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October 1, 2013

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) and your Indiana Social Security Disabilty Claim

As an Indiana resident seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), you must show that you are unable to engage in Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).  SGA is the performance of physical or mental activities in work for pay or profit.  Work is substantial if it involves significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both.   Even if work is performed on a seasonal or part-time basis, the SSA may still consider it substantial.  Work is gainful if it is a type of activity that is usually done for pay or profit, regardless of whether a profit is realized. The following types of activities are generally not considered SGA by Social Security: Self-care Household tasks Hobbies Therapy School attendance Clubs/social programs However, even if these activities are not considered SGA, Social Security may look at your ability to perform them when determining whether you are able to work.  If you are able to attend school full-time, or if you participate in hobbies that require a lot of physical activity, Social Security may consider those activities to be “work-like,” and find that even though you are not presently engaged in SGA, you are still able to work.  Therefore, during the application process, the SSA usually asks claimants about their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).If your impairments do not limit your ability to perform activities such as shopping, driving, and household chores, the SSA may believe you are capable of gainful employment.  The fact that you are not currently engaged in SGA does not necessarily mean that you are not capable of engaging in SGA. Substantial work may, under some conditions, be disregarded if it is discontinued or reduced after a short time because of your impairment.  This type of work is considered an Unsuccessful Work Attempt (UWA).  Therefore, If you attempt to return to work after you have started an application … Continued

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September 16, 2013

Spinal Stenosis and Social Security Benefits

Many Indiana residents suffer from severe back problems that make it difficult if not impossible to work.  While back problems can vary, many individuals complain of back pain.  Back pain can result in an inability to stand, walk, and sit for certain periods of time.  If you have been denied disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and believe you are unable to work it may be wise to appeal that decision.  It is important to remember the majority of disability claims are denied by the SSA, and disabling conditions from your back are no exception. People suffering from Spinal Stenosis may experience pain so severe any chance of working an eight hour day would be very difficult.   In your spine there are spaces that may become narrow causing pressure on your spinal cord.  This can occur in any area of the spine. This may result in : Numbness Pain Difficulties in standing, walking, and sitting Weakness The need for the use of a cane or walker In my experience as an Indianapolis Social Security Disability Lawyer, I find it very important that my clients have appropriate objective medical testing to substantiate their claim for benefits.  A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test may be the key to meeting or equaling the standards needed to win your claim.  I have found that comprehensive medical documentation from a qualified treating specialist can enhance your odds of proving you are unable to work.  Statements from your treating physicians may also be given weight that is necessary to prove your claim. For many people frustration may set in when going through this process. It is important, in my opinion, that you pursue your appeal if you believe you are unable to work.  Always remember there are time limits when filing a request for … Continued

Filed under: Evaluation Process, Qualifying Disabilities and Impairments || Tagged under:
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May 2, 2013

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits

In my Indianapolis disability practice, I see an increasing number of people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other digestive impairments.  One difficulty these clients experience when trying to convince the Social Security Administration (SSA) they are disabled is that they usually do not have any outward signs and symptoms.  I represent hundreds of clients with many different impairments, and a good number of them require a cane, a walker, or even an oxygen tank.  My clients with digestive issues, though, do not usually need any sort of assistive device.  That being said, after working with clients who deal with IBS and other digestive issues, it is clear to me that their impairments keep them from being able to work a full-time job.   Of course, it is always important to have good, solid, comprehensive medical records, including objective testing, doctor’s statements confirming your disabling condition, and clinical descriptions of the symptoms that prevent you from working. The SSA addresses digestive impairments in its Listing of Impairments under Listing 5.00: Digestive Disorders.  These listings cover gastrointestinal hemorrhaging, chronic liver disease and liver transplantation, inflammatory bowel disease, short bowel syndrome, and weight loss due to digestive disorders.  The listings contain specific symptoms and test results you must demonstrate to the SSA in order to be found disabled based on your medical records.  If you review this listing but find that you do not experience all of the requirements of a listing, it does not mean that you are not disabled under the SSA’s rules; it simply means that you will have to provide additional evidence to show that you are disabled.  For example, a medical expert may review your records and determine that even though you do not precisely meet every requirement of a listing, your symptoms are sufficiently similar to … Continued

Filed under: Qualifying Disabilities and Impairments || Tagged under:
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April 25, 2013

Filing Your Initial Social Security Disability Application

I receive numerous telephone calls from my Indiana neighbors asking how to file an initial Social Security disability application. I typically recommend that they start the application process on their own, because most of the initial application involves providing information to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that only the claimant will know.  It is usually easier to provide that information directly to the SSA rather than to go through an intermediary. There are essentially three ways to file an initial claim: Visit your local Social Security office.  If you want to talk face to face with someone when you file your claim, this is your best option.  One advantage to applying in person is that you can get answers to any questions you may have, and having a Social Security employee assist you with your application should help to ensure you are providing all of the information the SSA wants.  On the other hand, if you go to the office without an appointment you may have to take a number and wait for a long time before finally being able to talk to a Social Security employee. Call the toll free number.  By calling 1-800-772-1213, you can talk to a Social Security employee who can answer your questions.  Most likely, the employee will make an appointment for you to either visit your local office or complete a telephone interview to start the application process. Visit the Social Security’s website at www.ssa.gov.  If you are comfortable using a computer, this is by far the most convenient option.  At Social Security’s website, you can complete your application online without having to make an appointment or spend time waiting at the local office.  The website takes you step by step through the application form and the Adult Disability Report.  Once you have completed all the steps, the website will instruct you to print some pages and mail them to … Continued

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April 19, 2013

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Social Security Disability Benefits

In my experience as an Indiana Social Security disability attorney, my clients who suffer from conditions that cause the loss or limited use of their upper extremities (i.e., their shoulders, arms, and/or hands) have great difficulty finding and maintaining employment.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) generally recognizes that a person with this type of disability finds greatly reduced numbers of jobs available to them in the national and local economy.  When I represent clients at Social Security disability hearings, Vocational Experts (VEs) often appear at the hearings to testify about the availability of jobs for people with specific limitations.  If a claimant is found to be unable to use his dominant hand to perform its full range of movements, the VE usually testifies that there are few, if any, jobs available that will accommodate such limitations. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) may cause numbness, tingling, or burning in the fingers, thumb, and hand; sometimes these sensations are also present in the wrist.  Some individuals with CTS experience pain when attempting to use their hands to perform even the simplest of tasks.  While the cause of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome may not be known, it is believed that using or overusing one’s hands in work-related situations may be a dominant factor in causing the symptoms.  Many of my clients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have spent significant time performing occupations in which they used their hands extensively working on assembly lines, performing data entry, or using tools. In my experience, some people get temporary relief from CTS with treatments including wearing splints and receiving injections, but they only seems to be short-term fixes.  Some people require surgery to help alleviate the pain and numbness.  This surgery, commonly known as a “carpal tunnel release,” does work for some individuals, but many others have symptoms that … Continued

Filed under: Qualifying Disabilities and Impairments || Tagged under:
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March 18, 2013

Indianapolis Social Security Disability Attorney Scott Lewis Is Back!

After a bit of a break I am back to blogging.  I enjoy sharing my experiences concerning the Social Security Administration (SSA) with prospective and current clients through my blog, but I must admit, going to hearings and preparing cases for hearings can be time consuming.  So what has been happening since my last blog entry?  The best news for disabled Indiana residents is that the waiting time for a hearing has been getting shorter.  I have seen a noticeable difference in waiting times recently and wonder how long this current trend will last. What does this mean for you?  Depending on your financial situation, getting to a hearing even a few months sooner may be the difference between keeping your home or facing foreclosure, between having continuous access to health care or spending months without health insurance, or between obtaining monthly disability payments or completely depleting your life savings.  On the other hand, you may be in such a desperate situation that having to wait any time at all for a Social Security disability decision is enough to bring you to financial ruin.  So what can you do?  I tell my clients to look for low or no-cost healthcare through local hospitals and clinics, seek help from their local government trustees, and ask their physicians to help them find programs that provide medications at cheaper rates, just to name a few. These days, when I have clients who complain about their waiting time for a hearing, I find myself thinking how fortunate they are to only have to wait about a year to get a hearing.  You heard me right – they are fortunate, compared to my clients from not long ago who typically had to wait nearly two years to get a hearing!  Not only do the shorter wait times help our disabled clients get their benefits sooner, they also save those clients some money.  The sooner a claimant receives benefits, the fewer months of … Continued

Filed under: Indiana Social Security Disability Attorney || Tagged under:
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November 29, 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits For Back Pain

As an Indiana Social Security attorney, the majority of my clients suffer from back pain. I personally have occasionally experienced back pain that makes it hard to move around, and I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if the pain was present all of the time. I believe it would be difficult, if not impossible, to work a full time job if this was happening to me on a constant basis. I can sympathize with my clients when they describe their pain to me, but I also realize sympathy is not what they want. They want to be able to provide for themselves and their families when they are unable to work due to back problems. It is important for Social Security disability claimants to know there is a very specific way the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at impairments involving the spine. One of the first things the SSA looks at when examining claims involving the spine is whether or not the individual meets or equals a “Listing”. The SSA publishes a set of guidelines that details what the SSA considers to be disabling conditions. Listing 1.00 covers the musculoskeletal system.  Listing 1.04 specifically covers disorders of the spine, and in order to meet it you must have objective evidence (e.g., medical tests or imaging) of your impairment. MRIs can be of great importance when attempting to show you meet or equal this listing. You usually cannot depend on the SSA to send you for the appropriate testing and imaging; instead your own physician must conduct testing or refer you for testing that proves you have the required criteria. When I am trying to prove that a client meets or equals this listing, I send questionnaires to the treating physicians requesting they provide relevant details about the … Continued

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November 11, 2012

Diabetes and Winning Your Social Security Disability Claim

Practicing Social Security Disability law in Indianapolis has opened my eyes to how many people suffer from diabetes.  Many of my clients suffer from several different disabling conditions at the same time, and more often than not, diabetes is on their list.  At your disability hearing in front of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ),  the judge is required to consider all of your severe impairments when determining whether you are disabled.  Therefore, it is very important to let your attorney or representative know if diabetes contributes to your inability to work.  I talk to my clients extensively about how diabetes keeps them from working so I can better understand their limitations and present them to the judge. Diabetes mellitus (or simply diabetes) occurs when a person’s blood glucose level, commonly called “blood sugar,” is unacceptably high, usually due to poor insulin production in the body.  Diabetes is labelled as “type I” or “type II”.  The symptoms of diabetes can include: Frequent urination Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet Fatigue Blurred vision In my practice, the most common reason my diabetic clients find themselves unable to work is the tingling or burning known as neuropathy in their hands and feet.  They also suffer other symptoms that keep them from working when they are unable to control their diabetes with medication or insulin.  In my experience as a disability lawyer, the inability to stand and walk can greatly reduce the number and types of jobs a person can perform.  Many of my clients with neuropathy or swelling in their legs and feet cannot sit for very long without pain, and they are required to elevate their legs to relieve that pain.  These limitations reduce their “physical residual functional capacity” – the types of activities they are physically able to perform … Continued

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October 30, 2012

SSI Benefits for Children With Learning Disabilities

Indiana children with learning disabilities may be entitled to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.  A significant portion of my law practice is devoted to helping children and their families receive Social Security disability benefits.  My staff and I take great pride in being able to explain the application and appeals process to parents of disabled children, and we make sure that they are fully prepared when it is time to appear at a hearing before a Social Security Administrative Law Judge.  I have found that some other disability attorneys simply do not handle children’s cases, or they are unfamiliar with what it takes to win these claims.  Some parts of children’s cases are the same as adult cases; for example, the appeals process has the same steps for adults and for children.  However, other elements of children’s claims are quite different from adult claims, especially when it comes to showing how the claimant’s impairments are severe enough to be disabling under Social Security’s rules.  Knowing what the Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for in children’s cases can be the key to a successful outcome. In my experience as a disability attorney representing children and their families, I find it especially beneficial to submit certain types documentation of a child’s disabilities to the SSA.  These records can include, but are not limited to: Medical records from treating physicians, especially specialists, who treat the child for any physical or mental impairments. Written statements from treating physicians concerning the severity of the child’s disabling condition Report cards IQ tests Individualized Education Program (IEP)  or 504 Plans developed at the child’s school Written statements from teachers concerning the child’s academic progress and behavior Behavior reports, written progress reports, and other written correspondence from the child’s teacher For each of my clients, I request … Continued

Filed under: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) || Tagged under:
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October 1, 2012

Social Security Disability Benefits For Bipolar Disorder

I receive numerous calls every week from Indiana residents telling me they have been denied disability benefits.  People suffering from bipolar disorder or other mental impairments make up a portion of those phone calls.  I cannot represent every potential disability client who calls my office, and there are several factors I have to consider before deciding to represent someone.  Some callers tell me they are bipolar, but they have never been diagnosed by a doctor and are not receiving any treatment.  Unfortunately, your belief that you have bipolar disorder is probably not going to be enough for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to find you disabled. Even if you experience the symptoms of  bipolar disorder,  the SSA is going to want documentation from treating sources to help prove your disability claim is valid. I do understand the difficulty in finding appropriate treatment for mental illness.  If you do not have health care coverage, the cost to visit a therapist, see a psychiatrist, or pay for medication is unaffordable, even for people who are employed.    Fortunately, some hospitals and nonprofit organizations have programs to help people without funds obtain treatment for mental disorders.  I strongly encourage my clients to seek these programs out and do the best they can to get the care they need. Most of my clients receiving care for a mental disability see two different kinds of mental health professionals.  Usually the person who prescribes mental health medications is a psychiatrist.  The patient has periodic appointments with the psychiatrist, who assesses the patient’s need for medications, prescribes the appropriate drugs, and monitors the patient’s progress.  Another individual commonly seen by my clients is a therapist.  The patient often spends more time with a therapist than with a psychiatrist, usually in the form of group or individual counseling.  Most … Continued

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