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I am excited to have been asked to teach at a NBI Social Security Disability Seminar “Social Security Claims from A to Z”  A Practical Walkthrough of the Claim Process, in Indianapolis on December 16, 2019 at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Downtown Union Station, 123 West Louisiana Street, Indianapolis, IN.  (The seminar offers 6 hours of CLE for Indiana attorneys.)  My topics include “Evidentiary Issues in Disability Claims” and “Writing the Brief and Preparing for the Hearing.”

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The Thanksgiving holiday allows all of us to take time out of our busy everyday lives to reflect on all of the benefits our great country has given us and the support of our family and friends.  Our offices will be closed Thursday, Thanksgiving day and Friday so we can spend time with our families and loved ones.  Happy Thanksgiving everybody!iStock-1043185044-300x200


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Does the need for a cane, walkers or wheelchair impact te decision in a Social Security disability case?  Maybe.  Cane, walkers and wheelchairs are known as assistive devices.  At bottom, they are needed to help a person walk.  Assistive devices come in all shapes, types and sizes.  For example, a cane may be a single point cane (cane with one point at the bottom) or a “quad” cane (a cane with 4 points at the bottom).  Sometimes a person may need a cane in each hand.  More often, a person only needs to use a cane in one hand. Continue reading

 

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On December 17, 2018, the Social Security Administration published an advanced notice of proposed rule making in the Federal Register [83 Fed. Reg. 64493] asking for public input about whether the way in which Social Security considers pain in connection with its determination of disability is consistent with current trends in medicine and medical practices.  The public has until February 15, 2019 in which to submit comments. Continue reading

Fotolia_175061860_XS-300x199What is a Social Security Video Teleconference Hearing?  A video teleconference hearing (“VTC”) is a hearing at which the administrative law judge appears from a remote hearing location and the Social Security claimant and his/her attorney is at another hearing location.  The “video teleconference” part is how the judge and the claimant see one another.  They see and hear one another by means of a secure link through a type of a television.  A VTC hearing is similar to “Face Time” or “Skype.”  The claimant and his/her attorney still meet at the Office of Hearings Operations.  (In Indiana, those hearing offices are located at: Market Square Center, Suite 400, 151 North Delaware, Indianapolis; 6511 Brotherhood Way, Ft. Wayne; Old Post Office 100 NW Second Street, Continue reading

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Today marks the 22nd day of the government shutdown.  This government shutdown is now the longest in modern U.S. history, exceeding the shutdown in 1995-1996.  As many know, there are about 800,000 federal government employees effected by the shutdown.  The departments whose agencies have been impacted include the departments of Transportation, State, Treasury, Homeland Security, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development.  That leaves the departments of Defense, Labor, Education, Veterans Affairs, Energy and Health and Human Services.  Social Security is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.  So, Social Security remans untouched by the shutdown.  Or is it?

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Over the last few years, the Social Security Administration has changed the way it decides disability cases.  The new key word is consistency.   The Commissioner of Social Security now looks for consistency in medical diagnoses, the medical chart of the claimants and consistency in the activities of daily living of claimants.  So, what exactly are “activities of daily living?”

A short answer is activities of daily living includes the things people do on a daily basis.  Often, Social Security asks what a person applying for disability does from the time she wakes until the time she goes to bed.  Because this is a very general question, Social Security often asks more detailed questions.

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A question I am asked nearly every week is “can I work and at the same time apply for Social Security disability benefits?”  This question makes perfect sense.  Some people feel, because of sickness or injury, that they can no longer work in the same way that they were able to work when they were much younger.  They are ready to stop working and receive disability, a benefit for which they paid “into” for years.  They want to avoid a gap in money coming into the household between the time they stop working and the time they begin to receive disability benefits.  Other people have determined that the money they might receive from Social Security disability will not be sufficient to pay their ongoing debts.  Therefore, they wish to “supplement” their monthly Social Security disability benefit by working.  Others, who have stopped working due to illness or injury, begin to feel better after a while.  They want to test their ability to work while their disability application is being considered.

The answer to the question is complicated.  Social Security’s federal disability programs are rooted in the concept that a person who is too sick or injured to engage in work activity should receive disability payments.  So what is “work activity” in the Social Security world?

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The recent celebrity deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have reignited a national conversation about death by suicide.  According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are about 123 suicides a day.  For each suicide, there are 25 attempts.  Men commit suicide 3.5 times more frequently than women.  Death by suicide is a leading cause of death in the U.S.  In  fact, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate has increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016 (only Nevada showed a decease in the suicide rate of 1%).  While somewhat counter intuitive, a lack of a history of mental illness is not an accurate predictor of whether a person will commit suicide.  In fact, about 54% of the people who committed suicide were not diagnosed with a mental health condition when they died.  The experts have not identified one single issue or cause for the reason people commit suicide.  There are a number of factors which are felt to contribute to death by suicide.  These factors include health, abuse, job, money, legal, housing and relationships.  (The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll free number is 1-800-273-8255.)

Social Security does not recognize the possibility of “suicide” by itself as a disabling condition.  Similarly, Social Security does not award disability to the survivor of a person who committed suicide, just because the person committed suicide.  However, Social Security does identify suicidal risk as a condition which, when combined with other signs and symptoms, may form the basis of an award for Social Security disability benefits.  For example, when evaluating whether a person’s depressive disorder meets or equals listing 12.04, the person’s depression must be characterized by at least five of nine separate symptoms listed by the Commissioner.  One of the nine symptoms include “thoughts of death or suicide.”

The Social Security Administration does recognize “suicidal tendencies ” as a basis for expedited handling and ruling of an application for disability and for an appeal for disability.  The rules for the Social Security staff designating a case as “critical” (and therefore entitled to expedited handling) is basic “the OHO staff may designate the case as critical if there is an indication that the claimant is suicidal.” (HALLEX I-1-2-1-40.)  It is likely that the claimant’s statements to the OHO staff are not enough to have the case designated suicidal.  Normally, the staff requires medical documentation to support suicidal tendencies.  The medical documentation must, normally, be supported by the findings or conclusions of a medical provider.  An advocate for the claimant should consider filing a request to have the case declared “critical” because the medical record supports the conclusion suicidal risks.  In my experience, the Social Security staff is well trained in the area of whether a case should be expedited due to suicidal risks.

 

 

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