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Do You Really Need a Suicide Attempt or Inpatient Psych Hospitalization to Win Your Depression Disability Claim?

If you are pursuing Social Security disability benefits and your primary impairment is depression, you will need more and stronger evidence to win your case.

Over the past few years I have noticed a trend in my law practice whereby judges are less likely to award benefits in depression cases unless your medical record contains evidence of suicide attempts, in-patient psychiatric hospitalizations or other symptoms that could be life threatening.

Unlike medical conditions like back pain arising from a herniated disc, irritable bowel syndrome associated with a diseased colon, cancer that requires surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, or blood clots that require you to keep your legs elevated, severe depression cannot be imaged using an MRI, CT scan or ultrasound. Psychologists and psychiatrists test for depression based on conversations with patients and their long term relationships with their patients. Continue reading →

How Your Former Co-Workers or Supervisors Can Help You Win Social Security Disability Benefits

Statements from your former co-workers or supervisors about problems you had performing the duties of your past jobs can be very persuasive evidence to a Social Security administrative law judge.

Since the main issue in your disability case has to do with whether you have the capacity to perform simple, entry-level work, it stands to reason that personal observations from former co-workers or supervisors – people who actually saw you in the workplace – would be very relevant evidence.

Presumably your claims file contains solid medical evidence. At a minimum, your medical record should include one or more diagnoses and medical records documenting treatment. Functional capacity evaluations from long time treating doctors (ideally medical specialists) help the judge understand how and why your medical issues would prevent you from reliably performing any type of job.

Your hearing testimony should demonstrate that you are honest and truthful and motivated to return to work if you could.

In addition to these standard building blocks for your case, statements from people who actually observed you struggling at a job can greatly strengthen your case and sometimes make the difference between winning and losing. Continue reading →

The Disability Judge Ruled that One of Your Medical Impairments is “Non-Severe.” What Does this Mean and Why is it Important?

Recently I have noticed a trend at many of cases I am trying on behalf of applicants for Social Security disability. After listening to testimony, but before posting questions to the Vocational Expert, the judge will say something like this: “counselor, I am going to find that the [allegations of depression; breathing problems and COPD; knee damage and reduced range of motion in the left lower extremity; etc.] are non-severe impairments and thus will not be included in questions I ask to the vocational expert. Do you have any objections to this?”

What does this mean to you if you are the claimant appearing at a hearing like this?

The term “non-severe impairment” is a term of art in the Social Security world. When judges evaluate claims, or, more accurately, elements of claims, they are required by law to analyze your case using something called the “five step sequential evaluation process.” Continue reading →

Will You be Approved for Disability Based on Your Diagnosis?

I frequently receive emails and comments on my YouTube channel from folks who want to know if they will be found disabled due to a particular diagnosis. “Will I be found disabled by Social Security if I have a herniated disc/carpal tunnel syndrome/major depression/cirrhosis of the liver, etc., etc.

I am not the only one who gets these questions. A retired judge who I appeared before many times and who knows Social Security disability law as well as anyone answers questions on Quora and he gets this question – apparently from the same person – over and over.

The judge’s answer and mine is the same – you do not win or lose your Social Security claim based on your diagnosis. The right question to ask is whether your symptoms and medication side effects leave you without the capacity to reliably perform simple, entry level work.

Social Security defines disability in these terms. When you appear at a hearing, every question the judge or your attorney asks is focused on your work capacity.

You could have four herniated discs, congestive heart failure and uncontrolled diabetes, but if you are working or can work an 8 hour day, you will not be found disabled. Continue reading →

Are You Guaranteed a Disability Approval if you Meet a Listing?

Are you guaranteed a favorable decision from Social Security disability if your diagnosis is included in Social Security’s Blue Book of Listed Impairments? Not necessarily, and here’s why.

Social Security’s Blue Book identifies fourteen “body systems.” For example, listing 1 discusses the musculoskeletal system and within this listing are a number of diagnoses that reflect impairments to your spine, bones and joints. Listing 4 discusses the cardiovascular system and listed within are diagnoses related to heart and circulatory functioning.

Visit my website to look at all of the listings and explanations about how to use the Listings to win.

I regularly get emails and comments on my YouTube channel from claimants who are upset that they were denied even though they feel strongly that they met a listing. Why were these cases not approved. Continue reading →

Mistakes to Avoid and Tips for Winning: my Conversation with Stanley Denman

Social Security lawyer Stanley Denman
Attorney Stanley Denman

I recently reached out to my colleague attorney Stanley Denman, a Dallas – Ft. Worth, Texas disability attorney. This is a transcript of our conversation about mistakes to avoid and tips for winning disability claims.

Jonathan Ginsberg:  What are the biggest mistakes you have seen Social Security disability claimants in Texas make over the years?

Stanley Denman:  As you know, no one plans to be disabled, and few disability claimants have an experience with the process of applying for and winning social security disability benefits.  So it’s not surprising that disability claimants make a lots of mistakes – we all would! In my opinion, these are the biggest ones:

  • “Any lawyer will do.”  Texas disability claimants often hear that “you have to get a lawyer” to win disability benefits.  They wrongfully assume that the “J.D.” after the lawyer’s name is all that matters. Social security does not grant disability claims just because a lawyer is involved.  In fact, an inexperienced and inattentive lawyer can hurt more than help in winning a case.

Continue reading →

What is Your Date Last Insured and Why is it Important?

If you have made the difficult decision to file for disability because you no longer have the capacity to work even a simple, entry-level job, you need to start the process by filing a disability application with Social Security.

When you call the toll free number or apply online, SSA will ask you if you want to file for Title II disability (SSDI), Title XVI Supplemental Security Income, or both.

I generally advise my clients to file for both. If it turns out that you own assets, or have household income over the SSI limits, Social Security will determine that you are not eligible for SSI and you can proceed with your SSDI case.

Generally speaking, SSDI is a more robust program in that your monthly benefit will likely be higher, you won’t have to worry about assets you own or household income disqualifying you and you will eventually be eligible for Medicare (as opposed to Medicaid, which is associated with SSI).

In order to qualify for SSDI, however, you have to be insured for these benefits. SSDI is, in fact, an insurance program – the premiums you pay arise from the payroll taxes you have contributed over the years. Continue reading →

Why You Should Avoid Using Labels at Your Social Security Disability Hearing

Most people applying for Social Security disability have some sort of firm diagnosis. For example, if you have back problems, your doctor may have shown you an MRI report documenting a herniated or bulging disc. If you have heart issues you may have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure or coronary artery disease. And if you struggle with mental health problems, you may have been diagnosed as being bi-polar, or having PTSD, or anxiety disorder.

When you get to your hearing, however, you should not rely on these labels as you explain to the judge why you contend that you no longer have the capacity for “substantial gainful activity” (i.e., work).

First, understand that many times the label used by one doctor might be different than that used by another. In my practice, for example, I frequently represent clients with mental health issues who have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and/or bi-polar disorder – all by different physicians or psychologists. One medical provider may choose the label “depression” while a second doctor may choose the label “bi-polar.”

Similarly, I have seen multiple doctors read the same MRI report and come to different conclusions. One doctor may see a herniation, while another may see a bulge or an extrusion. Continue reading →

Can You – or Should You – Try to Work After Filing for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Because Social Security is so backlogged with its disability claim evaluation process, many truly disabled claimants try to return to work even for a short period of time because they need to survive.

In some cases, returning to work can damage your case because a Social Security judge may conclude that you really do have the capacity to perform competitive work. However, in other situations, your unsuccessful attempts to work can help your case by demonstrating that you truly want to work but you just cannot do so.

In this blog post, I want to break down how SSA looks at part time work, unsuccessful work attempts and successful work efforts.

First, you need to understand the term “substantial gainful activity” or SGA. Social Security uses this term a good bit and you need to understand what it means. Continue reading →

My Step by Step Analysis of a Mental Health Disability Claim

Recently a young man wrote me to ask my opinion about whether he qualifies for some form of Social Security disability. In his very thoughtful email he asks a number of questions that I suspect a lot of folks are wondering about.

After practicing in this area of law for 20+ years I can generally sense fairly quickly whether someone has a viable case.  In my last blog post I discussed what I look for generally in a mental health disability claim.  So now I thought I would explain – step by step – how I analyze potential client inquiries using this case as an example.

Obviously I will not use this gentleman’s real name and I will change the facts a little to preserve his anonymity. Continue reading →