Social Security Disability

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Baker, Schulze & Murphy
    *    Gerry Schulze
    *    Ruthanne Murphy

Social Security Disability

Call Gerry Schulze or Ruthanne Murphy for help with your Social Security Disability.

The process for applying for social security disability not only seems complicated, but it is actually more complicated than it looks.  Disability for purposes of Social Security is determined under numerous rules set out in thousands of pages of regulations, Social Security Rulings, and federal court interpretations.

In order to try to make decisions on eligibilty consistent and uniform, the Social Security Administration categorizes claimants in many different ways.  Claimants are classified on the basis of age, education, work experience, health, residual functional capacity, and other factors.

Many diseases are described in Social Security "listings."  Frequently, the requirements for these listings are the kind of things that your doctor may never have any reason to include in your records. But if the notation isn't in the record, Social Security has to assume that the requirement is not met.  It is often essential to get specific questions answered by your doctor so that your condition can be categorized correctly. 

If your claim for Social Security Disability benefits has been denied, you may need help.  
With the bad economy, we have seen an increase in applications for Social Security Disability.  This is understandable.  There are many sick and injured people who can continue to work at jobs that have been made lighter to accomodate their limitations.  Unfortunately, people lose those jobs.  Often, there are no other jobs in the local, or even national economy that they could do.  That leads them to apply for disability benefits.
If you've received a denial on your social security claim, you may need help proving that you are no longer able to work.

If you are unable to work because of a physical or mental disability you may be entitled to benefits. The Social Security Administration follows a complicated set of regulations to determine whether you qualify for benefits.
The first question is whether you are doing "substantial gainful activity." What this really means is "are you working?" If you are able to work and earn over a certain minimal amount, you will not be considered eligible for benefits under the regulations.

The second question is whether you have any "severe" impairment. Social Security has regulations that define "severe" for their purposes. Frequently the information Social Security administration would require to find out if your condition is severe can be found in your medical records. In other cases, however, your doctor may not have noted facts that the administration will consider essential in placing your impairment in the "severe" category. One of the main services that a Social Security disability lawyer can perform is to review your medical records and see if there are any questions that your doctor should answer. If there are, sometimes nothing more than a simple form is required to supply the missing information.

The third question that the administration will consider is whether your condition is one described in a set of regulations called the "listings." Again, a review of your medical records is essential.

Even if your condition is not found in the list of impairments at the Social Security administration considers automatically disabling, you may still be disabled under the regulations. The next question is whether you're capable of doing your past relevant work. Again, developing the evidence about your work and your "residual functional capacity" is essential. "Residual functional capacity" just means the ability that you have left in spite of your "severe" impairment.

After that the administration determines whether there are any other jobs that exist in substantial numbers in the national economy. Again, the regulations are essential. Medical evidence can also be important to you here. Doctors seldom find it necessary to write down all of the patient's limitations in the medical records. Doctors tend to focus on what they can do to improve the patient's health or help the patient live with his or her condition. Here again, sometimes something as simple as a form in which the physician is asked to summarize the limitations that he or she would reasonably expect the patient to have can be very important in establishing disability.

Unfortunately, the process for obtaining Social Security disability benefits is very slow. This is especially true now that the economy is so poor. Many people are losing the last and only job that they are capable of performing. Social Security disability is not and never was intended to be unemployment insurance. It is not designed to be available if you merely cannot find work. However the sad reality is that there are many people who are effectively unable to do any work except for very rare jobs that they were able to find when they were healthier and the economy was better. Those people are now losing those jobs due to deterioration in their health, in the economy, or both.

If you are considering an application for Social Security disability benefits, you should consult an attorney with experience in that field. Gerry Schulze has been practicing Social Security disability law for 25 years. Please call and speak to Gerry Schulze, if you need assistance with your Social Security claim.

4/20/2012  Update:  Gerry Schulze will be speaking at the National  Business Institute seminar Social Security Disability:  From  Start to Finish, a 2-Day Practical Course on May 8 and 9, 2012.  This seminar will provide two full days of Social Security Disability training to lawyers on topics such as eligibility rules, the application process, developing evidence to support a claim, preparing for a hearing, countering vocational expert testimony, and coordination of benefits.  It is highly recommended for attorneys practicing in the field of  Social Security Disability.  Speaking at the seminar, in addition to Gerry Schulze, will be several other local lawyers.  Barbara Samuels, the author of a leading treatise on Social Security Disability, will also be speaking at the seminar.

4/23/2012  Update:  A recent article, "7 Little Known Social Security Benefits" by Jennie L Phipps recommends that when you file a claim for Social Security Benefits, one of your first steps should be to hire a lawyer or other adviser.  There are many innocent mistakes you can make that will cause you to be placed in the wrong category for consideration for Social Security benefits.

7/25/2012 Update.  It is often difficult to make the Social Security Disability system work for you.  It would be easy to blame the "bureaucrats" at the Social Security Administration, but my experience is that the personnel at Social Security are working as hard as they can to handle the cases they have in the system.  The problem seems to me to be that the administration simply does not have the resources necessary to adjudicate claims in a timely fashion.   In these days of budget deficits, Congress is simply not going to allocate adequate resources to the disability determination system.  If the administration is going to give a case the attention it needs, it needs to have adequate resources to do it.

I am trying to make things easier for the people who adjudicate social security claims in every way I know how.  I'm not the only lawyer taking this approach.  But there's the undeniable reality of backlogs.  We have an aging population, and our risk of disabling illness increases as we age.  Having a terrible economy does not help either.  I have run across many cases in which people were doing some kind of "one-off" job.  That means a job that doesn't exist in large numbers in the economy, but that is more or less specially designed for a particluar worker.  Sometimes that worker is an employee who has been with the company for a long time, and despite his or her  inability to perform as in the past, still has valuable experience and knowledge to offer.  When that job disappears, the employee is unemployable at jobs that exist in substantial numbers in the economy.