Are there disadvantages to filing bankruptcy?

The answer to that question completely depends on your financial situation before filing.  If you have perfect credit, can pay your bills on time and in full each month and could pay off all your medical and/or credit card debt in less than a year, then there could be disadvantages to filing bankruptcy.

However, if you are searching for bankruptcy information, chances are you do not fit into this category.  If you have debt that you cannot service, if your credit score is sink faster than the Titanic or if you are facing constant threat of a lawsuit, then the advantages of filing bankruptcy far outweigh the disadvantages.

The real question to research is – what are the advantages to filing bankruptcy?  The number one advantage to filing bankruptcy as opposed to not filing is your ability to obtain a fresh start.  The United States does not have a debtor’s prison, but the strain from debt piling up can act as a prison to financial freedom.  In most cases, you can discharge your debts (such as credit cards, medical, other loans and some taxes), keep your assets and move forward with life in about three months.

Once you file bankruptcy, your credit report will have to be cleaned of all inaccuracies.  You should know that you are protected by Federal Law when it involves the information contained on your credit report.  Bottom line – your credit report should be accurate.  For example, if after bankruptcy, one of your credit lines is still showing a balance or still in collections, then you have a right to demand that they fix the credit report.  You want to dispute all inaccuracies to make sure that your FICO score is not lowered because one of your credit lines fails to report accurate information to your bureaus.

After you get your inaccuracies all fixed, you should focus your attention to your credit score.  To improve your credit score, you can read many of the books available regarding credit score repair.  Our office provides a service for our bankruptcy clients through www.720creditscore.com.  With the help of 720 Credit Score, you can obtain a credit score of 720 in as few as 12 months.

Disadvantages to filing bankruptcy fade away rather quickly when you ask the right questions: where is your credit score now? Can you get out of debt within 1 year? Do you have lawsuits pending?  If your answers to these questions are yes, then bankruptcy could be the most positive thing you do to improve your financial life.  Do not let fear get in the way of financial freedom.

by Jeff Bursell

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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The Two-Way Street of Updating Medical Evidence

A complete medical record is paramount in getting your Social Security disability claim approved. At the hearing level, the most common question I get from my clients is, “are all the records in?” The Social Security Administration recently enacted a new regulation that requires the Administrative Law Judge be provided, or informed of, all written evidence within five business days of the hearing. 20 CFR 404.935.

Attorney representatives typically request, pay for and submit medical records prior to a hearing. For the reasons explained below, timing is key in order to comply with the new 5-day rule.

First, it would be impractical for representatives to constantly hound all of their clients in case some new and material medical evidence has come into existence. Too much time would be wasted and the representation of SSD claimants would no longer be a viable practice. On the other end of the spectrum, representatives must exercise due diligence in pursuing relevant evidence in their clients’ claims.

Second, depending on the state, claimants can wait up to two years for a hearing after the previous denial. Social Security usually sends a Notice of Hearing about 90 days before the date of the hearing. This creates a dilemma. ALJs are very concerned with the claimant’s recent medical evidence, which shows whether ongoing benefits are warranted and whether any medical improvement has occurred or is likely to occur. So, if the file is updated too early, additional updates will be necessary to add new evidence. If the file is updated too late, the 5-day rule might be violated. Depending on the source, requests for records can be outstanding for 30 days or more, despite follow-ups and re-requests, before the records are produced. This results in a small window in which records requests will generate complete submissions just in time but not too late.

The best way to handle this situation is with a team effort. When this issues arises in hearings, I have had multiple judges describe to my clients a “two-way street,” where representatives and clients both have an obligation to communicate with each other. If you don’t notify your representative with your new address or phone number, your representative has no way to reach you and therefore no way to know where you have been going for treatment. They can update with sources they already know about but not with new sources. The longer you do not return their phone calls or respond to their letters, the more likely you will violate the 5-day rule and a strict judge will refuse to consider key evidence. If your representative is unable to reach you after several attempts, he or she is allowed to drop your case.

An ALJ can approve a case without a hearing if the evidence is strong enough, although this is very rare. However, as above, it is impractical for representatives to frequently contact their clients just in case there is new, significant medical information. A representative will always contact their clients to update the file before the hearing. Until then, clients must contact their representatives with new medical information so the representative can obtain the records and submit them to the ALJ. New medical information might be a new doctor, diagnosis, test or hospitalization.

Written by Charles Sagert

Charles A. Sagert is a Social Security Disability attorney in Roseville, MN.

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SS Language

Sometimes the language Social Security uses can be confusing. I am going to go through some of the terms and rules that can be confusing. I am only dealing with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). SSDI is the benefit you will receive based on credits you have earned by working. Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) has its own rules, and is a need based program.

The term Date Last Insured (DLI) refers to the date at which you have to be found disabled in order to collect Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Social Security figures out the DLI based on credits you have earned by working. You can earn 4 credits per year, or 1 credit per quarter. Social Security deems you eligible for SSDI if you earned 20 credits in 10 years. Put another way, you must work 5 out of the last 10 years. For example, if I worked from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2011, my DLI will be 5 years from the date I stopped working (December 31, 2016). This means if Social Security decides I am disabled at any time prior to my DLI (December 31, 2016), I will receive SSDI. If Social Security decides I am disabled January 1, 2017, or later, my DLI is past and my credits will have expired.

Alleged Onset Date (AOD) is another term that seems straightforward, but can be confusing. When you apply for Social Security, you need to tell them what date you consider yourself to be disabled. Usually the day after your last day of work becomes your AOD.

Another rule that is confusing is the 5 month waiting period to be eligible for SSDI payments. The rule is this: When found disabled, I need to be disabled for 5 full calendar months in order to collect SSDI payments. If I am found to be disabled on January 10, 2016, then I will not be eligible for payments until July 1, 2016.

I have gone over the problems that we get the most questions about, but it doesn’t even represent the tip of the iceberg, as far as Social Security’s rules. The process is usually long and very frustrating. It can take 2-3 years to get your claim before an Administrative Law Judge, which is where you have the best chance of an approval. This is why we recommend getting an attorney to help with the process. The attorney knows Social Security’s rules, and can help you understand them as well.

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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Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a tick borne bacterial infection. You can be infected by the bite of a deer tick. One of Lyme disease’s telltale signs is a rash, called an Erythema migrans rash. This rash typically occurs within the first 2 weeks of infection, and it looks like a bullseye target. Although most prevalent in New England and some of the Midwestern states, you can be infected anytime you are outdoors. Lyme disease has been reported in 49 states (Hawaii has not had a confirmed case of Lyme Disease), and in every continent, except Antarctica.

Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose. Oftentimes, people either do not get a rash. Some people get flu-like symptoms within the first 2 weeks from the infection. Bell’s Palsy can often occur. That is where you lose muscle control on one side of your face, and it appears to droop. Other symptoms can be fatigue, joint pain and swelling, eye inflammation, and swollen lymph nodes. These symptoms usually occur in the first 2 weeks of the infection. However, these are such general symptoms, they can be diagnosed incorrectly.

Some people have “chronic Lyme disease”. This is officially called Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome. This can occur if you are diagnosed months, or even years after the original tick bite. When this happens, Lyme disease can attack your nervous system, cardiovascular system and can often lead to other diseases, such as Hepatitis B, Guillian-Barre Syndrome and even Meningitis. These are auto-immune responses that your body creates as it tries to fight the infection.

Testing for Lyme disease is a 2 step process. The first step is to test the blood to look for Lyme disease enzymes. If this first test is positive, then an immunoblot test is done, typically called a “Western blot” test. If that is also positive, the diagnosis is complete.

Treatment of Lyme disease is the same, whether it is immediately after the tick bite, or months later. Since Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, it is treated with a 2 to 4 week trial of antibiotics.

There is still much more research to be done on Lyme disease. The use of ongoing antibiotics for Post Lyme Disease Syndrome can cause serious complications, such as liver function abnormalities and infection and blood clots at the site of a catheter used to administer antibiotics. If you suspect you may have been bitten by a deer tick, consult your doctor immediately. If you have been treated for Lyme disease, but are still experiencing symptoms, see your doctor. Your doctor may be able to treat your symptoms.

There are ways of preventing Lyme disease. Reducing exposure to ticks is the best way. If you are outside, apply tick repellant that contains DEET. There are also natural remedies of repelling ticks. Using essential oils, such as garlic, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, thyme and geraniol. These natural treatments, however, have not been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, since essential oils are not regulated by the EPA.  There used to be a Lyme disease vaccination, but production was discontinued in 2002, due to low demand. Experts say the protection provided by the vaccination diminishes over time, so if you received the vaccine in the past, it would most likely not be effective by now.

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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Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

Complex regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a chronic pain condition in which high levels of nerve impulses are sent to an affected site. Experts believe it occurs as a result of dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous system. This condition most often affects women, and people who are ages 20-35. It is also more common in people with some other inflammatory or autoimmune disorders, such as asthma.

Diagnosing this condition is difficult. In some cases it may take years to get a correct diagnosis. Some doctors think that pain receptors in the affected body part become to catecholamines. These are simply nervous system messengers. In other words these messengers carry a pain message from the brain to the affected area. In 90% of cases, CRPS is be caused by some sort of injury, and this triggers an immune response, such as swelling, warmth, or redness of the affected area. Occasionally CRPS can develop without a known injury. However, there may have been an internal injury caused by infection, a blood vessel problem or entrapment of the nerves.

Some symptoms can include pain, swelling, warmth and redness in a localized area. These symptoms can be caused by so many disorders, and that is why CRPS is so difficult to diagnose. Oftentimes doctors will make a diagnosis by ruling out other disorders, such as arthritis, Lyme disease, generalized muscle diseases, clotted veins, or small nerve fiber polyneuropathies (such as from diabetes). The distinguishing feature to CRPS is a history of an injury to the area.

Some treatments for CRPS include: physical therapy, psychotherapy, medication, sympathetic nerve blocks (injections into the nerves to numb pain), surgical sympathectomy (removing the nerve cluster thought to be causing pain), spinal cord stimulation (electrodes implanted into the spine near the spinal cord) and intrathecal drug pumps (a device that pumps pain relieving medication to the fluid that surrounds the spinal cord). There are also some emerging experimental treatments, such as intravenous immunoglobulin, ketamine (a powerful anesthetic given in low doses over a period of days), or hyperbaric oxygen (pressurized air that delivers more oxygen to the body’s tissue and organs).

The prognosis for CRPS varies. Typically children and teens have good recovery. Some people are left with unremitting pain and crippling, which can be permanent. It is thought by some doctors that early treatment, particularly physical therapy, is helpful in limiting the disorder. This is just a theory right now, because more research needs to be done on the condition. There is, however no known cure for CRPS. If you believe you could be suffering from this condition, you should consult your physician. You are your own best advocate for treatment and diagnosis.

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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What documents will I need when I apply for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Certain documents will need to be provided to Social Security when you apply for benefits.  Providing original documents in a timely manner will expedite the process.  Some examples of documents you may need are:

  • Your Social Security card
  • Your birth certificate
  • Your children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers (if applying for them)
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful immigration status
  • Your spouse’s birth certificate and Social Security number if he or she is applying for benefits based on your earnings
  • Your marriage certificate
  • Your military discharge papers
  • Your most recent W-2 or tax return

Once documents are gathered, benefits can be applied for in person or online at sss.socialsecurity.gov/applyforbenefits .  Applying for benefits is only the beginning of the process.  Knowing one’s rights along the way is very important to a favorable outcome and as such, you have a right to representation.  For questions related to how to apply for disability or any other issues related to your Social Security Disability claim, please contact us at Hoglund, Chwialkowski, and Mrozik.

by Lyndsey Sharpe

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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Medicare Wait Period and Retroactive Benefits

Once disability is determined either at the initial level or by an Administrative Law Judge, you may become eligible for Medicare.  Medicare coverage is available if you are approved for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II and after a 24 month wait period.  This wait period commences upon the onset date of disability. (The date you are determined to have become disabled.)  For many, this wait period will be either completed or near completed by the time you are approved by an Administrative Law Judge as the Social Security Disability evaluation process can take several years.

During the waiting period you may accumulate medical bills.  In some cases Medicare coverage may be retroactive.  If you paid for medical services you can ask your provider to resubmit medical claims to Medicare and generally healthcare providers have one year from the time of service to resubmit claims.  The two parts of Medicare that you will be enrolled in are Hospital Care (Part A) and Medical Insurance (Part B).  The hospital care (Part A) will be provided for free through Medicare as the taxes you paid financed this coverage.  The medical coverage (Part B) which is mostly doctors’ bills, will most likely require additional premiums for which you will be responsible.

There are additional parts to Medicare that are available such as prescription drug coverage and gap coverage.  For questions related to Medicare, how to apply or any other issues related to your Social Security Disability claim, please contact us at Hoglund, Chwialkowski, and Mrozik.

 

By Lyndsey Sharpe

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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Chapter 13 Can Release the Pressure of Auto Title Loans

Many car owners turn to car title loans to try and get through a financial crunch. Car or truck title loans have become a much more common attempt to prevent a financial crisis: about 2 million Americans took out these types of loans in 2015. The concept sounds very appealing; there is a family crisis and cash is needed immediately to deal with it. The borrower can keep driving the car they need to get to work or school and the emergency is also handled. There are two types of payment terms for title loans; either all the emergency cash is paid back in one payment a short time later, or the balance borrowed can be paid back in installments over a slightly longer period of time. However, this temporary relief comes at a hefty price for many; a recent federal study found that 1 in 5 vehicle owners who took out a title loan ended up losing the car or truck to repossession. Once the car or truck is taken by the title loan company, the borrower is left without transportation and must again find a way to quickly get cash to have the vehicle returned by paying off the entire balance of the title loan. These loans sometimes have different terms than general financial principles would dictate. Usually, when a car or truck is given as collateral for a loan by the owner, the interest rates are low because the value of the car or truck or SUV serves as a kind of insurance that the financer will not lose any money. The terms of the contract say the financer can take the vehicle and sell it to recover the money borrowed if the borrower does not pay on time. Title loans, however, have some of the highest interest rates in the consumer finance world; typical interest rates can be higher than 300%. These higher interest rates make it much more difficult to pay off these loans. Paying back only the amount borrowed without paying all the interest means there is still a balance outstanding and that remaining balance must be paid as well. Consumers who want to get these types of loans are not able to negotiate lower interest rates with the financers and have to accept the interest rate offered in order to get the loan.

Cash-strapped consumers can get out of the financial corner these loans can create by meeting with an experiences attorney and using a powerful concept in a Chapter 13 reorganization called cramdown. Car and truck owners can restructure the loan secured by the vehicle as part of the overall reorganization and keep their necessary transportation. Terms that are otherwise not flexible can be made more manageable by reducing the interest rate to a court-ordered level and giving families enough time to pay the balance at the new interest rate over more time than typically allowed under the initial contract. Chapter 13 cramdown of car and truck loans are just part of the relief available to consumers who have debts secured by their vehicles and a consultation with an attorney who is familiar with the relief available to people in a chapter 13 case can mean the difference between having the financial pressure created by pursuing creditors trying to repossess someone’s only means of transportation and having a financial plan in place that works and allows for financial peace of mind.

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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Why am I paying an attorney to help me file bankruptcy when I am doing all the work?

This is one of the most common questions I receive during the free consultations provided by our firm. It seems like a fair question at the outset, but the reality is, filing for bankruptcy is more complicated than most people realize. There is a lot of document gathering that needs to be done by the client that cannot be done by the attorney. This gives the impression that the client is doing all the work. However, there are a lot of nuances to the bankruptcy code that can have devastating affects if not addressed properly. That is the reason that it is wise to pay an attorney to help file your bankruptcy.

One of the biggest nuances is protecting the equity in your home. There are limits on how much equity an individual can protect before they may have to turn over other assets. The attorney must help the client understand what assets, if any, may be at risk. A plan must then be formulated on how to handle those assets; whether it is to sell before filing or pay the bankruptcy estate to keep the asset. If you don’t own a home, there are still plenty of other reasons to hire an attorney.

Another potential asset at risk in a bankruptcy is a tax refund. Depending on how large your tax refund is going to be and how many other assets you have, it may be that you need to wait to file your bankruptcy so you don’t have to turn over a portion or all of you tax refund over to your bankruptcy estate. Careful planning by an attorney could save you more money than you pay in attorney fees.

So while your attorney may ask you to gather a lot of documentation to file your case, you could be out more money than if you had hired them.

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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Debts and Divorce

If you have been involved in a divorce, you may be wondering what happens to the debt that was divided in your divorce agreement. You may also wonder what happens if your ex files for bankruptcy. These answer depend on a few factors surrounding you and your ex.

If the debts you split in your divorce agreement were joint, you are still on the hook for paying the full amount even if your ex is awarded the full debt amount in the divorce. However, you can be reimbursed by your ex if you back the debt. To do this may require to go through the court system if your ex does not voluntarily pay you back. Going through the courts to collect may cost you more than filing for bankruptcy.

On the flip side, if you were awarded a joint debt in the divorce agreement, filing for bankruptcy does not get you off the hook to reimburse your ex if they pay the debt. Filing for bankruptcy only prevents the creditor or collection agencies from collection efforts. The divorce agreement can still force you to pay damages to your ex for violating the divorce decree.

If you are considering a divorce, it may be wise for you and your spouse to file bankruptcy together before filing for divorce. Doing so can cut down on the headaches described above. It can also cut down on the costs of your bankruptcy and your divorce. Contact us today for a free consultation to review your options.

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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A Default Judgment Has Been Entered Against Me, How Can I Protect Myself?

If you missed the deadline to fight a lawsuit against you and you do not have a viable defense, a default judgment will be entered against you. Once the judgment is entered against you, the creditor will be able to initiate a garnishment action by which they can attach to money in your bank account or wages.

The creditor will issue a garnishment summons on a third party such as your employer or bank, by which the third party will be required to withhold the funds from your wages or set aside funds out of your financial account.

A creditor cannot generally garnish more than 25% of your wage earnings or any at all if you make less than $290/week. If you have a levy on your bank account, you will need to fill out a form claiming 75% of the amount taken is exempt called a “Debtors Exemption Form” and providing documentation that the income in your account came from wages. If the garnishment is through your employer, they will generally calculate the 25% and set it aside for your creditor.

Additionally, if you received any of the following sources of government assistance in the past 6 months, you are considered to be 100% exempt from garnishment:

  • Minnesota Family Investment Program
  • Work First Program
  • Medical Assistance
  • General Assistance
  • General Assistance Medical Care
  • Emergency General Assistance
  • Minnesota Supplemental Aid
  • MSA Emergency Assistance
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Energy Assistance and
  • Emergency Assistance.

If you believe you are exempt from garnishment, you need to fill out the same “Debtors Exemption Form” indicating all your funds are protected, along with proof of the assistance received and the previous 60 days of bank statements. You cannot simply call the creditor’s attorney; you must respond to the garnishment summons in writing by claiming the exemption.

Garnishments are very serious and can cause serious financial hardship for anyone trying to deal with the involuntary repayment of your debt. Bankruptcy is another way to stop the garnishment and is often times an opportunity to recover some of the funds that were taken from you. If you wish to avoid further garnishments or levies, please set up your free consultation with one of our experienced bankruptcy attorneys.

Written by Ann Hagerty

I have a passion for working directly with clients and helping them navigate difficult financial decisions. I love practicing in bankruptcy because it is one of the rare opportunities in life where someone can start fresh and free themselves of financial stress.

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What Should You Know about your Social Security Lawyer?

Q & A with Social Security Disability Attorney Andrew Kinney

 

Q:  What should you know about your Social Security Lawyer?

A:  If you have a Social Security Disability or SSI claim, denials lead to a Social Security hearing with a judge and usually at least one expert witness.  At the hearing, you should have an attorney with you.  Attorneys only charge you if you are approved.  You should know the following things about your Social Security attorney:

  1. Verify that your “attorney” is actually a licensed attorney. Non-attorneys can represent people at Social Security hearings.  If you want an attorney—especially one who is skilled in cross-examination and legal argument—ask the firm which state or states the attorney doing your hearing is licensed in.  All licensed Social Security attorneys are licensed in at least one state.  Once you know this, you can verify this online.  If you learn your “representative” going to your hearing is not an attorney, you have the right to change who is helping you.  If your Social Security hearing is already scheduled, you can contact the hearing office to ask about how you can change your representation.

 

  1. Ask about your Social Security attorney’s experience. The most important experience is your attorney’s understanding of Social Security law and medical concepts.  Ask your attorney doing your hearing about years of practice in Social Security law, the number of Social Security hearings he or she has completed, and about how your medical evidence may allow you to be approved.  Reach a comfort level with the answers.  Otherwise, you can ask a multiple attorney Social Security firm to switch the attorney assigned to your hearing, or fire the firm altogether.  This is your right.

 

  1. Verify that the firm you are hiring actually will do your hearing. Surprisingly, some firms merely sign up new clients (meaning YOU!) and then pawn them off the regional attorneys who are not employees.  This means two things.  First, you have no idea who your attorney may be at your hearing.  Second, the firm you are hiring has not trained your attorney.  These are significant issues to learn about.  Find this out from the firm listed on your “fee contract.”

I hope this blog will prove helpful when hiring a Social Security attorney.  If you have questions about your own Social Security claim, you can call our law firm (and our Hoglund Law Offices lawyers) at 855-780-4357.

 

Andrew W. Kinney, Esq.

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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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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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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Why So Many Medical Records?

The importance of medical documentation cannot be stressed enough in Social Security Disability law. Without medical records, attorneys find themselves at an immediate disadvantage to efficiently do their job. When speaking with clients, we at HCM, presume they are giving us all the information that they know of regarding their disability. However, even the most reliable person would still be required to provide medical documents in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) regarding their alleged impairments.

When a person is experiencing a severely debilitating disorder, such as severe depression, it is likely that a listing argument can be made. More specifically, a Disability Evaluation Under Social Security-Listing of Impairments- argument. When these listings are met, it is an easy way for an ALJ to determine a person deserving of SSI, DIB, or Concurrent benefits under the Social Security structure. However, it is nearly impossible to obtain a favorable decision through a listing argument if no medical records are present supporting the alleged diagnosis. As mentioned before, severe depression can use listing 12.04 Depressive disorder. This particular listing requires that several medical characteristics be met. Without medical documents stating these necessary elements, a person can never be found disabled by an ALJ and be awarded any form of benefits via a listing argument.

Obtaining medical records can be a strenuous process, but as mentioned before, is of the utmost importance. Having doctor appointments, and getting check-ups, not only allows your disability attorney to do a better job, but also informs you of your medical condition. Ideally, your medical issues will alleviate themselves through treatment, and you will be able to return to work. If this doesn’t occur however, then having these necessary records allows for your attorney to advocate for you in the most zealous way possible.  Why so many medical records? So that both you can receive the most beneficial help available to you.

 

By Alec Rolain

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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Social Security Disability Benefits During Prison

Some of those who apply for Social Security Disability benefits, like any other group of people, have spent time in prison. When applying for disability benefits, this can affect potential backpay and can terminate your benefits if you go to prison while receiving them.

According to Social Security’s rules, disability benefits cannot be paid if a person who otherwise is eligible for benefits is incarcerated for 31 or more days because of a conviction. This includes those who are confined by court order to a mental health facility due to a crime. Incarceration includes confinement to a halfway house.

As a result, if a person served longer than thirty days due to criminal conviction during a time that he or she is arguing they are entitled to benefits there are precluded from being paid from that time if and when they are found disabled.

If you are incarcerated while receiving benefits, the same rules apply in that you are not eligible for payments during that time if you are imprisoned for longer than 30 days, and if that time period spans multiple months, you will not be eligible for benefits for any of those months affected. During that time auxiliary benefits to eligible children or your spouse may continue.

If you are imprisoned for a substantial length of time, a year or longer, you must file a new application for disability benefits, as you will be deemed to be no longer disabled due to a prison time of that length.

Criminal history can affect a Social Security applicant’s backpay and criminal activity can affect a Social Security recipient’s current and ongoing benefits. Those with a criminal history who are applying for Social Security Disability benefits are encouraged to speak with an attorney regarding any effect that history may have on their case.

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

 

By Adam Kachelski

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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Working “Under the Table”

Working “Under the Table” and its Effect on Social Security Disability Applications

 

 

While applying for or receiving Social Security disability benefits, whether or not an applicant is working is crucial to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) analysis of the case. If an applicant is working above substantial gainful activity (SGA), a paid dollar amount per month that rises with inflation, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to successfully argue that an applicant is disabled, no matter what that conditions and struggles an applicant has. Often, the SSA gets information about the applicant’s work activity from employers who report wages and withhold taxes from standard paychecks. In that situation, it will become obvious fairly quickly if an applicant is working, as well as working above SGA.

Things become more difficult, however, if an applicant is doing “under the table” work, or work that is not reported to the SSA. This is more frequent in cash-based employment, or in more informal employment arrangements. SGA rules still apply in these situations, and it is imperative that an applicant is honest about any work, under the table or not, that he or she is performing while applying for disability. Through frank discussion with the applicant’s Social Security Disability attorney, they can discuss the ramifications of work on any given case. It is all the more important to be honest about under the table work, as it will reflect poorly on an applicant’s credibility in situations where evidence of unreported work is discovered in records or from third parties.

If an applicant is found to have been working above SGA after already being approved for benefits, for example, it could result in investigations by the SSA, along with forfeiture of the benefits already disbursed by the same. In these situations, honesty is absolutely the best policy.

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

By Adam Kachelski

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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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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Why was My Case Chosen to Undergo a Continuing Disability Review?

A Continuing Disability Review, or CDR, is a periodic review of an approved claim by the Social Security Administration. During the CDR, your medical records will be reviewed to determine if your conditions are have improved. If the review show your conditions have improved enough for you to return to gainful employment, your disability benefits will end immediately.

The timing of the review is based on the medical evidence in your case. There may be medical documentation of a future surgery. If Social Security believes that your condition can positively benefit from the surgery, then a review of your case would be required. How often the review takes place is dependent on your age in condition. Younger disabled claimants are often subject to a review earlier more frequently than older claimants. The review can takes place from six to eighteen months after the approval of disability benefits. However, in most cases the review period is three years. Claimants over age 55 are more likely to receive a review in seven years, as medical improvement in their conditions are not expected.

If Social Security has determined your condition(s) have improved, they must determine if the improvements are enough for gainful employment in the national economy. You will have the opportunity to appeal this decision within 60 days. A hearing officer would handle the CDR appeal. If the hearing officer find that your conditions have medically improved, you will only have ten days from the denial to ask for the continuation of benefits until your appeal is heard and decided by a judge.

 

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

 

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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Strengthening a Social Security Disability Claim

What the client can do to strengthen the case? 

 

A social security disability case can be strengthened or weakened by the actions of the client.  The first thing the client needs to do is be completely honest with their attorney.  This can relate to severity of impairments and the ability to handle daily activities.  Your attorney needs to be completely informed and up to date on your case.  Keeping things from your attorney can be detrimental and possibly lead to an unfavorable decision.

The client also needs to be treating on a regular basis for all the severe impairments they are alleging to the Social Security Administration (SSA).  This means, treating with a psychiatrist/psychologist if you are alleging mental health issues as a severe impairment.  Frequent treatment seems to hold more weight with the SSA.  It is very important that you are not just seeing a family doctor one time per year and alleging multiple severe impairments that keep you from working.  You need to be treating with a specialist regarding your different impairments.  Being compliant with your treating source is very important also.  Make sure you are taking the medications and attending the treatment sessions as scheduled by your medical provider.

The client needs to make sure they are keeping contact with their attorney.  If your phone number or mailing address changes, your attorney needs to be kept up to date.  Keeping regular contact is important for the attorney to successfully develop the case and get the social security disability claim approved.  Further, if you are treating with new medical sources, you need to update the attorney with this information as well.  The attorney is not able to find out where the client is treating, without assistance.

 

For more information, please contact one of the attorneys at Hoglund, Chwialkowski & Mrozik.

 

By Beau Chinn

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 Necessity of Medical Records for Social Security

In the Social Security Disability process medical support of a claim is paramount. Barring medical records documenting a claimant’s condition, there is no hope of success. Unfortunately, one cannot walk into a hearing before an administrative law judge claiming to suffer from maladies and expect success absent doctors’ notes. While it is common for state disability determination agencies to ask claimants to attend one-time examinations by doctors employed by the agency for that purpose, doctors who regularly treat the conditions of a given claimant can provide the most helpful information.

In the disability adjudication process, state agencies and Social Security Disability attorneys gather medical evidence from claimant’s health care providers. Unfortunately, these records gatherers are only able to gather the evidence they know exists. It is the responsibility of the claimant to inform necessary parties of this information. Further, the sooner records-gatherers are informed of the evidence, the sooner it can be submitted and evaluated by disability adjudicators.

In fact, it is more important than ever that disability claimants notify their attorneys of new medical evidence quickly, whether a new appointment, scan, or treating source. This is due to a new rule the Social Security Administration has put into effect requiring evidence be submitted within five business days of a disability hearing, absent good cause. Without delving into specifics (if claimants have questions about this, it is strongly advised they speak with counsel), the sooner a claimant advises attorneys of the records source, the sooner the records may be requested after a hearing has been scheduled. That way, both the attorneys presenting the case on behalf of the claimant as well as the administrative law judge hearing the case can better evaluate the claim.

Medical records, more than anything else, make or break a Social Security Disability claim. Providing documentation of ample treatment gives adjudicators a more complete picture of a claimant’s health, increasing the chances of success.

 

By Adam Kachelski

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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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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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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Appealing Hearing Denials

If a claimant for Social Security Disability benefits is denied by an administrative law judge after hearing it is possible to continue the disability claim, the next step in the process would be to file an appeal with the Social Security Appeals Council. The Appeals Council reviews whether the judge followed proper procedure and whether the decision was reasonable based on the evidence submitted. If an error was made, the Appeals Council can overturn the decision and approve the claim or remand the case back to the judge for additional proceedings.

If the Appeals Council does not overturn or remand the decision, they will deny the claim. To continue the case, Claimant and counsel will need to file for a hearing in federal district court. At this stage, the judge assigned to rule on the case has a limited scope of review. The judge may only determine if the Social Security Administration’s decision was supported by “substantial evidence” and if proper legal standards were applied in evaluating the case. This is a very limited scope of review. So long as the decision by the judge was not unreasonable, the claim will be denied on those grounds. Federal judges do not wish to second-guess the decisions of the Social Security Administration when it comes to these matters, and will only intervene if the decision is so bizarre that no reasonable adjudicator could reach that conclusion based on the evidence.

Federal judges are more likely to approve cases on “legal standard” grounds, as a major part of their job is to interpret and apply the law. If the Social Security Administration did not follow its own regulations in such a way that prejudices the claimant, a remand at the very least is necessary to rectify this error. If a claimant wins in federal court, the claim will likely be returned to the Social Security Administration for additional proceedings

If you have additional questions about the appeal process, consult with a Social Security Disability attorney for guidance.

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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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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