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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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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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April 26, 2017

Breathing Problems and Social Security Disability

Many of my clients having breathing problems as either their sole issue or as just another problem among the many they experience. Breathing problems such as Emphysema, Asthma, COPD, or any other impairment can make it extremely difficult to work.  Sometimes it is very apparent just by talking to an individual, while other times it is more obvious when they are exerting themselves.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) does consider breathing problems when determining a disabling condition.  It may be wise for you to file a Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claim if you find this or any other condition prevents you from working. My clients often complain that their breathing problems cause many symptoms including but not limited to: Shortness of Breath Fatigue Chest pain Constant coughing Wheezing Chronic Respiratory Infections Unfortunately, many lung problems can be permanent in nature. As with all disabling conditions, the SSA will usually need medical documentation to prove your disabling condition.  A Pulmonary Function Test may help to persuade the SSA your condition is severe enough to receive disability payments.  The Social Security Administration examines pulmonary disorders under the provisions in its Listing of Impairments.  Listing 3.00 Respiratory Disorders outlines the information the SSA uses to determine if a person meets or equals this disabling condition. Receiving the correct type of treatment can be the key to a successful outcome in a Social Security disability appeal. A qualified pulmonologist may be able to provide the medical documentation needed for the SSA to grant your claim.  It is important to remember to let the SSA know you have issues with your breathing, even though it may not be your primary reason for filing a disability claim.  The SSA can consider all of your impairments in combination when deciding if … Continued

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April 11, 2016

What are ADLs, and why does Social Security care so much if I go on vacation or keep my house clean?

Many of my clients do not understand why the Social Security Administration (SSA) is so interested in their day-to-day activities.  It might help to think about it this way: since you are not able to work, Social Security can’t ask you how your current symptoms affect your work activities.  Therefore, they have to look instead at what you are actually able (or unable) to do in your daily life.  Social Security refers to these things as your “Activities of Daily Living,” or ADLs. During the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application process, Social Security sends each claimant a questionnaire called an Adult Function Report.  This form asks specific questions about how your impairments affect your ability to do what you need to do to get through a typical day.  Similarly, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) at your hearing will ask questions about your ADLs, including your ability to: Clean your house (sweep, mop, dust, wash dishes, etc.) Shop for groceries Take care of your yard Drive a car Bathe, shower, and take care of your personal hygiene Dress yourself Do laundry Cook or prepare meals Care for children, other family members, or pets Participate in hobbies Spend time with friends Travel on vacations When you answer questions about your ADLs, it’s important to keep in mind why Social Security is asking them.  The ALJ is not trying to find out of you are a conscientious housekeeper or if you are an interesting person to hang out with.  It can be really hard – embarrassing, even – to admit that you aren’t able to take a shower or wash your dishes as often as you think you should.  It is painful for a lot of my clients to realize that it has been years since they … Continued

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June 29, 2015

Social Security Disability Benefits for Back Pain

A large number of my clients suffer from back pain, and there are many possible causes: degenerative disease, injury, or years of overexertion.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes that severe back pain can be disabling, but you must have adequate documentation to prove you have a severe medical impairment.  In other words, you must be able to provide medical evidence to show that your pain is the result of a medical diagnosis and that it has more than a minimal effect on your ability to work.  Then you must show that your condition either meets or equals Social Security’s Listing of Impairments §1.04 for disorders of the spine, or that it keeps you from working at your past occupation or any other occupation.  Your age, education level, and work experience can also figure into a finding of disability. What does the SSA mean when they say you must “meet or equal a listing” to be found disabled?  When it comes to your back, the SSA will look at the criteria in §1.00: Musculoskeletal System.  In particular, Listing 1.04: Disorders of the Spine usually comes into play.  To meet Listing 1.04, you must have medical imaging showing that you have nerve root compression, arachnoiditis, or lumbar stenosis in your spine.  You must also have clinical evidence (treatment notes, for example) indicating specific corresponding physical symptoms. If you do not meet or equal a listing, you may be found disabled due to your limited residual function capacity (RFC).  If the SSA finds that your ability to stand, walk, sit, and lift is so decreased by your back pain that you are unable to work, you might be found disabled.  In this scenario, the SSA may also take into consideration your age, education, and prior work experience to determine if you are … Continued

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June 19, 2015

Social Security Disability Claimants Are People Too

I talk to hundreds of people each year about Social Security disability.  My clients have a vast array of diagnoses, and all of them are suffering in some way.  Many of them have the added pain of feeling guilty that they have to apply for disability benefits. If you keep up with the news and the opinion pages, you probably know that Social Security disability benefit recipients are being vilified across the media.  Pundits claim that disability beneficiaries don’t want to work; journalists are quick to investigate and expose people who are “scamming the system.” My experience with disability claimants, though, is very different.  One of the most-repeated phrases I hear when I talk to my clients is, “If I was able to work, I’d be working.”  They have tried, but their physical or mental limitations have kept them from finding work.  If they do find work, they often are not able to keep up their attendance or their work pace and end up getting fired.  Many of my clients have work records dating back decades – they have worked all their lives, but now they cannot keep it up.  They have contributed to “the system” by having Social Security taxes taken out of their paychecks every week for years, but now they feel guilty for trying to use the disability insurance for which they paid.  Some of them have bodies that have just worn down after long years of heavy labor; others are suffering the long-term effects of an accident or sudden illness. Another misconception weaving its way through the media circuit is that it is easy to “get disability.”  From reading some articles, you’d think that a person can wake up one morning with some aches and pains, head down to the Social Security office to sign up, … Continued

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May 21, 2015

Why Are Medical Records So Important to My Social Security Disability Claim?

Whenever I talk about the keys to a Social Security disability claim, I emphasize the importance of medical records.  Medical records are important because the Social Security Administration (SSA) cannot find you disabled under its rules without finding that you have a “medically determinable impairment.”  In other words, you must be able to provide acceptable medical evidence, such as objective test results or treatment notes showing diagnoses from acceptable medical sources, that proves that you have a medical condition that prevents you from being able to work. Why are Medical Records Important? While the SSA will most likely send you for an independent consultative examination to determine your diagnoses and symptoms, it is important to have medical records showing that you have been diagnosed and treated on your own.  I have often seen decisions in which an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has concluded that a claimant’s impairment must not be as severe as he or she is alleging because the claimant did not receive significant medical treatment for it. Medical records are helpful in proving that you are disabled because they contain the diagnoses and clinical findings of medical providers who have treated you on a regular basis.  If those diagnoses and findings come from a doctor who specializes in treating your condition, Social Security will likely give them significant weight in determining whether your condition prevents you from working. What Kinds of Medical Records are Important? The most valuable records I can submit on behalf of my clients are objective test results.  X-rays, MRIs, nerve conduction studies, pulmonary function tests, and other tests give hard data showing the severity of certain conditions.  In fact, with appropriate test results it may be possible to show that you are disabled without even having to talk about whether you can perform work-like … Continued

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