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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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March 30, 2015

Diabetes and Your Social Security Disability Claim

If you suffer from diabetes and your symptoms keep you from being able to work, you may be eligible for either Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. The prevalence of diabetes among my clients seems to be ever increasing.  Some of my clients suffer from Type I diabetes, which typically starts in childhood.  However, most of my clients with diabetes have Type II diabetes, or adult-onset diabetes.  Unfortunately, many of my clients have medical impairments that greatly increase their risk of developing diabetes, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.  Others develop risk factors such as obesity, poor diet, and physical inactivity due to the physical limitations caused by their other medical impairments.  If you suffer from diabetes, even if you do not consider it to be the most disabling condition you have, its effects on your ability to work may be substantial.  When talking to Social Security about your disabling conditions, it is always important to discuss all of your impairments, even if you don’t think a particular condition like diabetes would be disabling to you all by itself.  Social Security determines your limitations based on the combination of all of your functional limitations that result from any and all medically determinable impairments you have. While the Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses diabetes in Section 9.00 of its Listing of Impairments, diabetes is no longer a listed impairment.  (Social Security removed the listing for diabetes in 2011.)  Instead, Social Security notes that the effects of diabetes on different body systems might allow you to meet or equal other sections of the Listings.  In Social Security Ruling 14-2p, the SSA identifies some examples of the effects of diabetes, including: Diabetic neuropathy (evaluated under Listing 11.14 for peripheral neuropathies) Diabetic retinopathy (evaluated under … Continued

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March 19, 2015

Objective Testing and Your Social Security Disability Claim

Proving you are disabled to the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not always easy.  Before the SSA will even consider how your symptoms affect your ability to work, you must show that you have a “medically determinable impairment.”  Telling Social Security that you have pain or fatigue or memory loss is not enough, by itself, to establish a medically determinable impairment.  You must also be able to provide objective evidence that explains why you have those symptoms. The most direct evidence you can provide is objective test results.  These tests might include: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and X-rays: these tests show the location and severity of physical damage to your musculoskeletal system that might cause symptoms such as pain. Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies: this type of test shows whether you have nerve damage that might cause symptoms such as pain, numbness, or weakness. Electroencephalography (EEG): this test helps to show abnormal activity in your brain that might cause symptoms from seizures or sleep disorders. CT Scans: these tests show damage to your organs that might cause symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, or fatigue. Blood tests: these tests can show the presence or absence of different substances in your blood, which in turn can help prove that you have certain anti-immune disorders or other diseases. Stress tests: these tests measure the effects of exertion on your heart and can help quantify the severity of your cardiovascular symptoms. Echocardiograms: the results of these tests can show abnormalities in your heart that might cause symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, or fatigue. Not all medical conditions can be proven using objective testing, though. Mental health disorders, migraines, fibromyalgia, and pain disorders are notoriously difficult to prove because there are no reliable tests available to confirm them … Continued

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March 6, 2015

Common Questions Concerning Children’s SSI Claims

In my Social Security disability practice, I meet many parents of children with special needs.  They have heard that Social Security has a program for children with disabilities, but they do not know how to find out more about it.  Here are some answers to some of the most common questions I hear from parents of disabled children. How do I know if my child meets the requirements for SSI? Qualifying for SSI is a two-step process.  SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is a needs-based program; therefore, your household must fall below a certain amount of income and resources to qualify at the first step.  Unfortunately, there is no hard-and-fast number that I can say, “If you make XX amount of money, you are over the limit” because Social Security’s formula is more complex than that – it depends on the size of your household, your expenses, and the like.  Similarly, there is a limit (currently $2,000 for a single person; $3,000 for a couple) on household resources (the value of the things you own), but there are exemptions for some things like your home and sometimes your vehicle.  Really, the only way you can definitely determine whether you meet the income and resources limits is to talk directly to Social Security. Once you qualify financially, Social Security determines whether your child meets the medical requirements.  This determination is much less black-and-white than the resources test.  They look at your child’s medical records and determine how her impairments limit her ability to function in six different “domains”: Acquiring and Using Information, Attending and Completing Tasks, Interacting and Relating with Others, Moving About and Manipulating Objects, Caring for Yourself, and Health and Physical Well-Being. Is it best to work with a lawyer in the process? In theory, Social Security’s process is … Continued

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