Articles Posted in The Basics of Social Security Disability Law

Before considering an application for Social Security disability benefits, or for that matter, an appeal of your denial, it is always a good idea to have the advice, and potentially assistance, of a Social Security disability lawyer.  Without even having to call our office, ask yourself these very important questions before you make that next call.

First and foremost, ask yourself what makes you believe that your illness or injury will keep you from working any job, making simply $1180.00 per month (that is to say, undertake gainful employment) on a regular and continuing basis for what will be a year or longer.   If you are unable to clearly answer that question of duration, any application you might bring yourself or with the aid of a lawyer will be lacking conviction in its truth.

Instead, consider whether an attempt at returning to work may be possible and consider waiting to see what course your health might take: the Social Security rules do provide incentives for attempts at returning to work and should you find yourself back out of work shortly thereafter as a result of your medical condition, you will not find that this attempt at work works against you. Continue Reading ›

The Social Security process is a complex and cumbersome process to say the least.   Without the guidance of a capable Social Security lawyer, it can become overwhelming trying to understand why things are happening the way they are, especially at your hearing.  Why the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) is turning to a vocational expert in the first place can be confusing.  Even more upsetting to a claimant can be when you hear that vocational expert testify that you can be returning to a job such as a surveillance system monitor (with most wondering what that job even is).

For the ALJ to call a Vocational Expert (VE) to testify is a quite common practice  These individuals are considered experts in the field of vocational placement of workers, with knowledge of the employment landscape both regionally (where the claimant resides) and in the national economy.

The purpose of having a VE at your hearing is to provide the presiding ALJ with an assessment of the types of past work you have performed (within the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled, called your past relevant work), your educational background and the extent to which you have acquired skills that might transfer to occupations other than what you may have performed in the past.   They are then called to testify as to the availability of jobs either regionally or in the national economy that might be available for someone such as you (that is, based on your particular vocational background). Continue Reading ›

There is nothing more stressful than waiting for your Social Security disability hearing.  Assuming claim is out of Maine or Massachusetts, you have likely been waiting for the better part of 2 years to get in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) having been denied twice at the initial and reconsideration levels.  Assuming your case is out of New Hampshire, you are only slightly more fortunate as you bypass a reconsideration process which carries with it a very high denial rate: and so you’ve also been waiting for what has likely been a year and a half following your initial denial.

One of the most common questions we hear leading up to our clients’ hearings is what can I do to to prepare?  The first thing we will tell you that is that being nervous is normal and healthy.  We would worry more if our clients weren’t worried.  Obviously, you’ve been sitting at home, unable to go to work and your family’s  financial resources having dwindled.

For many of our clients, their significant other/spouse is gone working during the day (many times working 2 jobs) just to make ends meet.  The only thing you have to do while at home is sit and think what the future holds.  Given this, it’s important to understand that there are things you can do to feel more confident going into the hearing.    Continue Reading ›

According to a release from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), more than 100 million U.S. Citizens are suffering from either diabetes or prediabetes.   It is quite common in our practice to represent individuals who are either disabled from working either partly or wholly because of this condition.  For those considering an application for Social Security disability benefits, it’s important to keep a number of items in mind when proceeding with a claim that involves Diabetes Mellitus (DM).

There are two major categories of Diabetes Mellitus (DM): Type I, which is known as insulin dependent diabetes,results from a lack of insulin production in the pancreas as a result of what has been an autoimmune destruction of insulin producing cells.  In turn, the lack of insulin production results in increased blood glucose levels.  Symptoms associated with high glucose levels can include increased thirst, appetite, urination, unexplained weight loss, fatigue or drowsiness, trouble concentrating, headaches as well as blurred vision.   Type I diabetes, has also been known as juvenile-onset diabetes, as it presents most often with children (although it can rear its head at any age).

Type II DM, which has also been referred to as adult-onset diabetes (or non-insulin dependent) diabetes results from a lack of production of insulin by the pancreas, or one remains resistant to the transfer of insulin to one’s body cells (otherwise known as insulin resistant diabetes).  Symptoms can be similar to those present with Type I.  Type II DM is most common with those who are either obese or who have a family history of DM.  The condition can many times be treated through diet and exercise at earlier stages of the illness.  However, where diet and exercise are no longer proving fruitful, oral medication or daily insulin may need to be introduced. Continue Reading ›

We are many times called by individuals who have been denied their Social Security disability claim (whether it be on their initial claim, reconsideration or at hearing) despite what they inform us is their doctor’s supportive letter.   It is not uncommon to see a disability claimant simply asking their doctor for a letter describing their disability, or a note that says they remain unable to work, and then they are surprised to find that they have been denied nonetheless.

The Social Security Regulations spell out a 5 step evaluation process that is rather complex, and in order to obtain useful information from a medical provider, it’s important to know what needs to be proven in order to qualify for benefits.  First and foremost, one needs to prove that they are suffering from a medically determinable severe impairment in accordance with Step 2 of the sequential evaluation process.  If one has not established through objective medical examination and/or testing that a medically diagnosed condition exists, any opinions from one’s treating doctors that one may be somehow limited in their ability to work cannot even be considered.

Once a medically determinable impairment has been established, it’s important to understand that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has a set of regulations that governs what evidence can be considered (and in what way).   For Social Security disability claims that have been filed on or after March 27, 2017, the Social Security rules have been amended so as to make clear the Agency’s position that no source opinion (whether it is from one’s own medical doctor or from a consultative examiner SSA sends one to, is automatically entitled to a greater weight of consideration).  For claims that have been filed prior to March 27, 2017, a treating source’s opinion is entitled to great weight and deference if in fact it “is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques” and it is not inconsistent with substantial evidence in the record.  Continue Reading ›

And so you find yourself in the position of having pursued your Social Security disability claim for years.  You’ve applied and been denied repeatedly, and finally in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).   Now you face the prospect of having to start the process all over again.   The question now arises as to whether you will lose your rights to any benefits for the time period leading up to that ALJ denial.  You are now faced with the possibility that even if you were to be successful on a new application, benefits may not be payable the time period that has already been decided by the ALJ.

The Res Judicata doctrine (with the words Res Judicata meaning the thing having been decided) raises its head in any situation where an ALJ has issued an unfavorable decision in your case and where that decision is not facing the possibility of further appeal.  Thus, the issue arises where no further appeal has been taken and is pending before the Appeals Council, or if the decision was upheld at the Appeals Council level and either no further appeal has been undertaken or was denied at the Federal District Court level (and then no further appeal was timely taken at that point)  Failing to pursue the matter further, within the time period prescribed for appeal following a denial, will cause the ALJ unfavorable decision to be come final.  Continue Reading ›

There is nothing more frustrating when representing someone in their Social Security disability claim than hearing that a longstanding medical provider is not willing to address a residual functional capacity questionnaire.  These forms are meant to address in a rather organized fashion: 1) the nature of the contact they have had with the patient, 2) the diagnoses, prognoses, symptomatology and objective signs related to the conditions for which they are treating them and 3) the patient’s residual functional capacity (that is, the extent to which they remain limited in terms of undertaking functions necessary for a potential work environment).

The Social Security disability regulations provide that in order to find one disabled from a medically determinable severe impairment, an acceptable source must establish a diagnosis of that medical condition.   Once that takes place, it is vital that the treating source address the extent to which one remains impacted in terms of their ability to perform such functions as sitting, standing, walking for a length of time, the extent to which they can lift and carry, bend, stoop, etc.

Likewise, in a case involving mental health impairments, it is just as important that the treating physician (preferably, a psychiatrist and/or psychiatrist) has established a diagnosis/diagnoses.  It is then critical that an acceptable medical source (which now can include a physician assistant or a advanced practice registered nurse, who specialize in mental health) set forth the extent to which their patient remains impaired in terms of their ability to undertake such activities as maintaining their attention and concentration, dealing with normal work stress, interacting with the public, coworkers and supervisors, etc. Continue Reading ›

Contrary to the beliefs of many who have been denied their Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, it is important to understand that the Social Security disability program set up to administer the review of disability claims is a non-adversarial process.   The rules are set up in such a way as to provide a neutral review of one’s disability claim.

The initial application process requires that an individual claimant first submit information to the Social Security Administration (SSA) which will allow the agency to not only obtain all of the necessary medical documentation from one’s treatment providers but also review information as to how the claimant’s daily activities and ability to work is hindered.  The application forms likewise allows the Agency to determine one’s educational and work background as these areas of information are critical to the ultimate determination as to whether one may meet a medical listing of impairment and two, if not, if the individual remains incapable of returning to any of one’s past relevant work (work performed during the 15 year period prior to becoming disabled) or any other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.

The initial material that is gathered on the application form, along with a signed medical authorization from the claimant, is then transferred to the state agency responsible for making the actual disability determination for the Federal Government in each state.  In Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, this is referred to as the Disability Determination Services (DDS).  In Maine, the office is located in the capital of Augusta, in New Hampshire, the office is located in Concord and in Massachusetts, there are offices in Boston and Worcester.    Once the case is transferred from one’s local Social Security Administration office (referred to as the District Office) to DDS, a disability claims examiner (or adjudicator) is then assigned to work on the case.  They are given the task of  ensuring that all of the relevant treatment records are obtained that are both listed in your application or that are subsequently pointed out to DDS by the claimant or their representative.   The DDS adjudicator is not, however, provided with the responsibility of obtaining helpful documentation from one’s treatment providers that might support a finding that one either meets a medical listing of impairment or remains disabled from performing one’s past relevant work or other work. Continue Reading ›

We can all recall being told as children to sit up straight at the dinner table.  And yet for those who are suffering from a severe medical impairment, such as a severe back or neck condition (whether from issues with arthritis or from a herniated disk that is causing issues with radiculopathy), sitting in a chair at a kitchen table upright can be quite painful.  Similarly, those suffering from painful nerve conditions such as diabetic neuropathy may find it quite painful to have their feet on the ground.

A Social Security disability claim requires one to prove that they remain disabled from performing any manner of employment, making gainful wages on a regular and continuing basis, as a result of a severe medical impairment.   Just as was the case growing up, maintaining a certain posture is important to the successful performance of many types of jobs.  Any job requires that one be able to undertake some combination of sitting, standing or walking.  No job is going to allow one to recline or lie down during the day.  For those that work at a desk position, it is difficult to do so from a reclining position, and certainly attempting to recline at a job (even a sit/stand option position) is not going to go over well with an employer.

The Social Security regulations recognize the fact that one’s ability to perform a job successfully will depend on one’s age, education, work experience, potentially transferable skills and physical and/or mental health limitations. For those who are 50 years old or older, the Social Security regulations include a set of rules that take into account the above factors (called the Vocational Medical Guidelines, or Grid rules) and, in doing so, consider the difficulties older individuals who have worked more physical jobs will have in transferring to sedentary work.

Continue Reading ›

When considering an application for Social Security disability benefits for Multiple Sclerosis (MS), there are a number of considerations one should keep in mind.  Given the different types of MS and the manner in which the condition can progress differently for each individual, the advice will differ depending on the individual.

There are four major categories of Multiple Sclerosis: 1) Relapsing Remitting MS, 2) Primary Progressive MS, 3) Secondary Progressive MS and 4) Progressive Relapsing MS.   The different categories are important to understand as, ultimately, in a Social Security disability claim, one needs to show that their condition will remain severe and disabling such that the individual will remain totally disabled from all forms of gainful employment for what will be a year or longer.

The most common form of Multiple Sclerosis is Relapsing Remitting MS, which affects the vast majority of individuals suffering from MS. This form of MS ordinarily presents the first signs of the disease to those in their early 20’s.  The initial symptoms may or may not be severe, and many times those with this stage of the condition will find that by undertaking rehabilitation, such as physical therapy, they will recover from most if not all of any loss of function and will experience what is called a remission of their condition for what can be weeks, months or for that matter years.   Continue Reading ›

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