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Q&A with an attorney: Preparing for a Social Security hearing
Posted August 20, 2013

Obtaining disability benefits from the Social Security Administration is never easy, as the preparation for a case and hearing can be nerve wrecking. However, with an experienced attorney, the process can be made much easier. Harold W. Conick has been practicing law and getting clients approved for SSA disability payments for more than 30 years. He took some time to answer questions about how to prepare for a disability claim hearing.

Q: How long does it typically take to prepare for a hearing? How long does it last?

Harold Conick: The preparation for the hearing usually extends from the time when we’re initially retained by the client to a few days or so before the hearing when we’re finalizing all the exhibits and making sure we have all the evidence lined up. Documentary and testimonial evidence is necessary to present to the judge for the hearing itself, which lasts about an hour or hour and a half.

Generally, evidence assembly lasts for months and sometimes even better than a year. The hearing preparation can extend a very long time. The time it takes to set a hearing depends on the region. It can vary depending on whether a claimant lives in a rural or urban area. It can take a year to two years from the initial application to a hearing because there’s a backlog in the hearing offices.

Q: What about in Chicago?

HC: It’s a fairly long wait time in Chicago. It can take a year and a half or better. The best thing [clients] can do is apply early as soon as they anticipate they won’t be able to work competitively. They need to seriously consider applying. If they want help applying, they should use a lawyer. If they get turned down, they should definitely use a lawyer. We handle applications from the start and there’s some benefit to it, which is that the claimant has an expert preparation from the start. 85 percent of people get turned down on claims prior to a hearing, so there’s no benefit to apply without an attorney unless they’re really, really ill [and can get approved sooner].

Q: Is there anything that surprises clients about hearings?

HC: The thing that may surprise the client is that it is not a very long time frame for the hearing. It’s only an hour and its pretty crammed full of witnesses. The client’s testimony might not take more than 15-20 minutes but its critical testimony. If the client has a witness who can testify, that is part of the hearing as well. It’s very important to be organized and have a well thought out hearing [plan] so all the critical evidence can be presented in the time frame that’s available. There’s strategy involved – its like playing chess.

Q: What’s the most important thing for someone going into a SSA hearing to know?

The most important thing is the general rule that the judges are thinking all people can work at something no matter what their medical condition is. The exception is that you cannot work at anything. They’re not presuming that you can’t work, they’re presuming that you can do something. You have to prove to them you can’t do anything, even a sedentary job. Most people mistakenly believe that if they can’t do their former job they are disabled, which is not the law.

 

Obesity side effects could net SSA disability
Posted August 14, 2013

While obesity itself will not qualify someone for Social Security Administration disability benefits, there could be a grouping of factors that lead to benefits.Benefits could also be awarded based on the residual functional capacity (RFC) grouped with age, education and work experience. The Social Security Administration said if an individual has medically severe obesity, it may be found as a qualifying listing.

“As with any other medical condition, we will find that obesity is a ‘severe’ impairment when, alone or in combination with another medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s), it significantly limits an individual’s physical or mental ability to do basic work activities,” the SSA said.

SSA said there is no specific weight or body mass index that will equal severe or not severe, so individualized assessments will be key for any individual who has been critically affected by impairments of obesity. It is important to regularly visit doctors to get the full breadth of symptoms and areas that may be badly affected by the obesity.

Claimants who suffer with obesity may be found to be disabled due to their inability to function in the competitive work environment. It is important for the claimant’s doctor to note functional limitations caused by obesity. Such limitations can significantly interfere with the ability to perform the tasks associated with the functions of daily activities and can result in unemployability in the workplace and a finding of disability by the Social Security Administration. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates have years of experience representing claimants on a litany of disabilities, including those stemming from obesity.

SSA overpaying more disability recipients
Posted August 08, 2013

The U.S. Government Accountability Office undertook a study late in 2012 which showed the Social Security Administration overpaid $7.3 billion in disability benefits in fiscal year 2011, nearly twice the amount of the $3.8 billion which was overpaid in 2001. This study was done to determine the major factors in overpayment of disability benefits and what is know about it from recipients.

The GAO recommended a review of review and approval of overpayment waiver decisions to determine if it is still an appropriate policy. The agency also suggested the SSA look at ways to strengthen oversight of this program and figure out better ways to track payments.

For those who have been overpaid, the SSA’s website said there are multiple options for repaying the amount which is owned, including withholding money from the benefit, paying back the amount in full or having it held via SSI payments.

“If you are not receiving benefits, and you do not pay the amount back, we can recover the overpayment from your federal income tax refund or from your wages if you are working,” SSA said on its website. “Also, we can recover overpayments from future SSI or Social Security benefits. We also will report the delinquency to credit bureaus.”

The overpayment of Social Security disability or retirement benefits can be extremely burdensome to claimants who were unaware they were being overpaid. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates are experts in representing clients facing overpayment claims from the Social Security Administration. If a claimant has been notified of an overpayment, they should consider requesting a waiver based upon lack of fault for causing the overpayment and the hardship to their family finances this situation would present.

 

 

Vision loss can net disability benefits
Posted July 26, 2013

Suffering from blindness or lack of vision can severely impair a person’s ability to find work, make money and manage their life. People who are having an especially hard time may want to apply for Social Security disability benefits, as it may help get them back on their feet. Those who want to qualify for benefits must be able to prove via medical records that they have a loss of peripheral field contraction, visual efficiency and visual acuity.

“To evaluate your visual disorder, we usually need a report of an eye examination that includes measurements of your best-corrected central visual acuity or the extent of your visual fields, as appropriate,” the SSA’s website said. “If you have visual acuity or visual field loss, we need documentation of the cause of the loss. A standard eye examination will usually indicate the cause of any visual acuity loss.”

For the most part, people who want to qualify for disability benefits must have visual problem in both eyes, with vision in both eyes needing to be affected. If one eye’s vision is bad and the other is even just a bit better, the claim may be denied by the SSA’s judge. To show the full extent of the problem, claimants will need extensive medical records proving their vision issues.

Often times, people believe if they are legally blind they will qualify for Social Security disability benefits. However, the SSA looks beyond such labels to attempt determining the individual’s ability to perform work activities, even if there are eye problems. If the SSA believes a claimant can perform sedentary work competitively even though the claimant has significant sight problems, they will not pay benefits.

With this in mind, it is important for a claimant to obtain expert legal to ensure a successful outcome for their disability claim. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates have successfully represented numerous clients suffering from impaired vision.

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