Articles Posted in Social Security Disability

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Social Security offices are closed on Monday, January throughout the country.  The reason for the one day closure is the observance of the Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (sometimes referred to as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day or MLK day).

This federal holiday recognizes the legacy of Dr. King and the contributions he made to the advancement of civil rights (outlawing racial discrimination) in the United States. Dr. King devoted his life to the cause of civil rights until his life ended by an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968.  A day earlier, on April 3, 1968, Dr. King had flown to Memphis, Tennessee to speak at a rally to support of the Memphis garbage workers strike.  He was 39 years old when he was murdered.  On April 11, 1968, only a few days after Dr. King’s death, the U.S. Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  The Civil Rights Act of 1968 is a broad law which includes protection for persons of color and protection for Native Americans.  The Act also outlaws discrimination in housing (The Fair Housing Act).  In 1988 Congress expanded the Civil Rights Act to protect, among other people, people with disabilities. Continue reading

Fotolia_175061860_XS-300x199Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) issued a warning. The warning concerned the manner in which patients take certain drugs.  The drugs are two commonly prescribed drugs: gabapentin and pregabalin.  The FDA found after extensive study that these drugs may cause serious, even life threatening, breathing issues.

The FDA found that these breathing issues may occur when a patient takes either gabapentin or pregabalin in combination with drugs known as CNS depressants.  Gabapentin and pregabalin may also cause the same problems if taken by patients who are elderly or who already have respiratory issues.  The breathing problems are found to happen even if the gabapentin or pregablin are not taken in combination with a CNS depressant. Continue reading

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Starting January 8, 2020, all Social Security field offices will open on Wednesdays from 9 am to 4 pm.

On January 1, 2013, the Social Security Administration reduced its Wednesday hours for the over 1,220 filed offices in the United States.  The offices, as of that date, closed on Wednesday at noon to the public.  The reduction of hours were caused by budget cuts.  The business model allowed the Social Security employees to work on Wednesday afternoon but without having to see walk-ins.  In that way, Social Security employees could process claim work, uninterrupted, and reduce the need to pay overtime.  At the same time, the Social Security Administration began to emphasize its on-line options to obtain basic Social Security services at www.ssa.gov.  Within the Social Security Administration’s web site, a person could apply for disability.  That person could also appeal an unfavorable decision regarding an application for disability benefits.  (Social Security’s web site also allows for a number of other things to be accomplished without the need of going into a local office.  These things include: applying for retirement benefits or Medicare benefits.  A person could also notify the Social Security Administration of a change of address, or establish direct deposit.) Continue reading

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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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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

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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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