April 24, 2014

Fibromyalgia and Social Security Disability: Can You Still Win?

Social Security disability judges are increasingly reluctant to award benefits to fibromyalgia claimants unless these claims meet a certain profile.  Let me tell you about this profile – what is currently working for me in disability hearings I try here in the Atlanta area hearing offices. [Read More...]

CNN Report on September 11 PTSD Scam Misses the Mark

disability scamsCNN is reporting that more than 100 New York City firefighters have been indicted in connection with disability fraud.  These firefighters filed claims for disability under the World Trade Center Disability Law, a source of benefits available only to New York City employees injured as a result of their service on September 11, 2001.

According to CNN, these disability claimants were coached (the CNN article is silent as to who did the coaching) about how to behave to win benefits that can amount to $50,000 per year for total disability.

Investigators discovered, however, that some of these permanently injured claimants were, in fact, working – in one case, teaching martial arts – despite their claimed disability.

Presumably these dishonest, retired firefighters will face civil fines or perhaps criminal prosecution for their actions. [Read More...]

Is it Possible to Recover Past Due Benefits for a Disabiling Condition that Began 20 Years Ago

how far back can I go to collect disabilityI recently received an email from a blog reader who tells me that she has recently been approved for SSDI based on a stroke.  However, she was diagnosed with another disabling medication condition 20 years ago but never applied.  Is there anything she can do about the older medical condition and recovering 20 years worth of past due benefits.

Here is my analysis: first, this is a difficult question to answer because I do not have all of the facts.  For example there are circumstances where an informal communication with Social Security could be considered an application.  There are also cases where even an unintentional misstatement by a Social Security employee could toll the statute of limitations.  [Read More...]

Fibromyalgia Better Understood – New Testing and Treatment Hopefully on the Way

new research about physiology of fibromyalgia painUSA Today published a very interesting article on December 15, 2013 about a research which identifies a physiological cause for fibromyalgia.  Currently, fibromyalgia is recognized as a medical “syndrome,” which means that it can be identified by symptoms, while the source of those symptoms remains unknown.  In the case of fibromyalgia, the American College of Rheumatology has published guidelines for physicians to use for diagnostic purposes, although treatment options remain limited.

The USA Today story quotes neurologist Anne Louise Oaklander at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.  Dr. Oaklander has published two studies which show that at least half the cases of diagnosed fibromyalgia arise from small fiber neuopathy, in which patients get faulty signals from tiny nerves all over the body, thereby causing symptoms.  Here is a direct link to Dr. Oaklander’s article.

Researchers at Albany Medical College published a paper showing that fibromyalgia patients have excessive nerve fibers lining the blood vessels of the skin.  This excess of nerve fibers can lead to increased sensitivity to pain.  Interestingly, women have more of these fibers than men, which is consistent with statistics which show more female fibro patients than male patients.  Here is a link to the news release from Dr. Frank Rice who conducted the research at Albany Medical College, and who now leads a research team at a private company. [Read More...]

A Social Security Disability Insider Reveals How SSA Views Part Time Work

Social Security disability and less than SGA earningsThere is a social bookmarking site on the Internet called Reddit.com which offers fascinating insight about many topics, including Social Security disability.  Specifically, Reddit has a feature called “Ask Me Anything” where users who have “insider” status volunteer to answer questions from visitors.  For obvious reasons, most of these insiders appear anonymously.

If you search “Social Security disability” you will see that several Social Security adjudicators have volunteered to answer questions about their work. I have never before visited a site where such “no holds barred” information was available and I encourage you to check it out.

I ran across one conversational thread from an adjudicator regarding part time work. The anonymous adjudicator answered a question about how SSA evaluates claimants who show earnings at less than “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) during the time they claim to be disabled 1. [Read More...]

  1. In 2013 the SGA limits are $1,070 per month for a non-blind worker.  Since SSA defines “disability” as the inability to perform SGA level work, you could, in theory, be found disabled if you show earnings at less than SGA amounts.

How to Testify Credibly About Sexual, Emotional or Physical Abuse in a Social Security Hearing

abuse and PTSD or depressionOne of the more troubling parts about practicing Social Security disability law involves hearing stories of how my clients suffered horrific abuse.  I would estimate that at least 75% of my cases involving mental illness also include a history of abuse.  It is no surprise to me that anyone who was abused by a parent or authority figure, or by a person physically stronger would continue to suffer physical and emotional wounds for years to come.

Because a claimant’s history of abuse helps explain current symptoms – depression, social phobia, anxiety, etc. – I think it is necessary to question my client about the abuse he or she experienced during that client’s disability hearing.  Obviously this is a difficult and uncomfortable task – I have no desire to dredge up bad memories or to make my client relive a terrifying experience – but I have to bring this information about in testimony so the judge can better understand what my client is going through.

In preparing my clients for testimony about prior abuse, I suggest one of two ways to present this evidence. [Read More...]