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Dallas County SSDI attorneyThose who experience health issues that prevent them from being able to maintain gainful employment may be able to receive disability benefits through Social Security. There are multiple different types of health conditions that are recognized as disabilities by Social Security, but an applicant for disability benefits will need to meet specific requirements to demonstrate that they are disabled. People with hearing impairments will need to understand how these disabilities are addressed in the listing of impairments used by Social Security.

Hearing Loss Without Cochlear Implants

For those who have not had surgical implants to correct hearing loss, the determination of whether they are disabled will depend on the results of medical examinations and hearing tests. An otologic examination must be performed by a licensed physician, and it will look at a person’s medical history and the ways hearing loss has affected their life. A doctor will examine the person’s external ears, the eardrum, and the middle ear to look for abnormalities or issues that may affect the person’s hearing.

Audiometric testing must be performed by a licensed audiologist or otolaryngologist. A person’s hearing will be evaluated without the use of hearing aids. These tests will include pure tone or air conduction testing that measures how well the inner and outer ear can register sounds through the air and bone conduction testing to determine how well a person can register sounds transmitted through vibrations of the bones in the skull. Speech reception threshold (SRT) testing will be used to determine whether a person can recognize at least 50 percent of the words on a standard list at certain decibel levels, and word recognition testing will determine the maximum amplification level needed for a person to identify spoken words.

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Dallas TX Social Security disability attorneyPeople in the United States who are unable to work may be able to receive benefits through the federal government. Social Security offers disability benefits to those who experience physical or mental conditions that prevent them from earning enough income to support themselves, as long as a person’s condition has lasted or is expected to last for 12 months or more. There are two different types of Social Security disability benefits: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. Understanding the differences between these two programs will help a person with a disability understand the types of benefits they may be able to receive.

Qualifying for SSDI With Work Credits

Social Security Disability Insurance, or SSDI, provides benefits based on a person’s work history. To qualify for SSDI, a person must have earned sufficient work credits throughout their career. A person can earn up to four work credits per year, and these credits are based on the amount they earned in a particular year. For 2021, earnings of $1,470 will constitute one work credit, and a person will earn all four credits for the year once they make $5,880.

Generally, a person must have 40 work credits before they can receive SSDI benefits, and they must have earned 20 credits within the past 10 years. However, younger workers may be able to qualify for SSDI with fewer work credits. In these cases, a person will generally need to meet the requirements for recent work.

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Collin County SSDI attorneyThose who suffer from health conditions that affect their ability to work may be able to receive disability benefits through Social Security. To qualify for Social Security disability, a person will need to demonstrate that they have a disabling condition that has affected their ability to earn enough income. When evaluating a disability claim, Social Security uses a specific process to determine whether an applicant’s condition is considered a disability. By understanding this process and working with an attorney to provide the proper evidence and documentation, a person can ensure that they will be able to receive the benefits they need.

The Five-Step Evaluation Process for Assessing Disability

After a person applies for Social Security disability benefits, their claim may be approved or denied. Following a denied claim, an applicant can appeal this decision, and an administrative hearing will be held in which their case will be reviewed by an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ will use what is known as a “sequential evaluation” process to determine whether the person is disabled. This process includes five steps:

  1. Is the applicant currently working? To be disabled, a person must currently be earning income less than what is considered to be “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). For those who apply for disability in 2021, SGA is $1,310 per month, or $2,190 if a person is blind.

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Dallas SSDI attorneysThere are a variety of conditions that can affect a person’s ability to maintain employment and earn enough income to support themselves. Fortunately, Social Security disability benefits, including Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), are available for those who suffer from debilitating conditions.

In addition to serious physical conditions that limit the types of work-related activities a person can perform, there are multiple types of mental illnesses that may allow a person to qualify for disability benefits. However, proving that a person’s condition is severe enough to be considered a disability can often be a complex process, and those who are applying for Social Security disability benefits will want to work with an experienced attorney to ensure that they provide the correct information to demonstrate the need for financial assistance.

Mental Health Conditions That May Qualify for Disability Benefits

To be considered a disability, a person’s condition must prevent them from participating in substantial gainful activity (SGA), and it must have lasted or be expected to last for at least one year. The Social Security Administration’s “Blue Book” lists several categories of mental disorders that may cause a person to be disabled.

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Dallas SSDI attorneysWhile any injury can be traumatic, it's hard to overstate the difficulties that follow from an injury that prevents you from performing the job you've done all your life. Fortunately, the federal government can help by providing monthly benefits through its Social Security Disability Insurance ('SSDI') and Supplemental Security Income ('SSI') programs. However, to qualify for these benefits, you must show that your inability to work results from a specific injury or illness.

At Coats & Todd, we want you to know how to identify if you qualify for SSDI and SSI benefits so that you can move forward without the added financial stress that follows from being unable to work. Our team is here to help you every step of the way.

Some of the common injuries that may qualify for SSDI/SSI benefits are:

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Dallas SSDI attorneysWith only a few weeks left, the Trump Administration has upended a number of rules to make it harder to receive (and even keep) Social Security disability benefits. The White House announced a number of sweeping changes to reduce the number of people on Social Security and to save about $2.5 billion a year.

Some of the biggest new changes to Social Security are:

  • Stricter requirements for back impairments: One of the most prevalent disabilities we see are disabling back impairments, particularly those involving the lower ('lumbar') spine. But under new rules effective starting April 21, 2021, the government will no longer grant benefits to people who are unable to walk effectively due to low back impairments. Now, you have to prove you have to use some prosthetic device that prohibits you from using either arm. So a one-handed walker or cane apparently isn't enough. What's more, the rules say that all of the necessary medical findings have to be documented within a 4-month time period-despite a court of appeals ruling that rejected that position! See Radford v. Colvin, 734 F.3d 288 (4th Cir. 2013). Although the Administration used to abide by that appeals court ruling, they've changed their mind. Understandably, several people have objected to these changes. However, the Administration responded that, 'even if in some cases (although not all) the revised rule results in more [denials], we still have a statutory obligation to ensure the listings are up to date... ' Despite the White House's focus on achieving 'progress,' we suspect this will have a devastating effect on millions of Americans for decades to come.
  • More continuing disability reviews: As hardas it now is to receive disability, keeping those benefits is not getting easier. The program has, for some time, conducted ongoing disability reviews to verify SSDI recipients are disabled. That makes sense. But it doesn't make sense why the Trump Administration has decided to increase the frequency of those reviews, particularly when the Administration freely admits that disability fraud is so rare as to be virtually nonexistent. Increasing the frequency of these reviews will increases the chances the SSDI recipients have their benefits suddenly taken away. And once taken away, the individual has a very short window of time to appeal. And if they miss the deadline, they'll probably have to reapply-under standards that are unimaginably more stringent then when they were first awarded.
  • Judge replacement: Previously, if you applied for disability and you were denied twice by the local State agency, you had the right to present your case before an Administrative law judge, or 'ALJ' who provided a full hearing for you to present your case. This was beneficial for a lot of people because the ALJ was often familiar with the local community, including the local health resources (or lack thereof), and he or she knew what kind of hardships the community faced. Well, that's not necessarily the case anymore. The Trump administration has now decided that far-removed appeals judges (who have no familiarity with the community) can now, apparently at whim, step in and conduct the hearing instead of the ALJ. And if that Appeals Council judge deprives the applicant of a fair hearing, guess who gets to decide the appeal? That's right, another Appeals Council judge! Does that sound unfair? Well, the government assures us that they'll be fair-'trust us.' Call us skeptics, but when the Appeals Council's stated goal is to deny over 80% of every disability appeal it receives,we're a little doubtful.

With both of these program changes, it can be assumed that thousands – if not millions – of Americans with disabilities will have a more difficult time obtaining and keeping SSDI benefits. The decision also comes in the midst of a global pandemic, making it all the more worrisome. COVID-19 complications have already been proven to have a chance of causing new and permanent disabilities among people who recover from the virus, including but not limited to asthma and an increased risk of stroke.

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Dallas SSDI attorneysFibromyalgia is a fairly common incurable health condition that is still being researched by medical sciences. What causes fibromyalgia is not completely understood, but it is believed to be rooted in complications of an overactive nervous system, an overabundant amount of blood vessels near the skin, and possibly immune system deficiencies. A study in 2013 shed some light on the theory of nerve and blood vessel complications, but more work needs to be done.

What is understood is that the symptoms of fibromyalgia can be persistent and troubling, most often manifesting as chronic pain that cannot be remedied with painkillers and full-body fatigue that does not go away after a good night's sleep. It is also common for fibromyalgia patients to experience hypersensitivity to touch, numbness in extremities, and joint stiffness.

For many fibromyalgia patients, the symptoms are so consistent and problematic that continuing to work is difficult or seemingly impossible. If you have found yourself in the same situation, then you should know that you might qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits because of your fibromyalgia diagnosis. Every case is different, though, so getting benefits is not guaranteed.

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Posted on in Uncategorized

Dallas SSDI attorneysCan you work and collect disability? That's a question we often get, and the answer isn't as easy as you might think. This topic gets complicated quickly and it's impossible to provide a comprehensive answer in a single blog post. However, this should help to provide a basic overview of how working can affect your disability application.

It's not about 'work'; it's about 'substantial gainful activity.'

To keep this as simple as possible, the government will not award disability benefits to those who are gainfully working. In fact, that's the very first question Social Security asks itself when it receives a disability application. Except instead of referring to 'work,' it refers to 'substantial gainful activity,' or SGA. This SGA concept is so significant, in fact, that Congress specifically defined disability as the 'inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity. . . .'

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A lot of people get confused about the difference between SSI and SSDI, and some of our clients have spent years applying for disability without any grasp of the two programs. If you're wondering about the difference, then this is for you.

Let's start with how the programs are similar. SSDI and SSI both provide monthly benefits for those who are disabled, and the standards for what is a 'disability' are virtually identical. Both apply a five-step analysis that grants disability if you are not working, so long as you have a severe impairment that either:

a) meets/equals the medical criteria the government set in its Listing of Impairments, or else:

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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued a stunning rebuke of the Social Security Administration in a decision that is likely to be cited for years to come. This is a welcome relief to disability applicants in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, all of which reside in the Fifth Circuit.

The opinion is Schofield v. Saul, and the question was whether the Administration was required to explain why it denied Ms. Schofield's disability application without considering her borderline age. By way of background, age has a significant impact on whether a disability applicant is found disabled, particularly if the applicant is 55 or older. At 55, the claimant need only prove that she cannot perform her past work and is limited to light work activity or less without transferable job skills. A similar outcome is directed for unskilled workers who are 50-54 and limited to sedentary work. In short, for a lot of disability applicants, age is everything.

That was particularly true for Schofield, who was only four months shy of her 55th birthday. Had the ALJ applied the higher age category, he would have had to find her disabled. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the ALJ, who never explained why he declined to consider the higher age category, which the federal regulations envision in such borderline situations.

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Back pain is an incredibly common condition, with as many as 80% of all people expected to experience back pain at some point in their lifetimes, according to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). Additionally, the ACA notes that back pain accounts for over 265 million lost hours of work every year. It is one of the top reasons people miss work, and it is the single leading cause of disability. All this to say, if you're currently experiencing debilitating back pain or have been unable to work in the past due to back pain, you're not alone!

But, do you qualify for disability for your back pain? And, if you do, how do you actually get your Social Security disability benefits?

What Is 'Medically Determinable' Back Pain?

The first thing you need to know about qualifying for disability based on back pain is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) does not typically grant benefits to those with mild, moderate, or intermittent back pain. Despite the fact that the SSA receives millions of applications for back pain-more applications for any other type of illness or injury, in fact-it only grants benefits to individuals with 'medically determinable' back impairments. This means that, in order to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you'll need to show that you have an impairment that can be detected and affirmed by a medical professional.

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Earlier this week, the Supreme Court decided Biestek v. Berryhill, a case we hoped would balance in favor of all disability claimants. Unfortunately, the Court did not reach the outcome we had expected.

Understanding the Disability Process

Before delving into the merits of this case, some overview of the disability process is necessary. For most disability applicants, their best hope of success is a hearing before an administrative law judge. The hearing is usually attended by the claimant, his or her attorney, and various expert witnesses, including a vocational expert (and, occasionally, a medical expert). These experts exert tremendous influence on the outcome of a hearing, particularly the vocational expert, or 'VE,' who is responsible for classifying the applicant's job history and testifying as to whether or not there are other duties the applicant can perform.

The Vocational Expert

Enter Biestek. In this case, the vocational expert testified that Biestek could perform 120,000 'sorter' jobs and 240,000 'bench assembler' jobs – the implication being that he was not disabled. When Biestek's attorney asked how the vocational expert arrived at these numbers, she replied that they were from her own private labor market surveys. When the attorney asked to see these surveys, the vocational expert refused, and the Judge concluded that it was unnecessary. After the hearing, the Judge issued a partially favorable decision, denying some of Biestek's benefits based on the vocational expert's testimony. Now, the question was whether the vocational expert's testimony could be considered 'substantial evidence' to deny the claim.

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It's an election year, which means that Social Security has become another contentious topic among political candidates, pundits, and the media. Unfortunately, not all information out there is accurate and the GOP-which infamously tried to keep our Social Security disability fund depleted last year-is counting on the public to take some of these assertions as fact. Below, let's debunk some of the myths that have been circulating.

Illegal Immigrants Are Benefiting from Social Security

Perhaps this myth is prevalent due to a lack of knowledge of how Social Security works, but Social Security benefits are dependent on a claimant's work history in Social Security-covered employment. If you begin a job as an undocumented resident without a Social Security number, there's no way to actually collect future benefits. Fake credentials may fool an employer-but not the Social Security Administration if a claim for benefits is made.

Illegal Immigrants and Fraudsters Are "Skipping the Line"

A Donald Trump ad aired earlier this month implied that illegal immigrants were not only preying on Social Security benefits, they were also "skipping the line" ahead of citizens that had filed legitimate claims. As the Los Angeles Times reports, this is categorically untrue: there is no way to skip the line. In cases where claimants are suffering from life-threatening conditions, there are ways to expedite their claim but, again, the claim must be verified as legitimate first.

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There is a public perception that those who suffer from drug abuse or alcoholism (DAA) will never be granted approval for disability benefits. That isn't to say, however, that benefits are granted purely on the basis of an alcoholism or drug addiction diagnosis. In the middle of these two myths is the truth – while drugs and alcohol don't always impact your chances of eligibility for benefits, that doesn't mean it never will.

A disability claim can be denied by Social Security if it is determined that the individual's drug and alcohol addiction is a major factor that contributes to his or her disability. If the individual, however, would still meet the requirements without the drug and alcohol abuse, Social Security will consider their case.

To determine if drug or alcohol addiction is material to the determination of disability, Social Security will ask the following questions:

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Dallas SSDI attorneysIt's no secret that the Social Security Administration faces a tremendous backlog of disability claims to evaluate and process. SSA spokesman Mark Hinkle told Huffington Post that the agency is "in the midst of a public service crisis."

Perhaps even more worrisome, however, is what reporters learned the agency is doing to improve efficiency. Up until recently, appealed claims that are remanded for reconsideration were handed back down to an administrative law judge. Now, the SSA is having some of those same cases handed to administrative appeals judges. The change may look minute, but could have negative ramifications for claimants.

That's because administrative appeals judges are not hired or overseen by the same standards as administrative law judges. Administrative law judges are shielded from institutional pressures, performance reviews, and bonus evaluations. Administrative appeals judges are not, calling their impartiality into question.

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Dallas SSDI attorneysFor some time now, disabled Americans who were saddled with hefty federal student loans remained eligible for loan forgiveness under the Total and Permanent Disability ('TPD') Discharge program. Unfortunately, many disabled borrowers were unaware of the debt forgiveness program and have never sought assistance. Fortunately, the Department of Education has just announced that it plans to prospectively identify borrowers who are eligible for debt forgiveness, which could be a huge relief for thousands of disabled Americans.

Working in coordination with the Social Security Administration, the Department of Education has sought to identify student loan borrowers who receive disability payments and are designated as 'Medical Improvement Not Expected,' a term that would qualify them for loan forgiveness under the TPD program. According to the Department of Education, in December of 2015 and March of 2016, approximately 387,000 borrowers were identified as being eligible for debt forgiveness under TPD. The Department estimated that this constitutes over $7.7 billion worth of student loan debts that might be eligible for forgiveness.

Starting on April 18, 2016, The Department of Education is seeking to reduce this number by sending customized letters to eligible disabled borrowers with instructions on how to obtain a discharge under the TPD program. This will also apparently include a streamlined process to sign and complete an application with relatively little inconvenience.

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Dallas SSDI attorneysA colleague of mine once shared an anecdote about a recent disability case of his that had gone terribly, terribly wrong. The evidence was strong, the judge was fair, and the client's testimony was compelling. The problem? When asked if there was anything else he wanted to share with the judge, the client responded, 'Your honor, if I could work, I would. In fact, I've looked everywhere for work, but I just can't find anything.'

This beautifully illustrates one of the cardinal rules of good advocacy-never ask a question you don't know the answer to. But for purposes of Social Security disability, it also illustrates just how counterintuitive the disability process can be. As this blog explains, disability law often entails more than meets the eye.

By any other measure, looking for work should be helpful to a disability case. After all, doesn't it suggest that the person is genuinely striving to become self-sufficient and avoid dependency on governmental benefits? Well, to a judge, it suggests something very different. In our experience, most judges assume that a disabled person simply knows deep down that he is disabled. Based on this logic, the judge assumes that a person who is looking for work must not believe he is disabled. Interestingly, despite this assumption, The Social Security Administration actually encourages disability recipients to try to return to work through the Ticket to Work program and The Plan to Achieve Self-Support program. Nevertheless, disability judges routinely hold this against claimants who may truly be unable to hold a job.

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Posted on in Uncategorized

Dallas SSDI attorneysEvery month, we are contacted by potential clients all across the nation asking if we can help them with their SSDI/SSI case. We strive to be as selective as possible in taking only the strongest cases up to the federal government. As a result, this means we cannot take every case and we unfortunately have to turn down a large number of potential clients. This inevitably raises a question: 'why won't you take my case?' In this post, we want to discuss some of the more common issues we encounter and give you an idea how we decide whether a case meets our standards for representation.

We first want to stress, however, that our callers are some of the most sincere, deserving individuals, many of whom are suffering terminal and lifelong illnesses that legitimately keep them from working. Unfortunately, not every deserving case is possible to prove in court. As attorneys, we are ethically bound to only take only the cases we reasonably believe will be meritorious. We, therefore, are selective not only by choice, but also by duty.

Also bear in mind that this post is intended only to address the most common issues we see, and none of these factors may be relevant to your case. Every SSDI/SSI case is unique, and deciding whether to take a case involves a careful review of a constellation of different factors.

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Dallas SSDI attorneysJust how long do Social Security disability applicants have to wait to appeal their denied claims? According to an alarming report from the Associated Press, as long as two years in some states.

The AP's investigation found that Miami had the longest SSDI waits nationwide, with an average wait of 22 months to see an administrative judge following a claim denial. Brooklyn, Spokane, Fort Myers weren't much better with 20-month waits. Nationally, the average wait to appeal an SSDI denial is 16 months.

These long waits can have devastating effects on applicants who are in desperate need of relief and medical attention. Unable to work and lacking the support they need, many must rely on loved ones to support them until they get to see a judge and make their case for benefits. Others find themselves without crucial medication or insufficient or intermittent medical treatment that leaves them suffering.

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Dallas SSDI attorneysAfter months of debate by lawmakers over the future of Social Security Disability Insurance program, the program has been restored with funds that will keep it solvent until 2022. That replenishment comes with President Obama's signing a new federal budget earlier this month that reallocates some federal money to the SSDI program, but also comes with caveats to quell the concerns of the program's opponents.

As MetroNews reports, much of the SSDI debate had been drowned out over other national fiscal concerns, namely the debt ceiling and a possible government shutdown. However, many eyes were on a possible SSDI fix since, earlier this year, SSDI Trustees reported an "urgent threat of reserve depletion." Congress conservatives had opposed to saving the program with Social Security retirement funds, which had been the source of numerous SSDI restorations in the past.

In the new federal budget, however, that is basically how the depleted SSDI program will be replenished-money will once again be shifted from the Social Security retirement fund to the SSDI account. The plan also calls for .57% of the 12.4% payroll tax from 2016 to 2018.

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