Social Security Disability and Bipolar Disorder

One of the more common mental disability claims made with the Social Security Administration is for Bipolar Disorder.  Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines four types of bipolar disorder.  “All of them involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely “up,” elated, and energized behavior (known as manic episodes) to very sad, “down,” or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.”[1]
The Social Security Administration’s Listings Rules allows the finding of “Disabled” if the Claimant is able to show that he or she suffers from at least three of the following:
  1. Pressured speech;
  2. Flight of ideas;
  3. Inflated self-esteem;
  4. Decreased need for sleep;
  5. Distractibility;
  6. Involvement in activities that have a high probability of painful consequences that are not recognized; or
  7. Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.[2]
These must be documented in appropriate medical records.[3]
Once it is established that the Claimant suffers at least three of the above Bipolar symptoms, the next step is to establish that these symptoms either cause extreme limitations in one or marked limitations in two of the following:
  1. Understand, remember, or apply information.
  2. Interact with others.
  3. Concentrate, persist, or maintain pace.
  4. Adapt or manage oneself.
The Social Security Administration considers “extreme” or “marked” limitations where the Claimant’s functioning in this area independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis is seriously limited (marked) or completely incapable (extreme).[4]  The Administration uses all of the relevant medical and non-medical evidence in the Claimant’s case record to evaluate the level of mental disorder.
The most difficult part of any Disability Claim for Bipolar Disorder is to prove the level of extremity of these four areas.  If you are seeking a Disability for Bipolar Disorder, it will be likely that you will need a Medical Source Statement from a treating mental health provider (psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, etc.).  That mental health provider should specifically address the Claimant’s functional limitations (mild, moderate, marked or severe) in the above four categories.  The mental health provider should be familiar with how the Social Security Administration defines these categories (See Listing Definitions 12.00E1 – 12.00E4) and address his/her understanding of these definitions within his/her description of the Claimant’s limitations in these areas using specific examples from the Claimant’s experience when available.
Of course, the Medical Source Statement should be carefully drafted as to not over-state the Claimant’s limitations in comparison to the rest of the medical and non-medical evidence in the Claimant’s case record or it may be given less weight and viewed by the fact-finder as inconsistent with the rest of the evidence.
If you believe you have Bipolar Disorder and some (or all) of the above symptoms and limitations apply to you, you should seek the assistance of a qualified attorney that can assist you with your application for benefits.   A good attorney will help you navigate the application process and make sure you have the best representation before the Administrative Law Judge at your disability hearing.

 

For more information, please contact the attorneys at Hoglund, Chwialkowski, & Mrozik PLLC today.

 

By Tyler Rasmussen

 

[1] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

[2] https://www.ssa.gov/disability/professionals/bluebook/12.00-MentalDisorders-Adult.htm#12_04

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

Written by Jennifer Mrozik

Jennifer is a partner in the firm and practices exclusively in the area of Social Security disability law. She continues to lead efforts to find solutions for clients in the sometimes difficult Social Security claims process.

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Can I receive Disability Benefits for Adult Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that affects how the brain processes information. The condition impairs social interaction, communication, and language skills. More extreme forms of Autism can cause repetitive behaviors, which is easily noticed by others. For example, self-injurious behaviors such as self-biting or head banging. Since there are variation of symptoms, the condition is now medically known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD covers a wide range of skills, symptoms, and level of impairment.

In children, parents may observe odd behaviors in their child’s social skills such as avoiding eye contact when communicating. Developmental mild stones help parents and physicians monitor a child’s social development. If there are major concerns after these screenings, the child is referred to a specialist for further testing. If Autism were diagnosed in teen or adult years, it would be a milder form than if diagnosed in a child. Most adults diagnosed with Autism are considered to be in the high functioning end of the spectrum. They can read, write, and communicate. Therefore, they are able to maintain a job and live alone.

Social Security does not have a specific listing for adults with autism. This can make is very difficult to prove you are disabled. The Social Security Administration does not have a set criterion for finding disablement of adult autism. Social Security determines if a person is eligible for benefits based on how severe the condition is as with most cases. It is important that you are seeing a specialist and documentation showing to the extent of your condition.

For more information, please contact the attorneys at Hoglund, Chwialkowski, & Mrozik PLLC today.

 

By Shana Knotts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Jennifer Mrozik

Jennifer is a partner in the firm and practices exclusively in the area of Social Security disability law. She continues to lead efforts to find solutions for clients in the sometimes difficult Social Security claims process.

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Illiteracy and Social Security Disability

Illiteracy alone does not warrant a finding of disability, as a claimant must have medical conditions that impair his or her ability to work in the national economy. That said, illiteracy is a feature of the claimant’s education level, which is considered when determining the availability of any jobs, along with the claimant’s age and work history.

A claimant who cannot read or write simple messages (as defined in Section 404.1564 of the Code of Federal Regulations) is considered functionally illiterate. An illiterate 45-49 year-old person who is limited to sedentary work (jobs that are primarily performed seated) by his or her medical conditions with unskilled or no prior work history is considered disabled automatically by the Social Security Medical-Vocational Guidelines (see 201.17). A person with the same limitations younger than 45 is not disabled, again per Social Security’s rules.

As one gets older, the rules change in a claimant’s favor. An illiterate person age 50-54 limited to light work (jobs primarily performed standing and walking, with limited lifting and carrying) with unskilled or no prior work history is considered disabled, while a person younger than that with the same limitations is not disabled. Interestingly, after age 55 illiteracy is not a factor in determining disability per the Social Security Medical-Vocational guidelines, though logically illiteracy does not cease being a relevant consideration.

Even if the guidelines do not command a finding of disability, illiteracy is a relevant factor in a claimant’s disability case. The inability to effectively read and write will always limit a claimant’s job prospects, and coupled with the claimant’s medical restrictions can effectively preclude work in a competitive environment. Therefore, a Social Security Disability attorney can be invaluable, as he or she can prepare for close questioning of vocational experts who testify as to the availability of jobs at disability hearings.

Contact one of our attorneys at Hoglund, Chwialkowski, Mrozik, PLLC. at 855.513.4357 to find out more.

 

By Adam Kachelski

Written by Adam Kachelski

Adam Kachelski is a 2014 graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Law. He lives and works in Cincinnati.

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Past Relevant Work

In every hearing, the claimant will be asked about their past work. This is to be analyzed by the vocational expert and the judge to determine what is relevant. Relevance as far as past work is concerned considers earnings that meet the substantially gainful activity criteria. This activity, currently in the year 2017, is $1,170.00 per month. The judge and the vocational expert concern themselves with the claimant’s work only for the last 15 years. The last 15 years is usually consider looking back from the date of the claimant’s hearing. So, if a hearing is in 2017, the judge and expert go back to the claimant’s work activity from 2002 to 2017.  This 15 years period can be tricky when you consider a closed period claim. This is when the claimant was off work for a year or more but is now back to work at the time of the hearing due to a medical improvement. Then the Judge should only consider work for the 15 years prior to the time the closed period ended (or the time when the claimant returned to work).  For example, if the claimant was off work from 2014-2016 and returned to work in June of 2016, the past relevant work would not include the new work from June of 2016 on. This is extremely important in situations where claimant’s have returned to work which would interfere with a potential GRID rule for claimant’s over 50. The attorney should not let the judge or vocational expert consider the new work as past relevant work. The social security rules and regulations can be complex, and that is why is important to have a social security disability attorney on your case to sort them out, because it can make the difference of winning and losing your case.

Please contact one of our attorneys at Hoglund, Chwialkowski, Mrozik, PLLC. to find out more! Call us today at 855.513.4357.

By Joshua Tripp

Written by Jennifer Mrozik

Jennifer is a partner in the firm and practices exclusively in the area of Social Security disability law. She continues to lead efforts to find solutions for clients in the sometimes difficult Social Security claims process.

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Burdens of Proof

When applying for Social Security Disability, the Administration must use a five-step analysis to determine if a claimant is disabled. Going through the steps, if at any point the claimant does not meet a step, the analysis ends and the Administration will find that the claimant is not disabled. The steps are:

 

  1. Is the claimant engaging in substantial gainful activity (making more than $1,170 per month before taxes in 2017)? If the claimant is making more than the limit, he or she is not disabled.
  2. Does the claimant have a severe impairment (An impairment that materially limits the ability to perform work activities)? If not, the claimant is not disabled.
  3. Does the claimant meet or equal a listing due to his or her impairments (Listings outline specific impairments and certain objective findings that, if documented, result in a finding of disability)? If not, the analysis goes to the next step.
  4. Can the claimant perform his or her past relevant work (work done at substantial gainful activity for a long enough period to learn the skills involved in performing the work, done in the last 15 years)? If yes, he or she is not disabled.
  5. Can the claimant perform any other work, as outlined by Social Security’s rules and regulations? If yes, the claimant is not disabled.

 

The burden of proof is on the claimant for the first four steps of the analysis. If the claimant proves that he or she cannot do any past relevant work, the burden shifts to the Social Security Administration to determine if there are other jobs available. This becomes important at a hearing, as an administrative law judge at hearing will have a vocational expert present to testify as to the availability of jobs for a person matching the claimant’s residual functional capacity. If it is established that he or she cannot do past relevant work, the onus is on the judge to establish that there is other work available. If the judge does not question the vocational expert about the existence of other jobs, by definition the Administration has not proven that there are jobs available for the claimant.
These issues can become very esoteric. Consult a Social Security Disability attorney if you have any questions about the disability adjudication process.

Written by Adam Kachelski

Adam Kachelski is a 2014 graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of Law. He lives and works in Cincinnati.

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Can I Work Part Time While On Social Security?

In Social Security Disability (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) cases we often hear the question, “Can I work part-time?”  Most individuals and families cannot “get by” waiting for an award decision from social security for several years without some monthly income.  We understand real individuals and real families and the hardships disabling impairments can create. Under Social Security rules, the phrase Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), is the guide post in assessing each situation.  Social Security generally considers those engaged in substantial gainful activity (SGA) as NOT eligible for disability benefits.  Substantial Gainful Activity basically means working and earning $1,170 per month or $1,950 a month if you are blind.  SGA is not just about the monetary amount though, other factors may impact your case, such as the number of hours you work or volunteer and the type of work or volunteering you do.

Once you are receiving benefits there are exceptions to SGA.  Under the SSDI benefits, the program that looks at your disabling impairments and your work history, you may qualify for a “trial work period.”  The trial work period allows SSDI beneficiaries to attempt to go back to work without penalty for a period of up to nine months in a five-year period without losing their monthly SSDI benefits.

Under SSI benefits, the program that looks at your disabling impairments and your financial need, there is also a “work incentive” programs that allow you to work and have your SSI benefits be reduced by 50 cents for every dollar you earn after counting the fwith irst $65.00.  An example would show a recipient receiving SSI, presumed to be $735, and working and earning $1,050.00 a month, less the $65 dollars, then divided by two.  This example looks like $1,050-$65=$985 then divided by 2 =$492.50.  This individual would receive: SSI benefits reduced by $492.50 , so $735-$492.50= $242.50.

Consult with an attorney for more information about social security disability and working while applying.

 

By Jonathan Breyfogle

Written by Jennifer Mrozik

Jennifer is a partner in the firm and practices exclusively in the area of Social Security disability law. She continues to lead efforts to find solutions for clients in the sometimes difficult Social Security claims process.

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The Recency Element of Past Relevant Work

The Recency Element of Past Relevant Work

Social Security will deny a disability claim if they find the claimant can do “Past Relevant Work” (PRW), either as it was actually performed or as that type of work is generally performed based on the appropriate Dictionary of Occupational Titles code.[1] In order for a prior job to be PRW it must meet three elements: Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), Duration and Recency.[2]

  1. SGA

This element is satisfied if the work met the definition of SGA under 20 CFR Sections 404.1571-404.1575 and 416.971-416.975.

  1. Duration

This element is satisfied if the job lasted long enough for the claimant to have learned the skills necessary to resume that type of work and achieve average performance without significant re-training.

  1. Recency

This element is met if the job was performed within the 15 years prior to the date of adjudication or the Date Last Insured, whichever comes first. The scope of this period may be extended if there is a continuity of skills, knowledge and processes that can be established between such work and the claimant’s more recent work. However, the scope of this period may not be shortened.

In the interest of certainty, Social Security has formulated rules for decision-makers to follow. Some rules seem “black and white” and I often tell my clients “Social Security has to draw the line somewhere.” However, in certain cases, these rules would produce an unfair result when the exact language of the rule is not matched but the underlying rational behind the rule is present. For most of these rules Social Security has created exceptions that prevent unfair results. For example, there are several exceptions to the SGA guidelines, including the subsidized work environment[3] and the unsuccessful work attempt.[4] In the context of the Grid rules, Social Security acknowledges that in some cases it would be unfair for the rules to change overnight when the claimant reaches a certain age, so the borderline age situation was developed.[5] In the context of transferrable skills, Social Security recognizes that as a claimant gets older, obtaining employment would be increasingly more difficult unless only a minimal amount of adjustment is required, such that the claimant could be expected to perform “at a high degree of proficiency with a minimal amount of job orientation.”[6]

These concepts should be applied to the PRW 15 year rule. For example, take an individual of advanced age (55-60), who worked in manual labor for the last 14 years but is now reduced to the sedentary exertional level. The Grid rules would ordinarily direct a finding of disability.[7] However, if this individual worked as a telemarketer for three months 14.5 years ago, the Grid rules would direct a denial (unless other limitations prevent the claimant from doing that work). In this case, using the rational above, vocational analysis of PRW should address whether any significant changes have occurred in telemarketing work since the claimant last performed it. This might reveal two things: First, that there are currently comparable jobs available but in fewer numbers. Second, that despite the claimant’s prior work experience, telemarketing is so different now that the knowledge from this experience is obsolete and the claimant would need to be completely retrained. In this case, the rational behind the recency element is not met, and telemarketing should not be found to be PRW.

This could be a critical issue in your Disability case. Consider a free consultation with a disability attorney who is familiar with these rules and regulations.

 

By Charles Sagert

[1] 20 CFR § 404.1560; SSR 82-62.

[2] SSR 82-62.

[3] SSR 83-33.

[4] SSR 05-02.

[5] 20 CFR § 404.1563(b); HALLEX II-5-3-2.

[6] SSR 82-41.

[7] 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2.

Written by Shana Knotts

Shana joined Hoglund, Chwialkowski & Mrozik in October 2012 and works in the law firm’s social security department. As a senior paralegal, she works diligently to support our attorneys post-hearing. She also oversees our medical records department, ensuring records are submitted in a timely manner. Originally from Florida, Shana graduated from MSB with a B.A. in Paralegal. She then went on to work at a Social Security Advocacy Firm, gaining in-depth knowledge of the social security process. This experience allowed a smooth transition to Hoglund, Chwialkowski & Mrozik in 2012. In her free time, Shana enjoys traveling, reading, watching movies and spending time with her husband.

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Student Loans and Disability

Many people applying for Social Security disability have financial obligations that are put on hold during the determination process. One of these affecting more and more applicants are student loan payments. If you are approved for Social Security disability, you may be eligible to have these loans discharged. The U.S. Department of Education has a fairly simple process for determining disability, and once you meet their standards, your federal student loans may be discharged. Private loans are typically not eligible for this process, and you would need to contact your individual loan company to find if you are eligible for any other disability discharge.

After Social Security finds you disabled, make a copy of the determination letter laying out your benefits as well as when your next disability review date is, typically scheduled for five to seven years after the approval. Submit this letter to the Department of Education, along with the other forms required, available on their web site, www.disabilitydischarge.com. They may temporarily suspend your loan payments while deciding whether you qualify for loan discharge.

Once the discharge is approved, there are other requirements that must be met, such as your income must remain below a certain level, you may not apply for any other federal student loans, or you must continue to be disabled under Social Security’s rules. If these are not met, the loans may be reinstated. Keep in mind you may be responsible for any tax burden related to the discharge of the loans. Typically, the discharged loan amount is reported to the IRS, and may be considered income to you, the tax payer.

If your disability case is pending with Social Security, then you may be able to apply for a loan discharge before they find you disabled. If you have a supportive doctor that is willing to complete the necessary certification paperwork, showing that your condition may either result in death, has lasted for a continuous period more than 60 months, or can be expected to last more than 60 months, this may be sufficient for the Department of Education to discharge your loans. The same post-approval requirements would apply.

If you are receiving Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security, and your federal loans are approved for discharge, this will not affect the benefits you receive.

Written by Hoglund Law

The attorneys of Hoglund law are licensed in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio. Hoglund, Chwialkowski & Mrozik, PLLC is based in Roseville, Minnesota. In addition to handling cases involving bankruptcy & social security, Hoglund, Chwialkowski & Mrozik, PLLC handles faulty drugs and toxic exposure.

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