Friday, December 28, 2007

Board Certified Social Security Disability Specialist

I have have just recently been approved as a Board Certified Social Security Disability Specialist by the National Board of Social Security Disability Advocacy. I consider it a great honor and I am proud of this accomplishment. It should be noted that not all states recognize the title of Social Security Disability Specialist. I will be listing the states that recognize this title in the next few days when I have collected all the information. I just wanted to share this with my readers. I hope you all have a great New Years and wish you all a favorable decision soon. I have put some information about my Board Certification on my website. It will explain what it is and what I had to do to get it. It will also show how the different states view certification as well as the ABA.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pace of decisions and scheduling of hearings will improve.

In the new year I think you can expect quicker decisions and more hearings being scheduled for Social Security Disability and SSI claims. In the past this has always been a very active time of year. Also many of the SSA initiatives to speed up the process are close to full swing. I have noticed a sharp increase in the amount of hearings scheduled for the new year. There are many reasons I am predicting this. First, SSA's e-file program has been started in all states and many of the case are now in electronic format. Second, SSA made a real push this year to get the really old cases done before the new year which hopefully will get them back on track for reasonable wait times for the rest of the cases. Third, SSA has brought back a program that allows attorneys at SSA to make favorable decisions at the hearing level before they are even scheduled for a hearing. I have noticed in my practice that I have been getting much more of these recently. Fourth, SSA has initiated a quick determination process for really strong cases that has shown to be successful in getting out quick decision in obvious cases. Lastly, the holidays are almost over and SSA employees will start to get back into the swing of things. Hopefully, I am right and you will all hear something soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Wish List Favorable Decision

I know the number one thing on many of your minds this holiday season is getting back a favorable SSDI, SSI, or VA decision. I hope this wish comes true for as many of you as possible. For those of you who have not received a favorable decision you might want to go through the following check list to see if you are doing all you can to win.
Did you get all your relevant medical records in?
Does SSA have RFC forms from your doctors showing your limitations from your medical conditions?
Do you have a lawyer?
Have you researched what you have to prove to win your Social Security Disability claim.
Have you learned about what happens at a Social Security Disability hearing if you are at that stage.
I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Social Securirty Disability and Back Impairments

One of the most common medical conditions listed in a SSDI or SSI claim is some sort of back impairment. The more common conditions of the back and neck are herniated discs, spinal arachnoiditis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, facet arthritis, and vertebral fracture. How a claim for benefits is won for these conditions depends on many factors. I will try and simplify the way the majority of these cases are won. In general if you are over 50 years old and your prior work is considered light or heavier you will probably only have to show your back condition limits you to sedentary work to be found disabled. If you are younger than 50 years old or prior work was sedentary the case usually requires that you be found capable of less than sedentary work and there would not be a significant number of jobs you could perform. There are some exceptions to this see my web page GRID Rules to understand the whole picture. So if you are under 50 or over 50 but your prior work was sedentary how do you show you can't even do a significant number of sedentary jobs with a back impairment. There are several ways you can do this I will discuss a couple here. Your inability to sit for long periods of time is important but what is more important is why you can't sit for long. It is because of pain. Your documentation and testimony of pain is important because it can show an inability to concentrate in a work setting. The medication you take particularly narcotic pain medication can further decrease your ability to concentrate. It is also very common for those who suffer from a long history of back pain to develop depression. The symptoms of depression can have serious impacts on ones ability to do sedentary work. To see how depression can affect a disability claim see my page on depression and SSDI. If your back impairment is in your cervical spine it can often lead to pain and loss of sensation in your arms and hands and often times leads to headaches. All these limitations also interfere with ones ability to do sedentary work. For more details on back impairments and Social Security disability.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Proposed New Regulations Will Curtail Claimant's Rights

There has been proposed regulation changes that will in my opinion make it even more difficult to get a fair decision in a Social Security Disability claim. SSA is proposing new rules allegedly to speed up processing times but will ultimately lead to an unfair process to the claimant and in my opinion more denials. One of these changes would restrict the submission of evidence at the hearing stage. Evidence would have to be submitted 5 days prior to the hearing date. There are exceptions to this rule but it appears as if the discretion is left up to the ALJ. I know from experience in dealing with SSDI cases for many years that it is not always possible to get all the medical evidence in 5 days before the hearing. Lawyers and claimants are often pleading with doctors who treat the claimants to get the records in a reasonable time. There is a provision to address this but it sounds like the discretion is left to the ALJ. This would be fine if I did not know from experience that some ALJs will take this new procedure to deny almost all medical records submitted after the 5 days prior to hearing. Evidence submitted after the hearing would be even more restricted. I will cover this topic again when the final rulings are released.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Drugs, Alcohol and Social Security Disability

One area of Social Security Disability law which is hard to find on the Internet is how drugs and alcohol addiction are evaluated by SSA in a disability case. Many of you may have heard that you can not get SSDI or SSI for drug and alcohol addiction. This is true but just because you have an addiction does not mean you can't get disability based on other medical conditions. The drug or alcohol addiction can not be material to the finding of disability. SSA is supposed to first determine if you are disabled based on all your medical conditions including the drug addiction. If SSA finds you are disabled based on all your conditions they are then supposed to decide if you were not using drugs or alcohol would you still be disabled under their rules. Proving disability in these cases can be easier if you have a long period of sobriety and during that time period you are shown to still be disabled. It is a little trickier when you don't have a long period of sobriety. In these situations it can be helpful to have statements from your doctors that show what your limitations would be even if you were not using drugs or alcohol. You can even get disability for conditions that were probably cause by your addiction if they are disabling even if you stopped using. An example of this is you can get disability for severe cirrhosis of the liver caused by alcoholism if it is disabling absent alcohol abuse.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Social Security Disability and non-exertional limitations

In this post I will address the importance of what is called non-exertional limitations and more specifically about concentration. They are exactly what the sound like they are limitations on your ability to work that do not involve physical exertion. These limitations are most important in cases involving people under 50 years old, cases that involve mental disabilities, and cases were someone over 50 years old had past work that was sedentary in nature. How much one can lift and do other physical activities is important but when trying to show you can't even do a sedentary job non-exertional limitations are key. A sedentary job usually requires one to be able to sit at a desk and do the work. If you have limitations in memory, concentration, dealing with supervisors or co-workers you can see how this would prevent even this type of work. Many case are denied because SSA says you can do sedentary work. One example of an important non-exertional limitation that is often overlooked particularly in cases that involve back conditions is an inability to concentrate due to pain or side effects from pain medication. One question ALJ's like to ask claimants at a hearing is why they feel they can't do a sit down job. The most common answer in these cases is because "I can't sit that long". What is often not mentioned is why you can't sit that long. It is because of pain. If you get increased pain after sitting would this not interfere with your ability to concentrate on the task at hand. As stated earlier narcotic pain medication also is known to decrease ones ability to concentrate. Ones ability to sit for periods of time is important but many ALJs and vocational experts will find jobs you can do that have an option for sitting or standing as you need to. So don't forget to mention how your pain and medication make it difficult for you to be able to concentrate. To get more helpful tips on how to win SSDI.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

How to Win Social Security Disability Benefits

The most important question I am sure most of you want to know is how do you win an SSDI or SSI claim for disability benefits. In this post I give some very general tips on what you can do to help your claim succeed. There is no trick to win your claim. However, if you want to give your self the best chance to win you should make sure to do the following things. Read as much as you can about Social Security Disability. Most importantly you need to know how Social Security will determine if you are disabled. Ounce you understand SSA's five step process for determining disability you can start to figure out how it applies to your particular case. There are several key ingredients to a successful claim. First, and often times overlooked is that you must have a "good" case. This means you have a medical condition or several medical conditions that interfere with your ability to do things that would impact your ability to work. Second, you must have all relevant medical records submitted to SSA. Third, you need RFC forms or reports from your treating doctors that show how your medical conditions affect your ability to do things. Fourth, you should be under the care of the appropriate doctors and taking your medication as prescribed. Fifth, you should have a "theory" of your case. This means you know how the law applies to your case and can articulate why you are disabled under SSA rules. If you do not fully understand what you have to prove in your particular case or you think your case may be difficult to prove you should contact a lawyer. You should not rely on Social Security to make your case for you and don't assume they got all your medical records. Make use of a good Social Security Disability resource such as my website and the SSA website. There are many more tips on how to win your claim for Social Security Disability available on my website. Lastly, these claims can take a long time and can be extremely frustrating but never take it out on the employees at SSA it will not help your case and may actually hurt it. I wish you luck in your pursuit of SSDI and SSI benefits and if you have any questions feel free to contact me.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fibromyalgia and a Social Security Disability Claim

Fibromyalgia claims have a few unique challenges. First of all, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia by its definition includes the counting out of all other possible cause for the symptoms. There is no objective piece of evidence you can point to to prove you have the condition (like an x-ray or MRI). This makes your rheumatologist opinion and diagnosis extremely important. Your testimony at a hearing is also important because an ALJ opinion of your credibility will have a big impact on how he or she decides. Another difficulty with these cases is that one of the most disabling features of the disease is fatigue. It can be very difficult to show evidence of fatigue and how it limits you. I also often see date of onset problems and date of last insured problems because it often takes many doctors and years before a diagnosis is made. There also appears to be a general bias against fibromyalgia by SSA doctors and SSA employees. Lastly, this medical condition is often diagnosed in younger people which makes a claim for disability often times more difficult. This is one of the medical conditions were I almost always recommend someone trying to get Social Security Disability or SSI to find a lawyer who has handled these types of cases. A disability claim for Fibromyalgia is difficult but winnable but it sometimes requires allot of patients and proper development of your file. Read more on Fibromyalgia and a disability claim.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Here Come the Lawyers.

My observations at the NOVA conference is that there will soon be many more attorneys handling Veterans disability claims. I would guess that there was about twice as many lawyers at the conference than at the last one. Most of them were lawyers who handle Social Security Disability cases in their practice. I believe this is good news for veterans because it will be much easier for vets to be able to find lawyers for their disability claims. Social Security Disability lawyers should be able to make a fairly smooth transition into this field because there is allot of similarities in how you develop a case and they will be familiar with the medical terminology. SSDI attorneys are also used to dealing with a government agency. I have to mention how impressed I have been with the speakers at the conference. Many of the attorneys who spoke at the conference have been doing VA claims for years and they were more than willing to share their insight and knowledge with the lawyers hoping to enter into this field.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

MS and Social Security Disability

Multiple Sclerosis is a difficult to diagnose disease and can be a difficult Social Security Disability case. One thing that makes MS cases hard is that many times a person out of work because of MS symptoms goes undiagnosed for years and when they finally get a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis they may be past the date of last insured (last day they are insured for benefits). Another problem with these claims is that the most limiting symptom for many people who suffer from this condition is fatigue. So when an individual goes to functional capacity exam they may perform pretty well but what is not seen is that the individual can do nothing for several days after the exam. It is a good idea if you suffer in this way to tell your doctor so it is in your medical records. I have more on MS and Social Security Disability on my website.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Speach by Commissioner of the Social Security Administration

Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration spoke to the National Organization of Social Security Claimant's Representatives today. My impression is that he appears to have a good grip on the problems confronting him and the desire to make the changes necessary at SSA to try and fix them. He spoke of the baby boomer generation and the affect it is going to have on the Social Security system. He mentioned the obvious increase in the amount of people who will be on Social Security as a problem. What I did not consider and thought was quite interesting is that there is another problem from the baby boomers reaching retirement age. Many SSA employees are older as a result of the many hiring freezes that have occurred over the years. So many experienced SSA employees will be retiring as well. He mentioned that SSA will drop below 60,000 employees which is the lowest rate since the 70s. This tells me that more claims plus less SSA employees equals more delays in processing of claims. He also mentioned that 150 new ALJs will begin working in June. I will be reporting more on what The Commissioner had to say at my Social Security Disability website.

Monday, October 15, 2007

How does SSA view medical evidence.

A Social Security Disability file contains allot of medical evidence. So how does SSA determine what evidence should be given the most weight? The Social Security Administration is supposed to look at many factors when determining what weight they should give a particular piece of medical or opinion evidence. Notice I say supposed to because I have found SSA employees and ALJs don't always view it as they are supposed to. Generally, treating doctors are supposed to be given more weight than non-treating doctors. In other words your doctor's opinion is supposed to be given more weight than the SSA consultative doctors. Your doctors opinion must however still be consistent with the medical records in the file. Specialties are also considered by SSA. For example a diagnosis of depression by a psychiatrist is more "valuable" than a diagnosis of depression by a family doctor. What does this mean to you. You must make sure you have your treating doctors medical records and opinion of your limitations in the file. If you are seeing a specialist for your condition getting those records and opinion of your limitations from that specialist is a very important. One last note chiropractors are not given much weight so if you have a back condition an orthopedics opinion is much better. I have left out allot here but this is to give you a general idea of how SSA looks at evidence.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Make sure to check out my Ultimate Disability Guide.

Many of you who read my blog may already know about my website the Ultimate Disability Guide. If you want to learn about Social Security Disability I believe it is the best source on the web. I have tried to make everything as easy to understand as possible. I cover many topics including how to apply, how SSA determines if you are disabled, how to win your ssdi claim, what happens at a hearing and many more topics as well. If you are looking to learn about Social Security Disability visit the site. I update the site frequently so if you have not been there in a while make sure to check back often. Take advantage of this free resource the more you know the better chance you have to win your claim. Even if you have a lawyer you should try and learn all you can it can only help. I will write again soon.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

I will be going to two conventions this month.

I will be attending a conferences this month on Social Security Disability and Veterans Disability. So make sure to keep checking back because I will report on any new developments in these areas of law. At the Social Security Disability conference I will be looking forward to finding out how the SSA program for Internet access to the SSA file is going and when it can be expected to be launched in full. At the veterans disability conference I am particularly interested in how the new law allowing lawyers to represent veterans is going and if there is any momentum for repealing this law that some groups are trying to do. i will also report back anything I think might be of interest to you and your claim for disability.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How important is testimony at a SSDI hearing?

Your testimony at a Social Security Disability hearing is extremely important. This does not mean you should study the possible questions you will be asked and memorize answers you think will help you. You should have an idea of the types of questions that will be asked but you do not want your testimony to come across as scripted. The perfect answer to a question for your case that is thought to be scripted can hurt you allot more than a bad honest answer. I have seen good medical record cases lose because of testimony and not so strong medical record cases win because of testimony given. The sure way to hurt your case is to clearly exaggerate your symptoms. The best way to help your case is to come across as believable and honest. The best way to come across as credible is to tell the truth about your condition and why it keeps you from being able to work. It is not just words spoken you are being evaluated the entire time you are in the hearing and sometimes in the waiting room. One example I often see is that claimants may exaggerate or not understand how long they can sit. A claimant may say "I can only sit 5 minutes" and then proceed to sit through the hearing for an hour. I understand that many times people sit in pain because they think they can't get up during the hearing but you can. Another example is if there is no record of you being prescribed a cane and back brace and you show up with a cane and back brace exposed over your clothes chances are the ALJ will think you are putting on a show. If you have a cane or brace that is not prescribed by a doctor but you need it and got it on your own, don't say it was prescribed by a doctor. Be honest and say I got it on my own because it helps. For more on testimony at a hearing go to my web page Social Security Disability hearing.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Access to Social Security Disability e-file anytime for lawyers

I have heard through the grapevine that SSA will soon be making available claimants files online through a secure network. This could be the most significant change the Social Security Administration has made in years. i say this because what it means is that a lawyer will have access to SSA's file on a claimant right from the beginning. By having this access a representative can make sure a file is fully developed as early as possible leading to faster decisions on claims. It will also save money for the clients because it will eliminate the lawyer from getting medical records that are already in the file. The way it is now it is extremely difficult for a lawyer to see what SSA has until the case is close to a hearing. This gives the attorney less time to get medical records and review files. If this new system is implemented a lawyer will be able to evaluate a case much earlier, get the medical records that are needed and if the case is strong enough write a pre-hearing brief and request a favorable decision right away so that the claimant does not have to wait the long time it takes to get a hearing. This would be a win for all parties involved. It should lead to faster decisions, better prepared files and ultimately less backlog for SSA. I will find out more at the next NOSSCR conference and report what I hear.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Why are denial rates so high at application and reonsideration?

Denial rates are significantly higher for Social Security Disability and SSI claims at application and reconsideration than they are at the hearing stage. In this post I will give my opinion as to why this is the case. Many people who apply often do so with out help of a lawyer and with out learning what they have to prove to win. Many people simply give the information to SSA and let SSA get the medical records and develop the case. There appears to be the attitude that I will see what happens and if I am denied I will get help with my claim. This leads to an underdeveloped file that is not ready for a decision and frequently results in a denial. At reconsideration which SSA is slowly getting rid of it is usually the same information being looked at by a different SSA employee. This is why reconsideration has such a high denial rate. If the information in the file was not enough the first go around chances are it won't be for the next SSA employee either. The denial rate decreases at the hearing level for several reasons. A greater percentage of the cases are represented by a lawyer or representative and the file has had more time to be developed properly. You also have the advantage of seeing an ALJ in person which adds a human element to the case and allows for testimony to point out things that the record by itself simply can not do. Many people come to me at hearing most of those files are extremely underdeveloped files. So if you do decide to do it alone make sure to become as knowledgeable as you can so that you know what you need and can get the information to win early.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Two New Pages Added to Ultimate Social Security Disability Guide

I have recently completed two new pages for my informational website on Social Security Disability called The Ultimate Disability Guide. The first new page deals with ssdi and ssi denial rates. The information provided should at least give you some idea of the rate at which SSA denies and approves claims. The chart shows the allowance and denial rates for ssdi and ssi at application and reconsideration.

The second page is about the backlogs at SSA and the average processing times for each Office of Disability Adjudication and Review or ODAR. This basically covers the time period between filling your request for hearing until a decision is made. So if you are one of the many people wondering how long does it take to get a decision at the hearing stage or as Social Security likes to say how long does it take for the claim to get processed. The above page link is for you but try not to get to discouraged by what you see.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New page on SSDI and SSI hearing wait times.

I have just finished my new page which gives the average processing times for social security disability cases at the hearing stage for every ODAR in the country. Go to the link above to see how long it takes for a case to be processed in your area. I hope this information is helpful in preparing you for the long delays at the hearing level.

Monday, August 20, 2007

SSA Backlog Highest It Has Ever Been

In July of 2007 there was a total of 749,224 cases pending. This is the largest amount of cases ever. The average processing time is a whooping 528 days. SSA hopes to hire about 1,000 new employees to deal with the increase. This will probably do little to help the situation. In the mean time those applying for Social Security Disability benefits look to deal with longer and longer wait times. The Social Security Administration is working on other initiatives to decrease the processing time which I have mentioned in other post and I will continue to update as more information becomes available. This information was obtained from the NOSSCR Social Security Forum.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How long does it take to get SSDI or SSI decision?

I have not posted in a while but I have been working on gathering statistics on how long cases are taking at each stage of the process. I know this is very important to allot of you and I am working hard to get accurate numbers. I will be posting the results over the next couple of weeks. I will try and cover wait times at the various ODAR offices or hearing offices and the local district offices. Check back often to get this valuable information.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

SSA Medical Listing Changes

The Social Security Administration was supposed to change several of the medical listings by July of this year. SSA has recently announced that the present listing will remain in affect until July 2008 or until they are done with the update to the listing. So the medical listings have not changed and will not at least for a little while longer.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Slow Summer Months at Social Security

The summer months tend to be a little slow as far as SSDI and SSI hearings go. This is probably because many SSA employees and ALJs take their vacation time during this period. It usually picks up quite a bit as soon as fall rolls around. In fact I usually find the fall months schedule the most hearings. So if your hearing has not been scheduled yet and you are close to the end of your waiting period for your area hopefully your hearing will be scheduled in the fall months. The long wait times are the hardest part of applying for disability so try and be as patient as you can and if you have been waiting longer than 15 months or so for a hearing make sure to check up on your case.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Veterans Disability

I have been reading allot of rating decisions from the VA lately and I am amazed at how the Veterans Administration has handled some the claims for compensation and pension. I can clearly see why many veterans have been pushing to have the right to hire lawyers. Many of the ratings decisions show that the VA did not get all the medical and service files before making a decision. In others, I noticed the veteran was never sent for the proper exam or the decision maker flat out disregarded the opinion of the doctor who did the exam for the VA. I strongly believe that lawyers will help to make sure the files are properly worked up and ready for a decision before one is made.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

E-File Less Than Perfect

I have had allot of experience with SSA E-File in Social Security Disability claims and although in general it is a vast improvement over the paper way of doing things there is a few things that need to be worked out. When a file is in electric format we are now supposed to send our medical records in by fax or using the Internet. To do this lawyers are given a bar code which tells the computer receiving the medicals which file it belongs to. It appears clear to me since I deal with many different ODAR offices throughout the country that the different ODAR offices are not on the same page. Some offices send a bar code and others act like I am crazy when I ask for it. I recently got medical records sent back to me that I sent to them in the mail. The letter said I have to send them in by fax using the bar code. Hard to do when bar code is not sent to me. I am just kind of venting here but overall I do see the benefit in the new process I guess it will just take time for all of SSA employees to come up to speed and fine tune the system.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Article on VA Disability

I know many of the Veterans out there are looking for news on VA Disability. I will be interviewed for an article on the website VA Watchdog on the new law that allows veterans to hire lawyers. When the article is released I will post it here so that it is easily accessible to anyone interested. It is a long time coming for veterans who have been fighting for the right to hire a lawyer in their disability claims. And an exciting time for lawyers who have been waiting to be able to help or veterans. Check back soon.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

New Law for Veterans Disability Starts Today

Just a reminder that any Veteran who files a Notice of Disagreement today or after today can hire a lawyer to represent them in their claim for Veterans' Compensation or Pension. If you have any question about the new law feel free to e-mail me. You can also check out my site called Veterans Disability Lawyer Site. The site is in its early stages and will be updated with more information and tips on getting veterans disability as time goes on. Make sure to book mark the site and come back often.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Vocational Expert at Your Social Security Disability Hearing

What do you do if you find out there will be a vocational expert at your hearing? The first thing you might want to consider is getting a lawyer. A VE's job at the hearing is to give his opinion of your prior work and functional requirements of those jobs. The VE will then be given a hypothetical of what your limitations are from the judge. The VE will then give his or her opinion on whether given those limitations you could perform prior work. The VE will also be asked his or her opinion if there is any other work an individual could do based on those limitations. If the VE says there is other work he will then give the number of jobs available in the economy in both the local area and nationally. Seems simple enough so why should you have a lawyer? The lawyer will be given a chance to present his own hypothetical of your limitations based on the medical evidence that may be more restrictive than that given by ALJ. A lawyer can also challenge the VE's opinion and cross examine the VE to show the jobs the VE says you could perform you actually can not perform. See my website page on Social Security Disability hearings for more.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Baby Boomers Affect on Social Security Disability

One very important reason there has been so many process improvements at SSA is because of the expected explosion of cases from the baby boomer generation. I expect that the improvements in the process especially the move to electronic files will do allot to help but I think we can expect longer delays in processing time just due to the sheer number of cases that are expected in the coming years. Another problem with this increase in cases will be the financial health of the Social Security Administration. The days of ignoring the financial crisis of SSA is coming to an end. I believe over the next few years even the politicians will have to pay attention and actually take steps to fund the Social Security System. I don't pretend to have the answers on how this will be done but it must be addressed if this extremely important program is to continue.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Social Security to Hire More ALJs

The Social Security Administration is in the process of hiring many new Administrative Law Judges. This is a very important development because the backlogs at SSA for SSDI and SSI claims is a huge problem. I have noticed recently many ALJs retiring and they were not being replaced. With the number of claims increasing the backlog of cases was sure to get much worse. It looks like SSA realized this and is taking positive steps to make up for the lost judges and increased case load. I don't know were these new ALJs will be assigned yet but I will update this post when I get the information.

Monday, May 14, 2007

New Site On Veterans Disability

I have received many e-mails from veterans asking about veterans disability. As a response to this and realizing that there is very little information or help out there for veterans. I have decided to launch a new site called veterans disability lawyer site. It is in the early stages and currently only has limited information but I will continue to add information frequently. I hope this new site will help veterans with any questions they may have about veterans compensation and pension. If you are a veteran you may or may not be aware that a new law was past that allows veterans to hire lawyers much earlier in the process. I am now representing veterans so if you have any questions feel free to contact me.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Update on Veterans Right To Hire Lawyers

I will try and explain the new law that allows Veterans to hire attorneys to represent them in their claims for disability. When you file your "Notice of Disagreement" will determine at what point in the process you can hire a lawyer. If you filed before June 20, 2007 you can hire a lawyer after the first denial at the Board of Veterans Appeals. If you filed after June 20, 2007 you can hire an attorney right away. There are some groups trying to get this new law repealed. I believe that Veterans should have a right to hire a lawyer early in the process to make sure they have the best chance of winning as early as possible. If the movement to stop lawyers from representing Veterans gains any momentum I will post it here. Click on following link for more information on Veterans Disability.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Reporting from Veterans Disability Conference

I am posting from New Orleans at the NOVA convention. I am here like many other Social Security Disability lawyers to learn all the aspects of a VA disability claim. I have been looking forward to this convention ever since the new law was past that allows Veterans to hire lawyers for their claims. The good news for vets is that the conference is sold out which tells me that there is allot of interest by attorneys to help our veterans. I know from the e-mails and phone calls I get that there is allot of Veterans out there looking for help with their claim. This conference should go a long way towards making sure there are many qualified lawyers to help with VA benefits. I will post anything I learn at this conference that I think may be of benefit to you. Vets can start hiring lawyers in June.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Lawyers and Social Security Disability

Whether to get a lawyer for your Social Security Disability or SSI claim is a matter of personal choice. I will tell my opinion from my experience in handling these cases how an attorney can help. I believe the most important function of a lawyer in SSDI cases is to fully develop the record. This means making sure all relevant medical records are in the file. A lawyer can look at a file and see what is needed to win a particular case. It is not enough in most cases to just have all the medical records from the treating doctors. You have to know what you have to show to prove disability for every individual case. This includes getting the appropriate RFC forms from the right treating doctors. The RFC forms are just another tool the lawyer uses to make a case. The limitations from these RFC that are supported by the medical records and statements from your doctors have to be tied into the "theory" of the case. A good lawyer will craft his theory of why the claimant can not work by integrating all the elements of the claim. Many things come into play including age, education, prior work, limitations, objective evidence, subjective evidence, testimony, possibly medical and vocational experts, the listings and many other factors. If you decide you don't need a lawyer it would be a good idea to learn as much as you can about Social Security Disability.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Future of Social Security Disability

What does the future of Social Security Disability claims look like? I expect the new changes bringing SSA into the digital world will have a huge impact on SSDI and SSI claims. SSA is already moving towards paperless files but the technological progress I expect over the next couple of years should really improve the disability process. As it is now on my cases that are paperless I can submit evidence by fax or by sending it over a secure Internet connection. I can even communicate with the ODAR office electronically. If all goes well in the near future lawyers will be able to access the SSA file over the Internet. This will be very beneficial because Lawyers will know exactly what is in the file and what they need to still get. One big advantage to the claimant is that it will eliminate having to get medical records that are already in the file thus saving money by not getting duplicate medical records. By having access to the whole file from start to finish a lawyer will be able to evaluate cases and submit briefs at various stages of the process and hopefully get faster favorable decisions. Not only does this benefit the client but also will help to relief the SSA backlog. If the medical community can become digital, getting records will be as simple as a mouse click. SSA is also moving towards having medical and vocational experts available online thus removing the obstacle of having to schedule these experts for hearings which can cause delays. There are some lawyers who fear that SSA is becoming too digital and that this could take the human element out of these cases. I see it as the only solution to the growing back log at SSA. In my opinion these changes and many others will make for a faster and more fair process for the claimant.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Report from NOSSCR conference.

There are some interesting things I learned at the NOSSCR conference. It appears that SSA's plan to raise the ages in the grid rules will not be done. The theory was that with improvements in health care people are living longer and getting better medical treatment and therefore the ages in the Grid Rules needs to be raised to catch up with the times. It appears that they will not be raising the ages because it would have a negative impact on the poor in this country who do not have the advantage of the better medical treatment. It also appears as if SSA will continue to have an Appeals Council in some form. As part of the new process, Social Security is testing in the Boston area, the Appeals council was eliminated leaving no option to appeal an ALJ's decision except for a suit in federal court. I am glad to see it looks like they will keep the Appeals Council so that non-represented claimants can still make appeals without having to navigate a federal law suit.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I will be going to the NOSSCR conference this week

NOSSCR is an organization of Social Security Disability lawyers and representatives of which I am a member. There should be many interesting topics. I am most looking forward to seeing how the new SSDI and SSI process is going in the Boston area. I will report back on anything I learn. I will also be attending classes on many different topics and will write some posts on anything of interest.

Friday, April 13, 2007

List all medical conditions that cause functional limitations

I am sometimes asked if one should mention only their main medical condition when pursuing Social Security Disability or SSI. No, you should list all the medical conditions you have that cause functional limitations. Some have said they feel if they list to many medical conditions that they think SSA will give less credibility to their most debilitating condition. What you have to remember is Social Security when determining if you are disabled is required to look at all your conditions combined and how it limits you from being able to work. So even though your main medical condition might cause you the most limitations any other limitations from other conditions added on to your main disability limitations may make the difference in your case. An example is, suppose you have a serious back injury that you consider to be your main disability and it severely limits your physical abilities. If you also suffer from asthma although in this case not disabling in itself it does limit you from certain types of environments like dust or smoke. You may also suffer from depression that also might not be disabling by itself in your case but does cause you some limitation in certain areas like memory and concentration. These additional limitations from your less severe conditions could make the difference in your case.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

SSDI Claim For Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is sometimes a tricky condition when it comes to Social Security Disability. There are several things that make these cases sometimes difficult to win. The condition causes the individual to have extreme highs and lows. When someone suffering from this disorder is in a manic phase they tend to be very active and this may give the mistaken appearance to SSA that the claimant has the ability to work. Another potential problem is that people who suffer from this condition sometimes have alcohol or drug abuse issues. Social Security will not find someone disabled if drugs or alcohol is material to a finding of disability. In other words if the substance abuse were taken away would the limitations from the bipolar still be disabling. This can be very difficult to show and it can help to have a statement of the individuals limitations absent drugs or alcohol from the treating psychiatrist. For further reading on the subject see "Social Security Disability and Bipolar Disorder."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Your Doctor and Your Disability Claim

One of the most important parts of your claim is your doctors. Your treating doctors are even more crucial than having a good lawyer. If your doctor feels you are disabled and is willing to help with your claim you have a great start to winning. Social Security gives special weight to treating doctors if their opinion is well supported by the medical evidence. If they have a specialty in treating your condition they are given even more weight. If you have a good RFC or report from your treating doctor that details your limitations that prevent you from working and that opinion is supported by the medical evidence it is very hard for Social Security to deny you.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Social Security Disability and SSI for those over 50

Many of you have heard that if you are 50 years of age or older your chances of getting Social Security Disability are greater. In general this is true but not absolute. The reason I say this is because before you get to step 5 of the process you have to show you can't do prior work at step 4. Click this link to see Social Security's five step process. If your prior relevant work included sedentary work you will first have to show you can't do that work. On the other hand if you only did heavier than sedentary work it is much easier because if you are found to be limited to sedentary work you go to step 5. Getting to step 5 and an evaluation under the Grid Rules is were being 50 years old or more gives you an advantage over younger claimants. This can be a rather confusing topic and you should follow my links above and read those sections carefully to get a full understanding of what I am talking about.

Monday, March 26, 2007

I will be updating progress of new SSDI process

I will be attending a conference of Social Security Disability lawyers in a few weeks. I plan to pay close attention to anything on the new SSA process being tested in the Boston area. I will learn all I can about how it is going and the positive and negative things we can expect when the new process finds its way to all the states. Check back here because I will give my thoughts on how it is going and what it means to you.

Friday, March 23, 2007

How does Social Security determine if you are disabled?

There is a five step process the Social Security Administration uses to determine if you are disabled.
  1. Are you working? If you are working at SGA level SSA will determine you are not disabled. If SSA determines you are not working you go to step 2.
  2. Is your condition "severe"? If SSA determines your condition is not severe you will be denied at this stage. Social Security will find your condition to be severe if it interferes with your ability to do basic work related activities. If your condition is severe you go to step 3.
  3. Does your medical condition meet or equal one of the medical listings of impairments. If it does you will be found disabled? If it does not you will move to next step.
  4. Can you perform your past work? If SSA determines you can perform your past work you will be found not disabled. If they decide you can not perform past work you go to step 5.
  5. Can you do any other work? This is the last and probably most complicated step. It does not mean if there is any job at all out there that you can do Social Security will deny you. SSA uses vocational guidelines sometimes called the GRID Rules. Your age, education and past work experience all come into play here.

These are the steps in the most simple way I could explain them. To get more information on the steps see my web site page called "am I disabled".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

When should I apply for Social Security Disability?

To get SSDI or SSI you must be out of work for at least 1 year or expected to be out of work for a year or more. So if you want to apply before waiting a year you should try and get a letter from your doctor that says he or she feels you will be unable to work for at least a year or more. On the other hand many people for different reasons don't apply as soon as they can. This can be a mistake because you can only get paid for the months 1 year prior to your application in a SSDI case. In SSI you can only get paid from your date of application. So in my opinion apply as soon as you can.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

LTD and Social Security Disability

Many of you applying for Social Security Disability may also be applying for or getting Long Term Disability benefits from an insurance company or employer. One thing you may already know is that the insurance company pays less if you get SSDI. Most LTD policies require that you apply for Social Security Disability Benefits. They may even recommend a representative to help with your Social Security claim. My thoughts on using the insurance companies recommended representative can be found on my other blog at my Ultimate Social Security Disability Guide web site. One issue which you might want to keep in mind is that the LTD policy usually changes the definition of disability after 2 years so many people are denied after getting these benefits for two years. Many insurance companies also only pay for a psychiatric disability for two years. Check your policy and read it carefully. Social Security Disability and Long Term Disability claims when being pursued at the same time can have many issues to deal with so make sure to consult with a lawyer if you have both.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

How to find out what my disability benefits will be.

I am frequently asked how much Social Security Disability benefits will I get if I am found disabled. The best and easiest way to find out is to look at the green paper you get from Social Security every year that outlines your work history. You will find on this paper how much you would get on disability, at retirement and earlier retirement. You will also find how much your children would get if you went on disability. You can also see your date last insured or DLI. This is the date you must show you were disabled before to be eligible for SSDI benefits. If you worked after the date of the letter the numbers may change. If you did not get this green letter you can request a copy from SSA. Supplemental Security Income claims are different. To see how these benefits are calculated go to my web site page called SSI.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Social Security Disability Hearing

One of the most intimidating aspects of a Social Security Disability Claim is the hearing before an Administrative Law Judge or ALJ. I hope I can help you relax by explaining what to expect at the hearing. The ALJ will direct and decide on the case. There will also be a reporter present who records all that is said at the hearing but will not be involved other than that. If you chose you can have a lawyer or other representative with you. In some cases there will be a Vocational Expert (VE) and/or Medical Expert (ME). The VE is there to give opinions on work related matters. The ME is there to give opinions on medical matters. I do recommend if you have a hearing to get a social security disability lawyer to assist you. A lawyer or representative who has handled many hearings can go over the types of questions you can expect and present your case. If there is going to be a VE or ME at your hearing it is even more recommended you have a lawyer because it can be difficult to cross examine these experts. The procedure will go something like the following. The ALJ will make some opening remarks about the procedure and law. After he is done either the ALJ or lawyer will begin the questioning. To see the types of questions asked and more see my web page on the Social Security Disability Hearing. Most hearings are held in small rooms and not big court rooms and the procedure is fairly informal. The best advice I can give is to try not to be nervous but don't worry if you get upset or cry this is common.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

How does age affect Social Security Disability?

Many of you have heard that the older you are the better chance you have of winning Social Security Disability Benefits. This is for the most part true especially if you are over 50 years old. The theory is that older individuals are less likely to be able to make vocational adjustments. This does not apply to those who meet a listing. It comes into play if you don't meet a listed impairment. To understand how age can affect your claim you should have an understanding of the GRID Rules. To know when the GRID Rules come into play you need to know how Social Security determines if you are disabled. Even if you are over 50 years old if you performed a sedentary job in the past 15 years your claim can be as difficult to win as someone who is younger. This is because before you get to the GRID Rules you have to show you can't perform prior work. It is much harder to show you can't do a sedentary job than say a light or medium job. To understand the concept of how age affects your disability claim you should first study my page on how SSA determines if you are disabled and then look at the page on the GRID Rules.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

What is most important to get Social Security Disability?

There is allot of things to learn to have a successful SSDI or SSI claim. If you are handling the claim without a lawyer you need to know the Social Security Disability Process. You also need to know how Social Security determines if you are disabled. I included links to my website which explains both of these. Whether you have a lawyer or not the most important thing you can do to help win your claim is to make sure you get all of your relevant medical records in. Even if you submit all your treating sources records and hospital records you are not done. You should also have Residual Functional Capacity forms or RFC forms from your treating doctors. These forms will show the limitations you have from your medical conditions. It is ultimately these limitations from your medical conditions and not the medical conditions themselves that will help get you found disabled. Even if your medical condition meets a listed impairment it is extremely important that your doctor says so.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Social Security Disability and SSI

I frequently get asked the difference between Social Security Disability and SSI. Social Security Disability is availble to people who have worked and paid taxes into the Social Security System. When you work you earn credits twords being eligible. You can earn up to 4 credits per year. You need a total of 40 credits to be eligible for benefits. For people who are very young you may need less than 40 credits. The date you are covered untill for disability is called your date of last insured or DLI. You must be found disabled prior to this date. If you worked consistently your DLI is usually 5 years after you stopped working.

Supplemental Security Income or SSI on the other hand is a needs based program and the funds come from the general tax revenues. SSI is for low income people who are aged blind or disabled. You must have less than $2,000 in resources or $3,000 if you are married. For more on SSI eligibility see my page on SSI.

To see tips on how to get disability benefits see my page "How to win Social Security Disability".