Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Support Letters

The majority of the time, claimants are found entitled to receive disability benefits by virtue of the severity of their symptoms, not their diagnosis. When a claimant has a Social Security Disability (“SSD”) hearing, the Social Security rules and regulations require an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) to determine if the claimant’s symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence. That “other evidence” includes witnesses and support letters. 

It is always a good practice at an SSD hearing to have a witness testify, who will help corroborate the claimant’s complaints and limitations. Support letters should be submitted even if the claimant brings a witness to the hearing, and should absolutely be used when no witness will testify. 

I represent a 51 year old claimant with MS, whose SSD claim was approved today. The claimant was unable to bring a witness with her to the hearing, but I had procured several support letters that I submitted. The ALJ ruled that claimant's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms were reasonably consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. The ALJ singled out the statements of the claimant's daughters among the support letters.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

SSD For MS

The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has taken steps to make it harder to obtain Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits. One of the tactics the SSA has been using is continuously making the listings more complicated.

MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Disabling symptoms include overwhelming fatigue, numbness, and poor coordination. Like many listings the SSA rewrote the one pertaining to MS. As a result, treating neurologists are usually no longer willing to provide an opinion that a patient meets the MS listing, which no doubt was the SSA’s goal.

I represent a 56 year old former teaching assistant with MS whose SSD benefits were approved today. The treating neurologist would not opine that the claimant met the MS listing because he said it was ridiculously convoluted, and replete with cross references on cross references. Nonetheless, the neurologist did provide treatment records with a report that detailed the claimant’s functional limitations.

The ALJ had no problem accepting the neurologist’s medical findings and opinions. However, the claimant had to wait years before her hearing was scheduled. If the SSA had not intentionally increased the complexity of the MS listing, then the neurologist probably would have opined the claimant met its criteria, which could have avoided a hearing.

Misconceptions About SSD Continue

Misconceptions surrounding the Social Security Disability ("SSD") insurance program continue, even among politicians and beneficiaries. SSD is not a welfare program, and is not for "lazy" people who do not want to work. SSD was initiated to protect working American citizens in the event they became sick and unable to work. Unlike welfare, SSD is only available to people who have worked and paid into the program. The money in the SSD program is the money that we have had withheld from our paychecks, to be paid into social security. So when you retire, or become disabled, the money you receive is YOUR money. 

It has become extremely difficult to get approved for SSD, even when you have your doctors' support. The denial rates, and the wait for a hearing, have grown exponentially over the last couple of years. This means that people are forced to live for 2+ years without any income, awaiting a decision on their SSD claim. The obvious question is, why would anyone choose to go through this if they were able to work? Why would they choose to be "lazy" and if approved, collect SSD for a fraction of the money they earned while they were working? The 2018 monthly average SSD benefit people will receive if found disabled is $1197 a month. 

As long as the inaccuracies and misconceptions about the SSD program are maintained, people will continue to believe that their disabled fellow citizens are somehow cheating the system. It is unconscionable and extremely troubling that these erroneous statements are so casually and ignorantly thrown around by our own politicians. Before you are sucked into their lies, and truly believe your friend, your neighbor, or your co-worker is lazy and a liar, stop and get the facts. Until it affects you, or someone you care about, it is easy to believe the rhetoric some politicians are spewing. It is also very easy to judge people when you are not in their position.

Patchogue Fails Again

We represent a client whose initial application for Social Security Disability ("SSD") benefits falls under the jurisdiction of the Patchogue District Office. We filed the SSD application at the beginning of November. The claim has been a problem from the beginning. The applicant previously filed an application on his own. The Patchogue office erroneously denied that application because its representative made errors concerning the claimant's prior earnings. Since filing his SSD claim last November, we have spoken with three different people at the Patchogue office, one of which was a supervisor. We also received a date-stamped letter from the Patchogue office as proof that they received our letters of representation. 

On January 10, 2018, we spoke with the supervisor, Ms. Sheremeta. We explained that we had spoken with Mr. Parks on December 8, 2017, confirming with him that their office had received our letters of representation, which we had faxed to them in November. We made that call because they had previously told us that they were having problems with their fax, and we wanted to make sure we did not need to mail our letters of representation to them again. 

Ms. Sheremeta spent 15 minutes on the phone with us to correct the problems. Ms. Sheremeta advised us to send the paperwork that was needed to Mr. Hessler, and she would have him re-open and process the claim. We faxed the requested paperwork to Mr. Hessler. We called Patchogue again on January 19, 2018, and spoke with Mr. Powers, who advised us that the case had not been re-processed yet, but that he did see the notes to re-open it. 

Each person we spoke with: Mr. Parks, Ms. Sheremeta, and Mr. Powers, confirmed that they had our letters of representation in the claimant's file. If they did not have our letters, then they would not have been able to discuss anything about the claim with us. 

We called the Patchogue office yet again on February 1, 2018, to follow up on the claim. Ms. Abraham advised us that they did not have our letters of representation, and therefore, she could not give us any information. We explained to her that this was impossible, based on all our previous conversations and correspondence with the Patchogue office. Nonetheless, Ms. Abraham refused to speak with us, and refused to allow us to speak with Ms. Sheremeta. At that point, in total frustration at their ineptitude, we re-faxed our letters of representation along with a cover letter to Ms. Sheremta. 

We called Patchogue the following day, and again spoke with Ms. Abraham. She confirmed that our fax was sitting on Ms. Sheremeta's desk, but as Ms. Sheremeta was out and had not scanned the paperwork into the system, Ms. Abraham told us that she could not speak with us about the claimant's case. 

We called Patchogue yet again today, and spoke with Ms. Kanhai. She asked us for the claimant's information including, their SSN, date of birth, and home address. She also asked us for the claimant's mother's maiden name. We explained to Ms. Kanhai that previously no one ever, including the supervisor, had asked us this question, but she still refused to give us any information regarding the claimant's file. 

The Patchogue District Office is notorious for their negligence, disorganization, and ineptness. As others have told us, they need to get their act together. We have filed a complaint with the office of public affairs. This is no way to run an office, especially one that is supposed to be serving the public and helping our hard working citizens to get disability.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia Gravis (“MG”) is a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that causes voluntary muscle weakness. There is a listing for MG. However, like many listings, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) rewrote the MG listing to make it more difficult to meet. 

I represent a 51 year old former owner of an auto repair business whose application for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits was approved in only four months without providing a listing opinion from the treating neurologist. However, I provided the SSA with hundreds of pages of treatment records that noted visual and speech difficulties, weakness and fatigue. 

As MG is relatively rare, many SSA analysts are unfamiliar with it, which makes the approval in only four months somewhat unexpected. It appears that the claimant had his claim reviewed by someone who performed their job properly, rather than automatically denying something they did not understand.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Lupus

About 1.5 million Americans have Lupus according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Because the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) recognizes that Lupus frequently can prevent a person from being able to work, it created a listing for it. Claimants with Lupus can receive Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits even if they do not meet the criteria for the listing. 

I represent a 59 year old former administrative clerk with Lupus whose SSD claim was approved today, without the need for a hearing. We submitted a report from the treating rheumatologist that cited RNP and ANA antibodies as the laboratory test data that supported his opinions. A staff attorney from the hearing office then asked us for that objective medical evidence, we provided copies of the test results. Thereafter, the staff attorney advised us that she would recommend having SSD benefits approved.

Monday, January 22, 2018

SSD Delays

If you Google Social Security Disability (“SSD”) delays, you will find countless articles about the record long waiting time to get a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge, or about how thousands of people are dying while they wait for their SSD benefits.  Claimants frequently ask me what they can do to minimize their wait time.  My answer is that they should visit their doctors to ensure that they provide the necessary test results, treatment records, and opinion reports and forms that I advised.

I represent a 59 year old house cleaner with back and neck problems, whose SSD application was approved today in less than five months.  While the majority of my clients are in their 50’s with musculoskeletal problems, few get approved in less than five months.  The only thing that was really different here was that the claimant promptly provided all of the medical information that I suggested was needed to support her claim.
The SSD process takes much longer than it should.  Because claimants can no longer work and have no income, most cannot afford the usual delay involved.  It helps to be proactive.  While we always request documentation, doctors obviously are more responsive to information requests from their patients, than they are to us.