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November 17, 2014

Will My Doctor Be At My Social Security Disability Appeals Hearing?

It is highly unlikely  that your treating physician will attend your Social Security disability hearing.  Unless your doctor is a personal friend you can convince to attend your hearing, your doctor in almost all cases will not be there. First, the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not require your doctor to attend.  Although some judges do call physicians to testify at hearings, those physicians are Medical Experts (MEs) paid by the SSA to examine your medical records and evaluate whether your condition is disabling under Social Security’s rules.  Will the ME at your hearing ever have examined you?  No.  Will this ME ever have even met you?  No.  The ME is supposed to give an impartial opinion regardless of the fact the SSA is paying him/her a fee to review the case and testify.  In my experience, there are good MEs and bad MEs, just like there are people who do a good job and people who do a bad job in any other profession.  In a perfect world, your doctor would be able to sit down with the judge and explain your impairments and how they affect you, but that’s most likely not going to happen. Second, your doctor is busy.  Even if you have a doctor who is kind and helpful, it is unrealistic to expect him or her to take time away from practicing medicine to attend your hearing. So what can you do to ensure the judge has good information from your treating physicians? Get the medical treatment you need.  Your explaining to the SSA that you have a bad back is not enough to show that you are disabled under its rules.  Social Security expects to see objective testing like x-rays or MRIs, progress notes from doctor visits, and records of medications you are taking. Make sure the SSA … Continued

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November 11, 2014

Epilepsy and Social Security Disability Benefits

A diagnosis of epilepsy can be unsettling and quite scary for most individuals.  Unpredictable symptoms and uncertainty regarding the patient’s prognosis create many stressors for the patient’s family.  Financial strains result from the added cost of medications and treatments, not to mention loss of income if epilepsy leads to the loss of a job.  It is helpful to know that Social Security disability benefits are available for people who have been diagnosed with epilepsy. Some individuals can experience seizures from epilepsy with some or all of the following symptoms: Uncontrollable jerking Loss of consciousness Staring Confusion Many individuals state that after a seizure, they experience severe fatigue and loss of energy for an extended period of time. Social Security recognizes epilepsy and seizure disorders as disabling conditions in its Listing of Impairments.  If you have been diagnosed with either convulsive or non-convulsive epilepsy, your symptoms are evaluated under Listing 11.02 and 11.03 respectively.  If your child has been diagnosed with convulsive epilepsy, the symptoms are evaluated under Listing 111.02; if your child has non-convulsive epilepsy, the symptoms are evaluated under Listing 111.03. Regardless of the type of epilepsy you experience, your medical records must contain certain types of evidence for your condition to meet Social Security’s Listings.  These include: An established diagnosis of epilepsy (or, in some cases, seizure disorder) Documentation of a detailed description of a seizure pattern, including the type, frequency, duration, and sequelae of the patient’s seizures by the patient’s treating physician Documentation that the patient has complied with prescribed treatment for at least three months Medical evidence to help prove your diagnosis of epilepsy includes EEG test results, PET scans, or MRIs of your brain.  Receiving regular evaluation and treatment from a neurologist is important as well; a statement from your treating neurologist regarding your symptoms, prognosis, and limitations can … Continued

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October 30, 2014

Indiana SSDI Benefits and Your Date Last Insured

The Social Security Administration’s eligibility requirements for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) can be confusing.  If you have applied for SSDI benefits, you may have been told about your Date Last Insured (DLI).  Your DLI is one of the first things Social Security checks when determining whether you are eligible for disability benefits. Most workers either have Social Security taxes deducted from their paychecks or pay them when they file their tax returns on self-employment income.  For each quarter (three-month period) that you earn enough money, Social Security awards you a credit for that quarter.  You must accumulate enough work credits to be eligible for Social Security’s different programs. For Social Security Disability Insurance, not only must you have enough work credits, but you must have enough of them in the last ten years in order to qualify.  Social Security’s formula for calculating the required number of credits is complicated; the number of credits you need varies depending on your age.  However, if you are over the age of thirty you generally need to have worked and earned credits for five of the last ten years.  (If you are younger than age thirty, you generally need to have work credits for about half the time since you turned twenty-one.) Therefore, as time passes after you stop working and earning credits, the fewer of your work credits count toward your eligibility for disability.  Eventually you will reach the point at which you no longer have enough work credits to qualify for disability.  This point is your Date Last Insured.  If it has been several years since you have worked, your DLI may be in the past.  If this is the case, you may still be eligible for SSDI, but you will have to show that you became disabled before your DLI.  If you stopped … Continued

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October 20, 2014

Social Security Administration’s Disability Hearings By Video

With a backlog of pending disability cases in Indiana and across the country, many people have received notices informing them their Social Security disability hearing might be held by video teleconference.  You have the opportunity to object to the use of video teleconferencing; if you do Social Security must arrange a hearing for you in which you meet the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) face-to-face.  There are various factors to consider in deciding whether or not to object to a video hearing. The pros to having an in-person hearing: You are in the same room as the ALJ.  It is possible that in person, the ALJ can better observe your physical and mental condition.   The ALJ can observe you entering and exiting the courtroom; if you use an assistive device the judge will be able to see it.  Further, in-person hearings may allow participants to observe facial expressions and body language the video screen may not be able to portray as clearly. Local ALJs are more likely to know about the local healthcare system.  When a judge who lives five states away looks at your medical records, he or she may not recognize your medical providers or even know what type of doctors they are.  A local ALJ is also more likely to know if it is difficult to access free or reduced-cost healthcare in your community.  In my experience, a local judge probably has seen records from the same local healthcare providers on numerous occasions and understands the quality and quantity of healthcare available at those facilities. Expert witnesses are more likely to appear in person as well.   If a judge takes testimony from a Medical Expert (ME), the ME typically appears either by telephone or in the ALJ’s courtroom.  The ME at your hearing has never seen you in … Continued

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October 14, 2014

Can I get Social Security disability benefits if I have problems using my hands?

In my Indiana Social Security disability law practice, I see a very wide variety of disabling conditions.  Many of my clients have conditions that affect  their overall physical ability to work; that is, those clients are unable to sit, stand, and walk long enough in combination to complete an eight-hour work day.  Others, though, have impairments that affect specific areas of functioning.  For example, some of my clients have impairments that limit their ability to use their hands.   Even if you can sit or stand for an entire work day without difficulty, the inability to use your hands to pick things up, handle small parts, or manipulate objects might seriously limit the kinds of work you can perform.  In my experience almost all work requires at least the occasional use of  the worker’s hands.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) recognizes this limitation, and many times my clients who are significantly limited in the use of their hands are found disabled based on that limitation. Many types of medical problems may cause a person to lose full use of his hands, including arthritis, neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, or amputation, to name a few.  If you have problems with your hands, Social Security evaluates your ability to work based on your ability to perform the following types of movements: Reaching: extending your hands and arms in any direction Handling: seizing, holding, grasping, turning, or otherwise performing movements that require you to use your whole hand Fingering: picking, pinching, or otherwise performing movements with your fingers If you have difficulties writing, typing, buttoning, zipping, or keeping your grip on things you are holding in your hands, you would likely have difficulty performing work activities that require you to reach, handle, and finger.  These limitations are usually magnified if you have to use your hands for any … Continued

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September 1, 2014

Medical Expert Testimony at Your Social Security Disability Hearing

When the day finally arrives for your Social Security disability hearing, you may find that the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) has asked one or more doctors to testify about your ability to do work-related activities. Some, but not all, Administrative Law Judges call on medical experts to testify at hearings. You may be wondering how a doctor who has never seen you before can testify about your medical conditions and how they affect your ability to work.   In my experience, medical expert testimony at a disability hearing has both advantages and disadvantages.  An experienced disability attorney knows how to prepare for a hearing to maximize those advantages while defending against the disadvantages. Some doctors who testify at hearings appear in person, but many testify over the phone. Social Security pays each medical expert a flat fee to review a claimant’s medical file and provide unbiased testimony at the hearing.  In my experience, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has difficulty finding qualified doctors to testify; most practicing physicians have neither the time nor the financial incentive to work as a medical expert for Social Security.  Most of the doctors I see at hearings are retired general practitioners.  While  the ALJs typically request testimony from doctors who specialize in the claimant’s impairments, it is often difficult for Social Security to find such a specialist who is available to testify. Each medical expert at your hearing is expected to have reviewed all of the medical records in your file and be prepared to present his opinions on the following issues: Your medical diagnoses Whether your impairments meet or equal the definitions set out in Social Security’s “Listing of Impairments” The physical and/or mental work-related limitations caused by your impairments The ALJ will likely ask the medical experts some additional questions, and you or your representative will have an opportunity to ask questions as well. Many judges … Continued

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August 26, 2014

What Should I Say At My Social Security Disability Hearing?

When I prepare my Indiana neighbors for their day in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), the majority of the conversation revolves around what type of questions the ALJ will ask them.  I have represented clients in front of many different judges, and I have found that each ALJ has a unique style of asking questions – some ask a lot of questions; others prefer to have the representative take most of the client’s testimony.  Therefore, I try to tailor each of my clients’ preparation to be ready for the particular judge who will be hearing the case.  In spite of their differences, though, in my experience most judges cover the same general topics in their hearings. Many, but not all, judges are going to check your credibility.  While objective test results can prove that you have a certain medical diagnosis, the severity of the pain or other symptoms you experience due to that diagnosis can only be explained by you.  Therefore, the judge will likely ask you to explain your symptoms, rate your pain, or describe the ways your pain or other symptoms limit your ability to perform certain tasks.  If a judge believes you are exaggerating or lying about these things, you may find yourself with an unfavorable outcome.  I try to always tell my clients to be truthful yet realistic about what they can or cannot do.  In my experience, credibility is especially important for my clients whose disabilities cannot be diagnosed with objective testing, like mental illness, fibromyalgia, or migraines. Most judges will ask you about your activities of daily living.  These can include but are not limited to cleaning your home, doing dishes, laundry, yard work, bathing or showering, dressing yourself, taking care of children, shopping, using the computer, hobbies, and going out with friends and … Continued

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August 21, 2014

What is a closed period of disability?

In order to qualify for disability benefits, you must have a disability that has lasted or is expected to last at least twelve months.  Although, sometimes I work with clients whose health problems lasted more than twelve months, but they have recovered and are now able to return to work.  Even though they are relieved to be able to return to full-time employment, these clients want to know if they can receive disability benefits for that time period in which their conditions kept them from being able to work. In cases like these, we ask the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a “closed period of disability.”  In other words, we acknowledge that the client does not presently meet Social Security’s definition of disabled, but we argue that the client did meet that definition in the past.  For example, Betty had to stop working in October of 2012 after she injured her back.  She spent nine months trying different types of treatments, from physical therapy to injections, but nothing helped.  Finally, her doctor scheduled her for back surgery in August of 2013.  It took another six months of recovery and rehabilitation, but Betty was finally able to return to work full-time in February of 2014. Assuming that Betty met Social Security’s requirements for disability from the time of her injury in October 2012 until she returned to work in February 2014, she could receive benefits for a closed period from October 2012 to February 2014. An applicant for a closed period of disability must meet two criteria: Her impairments must have prevented her from performing substantial gainful activity for at least twelve continuous months; and She must have applied for disability either before her disability ended or within fourteen months of her disability ending. Most of my cases involving closed periods of … Continued

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August 8, 2014

Social Security Disability Benefits for Learning Disabilities

Many of the children I represent in claims for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have been diagnosed with some type of learning disability.  While Social Security Administration (SSA)‘s Listing of Impairments does not specifically address learning disabilities, its evaluation process does consider the effects of learning disabilities on a child’s ability to function. Some of the children I represent have learning disabilities related to mental impairments such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Listing 112.11), mood disorders (Listing 112.04), anxiety disorders (Listing 112.06), or intellectual disabilities (Listing 112.05).  Other children have learning disabilities that are less easy to categorize, so Social Security evaluates them differently.  Once Social Security determines that a child’s impairments do not medically meet or equal one of its Listings, it then evaluates the child’s combination of impairments to see if he or she “functionally equals the listings.”  If the child has marked impairments in acquiring and using information,  attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating to others, moving about and manipulating objects, caring for himself, or health and physical well-being, Social Security may find the child meets its definition of disability. In order to show Social Security that your child is disabled, you first must show that he or she has a medically determinable impairment.  Helpful evidence includes: Medical diagnoses and treatment notes Therapy/counseling notes Clinical test results Other medical findings Next, you must show how your child’s medically determinable impairments keep him or her from functioning at an age-appropriate level.  Evidence of these limitations includes: Individual Education Plans (IEPs) School grades Results of standardized testing Evaluations and treatment notes from occupational and physical therapy or other types of rehabilitation School or day care discipline reports Written comments from teachers regarding the child’s ability to work at grade level, complete assignments, work without supervision, and behave appropriately in a classroom environment … Continued

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July 24, 2014

Social Security Disability Benefits for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a medical condition in which the patient’s liver is inflamed.  In some cases, HCV can lead to cirrhosis (replacement of liver tissue with scar tissue) of the liver.  Hepatitis C is usually spread via organ transplants, transfusions, intravenous drug use, or poorly sterilized medical equipment.  HCV was only proven to be a different condition from hepatitis A and hepatitis B in 1989.  HCV only infects humans and chimpanzees. Chronic infection occurs in about 80% of HCV patients.  A chronic infection is characterized by the presence of viral replication for more than six months.  Most patients with chronic HCV infection exhibit few symptoms, if any, during the first few decades after their initial infection.  Early symptoms may include fatigue or mild cognitive problems.  After several years of an individual being infected, hepatitis C may lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.  Some other symptoms may include: Joint pain Belly pain Itchy skin Sore muscles Dark urine Jaundice Traditionally, the typical treatment for hepatitis C has been interferon injections.  Unfortunately, though, these injections tend to cause flu-like side effects.  New drugs are being introduced to replace interferon treatment, and if a patient’s HCV symptoms are not severe, his doctor may recommend waiting for the new drugs to be released rather than enduring interferon treatment.  Patients with hepatitis C are typically advised to avoid alcohol and any type of medication or drug that is harmful to the liver. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a listing for chronic liver disease in its Listing of Impairments at Section 5.05. Simply being diagnosed with hepatitis C is not enough on its own to meet the criteria to receive Social Security disability benefits.  Your medical records must also show that you have complications such as hepatorenal or hepatopulmonary syndrome, internal bleeding, or fluid in the peritoneal or pleural cavity. Even if you do … Continued

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