Social Security Disability Hearing Attorney Offers Tips to Help You Prepare

Finally, the wait is over. Your Notice of Hearing has arrived in the mail. Now that you have a hearing date, it is important that you and your Social Security disability appeal are ready to go before the judge. Here are some tips to help you prepare for this big day:

Review Your Social Security File before your Social Security Disability Hearing

The administrative law judge (ALJ) will base his or her decision on your testimony and the information contained in your Social Security disability file (called an “ODAR” file because it originates with the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review). Your file includes:

  • Your medical records;
  • Forms you have completed;
  • The opinions of your Disability Determination Service examiner; and
  • Information and opinions concerning your functional capacity.

Before the hearing, it will be important for you (and/or your Social Security disability hearing attorney) to review your ODAR file.

If you are unrepresented, Social Security should send you a copy of your file on an encrypted compact disc. (Since this disc contains sensitive information, keep it in a safe place and never download the information to a public computer!)

If you are represented by a Social Security disability hearing attorney, your attorney  will have access to your file (usually through a highly-encrypted online portal). Your lawyer will review your file, but may ask you for updates on your conditions and treatment. Typically, the Social Security Administration stops developing your file once your claim is denied. Since you likely have been waiting many months for your hearing, this means that there may be a good deal of evidence missing from your Social Security file. Review your entire file to determine what evidence is missing. A detailed review may also bring to light procedural or factual errors that support your claim for benefits.

Update the Evidence in your File.

Once you know what evidence is missing, you must provide Social Security with this information. (You have a duty to give all evidence to the ALJ — including information that is unfavorable to your claim for benefits.)

Simply updating the medical records in your file may not be enough to win a claim for Social Security disability benefits. You also may need to submit:

  • Residual functional capacity assessments;
  • Letters or sworn testimony from doctors;
  • Vocational and occupational information; and/or
  • A legal brief or written argument supporting your disability claim.

Since every case is different, your evidence should be tailored to your claim and situation. For example, if you have been working a part-time job, you should consider getting information about your performance, accommodations, and absenteeism from your current employer. This information will help the ALJ understand how your conditions impact your functional abilities.

Be Prepared to Testify About Your Symptoms and Daily Activities.

Most Social Security disability claimants testify at their hearings. Depending on the judge, the testimony may be brief or may be lengthy and detailed. Typically, you will testify about:

  • Your work experience and education;
  • Your living situation and family;
  • Any current income sources;
  • Your medical conditions and symptoms;
  • Methods of treatment and medications (including side-effects);
  • Daily activities and hobbies; and
  • Substance abuse or use (if this is part of your history, noted in your records).

Be prepared to discuss all of these issues at your hearing. Consider using a symptom and activity diary in the weeks leading up to your hearing. In a notebook or calendar, make a few notes each day about your:

  • Symptom severity;
  • Activity level (what you are able or unable to do); and
  • Any changes to your treatment methods (increased medications or rest periods, for example).

This diary will help you provide accurate and detailed testimony at your hearing. It may also help you identify triggers that worsen your symptoms (such as increased activity, stress, or dietary changes).

Understand Who Will Attend Your Hearing

At most Social Security disability hearings, there are typically three to six people in attendance. Each person has a specific role and is bound by privacy and confidentiality rules.

At your hearing you will interact with:

  • The ALJ: An administrative judge who is an employee of the Social Security Administration. The judge’s job is to evaluate your claim and make a new and independent finding regarding disability.
  • A Hearing Monitor: Typically a contract worker who operates a recording system and takes notes for the ALJ. The hearing monitor will not discuss the case with the ALJ and does not help with the decision-making process.

These two individuals are present at every Social Security hearing. Additionally, the following people may be present at your hearing:

  • A Social Security Disability Hearing Attorney: Your Social Security disability hearing attorney, if you have one, will attend the hearing and guide you through the process. Unlike the other people in the hearing room, your lawyer is your advocate and is on your side.
  • A Vocational Expert: This witness has expertise in classifying jobs and job searches. He or she may describe your past work, based on its physical and mental difficulty. The vocational expert may also advise the judge about work that may be available to you, within certain restrictions.
  • A Medical Expert: The medical expert is a physician who will review some of your medical records and provide his or her opinion about your diagnoses and their severity. Medical and vocational experts are supposed to be neutral. Depending on the facts of your case, expert witnesses may not be present at all.

Seek Counsel from an Experienced Social Security Disability Hearing Attorney.

Preparing a Social Security claim for a hearing is time consuming and requires a detailed legal and medical analysis. The more you know about the hearing process and the type of evidence that will be persuasive to the ALJ, the stronger your claim will be.  Having an experienced Social Security disability hearing attorney on your side can make all the difference. If you would like to speak with a knowledgeable Social Security disability hearing attorney, please contact us by phone or by submitting the email form on this page. 

What Happens at My Initial Appointment with a Chicago Social Security Disability Attorney?

Hiring a Chicago Social Security disability attorney is an important decision. Statistically, disability claimants who hire an experienced Social Security disability lawyer are more successful than those who try to go it alone. However, not all Social Security disability lawyers are created equal.  If you understand what will happen at your first appointment, and know what questions to ask, you will be better equipped to make an informed choice.

You Will Participate in a Detailed Interview.

A Social Security disability claim requires a detailed legal and medical analysis. At your initial appointment, your lawyer should ask questions about your:

  • Medical diagnoses and symptoms;
  • Treatment and medications (including side effects);
  • The names and addresses of your doctors and other medical providers;
  • Work and educational background;
  • Daily activities and interests;
  • Work and activity restrictions assigned by your medical providers;
  • Income and household; and
  • Other related factors.

It is important to give your lawyer honest and accurate information. If you need help explaining your medical conditions and limitations, you should bring notes, documents, or a trusted friend or family member to help with the interview.

Experienced Social Security disability lawyers evaluate and accept cases based on their assessments of the strength of the claim and your credibility. If you minimize your problems, a lawyer may not think your claim is strong enough to win. Conversely,  if you exaggerate your symptoms (or try to hide damaging information), the lawyer may question your credibility and, consequently, be unwilling to take on your case. While a lawyer’s questions at this initial meeting may seem intrusive, it is important to be honest and forthcoming with your answers, so that the lawyer can gain a detailed and accurate understanding of your claim.

You May Be Asked to Bring Documents or Other Information with You.

If you have copies of your medical records or your Social Security disability file (typically on a CD or disc), you should bring this information with you to the appointment. While you do not have to get complete copies of your medical files, bring in any information you have. For example, your lawyer may appreciate copies of your:

  • Doctor’s notes and hospital records;
  • MRI, X-rays, and other diagnostic reports; and
  • Work restrictions assigned by doctors or other medical professionals.

This information can give a lawyer a deeper understanding of your Social Security disability claim and the reasons you were initially denied benefits.

You Should Be Able to Ask Questions.

Chicago Social Security disability claims typically take about a year-and-a-half from hearing request to court date. (If additional appeals are needed, the wait is even longer.) You may be working with your lawyer for an extended period of time. For this reason, it is important that you choose a lawyer that you trust and respect.

During your first appointment, an experienced Social Security disability lawyer should be able to answer your questions and educate you about the Social Security disability process. For example, you should ask:

Are You Familiar with My Medical Conditions?

Some medical conditions are particularly difficult to understand and explain. Other conditions, like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, may be incorrectly viewed as “junk diagnoses.” Complicated or misunderstood conditions are frequently disputed by Social Security.

Don’t be afraid to ask if the lawyer has handled cases involving your condition. Medical knowledge is essential to a successful Social Security disability claim. You need a lawyer who can interpret your medical evidence and help the administrative law judge understand your medical impairment and functional limitations.

What Should I Expect During the Application or Appeal Process?

Again, the Social Security disability application and appeals processes are lengthy and involve a lot of work. Your lawyer should be able to educate you about the claims process and his or her work style.

Communication and mutual understanding are essential to the attorney-client relationship. It is important that you feel comfortable with your Social Security disability attorney, the process, and the law firm’s communication style. Be honest with yourself and the lawyer. If you prefer in-person appointments or regular updates via email, ask if this is an option.

You Will Sign a Series of Forms.

Before a Chicago Social Security disability attorney can begin working on your claim, you must sign a series of forms and documents. The Social Security Administration is very protective of your personal information. Before it will share anything with your lawyer, Social Security must receive specific forms.

At your initial legal consultation, you may be asked to sign some or all of the following documents:

  • Social Security Appointment of Representative: A form that allows the lawyer to communicate with Social Security about your case.
  • Medical releases: A release permitting your doctors to share information with your lawyer.
  • Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration: A release that lets Social Security communicate with your doctors.
  • The lawyer’s Fee Agreement.

Your Social Security disability lawyer should explain these forms in detail. Do not sign anything if you have questions or concerns.

The Social Security Administration regulates attorney’s fees. Under federal law, all lawyers charge a contingency fee; you should not have to pay an attorney’s fee unless you win your claim (i.e., payment is contingent upon winning). However, you may be charged for case costs (such as the cost of obtaining medical records and other information necessary for your claim.) Make sure you understand how your lawyer handles attorney’s fees and case costs before signing a fee agreement.

Contact Us

Chicago’s disabled workers deserve skilled representation and compassionate guidance during their disability claims. If you have questions about your Social Security disability claim, contact us.  Our team of experienced Social Security disability lawyers will be happy to meet with you for an initial consultation.


Social Security Disability Hearing Lawyer Sets Out Four Easy Rules for Giving Your Best Testimony

The day has finally arrived! A hearing has been scheduled in your Social Security disability appeal. Now that the long wait is over, you are probably feeling anxious about your testimony.  Worry not.  Here are four easy rules we advise our Chicago SSD clients to follow to help them give their best testimony:   

1. Be Honest

One of the most important factors a judge considers in making a decision in your disability case is your credibility.  This involves much more than the judge’s “gut reaction” to your testimony.  The judge must make a credibility finding regarding your testimony, and this finding must be based on specific criteria established in the agency’s rules.  These criteria can be boiled down to this: Does what you say match the medical evidence in the record? If so, there will be no issues as to your credibility. For example, if you told your doctors you abused alcohol or drugs, you must be honest with the judge about that fact.  If the records show you only went to see your psychiatrist three times last year, you cannot tell the judge you went every month.  Think of your credibility as a sculpture; every time your testimony is inconsistent with the medical records, a piece of your sculpture is chipped away.  Enough inconsistencies, and your case will no longer be standing.

Conversely, everyone makes mistakes, medical personnel included.  Sometimes a note in a medical record is inaccurate.  In an instance like this, revert to honesty.  If you truly believe something in your records is a mistake, say so and explain why.  Just make sure you are being honest with the judge and yourself.

2. Don’t Guess

Not everyone can remember every conversation with every doctor or therapist, or even how many times they may or may not have visited a certain physician or treatment facility.  If you don’t know the answer to the judge’s question, do not take a guess.  Simply state that you don’t remember. If you guess, and you are incorrect, you will only damage your credibility

3. Be Concise

While total honesty is the best policy, this does not mean that you should ramble on about everything you remember on a particular topic when the judge asks you a question.  If, for example, the judge asks whether you have a high school diploma, a simple “yes” or “no” will suffice.  If the judge inquires about when your back pain first started, an approximate date of your injury is all that needs to be said.  If you launch into convoluted stories and long explanations, it can make you look like someone who is “trying” to get benefits instead of someone who “qualifies” for and deserves benefits. Besides, most of the details of your medical conditions are in the record.  The judge really just wants to verify (or discredit) your alleged limitations by hearing what you have to say about them.  If more explanation is necessary, your Social Security disability hearing lawyer will have the opportunity to elicit more details about your condition through questioning.

4. Be Detailed

Try to paint a precise picture of how your disabling condition affects your daily life.  You could, for example, tell the judge your knee hurts “all the time.” Your testimony will be more persuasive, however, if you tell the judge something along the lines of, “My knee hurts all the time. I have trouble getting out of bed and standing first thing in the morning. During the day, I can’t sit or stand from more than 20 minutes or so at a time because of the pain. The pain wakes me two or three times a night.”

Contact Us

If you have questions about your upcoming Social Security disability hearing, or other questions about obtaining benefits, our Chicago Social Security disability hearing lawyers have answers. Contact us today. Use the email form on this page to tell us about your situation and schedule a free consultation or, if you prefer, reach out to us by phone.


Your Chicago Social Security Lawyer Can Help With Missed Deadlines

Chicago Social Security lawyer - CalendarNo matter how hard you try to meet a deadline, sometimes life gets in the way. However, when you’re dealing with the Social Security Administration there are very specific guidelines with regards to what constitutes a “good cause” for missing a deadline. Your Chicago Social Security lawyer will be extremely familiar with what is acceptable to the SSA. It is important that you stay in contact with your Chicago Social Security attorney to ensure you won’t fall too far behind with your filing requirements.

Examples of Good Cause

As your Chicago Social Security lawyer will explain, the Social Security Administration allows for nine different reasons for missing a deadline. Obviously, a serious illness is top of the list. However, you and your Chicago Social Security attorney will have to demonstrate that the illness was so severe that it even prevented someone in your family from contacting the SSA. If there was a death in your immediate family, then the Social Security Administration will allow for a missed deadline. The same holds true if any of your records were recently damaged through fire, flood or some other accident. Your Chicago Social Security lawyer will be able to present these explanations to your Social Security Administration representative.

When the SSA Is at Fault

Just because you and your Chicago Social Security lawyer are working hard to make the proper filing doesn’t mean that the SSA won’t ever be at fault. You could miss a deadline if you weren’t given the right information about your review. Perhaps you or your Chicago Social Security attorney never received notification. If too much time has passed between notices, then you should contact your Chicago Social Security lawyer and ask them to follow up on your behalf.

Avoid Confusion With the Help of Your Chicago Social Security Lawyer

Believe it or not, the Social Security Administration also accepts being confused by information they provided as a good cause. You can avoid confusion when you retain the services of a skilled Chicago Social Security lawyer. The attorneys working for the Chicago Disability Law office understand how the SSA works. They will be happy to share their knowledge with you. Call their offices today to discuss your claim.

Chicago Social Security Lawyers Discuss Rules on Determining Disability

Chicago Social Security LawyersIf you are filing for disability benefits with the Social Security Administration (SSA), you may want to schedule a consultation with an experienced Chicago Social Security lawyer first. Our experienced Chicago Social Security will be able to give you information and tips regarding disability claims. When filing for disability benefits, you must first be deemed to be disabled by the SSA. The following information from your Chicago Social Security lawyer discusses the rules when determining disabilities. If you have any questions after reviewing the information, contact your Chicago Social Security lawyers and schedule a consultation.

Rules on Determining Disability

The rules to determine a disability mostly have to do with physical issues such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, bending, or any other activity you may have to perform while working. A mental impairment is a little more difficult to determine. If you are unable to perform physical work due to a medical condition like a back problem or heart issues, then your lawyer will need to look at the rules to determine where you stand with the SSA regarding your disability. The following are some examples of the rules:

  • If you are under 50-years-old, the rule is that you will need to prove that you are unable to perform that tasks that are needed to work either a sit-down or stand-up job. This must be proven even if you would not be hired by such a job.
  • If you are between the ages of 50-54 years-old, the rule is that you will need to prove that you are unable to do any light-duty work, be on your feet a majority of the work day, or lift over 20 pounds.
  • If you are over the age of 55, then it’ll be easier for you to meet the rules of the SSA. You will need to be able to prove that you are unable to do what is considered to be “medium” work. This means that you are unable to be on your feet for most of the day, as well as unable to lift between 25-50 pounds.

Your Social Security lawyer will be able to help you prove that you fit into the rules given by the SSA.

Consult with Our Chicago Social Security Lawyers

When dealing with the SSA, you want the experienced Social Security lawyers on your side. Call us today. Chicago Social Security lawyers that have the knowledge and dedication to help you get the best possible outcome in your disability case. Call today for your consultation!

Make Sense of the SSA Bureaucracy With the Help of Chicago Social Security Attorneys

Chicago Social Security attorneys - Man Looking Through FilesThere can be no finer example of government bureaucracy in action than the Social Security Administration. This is the type of multilayer agency that can make filing a disability claim a daunting challenge. This doesn’t have to be stressful situation when you can get the help of skilled Chicago Social Security attorneys. These are the lawyers who are trained to navigate through the maze of paperwork and filing deadlines. Enlisting the services of Chicago Social Security lawyers is your best choice for moving your claim forward.

The Size and Scope of the SSA

In your first consolation with any Chicago Social Security attorneys, you’ll be presented with the levels of bureaucracy that you’ll be squaring off against. This includes upwards of 57,000 employees in the general administration and up to 8,000 employees working in the SSA Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. These are the offices that your Chicago Social Security attorneys will directly be dealing with on your behalf.

Consider also that there are two distinct disability programs within the SSA. These would be Social Security disability and SSI. It is potentially a complicated system to work through, which is all the more reason why you need Chicago Social Security lawyers who have already squared off against the administration.

Getting Pass the Firewalls

The first call your Chicago Social Security lawyers will make for your claim could find them coming up against a low level manager who doesn’t have the authority to make decisions that will affect your case. Here is where your Chicago Social Security lawyer will be able to leap over those “firewalls” and get your claim in front of the right SSA representative. There is also the state vs. federal levels to contend with. Again, it is only the skill of Chicago Social Security attorneys that can prove successful in these matters.

Consult With the Right Chicago Social Security Attorneys

As you prepare to file your claim, you should be retaining the services of capable Chicago Social Security attorneys like Chicago Disability Law. They have been successfully handling these types of cases for several years and have a long list of satisfied clients. They have the experience and the knowledge that will be a great stress reducer as you await the resolution of your claim. Call their offices today to set up your consultation with these dependable Chicago Social Security attorneys.

A Chicago Social Security Attorney Explains Sequential Evaluation Step 2

 Chicago Social Security attorneyIn this article, an experienced Chicago Social Security attorney outlines the criteria used by the Social Security Administration, or SSA, to determine whether or not a claimant’s impairment may be considered “severe.”

Purpose for Step 2
Sequential Evaluation Step 2 was designed to ensure that any impairment claimed by a patient in a disability hearing is verifiable via standard medical methodologies and constitutes a serious restriction on the patient’s ability to perform the duties of a job. Your Chicago Social Security attorney will, in keeping with the purpose for Step 2, wish to emphasize to the SSA that your case meets those specifications.

Severe vs. Nonsevere
A “severe” impairment is one that impacts you sufficiently to lessen your residual functional capacity. That is, it restricts the kinds of work you are still able to perform. If your impairment has such an impact, your Chicago Social Security lawyer may be able to present your situation as a medically determinable impairment that meets that criterion. A nonsevere impairment is one that does not seriously impact your ability to work.

The SSA, as well as your Chicago Social Security attorney, will examine all the symptoms you are experiencing when determining whether your impairment does or does not lessen your residual functional capacity. The cause of your symptoms, whether objective or subjective, must be medically determinable.

If There Is Doubt
Your Chicago Social Security attorney will advise you that the adjudicator will take the process to the next steps if there is ambiguity concerning your capacity to perform at least simple tasks and often the result tends to be a finding of “severe.”

A Chicago Social Security Attorney’s Caveat
Your Chicago Social Security lawyer will remind you, however, that medical determination is an absolute necessity. The condition that produces the symptoms must be verifiable using standard clinical diagnostic tests and supported by findings from laboratory samples taken from the patient. Without this data to support the claim, a finding of disabled may not be forthcoming at this juncture.

Your doctors may or may not agree on the diagnosis, but as long as standard clinical and lab examinations provide sufficient basis for a diagnosis to be made, your condition meets the requisites for “medically determinable” as far as the Social Security Administration and your Chicago Social Security lawyer are concerned.

For Help or More Information
Your Chicago Social Security attorney is a valuable resource for both information and assistance. Don’t hesitate to contact us today.

Role of Vocational Experts

Chicago Social Security Lawyers flag and gavelChicago Social Security lawyers may examine and cross-examine several witnesses at your disability hearing. Vocational experts have a tremendous amount of influence in a case, sometimes being the sole reason why a particular claimant loses in a disability case.

Description of Jobs

The vocational expert provides information to the administrative law judge so that he or she will have a more accurate idea of your past relevant work. Chicago Social Security lawyers can explain that this work is the work you have performed during the last 15 years. The vocational expert describes how you were required to perform the job and how the job is generally performed in the national economy.

Skills Required by Your Job

Additionally, the vocational expert describes the necessary skill and level of exertion that is required to perform the past relevant work. In particular, the vocational expert may discuss the weight that you had to lift and carry. He or she may also discuss the distance and amount of time that you had to walk or stand on the job. The skill level pertains to how much time an average person would take to learn to do the job. The vocational expert also discusses the skills that you have that can be transferred to other jobs. The administrative law judge usually asks vocational experts a number of hypothetical questions to determine if you can perform certain jobs given particular limitations.

Legal Assistance from Chicago Social Security Lawyers

If you would like to learn more about vocational experts from Chicago Social Security lawyers, contact us today.

Documenting Back Pain

Chicago Social Security Law Firm - SSA Logo Back injuries rank as one of the most common reasons for people to seek Social Security disability benefits, and lower back pain tops the list of back-related issues. However, a medical report might not show the severity of the problem despite the claimant suffering from pain, chronic muscular issues and limited mobility or even the ability to remain in one position for any length of time. The professionals at our  Chicago Social Security law firm can discuss your case with you if you are suffering from back pain.

Back Pain and X-Rays

Medical imaging tests including x-rays, might not be able to document a person’s pain or symptoms. They could be suffering from serious joint or bone deterioration yet exhibit few, if any, symptoms while others with apparently mild x-ray results face extreme pain. The Social Security Administration acknowledges the disparity between how a person feels and functions and the results of medical imaging tests.

Even so, an administrative law judge may not take a person’s claim seriously if the x-rays do not confirm their pain levels, and they routinely deny benefits on the grounds that the medical imaging tests do not back up the person’s claims. Our Chicago SSD attorney has experience in countering these challenges, so talk to us for help with your case.

Pain and Lumbar Range of Motion

The ALJ will also look at the range of motion in the lower back. If they do not observe physical limitations, they will likely deny the claim. Again, there is little correlation between the person’s ability to work and their range of motion. Gender, age and the time when the test is administered can all affect test results for lumbar range of motion.

If you cannot work due to back pain, talk to the professionals at our Chicago Social Security law firm. Even when a medical report documents the seriousness of the person’s limitations, the ALJ might still deny the claim for lower back pain. Our Chicago SSD attorney can ask for clarification when your doctor testifies on the stand.

Contact Our Chicago Social Security Law Firm

If you are looking for a Chicago Social Security law firm to help you navigate the maze of the SSA, call Chicago Disability Law. You can reach our office .

Credibility Factors Explained by a Chicago SSD Attorney

chicago ssd attorneyIf you’re looking to be approved for disability benefits, any Chicago SSD attorney can tell you that your credibility is an essential component of the approval process. Maintaining credibility throughout the process is key to your success.

Evidence to Assess Your Credibility

An adjudicator may assess your credibility by reviewing a variety of evidence. For example, he or she may review your lab tests and medical examination reports. Additionally, doctors, psychologists, and other health care professionals may submit medical records regarding your medical history that the adjudicator reviews.

The adjudicator can also evaluate statements that you made about your medical history, treatment you received, your response to treatment, your symptoms, your ability to perform certain work activities, and your daily activities.

Additionally, the adjudicator can review this type of information from third parties, such as co-workers, friends, and family. The adjudicator can also make his or her own credibility determination based on personal observation of you by him or her, or by other employees of the Social Security Administration.

Consistent Statements

A Chicago SSD attorney believes that one way to boost your credibility is to be consistent in your testimony and other aspects of your case record. The adjudicator can compare what you say during a hearing with what you said under different circumstances. For example, the adjudicator may review statements you made to a health care provider.

He or she may also evaluate statements that you made to the Social Security Administration during each stage of the process and your statements in other parts of the case record, such as reports and observations regarding your daily activities, symptoms, and behavior.

One important evaluation is whether your statements are actually consistent with medical exam and lab test results. If your statements are not consistent, this may not indicate that they are not credible. Symptoms can change, worsen, or improve over time, and that may impact the persistence, intensity, or functional effect of your symptoms.

Contact a Chicago SSD Attorney

If you would like to discuss how to maintain your credibility during the claims process with a Chicago SSD attorney, contact Chicago Disability Law today.