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Musculoskeletal Injuries: How Severely Impaired Must I Be?

Intentionally or not, the Social Security Administration has done a good job selling the idea that winning disability benefits is extremely hard. Bloggers (including me) write about the long delays and the arbitrary nature of decisions and the possibility of drawing a judge who would not approve a deathbed claimant.

Clearly, claimants without compelling medical evidence are having an increasingly difficult time winning. Ten years ago, judges were much more likely to accept your testimony about your work activity limitations – now, judges are looking for extensive medical evidence.

I often hear from, or end up representing disability claimants who have been denied at the administrative (initial application or reconsideration) and who are about ready to give up. Ironically, many of these claimants have cases that are likely to be approved because the medical evidence is so compelling.

Recently, I received an email from a gentleman named Kevin who was turned down at reconsideration, and wants to know what I think about his chances. I don’t have access to his specific medical records but, after reading his case summary, I would be shocked if he was denied. I would guess that 95% + of judges that I might see would approve this case after submission of a brief or after a brief hearing.

As I have discussed before in writing and on video, the state agency adjudicators are not judges and they do not have the experience or authority to make value judgments. Adjudicators are looking for listing level impairments without any reservations. Continue reading →

How Your Hearing Testimony Can Help Win Your Disability Benefits Case

Social Security disability hearings generally last less than an hour, but the agency’s hearing backlog currently averages over 18 months in many locations. When you add the 8 to 12 months it takes for SSA to conduct its administrative review, most disability claimants won’t see the inside of a courtroom for over 2 years from the date they apply for benefits.

If you are waiting 2 to 3 years for your chance to spend an hour with a judge, you cannot afford to waste time or come to your hearing unprepared. Nevertheless, far too many disability claimants waste or misuse the precious time they have with the judge by testifying ineffectually. Continue reading →

Should You be Concerned About "Trick Questions" from the Social Security Disability Judge?

Back in May, 2014 I released a video about trick questions from Social Security disability judges and I continue to receive a great deal of feedback and comments on that video. In the 2014 video I talked about one type of trick questions but there are many examples you should know about – thus this new video.

My experience has been that disability judges are not trying to treat you unfairly with their questions, but instead, use their experience and knowledge to ask probing and incisive questions. More specifically they want to assess your credibility by asking questions to which they already know the answer so they can see how you respond.

Many of these questions relate to your medical record – comments you may have made to your doctor about work attempts, stopping bad habits like smoking or marijuana use, or even about how you are feeling on a particular day.  You may have forgotten about that quick conversation you had with your doctor 2 years ago, but there is a good possibility that your doctor wrote down the substance of what you said. Continue reading →

Peyton Manning and Your Social Security Disability Hearing

When your Social Security disability hearing is scheduled, you can help your cause by thinking about Peyton Manning while you prepare for your hearing date.

Manning, as you probably know, recently retired from the National Football league after 18 seasons, capped off by a league championship this past February.

But Peyton’s greatness and success on the football field is not especially relevant to your disability case. Instead, his focus and drive in coming back from a serious neck injury and four (4) neck surgeries, including a disc fusion, are worthy of review.

Peyton could have retired after his September, 2011 surgery. Following this surgery and continuing to this day, he has no feeling in the fingertips of his throwing hand. When he first started rehabbing, he could barely throw a football 10 yards and was in constant pain.

Had Peyton retired in 2011 or 2012 no one would have questioned his decision, nor would his status as a hall of famer been challenged. Continue reading →

Unconventional, Non-Medical Evidence That Can Help You Win

Think Outside The Box appearing behind torn brown paper.

With approval rates on the decline at hearing offices throughout the country, disability lawyers and their clients have to find creative and compelling evidence to make their cases stand out.

In my practice I regularly look for evidence beyond medical records and medical source statements. Often times you can find very convincing evidence in the form of employee files, school records, statements from former co-workers and supervisors and claimant maintained pain diaries.

Now, to be sure, judges are most concerned about your medical record and how your medical issues impact your capacity to work. However your doctor’s main concern when keeping medical records tends to focus on medical issues alone – rarely will medical records contain the specific vocational capacity observations or opinions that judges rely upon.

We can ask your doctor complete a functional capacity evaluation or narrative report (often at a cost of several hundred dollars) but some doctors do not wish to get involved in disability matters and others don’t feel equipped to make vocational capacity conclusions.

This is where unconventional evidence comes in. Continue reading →

Local TV Station Highlights Problems with Social Security Hearing Process

This is the video segment about Social Security disability delays, hosted by investigative reporter Randy Travis of Atlanta’s Fox 5 TV.   Travis highlights what most Social Security disability lawyers already know – that the judge assigned to your case could mean more than the medical records in terms of whether or not you receive benefits.

In the Atlanta downtown hearing office, there are judges who approve less than 20% of cases, and judges who approve more than 70%.   So two identical claimants – each with the exact same medical issues – would likely get different results based solely on the luck of the draw.

And you are going to wait – often two years or longer – before you even get the chance to appear before that judge.

While there are other problems with the SSD process, Mr. Travis’ report highlights two of the biggest issues – the wildly divergent approval rates by judges within the same hearing office and the outrageous delays.

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

Hearing Strategies for Claimants with Multiple Medical Problems

multiple medical problems and social security disabilityGreg writes:  “I have seen many if not all of your YouTube videos and have to say you probably are the best disability lawyer on there. My case is rather unusual in the sense that I do not have one injury, I have three. I have a bad back, one herniated disk that causes a lot of pain for me and three bulging disks that are bad in their own right. My right hip is bad and needs replacement, I am on year 6 since it’s discovery. I also have two feet that have chronic pain from bad plantar fasciitis that have both been operated on with little to no success.”

“How on earth do I and my lawyers tackle this in a manner in which I can get approved ??? Should I have my primary doctor do a functional test on me for all three injuries or have each specialist do a functional test on each injury? Secondly is an MRI going to sway a judge more than an X-ray when these days X-ray specialists write their findings and send it to the treating doctors themselves.”

“Any advice would be much appreciated, and keep up your great work with helping us needy and injured.”

–Thanks, Greg

Greg, here are my thoughts. First, thanks for the kind words about my YouTube channel. I do put a lot of effort into creating these videos and I appreciate your positive feedback.

As far as your medical issues are concerned, I would defer to your lawyer who obviously can review and assess your medical problems. Speaking generally, however, my experience has been that it would likely be an uphill battle to base your disability case on planar faciitis since that condition is usually not totally disabling. It can eliminate categories of jobs that require more than minimal standing and walking but probably not sitting jobs. Continue reading →

How Does a Social Security Judge Decide if I have "Transferable Skills" for Grid Rule Purposes?

transferable skillsThis is a good question – the short answer is that judges will look to vocational expert witness testimony to determine whether a claimant has acquired transferable skills.

Your question got me thinking that it might be helpful to review how the grid rules work and to take my readers through a grid rule analysis, so, here you go:

The grid rules, or “medical vocational guidelines” can qualify you for Social Security disability benefits even if you have some capacity to work, but you are not likely to find work because of limited skills and a limited education.

In order to qualify for a finding of disability under the grid rules you must have exertional limitations. This means that your medical issues must impact your physical capacity. Thus, a person asserting disability based on depression, or bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia could never qualify under the grid rules [1. Such a person could, however, qualify for disability based on a listing or using a functional capacity argument.]

You can look at the grid rules here.

The grid rules look at several factors: your age, your education, the skill level of your past work and whether or not your past work generated any transferrable skills. SSA lays out these factors in a table divided by grid lines – thus the name.

When a judge applies the grid rules he first must make a decision about your capacity for work. If you are limited to sedentary work, you are more likely to be found disabled under the grid rules than if you are limited to light or medium work.

Let’s analyze how the grid rules work in practice. Continue reading →

How Does a Social Security Judge Decide if I have “Transferable Skills” for Grid Rule Purposes?

transferable skillsThis is a good question – the short answer is that judges will look to vocational expert witness testimony to determine whether a claimant has acquired transferable skills.

Your question got me thinking that it might be helpful to review how the grid rules work and to take my readers through a grid rule analysis, so, here you go:

The grid rules, or “medical vocational guidelines” can qualify you for Social Security disability benefits even if you have some capacity to work, but you are not likely to find work because of limited skills and a limited education.

In order to qualify for a finding of disability under the grid rules you must have exertional limitations. This means that your medical issues must impact your physical capacity. Thus, a person asserting disability based on depression, or bi-polar disorder, or schizophrenia could never qualify under the grid rules [1. Such a person could, however, qualify for disability based on a listing or using a functional capacity argument.]

You can look at the grid rules here.

The grid rules look at several factors: your age, your education, the skill level of your past work and whether or not your past work generated any transferrable skills. SSA lays out these factors in a table divided by grid lines – thus the name.

When a judge applies the grid rules he first must make a decision about your capacity for work. If you are limited to sedentary work, you are more likely to be found disabled under the grid rules than if you are limited to light or medium work.

Let’s analyze how the grid rules work in practice. Continue reading →

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