Archive for the ‘Social Security Disability’ Category

How much will I get in Social Security Disability benefits?

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If you are unable to work due to your medical conditions, you may wonder how much money you would receive from Social Security Disability. I wish I could give you a precise number, but the answer is it is different for every single person and based on the money you earned and paid taxes on over your lifetime.

The more money you made throughout your life, the higher your Social Security Disability benefits will be. The average Social Security Disability benefit for the disabled worker as of August of 2017 is $ 1,171.84.

The Social Security Administration typically sends you a “Social Security Statement” which will list out the amount of your benefits based on your individual earnings record. If you can’t find your Social Security Statement and have access to the Internet, you can find out what your Social Security Disability benefit amount would be by creating an account on “My Social Security”. Once you create an account, you can see your earnings history and print out a Social Security Statement showing exactly how much you would get if approved for Social Security Disability.

Certain other family members, including minor children living with you, can also receive Social Security benefits on your earnings record if you are unable to work due to your medical conditions. The amount others can receive on your earnings record depends on a number of factors, but it is also shown in the Social Security Statement.

Unfortunately, getting the Social Security Administration to approve you for disability benefits can be a long and challenging process. I recommend consulting an attorney, such as myself, who specializes in this type of case if you are considering filing.

What if my Social Security Disability application is denied?

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What can I do if my Social Security Disability application is denied?

Well, the first thing I would advise is to try not to take it personally and try not to panic.

I know it can be alarming and disheartening when medical conditions have prevented you from working and the Social Security disability benefits you thought would be there for you in your time of need are denied. It is hard not to feel like the government is personally insulting you by denying your case. However, most people who apply for Social Security Disability benefits are initially denied them.

The good news is that you have the right to appeal this denial and that many, many people who are initially denied end up winning the Social Security Disability benefits they need. The first step to take if you are denied Social Security Disability benefits is to file an appeal, which is done by requesting “reconsideration” of the initial decision.

As a practical matter, you request reconsideration by filing one of Social Security’s forms, the SSA-561-U2. You can obtain this form at your local Social Security Administration Offices, or you can file it online by clicking here.

You can also hire a lawyer to represent you in your Social Security case, and they can handle all the paperwork for you. There is a very important time limit to file this appeal, which is 60 days from when you received your initial denial.

At the Deuterman Law Group we handle appeals of initial Social Security Disability denials and are very familiar with the process and how to best prepare your case. Give us a call if you think we may be able to help you.

Can I get Social Security Disability for Fibromyalgia?

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Does Social Security Disability Recognize Fibromyalgia as a Real Condition?

Fibromyalgia is a frequently misunderstood and very real medical condition that affects a person with widespread pain throughout their body. It took the Social Security Administration a very long time to believe that statement.

Only in 2012 did Social Security issue guidelines for how they will evaluate fibromyalgia when someone applies for Social Security Disability. Yet, the condition was first identified in 1904 by Sir William Gowers. The modern definition was outlined in 1972 by Dr. Hugh Smythe.

Forty years later, Social Security caught up with modern medicine. With Social Security Ruling 12-2p, the regulations for evaluating fibromyalgia as a disability were set.

How Do I Get Social Security Disability for Fibromyalgia?

With the establishment of SSR 12-2p, Social Security outlined exactly what you have to prove in order to win your claim for disability. It’s no surprise that the majority of the evidence that Social Security will require must come from a doctor.

How much weight the doctor’s opinion is given in your case can be affected by what kind of doctor makes the diagnosis. For example, a family doctor who makes an official diagnosis of fibromyalgia may not be considered the same way as a rheumatologist who makes that same diagnosis. That’s because a rheumatologist is an expert in systemic (whole body) musculoskeletal diseases and autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia.

Social Security will also consider other information that you provide, such as statements from your spouse or family about how your condition has affected you. The condition itself has to have lasted for 12 months or has to be expected to last for twelve months – usually not a problem for someone with a diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

If Social Security isn’t clear about your diagnosis, they can also send you to a doctor they choose, often called a Consultative Examination. Social Security pays for this evaluation and if you get scheduled for one, it’s very important that you attend and that you tell the doctor everything that is wrong with you.

What If I Have Other Conditions Along With My Fibromyalgia?

More often than not, it’s been my experience that people who are affected by fibromyalgia are also suffering from other conditions. For example frequently clients will have several conditions which affect their entire body like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome — which is NOT the same thing as fibromyalgia! — and Chronic Pain Syndrome.

Our clients will be on many different medications to try to control their pain and those medications can cause their own problems. It’s important then to make sure that when Social Security is given information about a client’s condition that the entire disability picture is presented.
We make sure to get records from every treating source and to get the information from our clients to be able to demonstrate to Social Security the full impact of disability on their lives.

Fibromyalgia is a very real condition that affects more than 5 million people What causes fibromyalgia isn’t yet known, but we do know how it affects people. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, tenderness, headaches, numbness, tingling, real fatigue, confusion, problems with memory and more.
It is a condition that is hard to treat and frequently requires a team of doctors and professionals to address the condition to just allow the patient to function.

If fibromyalgia has taken away your ability to work and you’re applying for Social Security Disability, or if you’ve been denied and turned down for Social Security Disability for fibromyalgia, feel free to call our office for help. We understand your frustration, and we would be happy to help you.

What happens at a Social Security Disability pre-hearing conference

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social security disability prehearing conference

As we’ve explained here before, most people who apply for Social Security Disability are initially denied benefits. Many applicants must submit go through several appeals, waiting years and dealing with miles of red tape, before they get to the point where they can argue their case before a judge.

If you are denied initially, your best chance at being approved for disability benefits is during one of these hearings before an administrative law judge who works for the Social Security Administration. I think applicants who have an attorney represent them are much more likely to win benefits than those who do not.

The Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, ODAR for short, is the part of the Social Security Administration that holds hearings for those who have been denied Social Security disability benefits. Many people who have to go to a hearing are represented by an attorney, who helps gather evidence, explain the law and issues to you, and present the law and facts of your case to the judge.

But there are some applicants who do not have an attorney at this stage. The local ODAR, including ours in Greensboro, will sometimes schedule pre-hearing conferences for people who don’t have representation. If you get a notice of a pre-hearing conference, do not ignore it.  We also strongly recommend that you seek the representation of a qualified attorney who can help you prepare the strongest case possible.

At a pre-hearing conference, you will be asked about the medical treatment you have been receiving.  The burden to provide evidence to support your disability is on you, and so it is up to you to provide the medical evidence about your mental and physical conditions that keep you from being able to work.

ODAR will sometimes try to obtain these records itself, but in my experience, they often leave out important records.

During the conference, Social Security will also inform you of your right to be represented at your hearing.

Your representative does not have to be an attorney, but I always recommend that people get an attorney to represent them. Attorneys better understand the law and the regulations, in my experience, and can do the best job analyzing and presenting your case to the judge.

If your Social Security Disabilty claim has been denied and you are waiting for a pre-hearing conference or a conference, contact our office to find out how we can help.

Social Security Disability – Spotlight on Migraine Headaches

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Migraine headaches are a very common problem affecting many people. According to the Migraine Research Foundation, migraine headaches affect 38 million men, women and children in the United States.

Most of those afflicted with migraine headaches experience them infrequently, perhaps once a month. But for some they can be frequent and debilitating to the point where it is impossible to hold down a job. According to MRF, more than 4 million people have chronic daily migraines, experiencing at least 15 per month. Most people find it impossible to work or function during a migraine.

Migraine headaches can be the basis of a successful claim for Social Security Disability. It is important to get medical treatment, particularly with a neurologist, who is best trained to diagnose and treat migraines. Regular treatment with a neurologist will hopefully provide you some relief and will also document the nature and frequency of your migraines.

If you’ve ever experienced a migraine, you know that it is much more than just a “bad headache.”

Symptoms may include visual disturbances or auras, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to sound, light, touch and smell and tingling or numbness in the extremities or face. They can last anywhere from four hours to three days.

Between doctor visits, it is a good idea to keep track of how often you are having severe migraine headaches. You can share this information with your doctor and also with the Social Security Administration as you file your claim for benefits. Use your calendar to document how often you experience migraine headaches and how debilitating they are. Just quickly jot down the symptom, length of the headache and any other specifics.

The chances of winning your Social Security Disability case depends on a lot of factors, including how frequent and how debilitating your migraines are and how well they respond to treatment.

I always recommend people with migraines enlist the help of an attorney to help them present their case to the Social Security Administration. Contact our office to find out how we can help.


Social Security Disability – Spotlight on Osteoarthritis

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social security disability and osteoarthritis

I have been asked several times recently, “Can I be approved for Social Security Disability based on osteoarthritis?”

The answer is that many people are approved for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security income based solely on osteoarthritis. However, like almost all medical conditions that can form a basis for a Social Security Disability claim, the diagnosis of osteoarthritis alone is not enough.

The most important factors are

  • where you have the osteoarthritis
  • how severe it is
  • how well you have responded to treatment
  • how severely it affects what you are able to do.

Osteoarthritis is very common, especially as we age. It can affect many different joints in the body, but the joints that I see most often in connection with disability cases are the knees and the hips.

It makes sense because knees and hips are some of the joints that help us stand, walk, stoop, and generally help us get around, which are functions important to most jobs. Fortunately medical treatment can often alleviate or at least improve symptoms of osteoarthritis, but this is not true for everyone.

In addition to medications and lifestyle changes (such as losing weight) sometimes surgery can improve your ability to function, such as artificial joint replacements.

When it comes to Social Security disability, how severe your osteoarthritis is, how well it has responded to treatment, and how it affects what you are able to do on a daily basis are some of the most important factors that the Social Security Administration will consider.

If you are unable to work because of osteoarthritis and are considering applying for Social Security Disability, it is very important that you are getting medical treatment to document the nature and extent of your osteoarthritis, and to hopefully get you some relief from your symptoms.

The Social Security administration will consider what you say about how your osteoarthritis affects you, but they often give more weight to what your doctor says about the nature and severity of your medical problems.

Getting approved for Social Security Disability when you have COPD

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In my last post I talked about how COPD is evaluated in people seeking Social Security Disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits.  I also talked about how you can meet a “listing” for COPD, but noted that often times people cannot show that they meet the listings.

Today, I’d like to talk a little bit about how you can still be approved for SSDI and SSI benefits on the basis of COPD.

If you do not meet a listing, the evaluator has to determine what’s called your “residual functional capacity” and then compare that to the types of jobs you have done in the past and other jobs available in the national economy to decide if you are disabled.

Your residual functional capacity is basically the most you are able to do despite your COPD and any other medical and psychiatric conditions you may have. When determining your residual functional capacity, the evaluator is supposed to consider how the symptoms you have from COPD affect your ability to function day-to-day, to determine if your COPD would prevent you from doing any full-time job.

In my experience, people with COPD will often have environmental limitations on their potential work. For example, some people have to avoid any exposure to dust, smoke and fumes because it worsens their COPD.  This can prevent them from working in certain environments, such as in industrial settings with smoke and fumes or in dusty outdoor settings such as construction.

Some people with COPD cannot tolerate very hot or cold temperatures, or extreme humidity, because of how it affects their COPD. These limitations could prevent them from working any job outside, as well as inside jobs where they could be exposed to heat or cold.

In addition to environmental problems, some of the most debilitating limitations from COPD can be exertional.  Exertional limitations  affect your ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, push, and pull in the course of a workday.

COPD can cause you to be short of breath and unable to continue walking after just a few minutes. It can also prevent you from lifting heavy objects, and even from standing for long periods of time.

It is important to show the evaluator how your COPD affects your functional abilities on a day to day basis in these and other areas, and ultimately how your COPD prevents you from being able to work a full-time job.  Environmental as well as exertional limitations are often what prevent people with COPD from being able to work.

I always recommend that people with COPD enlist the help of an attorney to help them present their case to the Social Security Administration. Contact our office to find out how we can help.

Social Security Disability: Spotlight on COPD

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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is one of the most common lung diseases, and it can make it very hard for you to breathe.

Sometimes the symptoms of COPD are severe enough to prevent you from working any full time job, causing you to have to file for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, also known as SSDI. You have to have worked and paid enough into the system through paying taxes to get SSDI benefits.

However, even if you do not have a work history or do not have enough “work credits” to get Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, it is still possible to file for Supplemental Security Income benefits, or SSI,  on the basis of COPD. I’d like to talk a little bit about how claims for both SSDI and SSI on the basis of COPD are evaluated.

The Social Security Administration uses a five step sequential analysis when deciding claims that is honestly more confusing than it needs to be. In a later blog post I will talk about these steps more in depth.

For now, I will summarize Step 1 as asking if you have a severe medical problem. (If yes, go on to Step 2).

Step 2 asks if you are working and making more than the limit. Assuming you are not, you go onto Step 3, which is when the Social Security Administration looks to see if you meet a “listing,” which is a prescribed set of criteria that is different for different medical conditions. If you meet a listing, you should be approved for benefits. But that’s not the only way for you to be approved for SSDI or SSI benefits for COPD.

There is a listing for COPD, Listing 3.02.

It specifies different values a person could have based on standardized tests – pulmonary function studies (the most common), exercise blood gas studies and carbon dioxide diffusing capacity.

To determine if you meet a listing, you have to compare your results on these tests (along with your particular circumstances, such as your height) to the values in the listing.

For example, according to the listing, a person with COPD who is 5 feet 8 inches tall (or 68 inches) would have to have an FEV1 value on a pulmonary function study (also called spirometry) of 1.45 or less.

Sometimes people are unable to show that they meet the listings because they have not had these tests, which can be very expensive. The listing criteria are also pretty difficult to meet. It is possible to be debilitated and unable to work because of your COPD, even if your test results do not meet the listing criteria.

If you are not found to meet the listings, it is still possible to be approved for Social Security Disability benefits. I will talk a little more about this in my next blog post.

North Carolina disability denial rates

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When it comes to your chances of getting approved for Social Security Disability Benefits initially, or upon the first appeal (called “reconsideration”), the state you live in makes a difference.  

Charles Hall’s excellent Social Security blog posted some interesting statistics about initial and reconsideration denial rates last August, which he got from NOSSCR, the National Organization of Social Secuirty Claimants’ Representatives. 

The stats show in Fiscal Year 2013,  72.2 percent of disability claims in North Carolina were denied initially. This is higher than the national average of 67 percent of claims denied initially.  

At the reconsideration level, in North Carolina 90.4o percent of claims are denied.  This is again higher than the national average of 88.6 percent denied at reconsideration.

Due to these high denial rates many claimants in North Carolina have to appeal their reconsideration denial by requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Unfortunately, due to Social Security disability backlogs the wait time (which varies by hearing office) to get a hearing is quite long. The good news? The denial rate at the hearing level is much lower than it is at initial or reconsideration, both in North Carolina and nationally.  

The vast majority of Social Security disability cases that I win are at the hearing level.

Given the backlogs and the number of times most people are denied Social Security Disability benefits, it’s best to get a lawyer who understands the law and the process. 

An attorney can help prepare your case to give you the best opportunity for success. Statistically, applicants who retain an attorney to represent them are much more likely to win benefits than those who do not.





Social Security Disability – Spotlight on Diabetes

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As a Social Security Disability attorney in North Carolina, I represent a lot of people who have diabetes. Often, my clients will have other health problems that also affect them, but sometimes I represent people whose diabetes, and complications from their diabetes, is the main thing preventing them from being able to work. 

It is not surprising that I see so many diabetics, because according to the American Diabetes Association, in 2012 29.1 million Americans , or 9.3 percent of the population, had diabetes. In North Carolina, according to the CDC, in 2012 some 778,716 North Carolinians were diabetic. This is an unfortunately large percentage of those fine folks who call the Tarheel state home.  

Diabetes can cause many complications that can be debilitating and prevent someone from working. Kidney disease, neuropathy, and blindness or eye problems are just a few examples. The Social Security Administration should take into account all of the complications you may have from diabetes that limit you from being able to work when determining whether you are disabled.  

In my practice, diabetic neuropathy is a common condition that prevents many of my clients from working.  

Neuropathy is a type of nerve damage that can occur over time when you have diabetes that is not under control.

 It typically occurs in the feet (and sometimes hands), and can cause severe numbness, constant burning or stinging pain, and loss of coordination and balance.

Neuropathy can make standing on your feet very difficult for more than just a few minutes, which limits your ability to do the standing required in full time jobs.  It can make walking for any distance excruciatingly painful as well, and may require you to use a cane or other assistive device.

Neuropathy in the hands can prevent you from being able to use your hands for more than just a few minutes at a time, which can greatly impact your ability to do a full time job.  

It is important to try to prevent neuropathy by, among other things, keeping your blood sugar tightly controlled. Unfortunately, once you have neuropathy, according to the Mayo Clinic there is no known cure, and treatment focuses on slowing progression of the disease, relieving pain, managing complications and restoring function.

Neuropathy is a painful complication of diabetes that shouldn’t be taken lightly. My clients would rather work than receive disability benefits, but sometimes the life-altering affects of diabetic neuropathy give them no choice.