Tag Archives: total disability

My Doctor Says I am Totally Disabled – Can I Get Social Security Diability?

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Many people think that they will easily get Social Security disability benefits because they got a letter from their doctor that states that they are “totally disabled” and cannot work. This is a great first step for obtaining benefits – but it is only a first step. If your doctor is willing to write you a letter that says you are totally disabled, that shows that he or she will support your claim for benefits.  The support of a treating physician is very important to your claim.

Equally important to your claim is how your doctor’s opinion is expressed. A brief statement that you are totally disabled and/or that you cannot work will not be given a lot of consideration by the Social Security Administration (SSA). In order to make sure that your doctor’s opinion is properly considered and given the proper weight, your doctor will need to provide SSA with a “function by function” assessment of your ability to work.  SSA wants your doctor to provide them with an opinion that lists specific restrictions, such as how long you can sit, stand, and walk, how much weight you can lift and carry, and any limitation in your ability to get along with co-workers, the public, or to concentrate and follow instructions. Your doctor must also support his opinion with evidence such as examination findings or the results of diagnostic tests (such as MRIs and CT scans). If your doctor’s opinion is not properly expressed, it may not be given the weight it deserves, making it more difficult for you to get the benefits you’re entitled to.

To make sure that our clients get the benefits that they deserve, we contact the treating physicians to gather all of the evidence we need – including opinion evidence in the format required by SSA. If your doctor has told you that you are totally disabled and/or unable to work, please contact us if you need assistance with your claim.

Social Security Disability Denied? Don't Give Up Hope. (Part 2)

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Last week we told you about the denial of John’s claim for Social Security Disability. This week we present the results of John’s appeal. 

Unfortunately, John’s run of bad luck with the Social Security Administration continued, and the Appeals Council affirmed the judge’s decision. The only good thing about this decision was that it came relatively quickly, allowing us to move on to the next step in the process. With the Appeals Council denial, there were two options.  John could file a new application and begin the process again, which would mean forfeiting all the retroactive benefits that he would otherwise have been entitled to, or we could file a lawsuit in Federal court. 

The only good thing about this decision was that it came relatively quickly, allowing us to move on to the next step in the process.

I selectively file these lawsuits because of the lengthy process and the standard of proof required. After discussing his options, John and I decided to move forward with the lawsuit. After a lawsuit is filed, the Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) assigned to the case contacts me to work out a schedule for filing our briefs and for oral arguments in front of the judge.

When I heard from the AUSA this time, it wasn’t to set up a briefing schedule. She had reviewed the case file and realized that the judge’s decision was wrong and couldn’t be defended. She was the first person who I felt had really taken the time to review the case and realize that John was truly disabled. She prepared an order for the judge to sign sending the case back to Social Security for a new hearing and a new decision.

 The same judge who had issued John’s original unfavorable decision was again assigned to the case. I was concerned that John would be in for another denial, but the judge had clearly changed his mind about John. After a brief hearing, the judge stated on the record that he would be issuing a fully favorable decision. John received the decision granting him benefits two weeks later. John and his family were awarded all of the benefits that they were entitled to, because I believed in his case and didn’t give up.

Even if you get turned down the first time, or you get an unfavorable decision from a judge, don’t give up.

Even if you get turned down the first time, or you get an unfavorable decision from a judge, don’t give up. If John had decided to file a new application, he may have eventually been awarded some benefits, but he wouldn’t have received all the retroactive benefits to which he was entitled. Having an attorney who believes in you and will work hard to get you the benefits you deserve is very important to the success of your case.  If you would like our assistance with your claim, please contact us today.

Social Security Disability Denied? Don't Give Up Hope. (Part 1)

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

I’ve handled many Social Security disability cases over the course of my career, and helping people obtain the benefits they deserve is extremely gratifying. Today, I want to tell you about one of my clients who was eventually awarded Social Security disability benefits after a long fight.

This man – I’ll call him John – was injured at work. He was bringing a wheelbarrow loaded with materials up a flight of stairs when he slipped and fell down the stairs. He sustained significant back and shoulder injuries and was taken to the hospital that day. When I met with him, he had been out of work for several months and wanted to get back to work, but was unable to do so. I filed his application and waited for Social Security’s initial decision.

Because John was 48 years old when he was injured, I had to prove that he couldn’t do any type of work, not just the construction work he had done since he graduated from high school. John’s case was denied initially, as most cases are. I filed a request for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and started to develop John’s case.

In addition to his back and shoulder injuries, John was also depressed due to his chronic pain and inability to live his life the way he used to before his accident.

In addition to his back and shoulder injuries, John was also depressed due to his chronic pain and inability to live his life the way he used to before his accident. He started treatment with a psychiatrist and a psychologist. All conditions count in a Social Security disability benefits case, both physical and emotional. 

As his hearing date approached, I obtained updated medical records from all of John’s doctors and obtained supportive opinions from them as well.  Before the hearing, I prepared John for the questions he was likely to face.  Going into the hearing, I felt confident that John would get the benefits he deserved.  However, at the hearing, the ALJ did not seem to feel the case was as strong as I did. I told John to prepare for a denial from the judge.

While reviewing the decision, I noticed that the judge had made several significant errors…

Sure enough, the judge denied John’s claim. While reviewing the decision, I noticed that the judge had made several significant errors, from improperly evaluating the credibility of John’s statements, to giving improper weight to the opinions of his treating doctors. I met with John to review the decision and talk about our options.  Given the number of errors contained in the judge’s decision and the strength of John’s case, we decided to file an appeal with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council, located in Falls Church, Virginia, is charged with reviewing appeals from individuals who disagree with the decision made by the judge at their hearing.

The Appeals Council review process can take anywhere from 18 to 24 months, and only about 20 percent of appeals are successful.  Despite these odds, I felt good about John’s chances due to the support of his treating physicians and the multiple errors made by the judge. I prepared a comprehensive legal brief detailing all of the judge’s errors and sent it to the Appeals Council for review. When I sent the appeal, I felt that the Appeals Council would recognize that the judge had issued a flawed decision and vacate it.  When a judge’s decision is vacated, the case is sent back for a new hearing and a new decision. 

In next week’s post we’ll reveal the outcome of John’s case.