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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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January 6, 2016

Finding an Indiana Social Security Disability Lawyer for your Child

If you have had a difficult time finding an attorney to represent you in your child’s claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you may not be alone.  When I speak to new clients in my Indianapolis Social Security disability law practice, they often tell me that many of the Social Security disability attorneys they had consulted simply do not take children’s cases.  Some Administrative Law Judges have told me that children’s SSI cases can be more difficult to win than adult cases.  In my experience, the chances of winning a child’s case are affected by the same factors that affect adults’ cases – we need good treatment records, statements from a treating physician supporting the claimant’s descriptions of his or her symptoms, and good preparation for the hearing.   I take great pride in helping the families of disabled children, and I believe my experience with these cases helps to ensure that my clients have the best chance possible at a favorable outcome. One of the reasons some attorneys may be reluctant to accept children’s cases is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses different criteria in evaluating a child’s disability that it does when it evaluates an adult’s impairments.  For example, Social Security has a separate Listing of Impairments for adults and children.  Further, the SSA evaluates children’s and adults’ functional limitations using different frameworks.  The main issue in an adult’s case is whether his or her disability is severe enough to prevent full-time work.  Obviously, since children do not work, Social Security cannot analyze a child’s functional limitations in this manner.  Instead, the SSA determines whether a child has “marked” limitations in at least two (or “extreme” limitations in at least one) of six areas of functioning Social Security calls “domains”: Acquiring and using information:  the child’s ability … Continued

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September 24, 2015

What happens to my child’s SSI benefits at age eighteen?

When a child turns eighteen, he or she becomes an adult under Social Security’s rules.  Therefore, if you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for your child, you should be prepared for Social Security to re-evaluate your child’s medical condition once he or she turns eighteen. The Social Security Administration uses different criteria for children and adults when determining disability.  First, Social Security has a separate Listing of Impairments for children and for adults.  While many of the listings are substantially similar, the specific criteria for many of the listed impairments are different for adults than for children. Additionally, Social Security evaluates functional limitations quite differently between adults and children.  For adults, Social Security determines the claimant’s “residual functional capacity;” that is, how much he or she is physically and mentally able to do in a work-like setting.  The evaluators determine how much the claimant can lift; how long he or she can sit, stand, and walk; and whether he or she has any difficulties dealing with the mental demands of work.  After determining a claimant’s residual functional capacity, Social Security determines whether a person with those abilities can work full time.  If not, the claimant is disabled. For children, on the other hand, functional limitations are assessed by whether the child has “marked” or “extreme” limitations in certain domains of functioning including acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, caring for himself, and health and physical well-being.  If a child is markedly impaired in two of those areas of functioning compared to other children his or her age, the child is disabled. Because the requirements change when a child becomes an adult, Social Security re-evaluates the child’s medical condition during the year prior to his or her eighteenth … 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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May 5, 2015

Asperger’s Syndrome and Obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits

Often, my blog topics reflect certain disabling conditions or Social Security disability issues that seem to be becoming more prevalent in my practice.  Asperger’s Syndrome is definitely one of these conditions; I represent many children and adults who have been given this diagnosis. Of course, the most recent DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was released in May of 2013) no longer contains a diagnosis of “Asperger’s Syndrome”; the disorder, along with other disorders such Pervasive Development Disorder NOS, is now included under the diagnosis of “Autism Spectrum Disorder.”  As people with Asperger’s and their families know, it doesn’t matter what it’s called; the symptoms and limitations remain. People with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder typically have social communication and interaction deficits and restrictive, repetitive patterns of behavior.  These symptoms often interfere with an adult’s ability to work or with a child’s ability to function at an age-appropriate developmental level.  If you or your child have these symptoms, you could be eligible for benefits under Social Security’s Disability Insurance (SSDI) program or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. Whether you are an adult or a child on the autism spectrum, the first way the Social Security Administration (SSA) assesses whether your impairment is disabling under its rules is by referring to the entry for “autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders” in its Listing of Impairments.  The relevant listing for adults is Listing 12.10; the relevant listing for children is Listing 112.10.  First, Social Security will determine whether you meet the diagnostic criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis.  Next, it will evaluate how severely your symptoms affect your ability to function.  For adults, this means an adjudicator will determine how markedly your symptoms impair your activities of daily living, your social functioning, and your ability to maintain … Continued

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April 28, 2015

Symptoms of Depression That May Make you Eligible for Social Security Disability Payments

Many of the clients I serve in my Indianapolis disability practice suffer from some type of depressive disorder.  Sometimes their symptoms of depression are caused by or exacerbated by physical impairments, but often depression is a disabling condition all by itself. Depression raises some unique obstacles in pursuing a Social Security disability claim.  Deadlines must be met, appointments must be kept, and paperwork must be completed in a timely and thorough manner.  If you have depression, though, you may lack the energy to keep track of your paperwork or even open your mail.  You might be so socially and emotionally isolated that you do not attend appointments or return telephone calls.  You may have difficulty maintaining attention long enough to complete questionnaires about your symptoms and work history.  If you aren’t able to fulfill these obligations, it is likely your claim will be dismissed.  It can be really helpful if you allow a family member or friend to help you make sure everything gets finished completely and on time. The Social Security Administration (SSA) addresses the disability nature of depression and other affective disorders in its Listing of Impairments at Listing 12.04.  To meet the requirements of this listing, you first much be able to show that you have medically documented symptoms such as: “Anhedonia,” or a persistent, all-encompassing loss of interest in your daily activities, even things you used to like to do Disturbance in your appetite causing weight gain or loss Sleep disturbance Psychomotor agitation (unintentional, purposeless movement) or retardation (listlessness, inability to physically carry out everyday activities) Lack of energy Guilt or feelings of worthlessness Problems concentrating or thinking Suicidal thoughts Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia It is not enough for you to explain to Social Security what your symptoms are and how they affect you.  You must … 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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