 18, 2013

Will there be a 2014 Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security Disabilty recipients?

Good news for Indiana residents receiving Social Security Disability benefits.  There will be a 1.5 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits recipients.  The increase will begin with the December 2013 benefits, payable January 2014.  This is the fourth year in the row that we have seen an increase to Social Security benefits.  More than 57 million people received some type of Social Security benefit.    How is COLA determined?  COLAs are based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).  It is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Department of Labor.  The purpose of COLA is to offset the effects of inflation on fixed incomes.  In 1960 President Eisenhower signed an amendment that allowed disabled workers of any age to receive payments.  At that time there were over 500,000 people receiving disability benefits, with an average benefit amount being $80.  It is hard to imagine what would happen without COLA.  In 1975, an eligible individual received $157.70 per month – imagine if beneficiaries were still receiving the same amount today! What do I have to do to receive my COLA? Absolutely nothing; the Cost-of-Living Adjustment is automatic.  Because there was an increase in the consumer price index from the third quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2013, you will get the COLA of 1.5 percent in 2014.  You will see the increase in your award benefit payment.  Will my award amount ever decrease?  Hopefully you will never see a decrease in payments.  However, you must report changes to your living arrangements to the Social Security Administration (SSA) within 10 days after the change occurs.  While these changes are very unlikely to affect your benefit amount if you receive Social Security Disability Insurance, they might affect your monthly benefit if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Some changes that can affect your SSI payment amount include: Moving to a … Continued

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October 22, 2013

The Social Security Administration scheduled me for a consultative exam. What is it, and do I have to go?

If you are an Indiana resident who has filed a claim for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may schedule you for a consultative exam.   As a disability attorney in Indianapolis, I get many calls from my clients asking about the consultative exam. The consultative examination is a physical or mental exam performed by a medical source at the SSA’s request and expense.  As the SSA reviews your claim, they want as much information as possible about your medical conditions in order to make a decision.The medical evidence may be insufficient to determine if you are disabled.  In some cases, claimant’s physicians do not furnish the required medical records. The SSA will send you a letter with information such as date, time and location of the exam.  It is very important that the SSA has your correct mailing address so that you get this information as soon as possible. The exam itself will likely be performed by a medical professional you have never seen before.  You can expect the exam to take between 20 and 60 minutes.   I have heard people complain that their consultative examinations were very short, or the doctor did not address all of their impairments, or the doctor was rude and did not seem to take them seriously.  The consultative doctors are supposed to evaluate your physical or mental abilities; they are not entering into a treatment relationship with you.  While the doctors are paid by the SSA for their time, they are supposed to give an unbiased opinion.  Therefore, when you go to your appointment, make sure you bring up all of your impairments to the doctor.  Answer all of the doctor’s questions truthfully and completely.  Remember, too, that the doctor is not just listening to your answers to those questions; he or she is also observing your behavior, speech, and movement and will include those observations in the … Continued

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October 8, 2013

Can I receive Social Security Disability benefits for a Skin Disorder?

As a disability lawyer, I get many calls from my Indiana neighbors asking if their impairment will qualify them for Social Security Disability benefits. If you have a skin disorder and you are unable to work, you may qualify for benefits. Skin disorders that result from hereditary, congenital, or acquired pathological processes are identified in Section 8.00 of the SSA listing of impairments.  The following Skin Disorders are included in this category and may meet the SSA disability guidelines: Ichthyosis Bullous Disease Chronic infections of the skin or mucous membranes Dermatitis Hidradenitis Suppurativa Genetic photosensitivity disorders Burns The Social Security Administration will need medical documentation from “acceptable medical sources” to evaluate the presence and severity of your disorder.  Information commonly needed for a skin disorder disability claim is; the onset date, duration and prognosis, frequency of flare-ups, location, size and appearance.  To confirm a diagnosis the SSA may need laboratory findings such as biopsy and blood tests results.   Your symptoms (including pain) will be assessed to determine how they impact your daily life and your ability to work.  The effects of any treatment you receive to include medication, therapy and surgery will be assessed.  This information is useful in determining the severity of your impairment.  Your skin disorder may respond well to treatment, however the side effects can result in limitations. Any adverse effects of the treatment will be assessed.  Do not be discouraged if your condition does not meet the SSA listing.  If you continue the claims process, your claim will still be evaluated by the SSA.  Your limitations and symptoms may affect your ability to work without specifically meeting the listing. The SSA wants to determine if you can perform your past relevant job(s), or if there are other jobs you have the ability to perform.  Many of my Indiana clients with a skin disorder complain that they are unable to work because they have lesions that are painful and require extensive treatment.  … Continued

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