What Makes Good Social Security Judges?

I recently wrote about why some Social Security administrative law judges (ALJ’s) deny so many more people for disability benefits than other judges (“Why Do Some Social Security Administrative Law Judges Deny So Many More People than Others?”).  Public records show widely varying approval rates here.  In this blog, I will write about what attributes make good Social Security judges.

 

Hearings are at the third step of the Social Security disability appeals process.  Expect a denial when applying for Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits at the application and reconsideration levels.  At the next level, your Social Security benefits hearing, you speak with a judge either in person or by video about what medical problems keep you from working full-time.

 

ALJ’s approval rates at these Social Security hearings vary widely with the same kinds of cases.  In my prior blog, I wrote a few reasons why some ALJ’s deny so many more people.  These ALJ’s can:

 

  1. Misunderstand (purposely or out of inexperience) objective medical evidence.
  2. Discount the true impact of pain on functioning (lacking objective empathy).
  3. Want a reputation that they deny claims (personal motivations that are not objective).
  4. Overprotect the system, denying valid claims (while rooting out “fraud”) in the process.

 

On the other side of the coin, some attributes—in my experience—are common to good ALJ’s.  They are below.

 

Good ALJ’s investigate facts.  Law school teaches law students how to think critically.  We are taught to sift through facts and select those necessary to resolve legal issues.  Intelligent problem solving, however, requires investigating ALL facts rather than jumping to conclusions.  Social Security claims involve sifting through medical facts in medical records—something NOT taught in law school.  Good ALJ’s take time to look at ALL medical facts and weigh them in light of the medical evidence.  Good ALJ’s research what they do not understand.  The result?  Good ALJ’s have a better understanding of medical evidence.  Better hearing decisions come from a deeper understanding of the evidence.

 

Good ALJ’s have open minds.  Open minds allow good ALJ’s at hearings to actively listen at disability hearings.  Hearing testimony gives a personal perspective to medical conditions.  ALJ’s with closed minds, however, make hearings irrelevant and unproductive.  Rather than listening to other points of view, closed minds prejudge select facts—blocking a full perspective on the medical evidence.  For example, I know of a case in which a woman’s medical record included a comment from a treating doctor along these lines:  “Patient is a homemaker for her children.”  This ALJ decided this comment meant that the woman “chose” to stay home and was not disabled.  This simplified inductive reasoning prejudged her claim for disability.  I have known other ALJ’s who consider the hearing irrelevant because they read the medical records.  You cannot know a person from paper.  Such is the thought process of a closed mind.  Good ALJ’s, though, know that a full perspective on other people’s life experiences is key to judging well, quite like surveilling unfamiliar land is key to good map making.  By “surrounding” the evidence, good judges can map out a person’s medical conditions more truly and accurately.  Better hearing decisions come from a broader perspective on the evidence.

 

Good ALJ’s have patience.  People are different.  Medical conditions are unique.  Everyone describes medical problems differently.  Good judges know this, and listen.  They recognize that hearing rooms are not assembly lines of people to “get through.”  Good judges also recognize that people are vulnerable.  Hearing rooms are not courtrooms.  They are “non-adversarial.”  In my experience, impatient judges tend to upset clients at hearings.  This is unnecessary and reflects an inability on some level to empathize.  People with anxiety, for example, tend to get upset easily.  It is easy to upset a person under the stress of a Social Security hearing when you know their vulnerabilities.  You have their medical records!  Good judges, on the other hand, are patient and respectful at hearings.  Respectful discussion at hearings is productive, and leads to more informed hearing decisions.

 

Choosing good Social Security ALJ’s is a matter of gauging social IQ.  Grades are a poor indicator of the ability to relate to people.  Being a good tax lawyer, for example, has absolutely no bearing on being a good Social Security ALJ.

 

Advice for SSA:

 

  1. When reviewing existing ALJ’s, listen to hearing audio. Contentious ALJ’s have patterns of raising voices and disrespectfully cutting off answers.  Such behavior is entirely unnecessary.

 

  1. When hiring ALJ’s, hire smart attorneys who can demonstrate REAL LIFE client experience. Lawyers in government back rooms are not the ideal showcases for talent interacting with people.  Good ALJ’s have been on the front line in life, and can relate to other peoples’ reality.  The right people doing a job well leads to less burnout.  Good Social Security judges can relate to people fairly and respectfully.  Good ALJ’s, in my experience, help the Social Security Disability program immeasurably.

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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What will my Social Security Judge ask me at my Disability Hearing?

Q & A with 25+ year Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

 

Q:  What will my Social Security judge ask me at my Disability hearing?

A:  While each Social Security hearing is different, there are two main kinds of questions your Social Security Disability judge may ask you:  Questions about your physical limitations and questions about your mental limitations.  Questions about your physical limitations can include:

  • What physical problems limit your ability to work?
  • What chores do you do at home? How do you do them?
  • Have any of your doctors asked you to do exercises? If yes, do you do them?
  • How long can you stand at a time before you need to sit? Why?
  • How long can you sit before you need to stand? Why?
  • How long can you walk in blocks before you need to stop? Why?
  • How much can you lift at a time?
  • Do you drive? How far?
  • Do you shop for groceries? Do you go alone?

Questions about your mental limitations can include:

  • What mental problems limit your ability to work? Why?
  • Do you see a psychiatrist or psychologist for your mental health? If yes, who?
  • What medications do you take for your mental health? Do they have side effects?
  • What mental health symptoms do you have despite taking medications?
  • How well do you get along with other people? Who do you keep in contact with?
  • Can you care for your basic needs?

Q:  How should I prepare for these kinds of questions at my Social Security hearing?

A:  While it is important to know what kinds of questions you will be asked at your hearing, I recommend that my clients simply pay attention to the judge’s questions and answer them directly and simply.  Do not write out answers ahead and try to read the answers.  Do not ask your attorney in the hearing about how to answer the judge’s questions.  Do not be defensive about your answers.  Also, think of examples of limitations you have day-to-day that will help the judge picture your limitations.  For instance, when asked about how well you get along with people, you may answer the question, and then add how often you may need to be alone in your room, and then comment on a specific time this recently happened.  Your attorney should be ready to ask you for examples of how your physical or mental issues have actually impacted your life.

Q:  How should my Social Security attorney prepare me for the questions at my hearing?

A:  Every Social Security hearing is different depending on unique combinations of medical problems.  Your attorney should go through your medical records and ask you about any discrepancies between what you and your doctors think is wrong.  This way, you can think through what the judge may need to understand about your medical issues and treatment.  Also, your attorney may need to ask you about how often you have your symptoms and how long they last.  For example, if you have migraines or seizures, the judge at your Social Security hearing will need to know how often your experience these issues and how long each episode may last.  Finally, your attorney should help remind you of the basic timeline of events in your medical record, such as injuries or surgeries.  This will help you answer questions about how you have felt over time leading to your hearing.

Q:  How do my answers at my Social Security hearing help the Social Security judge?

A:  After speaking with you at your hearing, your Social Security judge will ultimately decide whether your physical and mental limitations would allow you to return to your past kind of work or other work full-time.  Based on your age and medical problems, your attorney at your Social Security hearing can explain to you what factors may allow you to be approved for Social Security disability benefit.

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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How Can my ALJ Misunderstand my Evidence at my Social Security Hearing?

REAL EXPERIENCE SERIES:

Q & A with 25+ year Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

Q:  What can my Social Security ALJ misunderstand about my evidence at my Social Security Disability benefits hearing?

A:  ALJ’s, as your Social Security judge is called, will form opinions about you based on your employment history and medical treatment record.  These opinions, right or wrong, can influence how your hearing goes even before you walk into the hearing room.  Unfavorable hearing decisions are created by templates that attack weaknesses in claims—even if they are merely assumptions.  Unfair or not, you need to be aware of the kinds of assumptions your ALJ may make about you.  Fight errors!

Q:  What might the ALJ assume about me?

A:  Here is a list of different scenarios that occur in Social Security hearings, assumptions that may arise from them, and how to combat them at your hearing:

  1. When your medical treatment is sparse or nonexistent, your ALJ may assume you are healthy. In this situation, your Social Security attorney needs to ensure that your ALJ at your hearing understands that you may have lost your insurance, been homeless, lacked physical access to treatment, or that chronic conditions do not require the need for ongoing care.  In the last case, conditions such as cerebral palsy or low IQ may not warrant annual treatment or medications.  So, once you apply for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits, treat regularly for ALL your medical conditions that limit your ability to work.  Retesting for chronic conditions may be necessary as well.  Also keep in mind your ALJ is not a doctor.  He or she may make assumptions about your remote treatment history for your chronic medical problems.  For this reason, touch on your remote medical history at your hearing!
  2. When your work history is poor, your ALJ may assume you are simply not motivated to work. In this situation, your Social Security attorney needs to ensure that your ALJ understands that you may have remained at home to care for children, care for a sick family member, or had unreported work.  SSA can see your work history.  It is difficult to prove you cannot work if it appears you have never tried.  Speak with your Social Security attorney about this.
  3. When you currently do not take medications, your ALJ may assume you are either healthy or non-compliant (failing to follow your doctors’ treatment). In this situation, your Social Security attorney needs to ensure that your ALJ understands that you may have had: (1) an addiction history that precludes you taking pain medications, (2) no access to insurance, or (3) a history of adverse reactions to other medications you are expected to take.  Make sure that the ALJ, and your doctors, understand your reality.

In my experience, Social Security hearings are error-prone because assumptions are made all the time about what is NOT in the evidence.  While your claim is pending, find trustworthy medical providers who follow through on treatment, make timely specialist referrals, and order the right testing.  You deserve the best medical treatment, and the best treatment gives you a better odds of either returning to work or proving disability.

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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What Medical Evidence Can Win Social Security Disability Benefits?

Q & A with 25-year Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

 

Q:  How does Social Security look at medical evidence?

A:  Social Security requires medical evidence to prove that you have medical problems that limit your ability to work.  That means you must regularly treat for your physical and mental health issues.

Q:  What kind of medical treatment is important?

A:   You need to get medical treatment that helps you get better or, at a minimum, keeps you as healthy as possible.  It is an error to see doctors only to prove something to someone else.  While Social Security lawyers may know what medical treatment you should pursue based on the law, remember:  Your doctors know best.  It is a grave mistake to take medical advice from any attorney.

“It is a grave mistake to take medical advice from any attorney.”

At Hoglund Law Offices, we encourage our Social Security disability clients to regularly get the right medical treatment from doctors they trust.  We also encourage our clients to ask about specialist treatment when their primary physicians determine it is necessary.  Communication with doctors is key.  Failure to treat properly is leading cause of lost Social Security claims.

“Failure to treat properly is leading cause of lost Social Security claims.”

Q:  What specialist medical treatment is best?

A:  This depends on your medical issues.  Ask your primary care physician if a specialist can help you best.  For example, your primary care physician may recommend a particular rheumatologist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, neurosurgeon, or some other specialist to diagnose and treat your specific medical problems.  Also, do your own research about the choices you have.  Your primary care physician may later supplement that treatment.

Q:  What medical treatment does Social Security expect?

A:   Social Security requires examinations and testing that confirm your medical diagnoses.  Social Security also requires medical evidence that proves how you are limited by your medical problems.  At Hoglund Law Offices, we regularly seek opinions about our clients’ medical limitations from treating providers.  A medical opinion can be the most important evidence in a Social Security disability claim.  For questions, call our law offices at 855-780-4357.

Andrew W. Kinney, Esq.

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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4 Key Factors to Win your Social Security Disability Hearing (Part 2)

Q & A with 25-year Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

 

Q: What are the main factors to help me win my Social Security Disability hearing?

A:  There are 4:  Your judge, your facts, your testimony, and your lawyer.  The first two factors were discussed in a previous blog.  The last two factors are discussed below.

Q:  Can my hearing testimony affect whether a Social Security judge approves me for Social Security Disability benefits?

A:  Yes.  There are two aspects to this question:  (1) Telling the truth, and (2) helping the judge learn about your limitations.  First, tell the truth at your Social Security hearing.  Do so in a simple and straightforward manner.  Your frankness about yourself is crucially important at your Social Security hearing.  The judge is trained as a lawyer.  Lawyers identify inconsistencies in facts.  You may relax, though, at this thought.  Your truth can never be wrong.  You know yourself better than anyone.  This leads to the second part—how your medical problems limit you.

Second, you can only help the judge learn about your limitations when you have insight into your medical problems.  You do not need to be a doctor.  But you do need to understand how your medical problems limit you more now than before you had them.  For example, you need to think about how your left shoulder issues limit your ability to reach forward at the grocery store.  Or, you need to think about how often you have trouble getting out of bed since your diagnosis of depression.  Some people have more insight than others about how their medical conditions limit them.  You need to learn how to explain your medical limitations to a judge.  This is where an experienced Social Security lawyer can help.

Q:  Is my lawyer a key factor in winning my Social Security claim?

A:  Yes.  I have seen it all.  Sometimes law is overlooked or misapplied at hearings.  Sometimes experts need pointed cross-examination.  Your Social Security lawyer will be with you at your hearing to argue how the law and facts support your claim for Social Security disability benefits.  An experienced lawyer, however, will also help you organize your thoughts and explain yourself at your hearing.  Some hearings turn on specific limitations, such as your ability to handle objects or be around people.  An experienced lawyer will know how your own words can make your day-to-day life come alive at your hearing.  If you would like to ask about having a Hoglund Law Offices attorney at your Social Security disability hearing, call us now at 855-780-4357.

Andrew W. Kinney, Esq.

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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4 Key Factors to Win your Social Security Disability Hearing (Part 1)

Q & A with 25-year Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

 

Q: What are the main factors to help me win my Social Security Disability hearing?

A:  There are 4:  Your judge, your facts, your testimony, and your lawyer.  The first two factors are discussed below.

Q:  What can I do about my judge (ALJ) for my Social Security Disability claim?

A:  Nothing.  Once a judge in your region is randomly assigned to your Social Security hearing, even if you move, you must work with the one you have.  You can, however, ask your Social Security lawyer about the tendencies your judge has based on the kind of facts your claim presents.  Good legal argument aligns with your judge’s tendencies.

Q:  What can I do about the facts of my Social Security claim?

A:  The facts of your medical conditions are only as supportive as how much they limit you and how well your providers document them.  Follow your doctor’s advice, but if your medical problems allow you to keep working part-time or more, you may wish to delay an application for Social Security Disability and keep working (you should also speak with a Social Security lawyer about this decision depending on your monthly gross income).

If, however, your medical problems prevent you from working part-time or more, the quality of your treatment counts.  Here are some guidelines:

(1) Treat with physicians regularly, and with specialists when necessary.

(2) Add treatment from a licensed psychologist to your mental health treatment.

(3) Make sure your providers spend adequate time listening to you at your appointments (the sign of a good provider).

(4) Track that your providers perform physical examinations (or mental status examinations) at each appointment when necessary.

(5) Check your medical records from time to time (perhaps every 6 months) to make sure your symptoms and your doctor’s findings have detailed information that is accurate about your problems.

(6) Ask your providers if any imaging or testing would help them better understand and treat your medical problems.

(7) Keep track of your medical treatment in writing and make sure to tell your Social Security lawyers about all places you have treated (so they can request copies of your treatment records for the relevant timeframes at least two months before your Social Security hearing).

(8) Ask your doctor and/or psychologist who knows you best if you should work part-time or more.  If not, ask that your doctor or psychologist to be clear in their treatment notes about how you are limited.  Also, ask if he or she would be willing to complete an opinion form about your ability to work in the future.  Contact your Social Security lawyer about those willing to do so immediately.

 

Your testimony and lawyer, the other two key factors to win your Social Security Disability claim, are discussed in Part 2 of this series.

If you would like to ask about having a Hoglund Law Offices attorney at your Social Security disability hearing, call us now at 855-780-4357.

 

Andrew W. Kinney, Esq.

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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Why can Medical Experts be Wrong at Social Security Disability Hearings?

Q & A with Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

Q: When do administrative law judges (ALJs) use medical experts (MEs) at Social Security Disability hearings?

A: It is up to ALJs. Some regions of the country, such as Minneapolis, have a rotating list of MEs that certain ALJs choose to have appear at Social Security hearings. Other ALJs, especially with rising use of video hearings, do not employ MEs.

Q: What do MEs do at Social Security hearings?

A: MEs give ALJs information about what medical problems you (the “claimant”) have, explain whether these medical conditions are disabling under Social Security law (“meet or equal listings”), and describe how medical conditions limit you.

Q: Are MEs ever wrong at Social Security hearings?

A: Yes. Now, bear in mind that the outcome of some Social Security claims can be unclear. But when the balance of medical evidence swings toward a finding of disability, subjectivity plays too large a role.  (Simple proof of subjectivity is the wildly varying approval rates across all Social Security ALJs. Any business would tighten up objective standards in this scenario.)

Generally, in my experience, MEs can be wrong for two reasons. First, some MEs feel the need to say what they believe the ALJs want to hear. Second, some MEs do not prepare properly. In this blog, let’s talk about the first group.

The first group of MEs lets personal motivations interfere with their duty to independently evaluate medical evidence. It is inappropriate, but true. These MEs are inclined to say what they believe ALJs want to hear. Why? They may want the ALJs to approve of what they are saying to get more hearings (increasing pay) or renew their annual contracts (increasing future pay). They may want the hearings to go faster. They may want ALJs to inflate their egos or confirm political biases toward those who do not work.  There are a host of other motivations as well.

Q: How do MEs interpret what ALJs “want to hear”?

A: Easy. MEs can listen to the tone and content of ALJ questions to claimants, attorneys, and the MEs themselves. They read into ALJ commentary about attorneys’ opening arguments. They pay attention to ALJ facial expressions that are missed on the audio hearing recordings. The informed cynic in me would also allow for the possibility of pre-hearing, off-the-record ME “discussions.”

 

Q: How can my Social Security attorney uncover possible ME bias at my Social Security hearing?

A: Experience. At Hoglund Law Offices, we want our Social Security Disability hearing attorneys to fight ME bias. As an attorney in Social Security hearings, I look for ME bias. I listen to the questions, answers, and comments made by everyone in hearings across time. With experience, your Social Security attorney can unveil patterns of ME bias that extend from hearing to hearing. This enables him or her to anticipate how “alternate” medical facts may arise in ME testimony about you.

Q: What can my attorney do to fight possible ME bias at my Social Security disability hearing?

A: Three ways:

  1. Form questions for you that anticipate ME bias (direct examination),
  2. Attack bias directly in ME cross-examination, and
  3. Expose possible errors in opening and closing arguments.

An example may suffice to illustrate these ways in action. If you have bad knees, your attorney may know that your ME will likely ignore the impact of your obesity in your ability to walk. Your Social Security hearing attorney could:

  • Mention the requirements of a Social Security ruling about obesity (SSR 02-1p) in opening argument,
  • Ask you on direct examination about your attempts to lose weight,
  • Ask the ME on cross-examination, “Is obesity always a choice, or is metabolism a contributing factor?”, and
  • Identify how the ME testimony ignored the impact of obesity in closing argument.

Q: How do we reduce the possibility of ME bias?

A: Identifying problems is easy. Fighting them is admirable. But fixing them is a challenge.  These policy changes may reduce ME bias:

First, allow MEs to appear only by phone. This reduces the likelihood of pre-hearing discussions and the “poker game” played by bad MEs trying to interpret what ALJs may “want to hear.”

Second, base individual ME contract renewals on anonymous ALJ “ME report cards” that are tabulated and ranked using nationwide metrics. Rank each ME on degree of preparation, clarity of opinions, understanding of the relevant law, and professionalism. “Independent” ME testimony should stand on its own and minimize politics.

Third, renew ME contracts independently of all hearing offices. MEs inclined toward being a “favorite” may be less inclined to try to please any one set of ALJs and, instead, just do their jobs.

 

If you would like to ask about having a Hoglund Law Offices attorney at your Social Security disability hearing, call us now at 855-780-4357.

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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Video – Experts at Social Security Hearings

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Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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Video – Mesothelioma: What Is It?

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Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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Video – Are You a Veteran Diagnosed with Mesothelioma?

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Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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Can My Doctor Help Me Get My Social Security Disability Benefits?

Q & A with 20+ year Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

Q: Can my doctor help me get my Social Security Disability benefits?
A: Yes! But perhaps not in the ways you would expect. I’ll explain.

In our law practice, we purposely do not interact with treating physicians. Our clients make their own health care choices. Our clients go to doctors because they want to get better, or at least improve their quality of life. We explain the law.
The Social Security Disability program is all about the medical evidence. Forget what you hear on TV. Talk is cheap. Regular medical treatment is important. Just as important, though, is developing a treating relationship with certain medical doctors you know and trust. When you treat properly with physicians you know and trust, you create a bread trail of your problems.

This is where your physicians can help you further. Right after your next appointment, ask the doctor who knows you best these things:

1. “Doctor, can you please make sure you document my problems well?”
2. “Doctor, can you please make sure your treatment notes are clear about how I am limited?”
3. “Doctor, I had to apply for Social Security benefits. Would you mind if my attorney sends you a short form to fill out about my limitations?”

It is vitally important that your medical treatment notes document your ongoing medical problems. Attorney forms track Social Security law. While it is unusual for physicians to object to an honest, straightforward approach to your medical care, it can happen. Some physician practices, including the VA, try to avoid “forms,” but they complete them for insurance daily. Some physicians say that they cannot “decide disability,” but they are not. They are simply determining physical and mental limitations for their patients—something they lay out for working patients with injuries all the time. Finally, some physicians think their patients over 50 can still do “desk work.” That is fine. Depending on your past kind of work you can no longer do, the law can still be on your side. Ask an experienced attorney in this area of law.

Your medical providers are trying to make you better. Keep trying to get better, and document the truth about your medical problems. Your Social Security attorney will argue the rest.

Andrew Kinney, Esq., 12/1/15

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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What Does it Really Mean to be Approved for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Q & A with 20+ year Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

Q: What does it really mean to be approved for Social Security Disability benefits?

A: The media and some political leadership would have us believe that people are clamoring to live off government benefits. While there are freeloaders in all sectors (including the two above-mentioned groups), I want to offer you a more accurate portrait from someone who has sat with thousands of disabled people.

Almost all the people our law offices has represented for Social Security benefits (upwards of 50,000 at last count) would rather work. For many, applying for benefits is a failure. A failure to themselves, their families, and a failure in life. To even apply for benefits can a miserable recognition that everything they hoped for and dreamed to do is gone. Not such a pretty picture so far, now, is it?

Social Security Disability benefits do not nearly pay as well as working. And Social Security’s failure to hire sufficient numbers of judges has caused clients to lose their homes, families, everything—including dignity. Some tell me they must accept welfare, having vowed to never do so in their “working” lives. Personal philosophy doesn’t do a damn to heal their wounds or pay their bills.

The real way to understand what I have described above is to sit and talk with some of those who are applying. Perhaps sift through a few hundred pages of their medical records. And really listen before coming to conclusions. With any experience, you will recognize that disabled people are not statistics in government publications, they are not props in committee meetings with prepared minutes. These are real people who need benefits for very real reasons despite working very hard with doctors to get better. They aren’t freeloaders.

Go ahead. Call your disabled neighbor, close friend, family member, or (God forbid someday) yourself a freeloader. See how far that gets you. Then, take actual time to understand the people who rely on the disability program. Many, many people are in real need.
Listen to me here. When you truly understand real suffering, you know it doesn’t lie.

Andrew Kinney, Esq., 11/30/15

Written by Andrew Kinney

Andrew Kinney is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Marquette Law School. He is in his 25th year of practice in Social Security Disability law. He speaks nationally on Social Security Disability practice, founded the Minnesota State Bar "Social Security Disability Section," and is an editor of the Social Security Pratice Guide, a five-volume legal guide published by LexisNexis.

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