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DISABILITY INFORMATION Disability 
		Information

66% of the people we surveyed with CMP receive disability payments. This section answers many questions you might have about obtaining disability, frequently asked questions about hiring a lawyer to handle your case, and so much more. Select from the links below for more information:


 Worldwide Information  Basic Information

CMP and Disability

If you are thinking about filing a claim for Social Security Disability benefits related to Chronic Myofascial Pain (CMP) or if your claim for benefits has been denied, there are some very important things you should know.

There are some distinct obstacles to overcome in establishing a claim for Social Security Disability related to CMP because fatigue cannot be viewed through the lenses of a microscope, or seen on an x-ray.

Medical Documentation

In cases involving Chronic Myofascial Pain (CMP), the Social Security Administration (SSA) tends to make its determination based on a comprehensive overview of the medical evidence specific to your case. This medical evidence will include the extent and nature of the treatment provided by the various physicians who treat you and the clinical chart created for you at every visit.

Consequently, it is imperative that all of your medical records demonstrate a consistency of complaints common to your disease, such as weakness and muscle aches, and chronic headaches associated with your illness. This will help establish a specific pattern regarding your debilitating illness that will be apparent when the SSA reviews your case.

The clinical notes and a report by the treating physician are the most important. Additionally, the patient should be complaining at each office visit of the severe fatigue and constant pain that are consistent with this condition. A report that establishes that all other causes for the symptoms have been ruled out helps establish the existence of the disease.

To further establish your claim, you will need to show that due to the constant physical fatigue, you are unable to perform basic tasks such as housework, travel to and from appointments, shopping, and other social functions. Often depression becomes an issue because of the severe changes in lifestyle and ability. Treatment notes and reports from a psychiatrist or psychologist will help document the severity of this problem for your Social Security Disability claim. It is essential that the medical professionals associated with your case are supportive during the process, and that they provide the documentation that is necessary to assist you in proving your claim.



Fibromyalgia and Disability

In cases involving Fibromyalgia (FM) there are some very distinct obstacles to overcome in establishing a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance. (SSDI). In part, this is because the extent of severe fatigue and constant pain cannot necessarily be viewed through the lenses of a microscope, or on an x-ray.

Therefore it is imperative that all of your medical records demonstrate a consistency of complaints common to your disease, such as the severe pain associated with your illness. This will help establish a specific pattern regarding your debilitating illness that will be apparent when the SSA reviews your case.

Medical Documentation

In order to establish a claim for Social Security Disability it is necessary to establish proof of your medical disability. Remember, the Social Security Administration is focused on function, not on diagnosis. In all disability claims involving FM, it is important to document how this debilitating disease impacts your daily life by making you unable to function or to perform ordinary tasks.

The clinical notes and a report by the treating rheumatologist are the most important. A 1996 decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals established that a rheumatologist should consistently document the positive findings for the tender points, which are diagnostic for this disease. Additionally, the patient should be complaining at each office visit of the severe fatigue and constant pain that are consistent with this condition. A report that establishes that all other causes for the symptoms have been ruled out helps establish the existence of the disease.

To further establish your claim, you will need to show that due to the constant physical fatigue, you are unable to perform basic tasks such as housework, travel to and from appointments, shopping, and other social functions. Often depression becomes an issue because of the severe changes in lifestyle and ability. Treatment notes and reports from a psychiatrist or psychologist will help document the severity of this problem for your Social Security Disability claim. It is essential that the medical professionals associated with your case are supportive during the process, and that they provide the documentation that is necessary to assist you in proving your claim.



Disabling Medical Conditions
The following is a list of common medical conditions that may result in a determination that the patient should receive long term disability insurance benefits. Some are physical conditions and some are mental illnesses.

AIDS / HIV Fibromyalgia Macular edema/degeneration
Back pain Gastrointestinal reflux Manic disorder
Bipolar disorder Glaucoma Memory disorder
Bladder control/cancer Headaches / Migraines Menieres disease
Bulging disc Hearing impairment Meningitis
Cancer (all kinds) Heart disease (several kinds) Multiple myeloma
Carpal tunnel syndrome Heart failure (all kinds) Multiple sclerosis
Cerebral atrophy Hepatitis Myofascial Pain Syndrome
Cervical disc disease Herniated disc Neuropathy
Crohn's disease High BP / Hypertension Osteoarthritis
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Hip / knee replacement Pancreatitis
Chronic Myofascial Pain Hodgkin's disease Parkinson's disease
Cystic fibrosis Irritable bowel syndrome Post-traumatic stress disorder
Degenerative disc disease Kidney disease (all kinds) RSD
Dementia Leukemia Rheumatoid arthritis
Depression Liver disease (all kinds) Schizophrenia
Diabetes Lumbar disc disease Seizures
Dialysis Lung disease (all kinds) Spinal stenosis
Epilepsy Lupus Stroke
Epstein-Barr virus Lyme disease TMJ


Service Dogs for The Disabled

Service dogs that are trained to assist the individual needs of a person with a disability can provide the amount of physical and/or psychological support necessary to help that person lead a more functional and independent life. Click the links below for information.



Frequently Asked Questions

What Is a Service Dog?

A: According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990), a dog is considered a "service dog" if it has been "individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability." To be considered a service dog, the dog must be trained to perform tasks directly related to the person's disability.



Where can I find a service dog?

A: There are many places online and offline that provide service dogs. Here are just a few:



How much does a service dog cost?

A: Trainer and acquisition fees may range from no cost to thousands of dollars. Each service dog trainer or training program sets their own fees. Some people choose to look for sponsorship for their service dog from local organizations such as businesses, churches, and civic groups. By helping sponsor a service dog, local organizations give back to their community, much like sponsoring a youth sports team.



How do I certify my service dog?

A: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not require service animals to be "certified". This type of assessment and identification is not a legal requirement under the ADA and other federal non-discrimination laws, but is preferred by some handlers. Some service dog trainers and programs evaluate the dogs they train and provide the handlers with some type of identification card. Other trainers will test dogs they have not trained and provide the owner with identification cards.

[Return to Service Dog Info.]



Basic Information About Service Dogs

Service animal describes any animal that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability.

Service dog, adapted from the term service animal, is a species-specific term to generically describe any dog in the role of service animal. While the term "service animal" is legally defined, some organizations use the term "assistance animal" or "assistance dog."

The terminology used to label specific types of work dogs perform for people with disabilities has not been standardized. For example, a dog trained to help a person walk might be referred to by different sources as a "mobility dog", a "walker dog", or a "support dog." In addition to the wide variety of terms used, many service dogs are cross-trained to perform more than one category of work (such as guide and mobility for a person who is blind and has severe arthritis) and labeling them by the work they do becomes cumbersome.

Many individuals choose to identify their service animal generically (as "service animals", "service dogs", "service cats," etc.) because it identifies the roles of the animals without disclosing the nature of the persons' disabilities, and it is consistent with the terminology of the laws that protect them.

The differences between a service animal, therapy animal, companion animal, and social/therapy animal



Service Animals:
    Are animals legally defined (Americans With Disabilities Act, 1990) and are trained to meet the disability-related needs of their handlers who have disabilities. Federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animals in public places. Service animals are not considered "pets."

Therapy Animals:
    These animals are not legally defined by federal law, but some states have laws defining therapy animals. They provide people with contact to animals, but are not limited to working with people who have disabilities. They are usually the personal pets of their handlers, and work with their handlers to provide services to others. Federal laws have no provisions for people to be accompanied by therapy animals in places of public accommodation that have "no pets" policies. Therapy animals usually are not service animals.

Companion Animal:
    These animals are not legally defined, but are accepted as another term for pet.

Social/Therapy" Animals:
    Likewise, these animals have no legal definition. They often are animals that did not complete service animal or service dog training due to health, disposition, trainability, or other factors, and are made available as pets for people who have disabilities. These animals might or might not meet the definition of service animals.

[Return to Service Dog Info.]



Who Service Dogs Can Help

Service dogs can benefit people with disabilities associated with many diagnoses, including (but not limited to):

  • Spinal cord/head trauma (injury, stroke)
  • Visual or hearing deficits
  • Arthritis
  • Ataxia/poor balance
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Spina bifida
  • Seizure disorders
  • Cardio/pulmonary disease
  • Arteriovascular disease (primary or secondary to diabetes, etc.)
  • Psychiatric disabilities

Any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity might be a candidate for a service dog. Consideration of a person as a candidate for a service dog should include not only the diagnosis of a chronic disability, but also the person's ability to function on a daily basis:

  • How difficult are activities of daily living?
  • Will the person have better stamina if he/she can conserve energy by having the dog perform tasks?
  • Would having a service dog help the person get more physical exercise, be more mobile?
  • Would a dog help socially by being a distraction from the person's disability, or help the person externalize his/her focus of attention?
  • Would the dog's presence alleviate some of the safety and well-being concerns of significant others who cannot be with the person all day?
  • Would the person eat better if the dog carried the food from the refrigerator, or if they synchronized their meals?

Health care and social service providers can help identify and evaluate their clients' needs to determine if a service dog might be a viable option for them.

[Return to Service Dog Info.]



Tasks Performed by Service Dogs

Service dogs are versatile, reliable assistants for people with disabilities. No longer limited to guiding people with visual impairments, service dogs perform a wide variety of tasks suitable as intervention for an equally wide assortment of limitations.

Service dogs can be trained to reliably perform many tasks, some of which are:

  • Leading a person who has a visual impairment around obstacles, to destinations (seating, across street, to/through door, to/into elevator, etc.).

  • Sound discrimination to alert a person with a hearing impairment to the presence of specific sounds, such as:
    • Smoke/fire/clock alarms
    • Telephone
    • Baby crying
    • Sirens
    • Another person
    • Timers buzzing
    • Knocks at door
    • Unusual sounds (things that go bump in the night, etc.)

  • General assistance, including:
    • Mobility (helping person balance for transfer/ambulation, pulling wheelchair, helping person rise from sitting or fallen position).
    • Retrieval (getting items that are dropped or otherwise out of reach, carrying items by mouth).
    • Miscellaneous (e.g., open/close doors and drawers, help person undress/dress, carry items in backpack, act as physical buffer to jostling by others, put clothes in washer/remove from dryer, bark to alert for help).

  • Sense and alert owners to oncoming seizures. It is currently unknown why or how some dogs are able to do this, but a number of dogs have demonstrated the ability to warn their owners of oncoming seizures, enabling the owners to position themselves safely.

[Return to Service Dog Info.]



Qualifying & Applying For A Service Dog

Trainers and organizations that have service animals establish their own qualifying criteria. Ask for a copy of their qualification criteria in writing. Some organizations require documentation of a particular degree of disability. Other organizations will not accept you unless you live alone or have no pets. Many organizations have online application forms.

When researching service animal organizations remember to ask what your cost will be. Many organizations offer dogs to patients free of charge, others require you to pay a fee of up t$20,000. For help in paying for a service animal visit Assistance Dog United Campaign. They have programs that offer assistance to people needing a service animal.

Where To Apply

Here are just a few places we've found that provide service animals. Be sure to research all organizations fully so you won't be surprised in the end.

[Return to Service Dog Info.]



Types of Dogs Used

Some organizations will train your own dog. Other organizations will provide the dog and the training free of charge, or for a fee. Most breeders carefully select and breed Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and crosses of the two after an intensive evaluation process.

They check each dog's temperament, trainability, health, physical attributes, littermate trends and the production history of the dam and sire. Only then are the "best of the best" will be chosen as breeder dogs.

[Return to Service Dog Info.]



Service Dog Etiquette

When you meet a person with a service dog, please remember that the dog is working. Don't do anything to interrupt the service dog while it is performing its tasks.

Interacting With People With Service Dogs

  • Speak to the person first. Do not aim distracting or rude noises at the dog.
  • Do not touch the service dog without asking for, and receiving, permission.
  • Do not offer food to the service dog.
  • Do not ask personal questions about the handler's disability, or otherwise intrude on his or her privacy.
  • Don't be offended if the handler does not wish to chat about the service dog.

[Return to Service Dog Info.]



Choosing A Good Disability Attorney
If you've got CMP chances are you're going to think about applying for Social Security Disability at some point in time. Applying for disability is a long, often frustrating experience. However, having a lawyer who specializes in Social Security, disability law or FM/CMP will make this process much easier! Here are some qualities good lawyers should have:

Integrity

Many lawyers will offer you a free half hour consultation, during this time you will be able to give the lawyer a brief insight into your particular problem. Once presented with the facts a good lawyer will always tell you up front what they think your chances of winning the case are.

Background History

You should feel comfortable in the lawyer's presence. A good honest lawyer will have nothing to hide when it comes to asking about previous cases that they have won or lost. Obviously they may not be able to go into great detail but they should be able to give you an idea of how many cases they have succeeded in winning and if any of those cases were similar to yours.

Special knowledge

A good lawyer will be knowledgeable about the area of law in which they practice. If you're attempting to get SSD or SSI you'll want an attorney who specializes in social security or disability law. They will have expertise explaining your disabilities in terms of work limitations. Disability law is a specialty and therefore you are better off with a lawyer who just specializes in disability law as they will have more experience and knowledge.

Thoroughness

A good lawyer must be able to listen to you with an open mind, to understand the changes you have suffered since your disability. A good lawyer will look for what has motivated you throughout your career, and what barriers you now face. It is this attention to detail that helps make a convincing case for court.

Good Judgment

Because the practice of law involves real people interacting with often complex legal principles, good lawyers must exercise good judgment. This involves being able to see the big picture. A good lawyer will ask whether all of the pieces really fit together to make a single cohesive whole. Chasing after weak claims can sometimes weaken a strong claim. So a good lawyer must decide what claims are credible and what claims are not. Then they must workwith you to build a case which can stand up to serious scrutiny.

Trial skill

A good lawyer must be willing to take a case all the way through a trial and have a good track record in court. Although few cases may actually go to trial, the quality of a settlement often depends on the defense team's assessment of how well the lawyer might do in court.



Interviewing The Attorney
Once you've chosen a few attorneys to work with you'll want to interview them to be certain they are right for your needs. With a face to face meeting you'll quickly see whether the lawyer knows how to listen, gets to the heart of issues, answers your questions honestly and clearly, and understands your personal needs. Ask a lot of questions up front so you're not left wondering later. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How long have you been practicing social security disability and/or ssi disability law?

  • How much training do you get each year. (Those who focus their practice on Social Security cases usually join the National Organization of Social Security Representatives and attend at least one or more seminars sponsored by NOSSCR each year. Lawyers are required by their ethical rules to continue to get more training and stay up to date on the law.)

  • Will you help me to complete all the forms that I must file to pursue my claim? (You want an attorney who will be there for you every step of the way.)

  • Will you get my file in advance of the hearing and go over the evidence before the hearing date? (Going into the hearing and reading over the file just t hirty minutes before the hearing is a sign of weak preparation.)

  • Will you prepare a written statement about the evidence and use that to persuade the judge at my hearing to find I am disabled? (This is a sign of a representative who puts out additional effort for your case.)

  • Will you meet with me several days before the hearing to discuss what I should expect at the hearing? (If not, you are going to that hearing less well prepared.)

  • Will you take my appeal all the way to federal court? If not, why not? If the attorney is not licensed to do this, will you be given a referral to someone who is able to do that appeal?

  • What percentage of your clients are from referrals? (If they have a high referral rate then you know that he/she has done a good job for many people in the past.)

  • What fees will you charge for my case? (You only pay the attorney a fee if you win your case. You do not pay an attorney up front. Generally, every disability attorney will represent you on a contingency fee basis. This means you do not pay an attorney's fee unless you win your case, but always ask them in your interview!)

  • How long does it typically take to get to a hearing date scheduled?

  • What contact do you normally have with your clients over the course of the disability process?

  • How will you report to me on the progress of my case?



Tips For Testifying At Your Hearing
I remember how nervous I was before I had my hearing. My attorney was less than great about preparing me. He never explained to me what the process was, nor did he give me any tips on what to do or say. I was lucky, I still was awarded my social security disability. The following are some tips for those of you who will be going before a judge.

Arrive Early

Arrive for your hearing about a half an hour early. Any earlier is not necessary. Disability hearings usually start on time, so whatever you do, don't be late.

[Return to Tips Index]



Don't Talk About Your Case

When you come for your hearing, remember, social security hearings are serious business. Don't make jokes. Indeed, don't even talk about your case before or after your hearing in the waiting room, in the hallway, in the elevator or anywhere else where a stranger can overhear. A social security employee may misinterpret what you say and get the wrong impression about you.

[Return to Tips Index]



The Hearing Room

A social security hearing room is held in a small conference room. It may have a few official trappings such as the seal of the Social Security Administration or an American flag. Hearing rooms are always equipped with a conference table. Hearing rooms often have a desk for the judge that sits on a small riser so it's slightly above the level of the conference table where you will sit.

[Return to Tips Index]



The Tape Recorder

The most important equipment in a hearing room is the tape recorder. It's used to record your hearing. Because your hearing will be recorded, it is important for you to speak clearly when you answer questions. When answering questions refrain from shaking your head, pointing to a part of your body, or saying "uh huh" or "huh uh". Try to respond by saying "yes" and "no" if you can.

[Return to Tips Index]



People In The Hearing Room

You will be seated at the conference table along with your attorney. Also seated at the conference table will be the judge's assistant who operates the tape recorder. Under some circumstances the judge may call a vocational witness or a doctor to testify. If so, they will be seated at the conference table, too. You are allowed to bring witnesses and, if you wish, observers into the hearing room. But the hearing is private. Anyone present other than the judge, the judge's staff and witnesses called by the judge must have your permission.

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Informal Hearings

Social security hearings are much less formal than court hearings. Although this is an informal hearing, there are a couple of procedures that are necessary to follow. First, you and all witnesses will testify under oath. Second, it's important that you not ask for help from anyone in the room when you are testifying. Only one person is allowed to testify at a time. It's important that your witnesses or friends do not chime in to help you testify.

[Return to Tips Index]



The Administrative Law Judge

The person who presides in a social security hearing is an administrative law judge. Although many judges do not wear judicial robes and you will not be expected to stand up when the judge comes into the room, the social security judge is entitled to the same sort of respect that you would pay to a court judge.

The judge's job is to issue an independent decision, which is not influenced by the fact that your case was denied at the time of your initial application and on reconsideration. In fact judges do issue independent decisions, with more than half of their decisions nationwide being in favor of the claimant. These are the best odds of winning at any step in the entire social security appeals system.

There is no lawyer on the other side who is going to cross-examine you. Judges usually do not "cross-examine" a claimant. The judge is not your adversary. The judge is not your opponent. The judge's job is to find out the facts.

Don't ask the judge any questions about your case. For example, don't ask, "Why have I been denied?" "Why is it taking me so long to have a hearing?" and so forth. It is best to focus on the facts of your case, to give the judge the best possible reasons to find you disabled. The only time you should ask the judge a question is when you do not understand what is being asked of you. Judges and lawyers sometimes ask simple questions in complicated ways. This is a shortcoming of the legal profession. Don't be intimidated by it. If you're not sure you understand a question, don't be embarrassed to ask politely for an explanation.

[Return to Tips Index]



Testify Truthfully

The most important thing about a social security hearing is telling the truth. When the judge asks a question, don't try to figure out why the judge is asking that particular question or whether your answer will help or hurt your case. Be candid about your strengths as well as about your limitations. The best way to lose a good case is for the judge to think that you're not telling the truth. So, testify truthfully.

Don't pretend to cry or be in more pain than you are. On the other hand, you need not suffer silently or minimize your problems when you tell the judge how you feel. If you need to take a break from the hearing, ask the judge for permission. If you are uncomfortable sitting and it would help to stand up for a while, you may do so and you should not be embarrassed about it.

[Return to Tips Index]



Tell Your Story

This will be your chance to tell the judge everything you want the judge to know about why your condition prevents you from holding a job. You need to provide enough facts, details, and explanation in your testimony to make it obvious to the judge that you are disabled.

[Return to Tips Index]



Work and Educational History

For work history, you will be asked to describe job duties on your last job and on all significant jobs you've had during the past fifteen years. The judge will want to know how much weight you had to lift on each job and about how much time during the workday that you spent sitting, standing and walking on each job. The judge will be interested in difficulties you had performing past jobs because of your health and why you left each former job, especially your last job.

The judge will also ask about job skills. If you have had semi-skilled or skilled work, it is important that you describe your skills accurately. Remember, though, this hearing is not like a job interview in which people often have a tendency to try to puff up their job skills. Guard against any such tendency.

For education, you'll be asked the highest grade you completed in school, whether you had any training in the military, whether you have had any formal vocational training or on-the-job training. If you have difficulty explaining why you can't now perform one of the jobs that you have done in the past 15 years, you'll want to go over this with your lawyer before your hearing. If you have recently completed some schooling that might qualify you for a skilled job, be sure your lawyer knows all about this schooling.

[Return to Tips Index]



Medical History

Sometimes there are no questions whatsoever about your medical history. The judge will have your medical records from doctors, hospitals and others who have treated you and may let the medical records speak for themselves. It is your lawyer's job to see to it that all of the medical records the judge needs to see are in the hearing exhibit file and, when necessary, that there are letters from your doctors explaining your medical condition and their opinions about your limitations.

The judge may ask a few general questions about your medical history. The judge may want to know how often you see your doctor, what sort of treatment your doctor provides, what medications you are taking, how often you take them and whether there are any side effects. You may be asked to describe the symptoms and treatment of your medical condition since it began, what doctors you have seen, where and when you were hospitalized, and so forth.

[Return to Tips Index]



Symptoms

Symptoms are how you feel. No one knows how you feel better than you. You know where you hurt, and when you hurt. You know when you get short of breath or dizzy or fatigued. So it's up to you to describe those symptoms to the judge in as much detail and as vividly as possible. After all, it's these symptoms that keep you from working. It's not because you have some particular label of disease like arthritis or a heart condition or a lung condition that you are unable to work. You cannot work because of how you feel.

So if the judge says to you, "Why can't you work?" Don't say, "It's because I have fibromyalgia," etc. Lots of people who can and do work have the same impairment. So telling the judge the name of your health problem really tells the judge nothing. What the judge needs to know is the severity of your pain and other symptoms.

[Return to Tips Index]



Estimate the Intensity of Your Symptoms

You may be asked if your pain and other symptoms vary in intensity. If so, do your best to describe how your pain and other symptoms vary in intensity during a usual day or over a usual week. Often it is best to use the 1 to 10 scale sometimes used by therapists and doctors. On this scale 1 is essentially no pain and 10 is the worst pain you've ever had. Be sure you understand this scale and use it correctly without exaggerating. Think about the worst pain you ever had. Did it cause you to go to the emergency room? Did you lie in your bed writhing in pain, finding it difficult to get up even to go to the bathroom? Did it cause you to roll up into a fetal position? These are the images that the judge will have about what it means to have pain at a 10 level.

[Return to Tips Index]



Estimate of Limitations

If a friend asks you how far you can walk, you probably start thinking of places you have walked recently, how you felt when you got there, whether you had to stop and rest along the way, and so forth. You are likely to answer your friend's question by giving one or more examples of walking someplace recently. If the judge asks this question, answer it the same way. Be as detailed as possible.

Also, be aware that there is a built in ambiguity in a judge's question concerning how long you can stand, how much you can lift, how far you can walk, and so forth. Judges always ask the question just that way: "How long can you stand?" The question should not be interpreted to mean, "How long can you stand before you are in so much pain that you must go home and go to bed?" What the judge needs to know, of course, is how long you can stand in a work situation where you must stand for a while, are allowed to sit down, and then must stand again.

[Return to Tips Index]



The Order In Which Things Happen At A Hearing
Judges usually begin disability hearings by reciting the case history of your case and stating the issues to be decided. Judges usually say that in order to be found disabled you must be "unable to perform substantial gainful activity which exists in significant numbers in the economy, considering your age, education and work experience."

The judge may question you first. And when the judge is done, the judge will give your lawyer a chance to ask you some questions. Some judges expect lawyers to handle most of the questioning. If so, answer questions asked by your lawyer the same way you'd answer them if a stranger were the one asking the questions. Sometimes a claimant may give less than complete answers when his or her lawyer asks questions, because the lawyer knows a lot about the case already. So, it is important to keep in mind that the judge, who will decide your case, doesn't know the answers until you say them. Although the judge probably will read your file before the hearing, when you're testifying, it is best to assume that the judge knows nothing about your case. Plan on explaining everything.

When you're done testifying your lawyer will be allowed to question any witnesses you've brought to the hearing. It is really important for your case to bring at least one witness to your hearing to testify in support of what you say, to give the judge details about your impairments and how they affect you, or to offer a different perspective on your medical problems. After your witness's testimony, any doctor or vocational expert called by the judge will testify.

At the end of the hearing some judges will ask you if you have anything more to say. It's best if you don't try to argue your case at this point, let your lawyer do that. Most judges will give a lawyer the opportunity to make a closing argument either at the end of the hearing or to be submitted in writing.

Most judges won't tell you if you've won, although a few will. Even if you're told you've won, the judge still must write a decision, which will be mailed to you with a copy to your lawyer. Sometimes it takes quite a while for the decision to come out.



How the Judge Determines Disability
The Social Security Administration looks at whether you are capable of doing jobs, not whether you'd be hired. Thus, you may have to prove that you are unable to do jobs that you would never be hired for in a million years.

In some cases, the medical findings about your condition alone will cause the judge to find you disabled. In other cases, the majority of cases, you usually have to prove two things. First, you have to prove that your medical impairments prevent you from performing any job you've done in the past fifteen years. Second, you have to prove that there aren't very many other jobs you are capable of doing considering your age, education and work experience.

A lot of people have heard the language "totally and permanently disabled." This phrase, which comes from worker's compensation cases, does not apply in social security disability and SSI disability cases. First, for social security, you don't have to be "permanently" disabled. You only have to be disabled for 12 months.

Second, although you have to be totally disabled in the sense that you are unable to perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the economy, this doesn't mean that you have to be unable to do anything. In fact, very few people who go in front of an Administrative Law Judge are unable to do anything at all.

The rules used for determining disability apply most directly to impairments that limit your physical ability to stand, sit, walk, lift, bend or work with your hands. Mental impairments are a bit more complicated. If you are unable to do certain kinds of manual labor, whether because of a back problem, a heart condition,etc., your lawyer will be able to look at the rules and figure out just what you've got to prove.

Conclusion

Your hearing will be over in an hour or an hour and a half or so. Seldom do hearings take more than two hours. If you're well prepared your lawyer may not have to ask many questions at the hearing. In hearings with judges who like to ask most of the questions, it's only where issues are not developed or your lawyer thinks that your test

The written decision will be mailed to you with a copy to your lawyer. Sometimes, written decisions come out fairly quickly. (Fairly quickly for a hearing decision is about a month.) It is not uncommon for it to take three months or even much longer for a hearing decision to be mailed to you. So, as hard as it is, you must grit your teeth and wait. If more than three months pass, it's a good idea to make sure that your file hasn't been lost; and your lawyer can do that.



What To Do At Your Hearing
  • Tell the truth
  • Neither exaggerate nor minimize your symptoms.
  • Know your present abilities and limitations.
  • Provide relevant details and concrete examples but don't ramble on.


What NOT To Do At Your Hearing
  • Don't argue your case. Your job is to testify to facts, describe your symptoms, give estimates of your limitations, outline your daily activities, and provide lots of examples of your problems. Leave arguing your case to your lawyer. For example, don't use the line that starts "I worked all my life" or don't say, "I know I can't work."

  • Don't try to draw conclusions for the judge. Let the judge draw his or her own conclusions. Don't say things such as, "If I could work, I would be working." Or "I want to work." If you say this, it may cause the judge to think about Stephen Hawking who is in a wheelchair and unable to speak but is the world's leading expert on theoretical physics.

  • Don't compare yourself to others. "I know a guy who has nothing wrong with him but he gets disability benefits." Comparisons like that will not help your case.

  • Don't try to play on the judge's sympathy. It won't help. It might backfire. Judges have heard it all. Your financial situation, the fact that the bank is going to foreclose on your house and so forth are not relevant.



FAQ's About Disability Attorneys


Do I Need A Disability Attorney?

A: The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn't require you to have an attorney, you can represent yourself. Professional representation is a valuable service. The disability determination process is complex. Claimants without professional representation appear to be far less likely to receive the benefits to which they are entitled. For example, in 2000, 64% of claimants represented by an attorney were awarded benefits at the hearing level. However, only 40% of those without representation were awarded benefits at the hearing level.

[ Return to Disability Attorney FAQ's ]




Do I Have to Pay The Attorney's Fee?

A: You're probably wondering, "How can I afford an attorney when I am not working?" The answer is simple, you only pay the attorney a fee if you win your case. You do not pay an attorney up front. Generally, every disability attorney will represent you on a contingency fee basis. This means you do not pay an attorney's fee unless you win your case. Thus, everyone seeking disability benefits can afford an attorney. The question you should be asking yourself is "can I afford not to be represented by an attorney?"

[ Return to Disability Attorney FAQ's ]




Are Attorney Fees Regulated?

A: The SSA and federal law set the attorney's fees in disability cases. The standard fee agreement most attorneys use states the attorney's fee is contingent upon winning your case. The fee is 25% of all past due benefits for you and your family, up to a maximum of $5,300, or whichever is less. Some attorneys may use a fee agreement which provides for a maximum fee of $7,000.

The attorney's fees are usually only a fraction of the benefits you receive; depending on the amount of your past due benefits, it can be a very small fraction.

[ Return to Disability Attorney FAQ's ]




What Is My Case Worth If I Win?

A: The SSA and federal law set the attorney's fees in disability cases. The standard fee agreement most attorneys use states the attorney's fee is contingent upon winning your case. The fee is 25% of all past due benefits for you and your family, up to a maximum of $5,300, or whichever is less. Some attorneys may use a fee agreement which provides for a maximum fee of $7,000.

The attorney's fees are usually only a fraction of the benefits you receive; depending on the amount of your past due benefits, it can be a very small fraction.

[ Return to Disability Attorney FAQ's ]




Does Hiring A Disability Attorney Increase My Odds of Winning?

A: There are many reasons hiring an attorney can significantly increase the odds of winning your case. One significant reason is that disability attorneys understand the complicated laws and regulations that determine success or failure.

They know what you need to prove in order to win your case, and they know how to go about proving it. Hiring an attorney who specializes in Social Security disability law is extremely important because they have the expertise in representing people with your type of diagnosis. It is also important that your attorney believes in your case and that they can win it. I suggest you ask the attorney how much experience they have with your type of diagnosis and how often do they win? Any disability attorney should be willing to provide you with this information.

[ Return to Disability Attorney FAQ's ]




How Soon Should I Hire An Attorney?

ANSWER: From the beginning, the attorney should set forth a strategy that you both of you should follow to win your case. It is critical to understand what is necessary to prove your case and how you will go about winning it. The sooner you know this, the sooner you can take steps to execute the strategy and thereby increase your odds of winning. Thus, you should consult with and hire an attorney either when you file your claim or as soon thereafter as possible.

I encourage you to consult with an attorney as soon as possible to help you understand the process. The consultation should not cost you anything except your time. By understanding the process and having a strategy, you will significantly increase your odds of winning your case.

[ Return to Disability Attorney FAQ's ]




Is There A Right Way To Fill Out The SSA Forms?

ANSWER: Judges don't usually approve your case based on what you say on the forms. However, they often use what is said in the forms to support a denial of your claim. This is because if the SSA or a judge is going to approve your claim, they will base it on more compelling objective evidence such as medical records and/or treating physicians' opinions regarding your inability to work.

Here are a few tips when completing the SSA's forms that should significantly reduce the likelihood of making a serious mistake that comes back to bite you in the you-know-what!

  • Limit your answers to the space that has been provided and do not write in the margins or attach additional sheets of paper.

  • Answer all questions as if you're having a bad day. Simply put, if you were back working on a sustained basis, most likely every day would be a bad day.

  • You should mention all the diagnoses that have even a small impact on your inability to work. Use 5% of the allotted space to reference diagnoses and 95% to discuss the frequency, severity and duration of your symptoms and limitations. Explain how they limit not only your ability to work but also your ability to function on a daily basis.

  • Before you became ill you were probably an organized perfectionist who was incredibly productive. Everything in your life had its place; I know it kills you it is not that way now. However, this is not the time to be a compulsive, organized perfectionist!

    One of the hallmarks of your inability to work is your concentration problems, memory impairment and brain fog. Your life is now an unorganized mess. The SSA needs to see the real you and not a top notch administrative assistant who is articulate and possesses phenomenal organizational and typing skills. Do not typewrite your answers. Always hand write them even if your answers become illegible. The clarity of your handwriting and the way you answer the questions tells a lot about the severity of your concentration and memory problems.

    I remember it took me several days to complete my SSA forms. Your goal should be to have your answers look like it took you days. In fact, if it did take you days, make sure you tell the SSA that somewhere on the form.


  • Although the primary reason you are unable to work may be due to a physical diagnosis, don't overlook the psychological issues that often arise after years of dealing with chronic pain and fatigue. You want to win your case anyway you can, whether it is due to physical or psychological problems, or quite frequently, a combination of both.

[ Return to Disability Attorney FAQ's ]


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Last Modified: 12/31/69 07:00 ET