Social Security

How Do I Apply for Social Security Disability?

by Mike Rainwater | February 17th, 2017

If you have recently suffered an illness or injury that makes it impossible for you to work, you are likely eligible for Social Security disability benefits – but how do you apply? The application process can be daunting without the right guidance. Consider hiring a disability attorney to assist with your application. Statistics show that Social Security is more likely to approve an applicant who is represented by legal counsel, plus you’ll avoid much of the stress of navigating the ins and outs of the process.

Who is Eligible for Social Security Disability?

Social Security Disability (SSD) is a program that gives monthly payments to people who have become disabled before retirement age and are not able to work. You are eligible if you cannot work because of a medical condition that is expected to last one year or more, or result in death.

What Do I Need to Apply?

There is a lot of information that Social Security will need to review as part of your application. You should have the following details ready before applying. A disability lawyer will help to organize these details and build the strongest case for your disability claim.

Basic Information

  • Birth and citizenship information
  • Marriage/divorce documentation
  • Names and birth dates of children
  • S. military service details
  • Employer details for current year and prior two years
  • Direct deposit information
  • Education and training history

Details Related to Health Condition

  • Detailed medical history of the condition including names, addresses, phone numbers and dates of examinations and treatments
  • Name of medications, who prescribed them and why
  • Names and dates of medical tests and who sent for them
  • Date and details about when your condition began affecting your ability to work

 

Contact Rainwater, Holt & Sexton in you’re located in Northwest Arkansas and would like to discuss your situation with a Fayetteville disability lawyer. You have nothing to lose by consulting a disability attorney, but could have a lot to gain.

Common Problems With Medical Records in Disability Cases

by Sydney Brown | February 1st, 2017

The Social Security Administration (SSA) requires you to prove, primarily through medical records, that you are disabled. This sounds simple enough at first glance, but have you ever actually seen your medical records? Odds are, your medical records contain many, if not all, of the common problems we see in disability cases. The good news is that you can take steps to help prevent these problems from continuing to appear in your medical records. Although there are many potential problems, this article will focus on the most common areas of concern: 1) complaints and side effects, 2) physical examinations, and 3) doctor recommendations.

Medical records are broken down into distinct sections. The first section is for subjective complaints, meaning the reason you are at the doctor’s office and the problems you are having. The second section is for objective observations. This is the portion of the record that contains the doctor’s physical examination notes. The third section is for any diagnoses for your medical condition(s). And finally, the fourth section is for the doctor’s plan of action. This is where your doctor will document if they are sending you to a specialist, if they are prescribing new medications, or if they want to send you out for further testing.

Problems With Complaints and Side Effects

The subjective complaint section of your medical records is crucial. SSA will look here, first. What do they look for? In short, everything. SSA wants to see what you are telling your doctor about your own symptoms and side effects. Did you come into the office with back pain because you injured yourself moving furniture, or did you simply twist the wrong way and it caused excruciating pain? Do your medications make you sleepy? Dizzy? Nauseous? Did the injection or surgery you had improve your pain?

The biggest problem here is that when you are disabled, you have to go to the doctor frequently. Frequent doctor’s visits lead to you just wanting to get the visit over with and get back home. So what do you say when the nurse or doctor asks why you’re there? “I’m here for my medication refills,” or “I’m here for my follow up.” You give quick, short answers to your doctor that yes, your medication is helping you. Even if it isn’t. And so, your medical records reflect those answers and that’s it.

When this happens, SSA holds that against you. SSA frequently cites to a claimant’s own statements to their doctor to help justify denying their case. For example, if you say you’re at the visit for “medication refills,” SSA says that your medication must be controlling and relieving your conditions because you aren’t complaining of pain or continued symptoms. If you never mention your medication side effects to your doctor, SSA uses your medical records to prove that you don’t actually experience side effects to the level you explain to them. So, how do you fix this?

Open up to your doctor or nurse at every appointment. Always say exactly what is happening with your mind or body, talk about the side effects from your medications, and rate your pain, symptoms, or improvement on a scale of 1-to-10. If you feel like you are repeating yourself every time you see the doctor, then you are probably doing an excellent job at fixing this common problem in medical records!

Physical Examinations

Physical examinations, or the objective observations of your doctor, are an equally crucial section of your medical records. SSA looks here to see whether your doctor physically sees that you have problems standing, squatting, bending, walking, gripping, getting on or off of the examination table, etc. The biggest problem here is that in many office visits, you’re already sitting when the doctor comes into the exam room. Then your doctor sits down and talks to you but doesn’t actually watch you walk, see you bend over, look at your spasming muscle, or even put their hands on you.

When your doctor doesn’t do these things, often times your medical records still reflect that he or she examined you. That’s right. And why is this a problem? Because odds are, that documented physical examination that never really happened likely says that everything looked normal. Walking? Normal. Bending? Normal. Strength? Normal. Breathing? Normal. When examinations appear normal in your records, SSA uses them to prove that your reports of pain or limitations are not as bad as you are reporting.

This is, thankfully, the easiest fix of them all. Be an advocate for yourself and make your doctor examine the things that you know are wrong. If you can’t bend over very far because of your back pain, show your doctor. If you walk with a limp, show your doctor. If you have swelling, show your doctor. And do this every time you get medical treatment, even if you’ve shown your doctor the very same things before.

Doctor Recommendations

Doctors don’t always write down what they tell you. Your doctor may tell you not to do certain activities, such as lifting above ten pounds. Or, the doctor tells you to go out and get a cane to help you walk. They might even tell you that they think you are disabled and should apply for disability. If your doctor does not write these things down, SSA says that it must not have happened.

Simply get your doctor to give you that information in writing for your own records. Then, give a copy of that record to your disability lawyer.

As you can see there are many factors that go into proving a disability with the SSA. Call Rainwater, Holt & Sexton to speak with an attorney and get help with your claim.

Social Security Disability: Escaping the Nightmare

by Mike Rainwater | January 16th, 2017

Imagine the worst financial situation you’ve ever experienced. Then imagine you don’t have the ability to pull yourself out of it. That’s what thousands of disabled Americans go through every year. Their disability makes it impossible to work, which means they can no longer make a living. For many, their only recourse is applying for Social Security Disability benefits, and if denied, they’re sure to fall well below the poverty line.

Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that’s the reality for two-thirds of all Social Security Disability applicants. The problem lies in the application process itself. As an applicant, folks must prove they are unable to do any type of work due to their disability, not just the work they did before they were disabled. That’s a tall order for someone who has never gone through the process before or is unable to cognitively complete the application.

That’s why it’s so important that you secure an experienced Arkansas Social Security Disability attorney to assist you in through the application process. We know the system. We know the process. And we want to help you get the benefits you deserve. Call the Arkansas Social Security Disability attorneys at Rainwater, Holt & Sexton today for a free consultation. We’ll review your application at no cost or obligation and set you on the road to securing benefits. Contact us today.

Can I Receive Social Security Retirement and Disability Benefits at the same time?

by John Miller | January 11th, 2017

Generally, one cannot draw both Social Security retirement and disability benefits at the same time. Disability benefits provide support for those that can no longer work but have not reached retirement age.  The full benefit amount for disability is based on the full amount of retirement benefits one is eligible for.  When someone on disability reaches retirement age, they are automatically switched to retirement benefits.

The lone exception to this is when someone takes advantage of the early, reduced retirement benefits at age 62.  If someone is found to have a disability that began prior to receiving the early retirement benefits, then that person would receive retroactive benefits equal to the difference between the full benefit amount and the reduced amount he/she was receiving. This person would then also receive full retirement benefits once reaching the full retirement age because they should have been receiving disability benefits rather than early retirement benefits. This will never result in the ability to draw double benefits.

This person would also receive the benefit of a “disability freeze.” Retirement benefits are calculated based on earnings and the amount paid into the system. So when someone is found to be disabled, there is a disability freeze so that the period of low or no earnings does not reduce the benefit amount.

If, however, someone is found to have a disability beginning after the start of receiving early retirement benefits, there will be no retroactive benefits and that person will not get the disability freeze. This person will receive his or her full disability benefit amount.  Upon reaching the full retirement age, the retirement benefit amount will still be reduced based on the number of months they were receiving the early retirement benefits.

A Rainwater, Holt & Sexton social security disability attorney can help review any case and make sure all the proper benefits are being paid.

When Should I Hire a Social Security Disability Lawyer?

by Richard Atkinson | December 28th, 2016

Social Security Disability (SSD) is a program that gives monthly payments to people who have become disabled before retirement age, and are not able to work. If you have recently become disabled and are considering applying for SSD, you have probably wondered if you need a social security disability lawyer. The short answer is yes.

You should contact a social security disability lawyer as soon as you start considering applying for SSD. Consultations are always free and require no obligation. As an added level of assurance, federal law regulates the fees paid to disability lawyers, so you will know upfront the maximum that you would be required to pay a lawyer, should you hire them.

Benefits of a Social Security Disability Lawyer

When contacting a lawyer, the earlier the better when it comes to social security disability. Here are a few ways a social security disability lawyer can strengthen your case:

  • Your chances of being approved are significantly increased. Statistics show that Social Security is more likely to approve someone who is represented by legal counsel.
  • Attorneys understand how to present the case in the most favorable light.
  • An attorney can attempt to expedite an SSD case, which typically takes months or years to be resolved – especially if your situation is dire or medical condition is terminal.
  • An attorney can request an “on-the-record” decision, which could allow you to be approved for benefits without a hearing.
  • If your application is denied, an SSD lawyer can navigate the appeals process and craft a sophisticated argument of why your case was wrongly denied.

The only time you should wait to hire a social security disability lawyer is if you’ve already submitted your initial application and are awaiting a response. An attorney wouldn’t be able to do much at this point, however if you receive a denial, you should certainly contact a lawyer to help appeal the decision.

Contact Rainwater, Holt & Sexton in you’re located in Northwest Arkansas and are considering filing for social security disability.

How Long Does a Social Security Disability Case Take?

by John Miller | December 21st, 2016

When applying for Social Security disability benefits, there can be multiple stages a claim may go through to get a decision.  There is no set time frame for a Social Security disability claim to be approved or denied.  Each level may vary for the time it takes to receive a decision, and the time it takes for a claim to be resolved will be determined by how far into the appeals process a claim must go.

Once the application is filed, the initial disability determination on average may take three to four months. During this stage, the Disability Determination Services (DDS) will gather all relevant medical records and any other information to decide the claim.  This evidence is then reviewed by medical experts and adjudicators in order to determine technical and medical eligibility.

If a claim is denied at the initial level, the first level of appeal is reconsideration.  At reconsideration, new evidence is gathered and considered in conjunction with all previously submitted medical evidence.  A new decision is then made at reconsideration, and this may take an additional three to four months.

If a claim is then denied upon reconsideration, the claimant may then request their claim be reviewed at the hearing level with an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).  At this level, the ALJ will gather all new medical records and the claimant will be given an opportunity to appear at a hearing to testify.  When a hearing is requested, the time it takes to hold the hearing and receive a decision will vary depending on the local hearing office. For example, in Arkansas, there are two local Offices of Disability Hearings and Review, one in Little Rock and one in Fort Smith. The average wait time for a hearing in Arkansas is 9.5 months, and the average processing time is roughly 387 days.

If the ALJ denies your claim, the last step in the administrative process is to file an appeal to the Appeals Council (AC).  All appeals across the country are processed by the same Appeals Council.  It can take up to a year or longer for the AC to make a determination.  The AC will make a thorough review of all the medical evidence and testimony taken at the Hearing.  The AC may approve your case, or they may remand the claim back to the ALJ for further review.

If the Appeals Council denies your request for review and determines that the ALJ’s decision was correct, you have exhausted all administrative remedies.  The next step would be to appeal the decision to federal district court.  The average time to receive a decision in federal court is about 8 months, but this will also vary depending on your local federal district courts.  The federal magistrate Judge may uphold the ALJ’s original decision or your claim may be remanded to the ALJ for further review.

The important thing to remember when awaiting a decision in your claim is that all the wait times above are just estimates.  There are many variables that come into play at each level that could alter the wait time for a decision.  Every case is unique with different variables that are taken into consideration, so you will want to avoid comparing your wait times to those you may know who are or have been through the claim process before.

Although a Rainwater, Holt & Sexton attorney cannot make the SSA decide your claim faster, the attorney will know when special rules or regulations may apply in your case that can be used to request an off-the-record review. These special rules do not apply to every case, and do not guarantee positive decisions, but it’s important to have a representative to know when they can be utilized. In addition, statistics show that you are more likely to be approved for benefits when you have an experienced attorney representing you in your claim.

Can Certain Medical Conditions Get You Approved for Disability Automatically?

by John Miller | December 7th, 2016

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees or automatic wins in disability. However, there are a few medical conditions that are more likely to win than others. Those are more likely to win earlier in the review process, but there are still certain financial or legal requirements that must be met before someone gets approved.

Compassionate Allowances List

Social Security keeps a list of about 200 conditions on this list that are so serious that a simple diagnosis may automatically qualify the applicant for benefits. This list allows Social Security to quickly identify the obviously disabled persons in an effort to provide benefits quickly to those individuals. Illnesses on this list include conditions such as certain types of cancers, ALS, early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, among others. Social Security will expedite an application that claims one of these conditions so that a decision may be made as soon as possible.  For a full list of these conditions you may click here.

Listing of Impairments

There are also a select group of medical conditions in the Social Security Administration’s Listing of Impairments Manual that also can qualify as disability with proof of certain conditions met.  The required conditions vary for each specific disorder, most of which will require proof by objective measures in your medical records. Most of the listed impairments are permanent or expected to result in death. Some listings will state a specific period of time for which an impairment will meet the listing. For all others, the evidence must show that an impairment has lasted or can be expected to last for at least 12 months.  All medical conditions on this list are categorized under the specific bodily systems effected, and a full list with requirements is found here.

Again, if your claim falls under either list, there are certain non-medical requirements that must also be met before benefits may be awarded.  These include a required number of years of work with sufficient credits for SSDI and low enough income and assets for SSI eligibility, as well as citizenship or legal residency requirements. If your impairment(s) qualify under one of the lists above, you must still not be working above SGA levels in order to be eligible for benefits. If these requirements are all met, your claim will be sent to a payment center and you will be sent an awards notice with specifics on the benefits you can expect. An experienced Rainwater, Holt & Sexton attorney will help to identify when these criteria are met and to ensure that the proper requests can be made for potentially expedited decisions when applicable.

Call Rainwater, Holt & Sexton today if you need a social security disability lawyer to help navigate the difficulties of filing.

There’s No App for Securing SSD Benefits

by Cary Graham | October 24th, 2016

It used to be that if you wanted to get somewhere you’d never been, you had two options: ask for directions or consult a map. We’re not talking about an online map or GPS on your phone, but a tangible paper map that never seemed to fold correctly after its initial use. Nowadays, we simply type in the address and the optimal route is at our fingertips.

Unfortunately, there’s no app or website that can successfully handle your Social Security Disability appeal for you. For that, you still need the help of a legal professional who knows the terrain and can lead you safely through to the other side. That’s what we do at Rainwater, Holt & Sexton for folks who have been denied Social Security Disability benefits. We thoroughly review their application and build the best appeal we possibly can to ensure they get the disability benefits they deserve.

If you’ve been denied Social Security Disability benefits, give us a call today for a free evaluation of your application. Our experienced Arkansas Social Security Disability lawyers have helped folks from all over the state successfully appeal their SSD denial, and we’re ready to help you too. Don’t risk losing your benefits by going it alone. Call us today.

Arkansas Disability Victims Denied Social Security Benefits

by Cary Graham | June 20th, 2016

Social Security Disability benefits aren’t going to make anyone rich. They’re not a handout, and they aren’t something anyone wants to need. They are a lifeline for disabled Americans who can’t work and are simply trying to make ends meet. At Rainwater, Holt & Sexton, we’re proud to help folks in Arkansas get the disability benefits they deserve, because we know without our help, they could have a tough time of it.

More than two-thirds of initial Social Security Disability (SSD) applications are denied. Many of those denials are due to a misunderstanding of the process or an error made in the application itself. The filing process for SSD benefits can be complex and confusing, and just one misstep can be the difference between securing benefits and coming up empty. An experienced Arkansas Social Security Disability attorney knows how to successfully navigate the application process and can give you the best chance of winning an appeal if you were initially denied.

If you or someone you love was denied Social Security Disability benefits, set yourself up to win your appeal and give us a call. We’ll evaluate your case for free and begin working immediately on securing the benefits you deserve. Your SSD benefits are too important to your family for you to go it alone, so call today.

What are the eligibility requirements for the two types of Social Security disability?

by Lauren Manatt | June 2nd, 2016

Each type of Social Security disability, SSI and SSDI, have different eligibility requirements. The different requirements can be confusing to many people in need of Social Security disability, which is why it may be important to work with an attorney. At Rainwater, Holt & Sexton we have a team of attorneys who understand the differences and are ready to begin working for you.

To be eligible for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) your income cannot exceed a certain level. SSI is a “needs” based disability. If your household income exceeds this threshold, you are deemed to not “need” the benefits and do not qualify for SSI. This income limit is based on the Federal Benefit Rate (FBR) and changes annually with the cost-of-living-adjustment. For 2016, the FBR is $733 per month for individuals and $1,100 for couples; however, your countable income may be different than your actual income, so talk to an attorney and let them advise you on whether or not you exceed this income limit.

To be eligible for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) you must have worked and paid FICA taxes for a required minimum number of years. It works much like an insurance policy, hence the name “disability insurance”. As you work and pay taxes you earn credits which essentially “insure” you under SSDI in the event you become disabled. If you stop working, you stop paying taxes, and stop earning those credits. Eventually, your credits will expire and your “insured period” will end. SSA (Social Security Administration) calls this your “date last insured” or “DLI” and you must prove you became disabled before this date in order to have access to SSDI benefits. Many people stop working because of a disability, but hold off on filing for SSDI for various reasons. This is quite dangerous because your DLI could be quickly approaching and you not know until it is too late. Even if you have been told by SSA that your DLI is in the in the past, please call Rainwater, Holt & Sexton as we may still be able to help you.

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