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Articles Posted in Social Security Disability

A person suffering from disabilities that prevent the person from holding gainful employment may be eligible for Social Security Disability Benefits. While physical disabilities preclude many recipients of Social Security Disability Benefits from working, mental disabilities can impair a person’s ability to work as well, and evidence regarding mental impairments should not be disregarded. This was discussed in a recent Massachusetts case in which the court overturned the final decision of the Social Security Administration Commissioner on the grounds the decision was not supported by substantial evidence under the Social Security Act. If you are suffering from a mental impairment, you should speak to a trusted Massachusetts Social Security Disability attorney to discuss what benefits you may be eligible to obtain.

Factual Background

It is alleged that the plaintiff filed for Social Security Disability Benefits in July 2016, due to physical and mental disabilities. His application was denied and after a subsequent hearing, the denial was affirmed. The plaintiff then filed a motion to reverse the Social Security Administration Commissioner’s final decision, while the Commissioner filed a motion to affirm the final decision. Upon review, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Evidence of Mental Health Conditions

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the Commissioner failed to consider important evidence regarding the plaintiff’s mental health issues prior to affirming the denial of the plaintiff’s application for benefits. While the court found that several of the plaintiff’s arguments fell short, the court agreed that the hearing officer improperly discounted the opinions of the plaintiff’s treating provider.

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While many people think of Social Security Disability Benefits as benefits paid to adults who cannot work due to a physical or mental disability, disabled children may be eligible for benefits as well. Similar to adults seeking Social Security Disability Benefits, children seeking benefits must establish that they meet the requirements set forth by law. In a recent case, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts discussed what a child claimant must prove to be eligible for benefits and what weight should be granted to the child’s treating physicians. If your child suffers from a physical or mental impairment and you wish to obtain disability benefits, you should speak with a proficient Massachusetts Social Security Disability attorney to discuss your case.

Factual Background

It is reported that the child claimant suffers from significant impairments in reading and writing, following directions, and completing grooming and other self-care tasks. She also has ADHD and PTSD. Her guardian filed a claim for Social Security Disability Benefits on behalf of the child. The administrative law judge denied the claim, finding that the child did not suffer from an impairment and her treating physicians were not credible. The child’s guardian appealed.

Physical or Mental Impairment of a Child

Under the Social Security Act, a child who has a medically determinable mental or physical impairment that causes severe and marked functional limitations that are anticipated to last a minimum of twelve months is deemed disabled. Thus, when a claim for Social Security Disability Benefits is made on behalf of a child under the age of eighteen, the determination must be made as to whether the child’s impairment is severe. If it is established that a child has a severe impairment, the inquiry becomes whether the impairment is either listed in or is functionally or medically equivalent to, an impairment listed in the regulations. If the child does not have such an impairment, he or she will not be deemed disabled.

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Social Security benefits are not only available to individuals who have earned and income or are disabled, but also to the individual’s prior or current spouse if the individual dies. Regardless of whether a person is eligible for Social Security benefits, however, he or she will not receive any benefits if he or she does not provide the Social Security Administration (SSA) with the necessary documentation. The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts recently explained the requirements for receiving Widows Insurance Benefits in a case in which the plaintiff appealed the initial denial of her claim. If you believe you are eligible for Social Security benefits, including Widows Insurance Benefits, you should meet with a knowledgeable Massachusetts Social Security Disability attorney regarding your rights.

Factual Background

Allegedly, the plaintiff was married to the decedent from 1965 through 1982, when they divorced. The decedent began collecting disability benefits in 2001 and died in 2008 when he was 69. After the decedent’s death, the plaintiff filed a claim for Widows Insurance Benefits. The SSA then sent a written request to the plaintiff for proof that she was married to the decedent, evidence of her divorce, and evidence of the decedent’s death. The SSA sent the plaintiff a follow-up letter as well, stating that if she did not provide the requested documentation, her claim would be denied.

It is reported that the plaintiff failed to submit the documents and was notified that her claim was denied, and she had 60 days to appeal the decision. In 2013, the plaintiff submitted a second claim for Widows Insurance Benefits. The claim was approved, and she was paid benefits at a reduced rate. She then filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing, in part, that she was entitled to benefits since 2008.

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In many instances in which a person suffers a debilitating injury, the person will be unable to do any meaningful work and therefore cannot earn a living. In such cases, the person may file for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI). SSDI is not always granted, however, even if the claimant provides ample evidence of his or her injury if conflicting evidence is presented regarding the claimant’s lack of disability. In a recent case ruled on by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the court discussed what weight should be given to conflicting evidence when evaluating entitlement to SSDI. If you were injured and can no longer work, it is prudent to consult a seasoned Massachusetts social security disability attorney to discuss your case and whether you may be able to recover benefits.

Facts of the Case and Procedural Background

It is reported that the claimant sustained an injury to his shoulder while working as an order picker at a warehouse. He subsequently filed a disability claim due to complex regional pain syndrome/reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome. His application was denied, and a subsequent reconsideration was denied. He then requested a hearing with an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, which became the final decision, and the claimant appealed. On appeal, the claimant argued that the ALJ committed an error by failing to give the claimant’s treating care provider controlling weight. Instead, the court adopted the findings of the physician who conducted an independent medical examination and opined the claimant did not have a physical disability.

Weight of the Evidence of Disability

On appeal, the court stated that under the treating source rule of the Social Security Administration, an ALJ should give greater weight to the opinions of claimants’ treating physicians, as they are the people most likely to be able to provide detailed pictures of the claimant’s disability. Further, the rule notes that a treating physician may have medical evidence that cannot be obtained solely from an independent medical examination. The court further explained that a treating physician’s opinion will be given controlling weight unless it is not supported by medically acceptable techniques, or is inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record.

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In evaluating a person’s claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, the Social Security Administration must engage in a multiple-step process to determine if a person is disabled, and if so, whether the person has a residual functional capacity to obtain gainful employment. Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts analyzed whether evidence of alcoholism should be considered in evaluating a person’s residual functional capacity in a claim for SSDI benefits. If you are unable to work due to a disability, you should meet with a skilled Massachusetts social security disability attorney to discuss your eligibility for SSDI benefits.

Facts Regarding the Plaintiff’s Health

It is reported that the claimant had a history of chronic alcohol abuse. From 2009 through 2012, she presented to the emergency room on several occasions for treatment due to alcohol withdrawal and underwent in-patient alcohol treatment numerous times. During each visit to the hospital and admission for alcohol treatment, the claimant’s mood and mental status were assessed, and it was routinely noted that she suffered from varying degrees of anxiety.

Allegedly, the claimant began treating with a psychiatrist in 2015, and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. In October 2015, the claimant filed an application for SSDI benefits, alleging that she was unable to work since May 2008 due to her anxiety and depression. Her claim was denied, and she exhausted her administrative remedies. Thus, the claimant’s appeal was heard by the district court. Continue reading →

If a person is unable to work due to an injury or chronic illness, he or she may be able to seek social security disability benefits. In order to obtain social security disability benefits, a person must be deemed disabled by an administrative law judge. In determining whether a person is disabled, the judge must employ a five-step process, during which any relevant facts and evidence are weighed. As set forth in a recent case decided by the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the judge is required to properly weigh the medical evidence offered by both sides, and the failure to do so can result in a reversal of the judge’s ruling. If you suffer from an impairment that renders you unable to perform meaningful work, you should retain an experienced Massachusetts social security disability attorney to help you seek disability benefits.

Facts Regarding the Plaintiff’s Disabilities

Allegedly, the plaintiff was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when she was sixteen. She worked as a legal secretary for several years but stopped working for a decade due to her disease. She resumed work as a legal secretary for another ten years and then was self-employed as a French translator and personal care assistant for four years. The plaintiff was then diagnosed with breast cancer, for which she underwent a mastectomy. Following the surgery, she became increasingly fatigued. She was also diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the left shoulder.

It is reported that the plaintiff filed a claim for Social Security Disability benefits, which was denied. She then filed a motion for reconsideration, which was also denied. A hearing was subsequently held by an administrative law judge to determine if the plaintiff was eligible for benefits. During the hearing, letters from two of the plaintiff’s treating physicians were introduced. The letters stated that due to the limitations caused by her chronic health conditions, the plaintiff was unable to work. Conversely, letters from the state agency’s medical consultations stated the plaintiff could resume her work as a legal secretary. The judge ultimately denied the plaintiff’s claim, and the plaintiff appealed.
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Earlier this year, the Social Security Administration issued a Policy Interpretation Ruling for claimants seeking reconsideration of a decision made in the review process. The agency specifically addressed how the federal regulations for reopening a claim should be used when a decision hinges on a federal law that is later determined to be unconstitutional. The need for this Policy Interpretation came about following two Supreme Court decisions, Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013) and Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015). It may have an impact on Massachusetts Social Security claimants.

The two main programs of the Social Security Administration (SSA) are Title II and Title XVI. Title II benefits are ones from the Social Security Disability Insurance program, paid to individuals insured under the Social Security Act based on their payments into the system through the tax on their earnings. These payments can also be made to a particular set of disabled dependents. Title XVI benefits are better known as SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, and they are paid to disabled people who have limited income and resources. Much of the focus on whether an individual qualifies for Social Security benefits centers around whether or not she or he meets the medical criteria to be considered disabled. However, a claimant must also fall into the categories set by the SSA. The two Supreme Court cases above allow a greater amount of individuals to qualify as a disabled widow or widower, or as a dependent of a deceased insured parent.

Normally, if the claimant objects to the decision or determination of the agency, she or he can lose the right to another review if the appeal is not made within the listed time period. The decision or determination is then final. Exceptions to finality exist, and cases may be reopened under limited circumstances. The cases can be reopened for “good cause” at the agency’s initiative or by request of the party for revision. Agency regulations guide the grounds for reopening and whether or not there are deadlines to follow.

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Whether state court or federal court, the civil justice system relies upon due process to ensure all parties are fairly heard and considered. Part of due process is the statute of limitations, which provides deadlines for parties for many parts of the litigation, including filing, responding, requesting evidence, and providing evidence. If deadlines are missed, the party missing the deadline can potentially be precluded from either moving forward with the litigation as the plaintiff, or maintaining an affirmative defense as the defendant. The First Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the effect of a missed deadline in a Massachusetts Social Security Disability appeal for benefits in a recent case (No. 16-2188).

The SSI claimant filed for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) in 2012, which were denied three months later and on reconsideration three months after that. A hearing was held 14 months later, ultimately concluding in an unfavorable decision for the claimant. The ALJ found he was not disabled and was ineligible for SSDI. The claimant then asked the agency’s Appeals Council to review the administrative law judge’s determination. The council denied the request, finalizing the ALJ’s denial of benefits.

The council’s denial included a notice that the claimant has 60 days to file a civil action or ask a federal court for a review. The notice specifically stated that the 60 days start the day after the claimant receives the letter and that it is assumed the letter was received within five days after the date stamped on the Notice, unless the claimant can show otherwise. The notice also advises that if the claimant is unable to file for a review within 60 days, an extension is available as long as there is a good reason for waiting more than 60 days to ask for a court review. This request for an extension must be in writing.

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If you are seeking Social Security Disability in Massachusetts, it helps to understand the process and requirements. In any determination for Social Security Disability, a decision-maker must review and make findings based on the medical evidence presented by the applicant. The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently released a new ruling (SSR 17-2p) on the evidence that is needed by a consultant or adjudicator to find medical equivalence. This Ruling provides insights for consultants, adjudicators, attorneys, and applicants on what must be presented for a successful ruling.

An SSI claim goes through the five-step Sequential Evaluation Process. If disability is determined at any step, the process is considered complete. During the third step of the evaluation, a medical assessment is conducted that looks at whether or not the applicant’s impairment(s) lines up with the ones on the formal Listing of Impairments. Generally, the applicant must meet all of the requirements of one of the listings in order to qualify for SSI, but the decision-maker may still find an individual is disabled if her or his impairment medically equals a listed impairment.

The SSA considers an impairment to be medically equivalent if it is equal in severity and duration to the criteria of the listed impairment. Medical equivalence can be found in three ways. The first possible scenario is when an applicant has an impairment that is described but does not exhibit a specific finding in the listing, or meets all of the findings of the listing but not the severity. The second is when the impairment is not described in the listing but provides findings that are similar to one or more of the listed impairments. The findings must be equal to the medical significance of a listed impairment. The third is when an applicant has a combination of impairments, and none of them meets a listing. The SSA allows the decision-maker to compare the findings as a collective to see if it is analogous to listed impairments. Similar to the second scenario, the findings must be equal to the medical significance of a listed impairment.

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At an administrative hearing for Social Security Disability, the administrative law judge (ALJ) may hear from a vocational expert (VE) to help determine whether or not the applicant qualifies for SSDI benefits. The vocational expert provides impartial expert opinion evidence that gives insight on the physical and mental demands of a job, the work setting, the type of labor performed in a certain job, and whether certain skill sets are transferable. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals case Gieseke v. Colvin (No. 14-1395) reveals the effect a VE’s opinion can have on an SSDI claim.

In Gieseke, the claimant suffered a long history of low back pain, which worsened following a work injury. The claimant went to physical therapy and returned to work with restrictions for several more months. He applied for disability, citing the lower back issues, leg problems, and dizziness as reasons he could not work. At the hearing, the ALJ found that he had a history of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, and a history of substance abuse. Regarding his physical abilities, the judge found that while he was unable to perform his past relevant duties, his residual functional capacity (RFC) showed he had the ability to perform light work. The ALJ made these determinations based on the VE’s testimony and found that the claimant could work as a cashier, security guard, or usher. Since the claimant had the ability to work, his SSDI benefits were denied.

On appeal, the claimant argued that the ALJ did not give enough weight to the testimony of the claimant’s treating physician. The claimant’s physician testified that he was limited to lifting less than 10 pounds occasionally or frequently, standing for less than two hours a workday, frequently changing seated positions during the workday, and never climbing, crouching, stooping, crawling, or kneeling. This contrasted with the ALJ’s finding he could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, lift and carry 10 pounds frequently, stand and sit for six hours a day, and sometimes balance, stoop, crawl, kneel, or crouch. The treating physician’s assessment would have limited the claimant’s ability to do almost any type of sedentary work.

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