Articles Posted in Social Security

lgbt ringsEach applicant who seeks Social Security benefits faces his or her own set of unique challenges. Those challenges can be especially substantial when the applicant is seeking survivor’s benefits and the applicant’s spouse was a person of the same sex as the applicant. Recent changes in caselaw have helped the cause of same-sex spouses but, as one Pennsylvania widower’s case demonstrated, success may still require diligence and determination. To make sure you get the benefits to which you are entitled, retain an experienced Pennsylvania Social Security attorney.

The widower, J., entered into a committed, exclusive, lifetime relationship with B. in the summer of 1990. Of course, because they were a same-sex couple and it was 1990, they did not have the option of marrying. The men lived together as committed partners from 1990 until late 2015, when Bernard passed away. Shortly before Bernard died, a federal court in Pennsylvania invalidated the state’s ban on same-sex marriages and the couple wed.

After B. passed, J. applied for Social Security benefits, including widower’s insurance benefits based upon his marriage to B.. In his application for benefits, John stated that he and B. had shared a common-law marriage dating back to 1990. The Social Security Administration, however, did not grant the application and did not award widower’s benefits to J.

overwhelmed manPeople may have various reasons for taking on the legal system without an attorney. Perhaps they think they can do as good a job as most lawyers. Perhaps they do not wish to divulge the details of their personal affairs with someone they don’t know. In a lot of situations, people decide they cannot afford an attorney. The result of many cases teaches that the opposite is often true:  that you can’t afford not to have legal representation. That includes taking on your disability benefits case. Your benefits are undoubtedly very important to you. Make sure you arm yourself with the knowledge and skill of an experienced Pennsylvania Social Security attorney.

The disability case of a man named Kenyotta shows just how valuable capable counsel can be. Kenyotta filed a disability claim and was judged to be disabled in 1993. Twenty years later, he was deemed to be no longer disabled. Kenyotta asked a disability hearing officer to review the decision, but the outcome remained unchanged. He appealed to an administrative law judge. His hearing before the ALJ was scheduled for Oct. 27, 2015.

Kenyotta didn’t hire an attorney. The importance of this decision was amplified because he did not show up for the hearing. He sent a letter asking for a postponement of the hearing and explaining why he could not attend. The letter, dated Oct. 27, 2015, said that Kenyotta was indigent and could not afford transportation to the hearing. He also made reference to an epileptic seizure and “an ongoing continuous relapse of [his] disability condition.” The ALJ determined that Kenyotta did not have a valid basis for missing the hearing and dismissed his case.

While receiving disability benefits can greatly improve the lives of Pennsylvania individuals who are unable to work, applying for these federal benefits can be a challenge.  Understanding the necessary documentation and requirements can help the process of securing benefits.  Pennsylvania Social Security Disability lawyers can provide guidance through the application steps and help individuals understand whether they qualify for benefits.

disabled Social Security
First, when determining disability qualifications, it can be helpful to rely on the Blue Book, which is a publication entitled Disability Evaluation under Social Security.  This book gives detailed descriptions of conditions and disabilities that qualify individuals for benefits.  It contains an overview of Social Security programs and explains the requirements of both Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income.

Additionally, the Blue Book lists acceptable sources of medical information and makes clear that medical evidence from professional health care workers is likely considered the most accurate. As the final section of the Blue Book, the listing of impairments includes disease groups, further broken into sub-points.

In order to secure Social Security disability benefits, the Social Security Administration requires that applicants show they are disabled, based on the Administration’s definition of “disability.” In earlier blog posts, we have written about the importance of meeting all of the criteria in order to successfully secure benefits.  The disability requirement essentially rests on demonstrating an inability to engage in work, or gainful activity, for at least 12 months. In addition to making clear that a physical or mental disability hinders an ability to work, the duration requirement must be met.
Next, it must be determined that claimants qualify for Social Security programs.  There are different requirements depending on whether individuals seek Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Pennsylvania Social Security attorneys can help claimants file for Social Security disability benefits. Generally, applicants will be required to present a strong work history. The work history report is a form, available online through the Social Security Administration website. While it is more difficult to apply for Social Security disability benefits if you do not present a strong work history, it is not impossible. In essence, it may be more difficult to prove what you have earned and show that you qualify for Social Security benefits.

Generally, for the work requirement, individuals must have worked one “quarter” each year over the past decade.  The requirement is a sliding scale. For those workers who are not yet old enough to have worked 10 years, or who are nearing retirement, the requirement is lessened. To calculate the duration you have worked in terms of quarters, individuals receive credits that count toward their benefit coverage.

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When suffering from a medical condition that renders you disabled and unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits or monthly Supplemental Security Income benefits.  Individuals with the conditions of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Colitis, and Crohn’s Disease may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits.   Ensuring that a case for benefits is properly presented may require the assistance of a skilled attorney who understands Social Security rules and regulations.  To receive Social Security Disability benefits, you must be deemed disabled –  not capable of engaging in substantial gainful employment.  Medical evidence is necessary to support a successful claim for benefits, and understanding how to set forth a strong claim can help ensure a successful conclusion.


Disorders that may be considered in the digestive system include IBS, as well as other diseases and syndromes.  In order to prove a disability, medical evidence is typically presented by the claimant. The first step in presenting a strong case for disability benefits is to receive treatment from specialists skilled in treating the condition.  Treatment with a specialist is important for any condition that is considered severe and disabling.  For individuals suffering from gastrointestinal conditions, a gastroenterologist would be the specialist most likely seen, and testing may include x-rays, CT scans, blood work, and other laboratory testing.  Invasive diagnostic tools, such as a colonoscopy and an endoscopy, may be required to assess the cause of the condition.

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Substance abuse can affect a claim for Social Security benefits, making it difficult for disabled individuals in Pennsylvania to secure the benefits to which they might be entitled by law.  In some circumstances, those suffering from a disability may be abusing prescription medications or alcohol.  Pennsylvania Social Security Disability attorneys can help strengthen claims for benefits by ensuring that all rules and regulations are met and that a disability is unrelated to the impact of this abuse or addiction.  Understanding the impact of substance abuse and the importance of abiding by prescribed medications is important to a successful disability claim.

The Social Security Administration makes clear in their Code of Federal Regulations that in order to receive benefits for a disability, claimants must abide by their physician’s prescribed treatment.  Section 404.1530 lists exceptions, which are acceptable reasons for failing to abide by treatment.  These reasons include situations in which the treatment is large in scope or risky.

Another component of receiving disability benefits is making sure that drug addiction or alcoholism is not a contributing factor that is material to the determination of disability.  Substance Use Disorders, as termed by the Social Security Administration, are evaluated to determine whether claimants have “drug addiction and alcoholism” that contributes to their disability.  When a claimant is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they will not be considered disabled if this addiction is a contributing factor to the determination that they are disabled.  Essentially, the question is whether the drug or alcohol addiction is the material disability, or whether another impairment is responsible for the disability.

Receiving treatment for symptoms that have rendered you unable to work is critical to a successful Social Security claim. When evaluating a potential disability, the first step is to examine whether there is a medically determinable impairment that can be expected to cause the symptoms at issue.


The Social Security Administration has set forth their methods of evaluating symptoms and what they consider a symptom. In detail, this Social Security Ruling states what will be considered a symptom of an impairment, regardless of whether it is pain, dizziness, fatigue, or another symptom. An individual’s statements are not enough to establish a physical or mental impairment or a disability.

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Individuals suffering from medical conditions that prevent them from working are encouraged to apply for Social Security, since the law requires the Administration to consider the combined effects of these conditions when determining eligibility.  Federal law mandates that Social Security take into consideration the combined effects of impairments when they make headachea decision about whether an individual qualifies for benefits. Applicants are encouraged to list all of their medical conditions, including minor ones, when applying for disability.

As the Social Security Administration completes its five-step evaluation process, they will look at the combined effects of your medical problem. In some cases, the combined effects of mental, emotional, or physical impairments may be disabling, even if the separate conditions may not be.  The critical element for Pennsylvania residents applying for Social Security is to communicate to their medical care providers all of their symptoms.  This allows for a complete record before the SSA.

According to the law, the first step is to determine whether an individual can engage in substantial gainful activity. If so, the individual will be deemed capable of work and not disabled. The second step in the evaluation process focuses on assessing impairments that may affect the ability to work.  Severe impairments substantially interfere with the ability to perform work-related tasks, both physical and mental.  These can include walking, bending, lifting, following directions, and communicating with supervisors and co-workers. Non-severe impairments are those that are not disabling on their own but can exacerbate symptoms of other conditions that may lead to a determination of disability.

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Social Security Disability benefits exist for individuals with severe heart conditions that prevent them from working.  Congestive heart failure, recurrent arrhythmias, and coronary artery diseases are examples of some conditions that may qualify an individual for benefits, under the “Blue Book” Listings of Impairments.  The Blue Book is officially called “Disability Evaluation Under Social Security.” Criteria listed in the Blue Book will entitle claimants suffering from that disabling condition to Social Security Disability benefits. When individuals suffer from a condition specifically patientlisted in the Blue Book, this inclusion does not guarantee they will be approved for benefits. However, it does demonstrate that the individual has suffered a disabling condition for a period of time that qualifies the individual for consideration by the Social Security Administration.

Heart conditions listed in the Blue Book are found in Section 4.00, described as disorders that affect the proper functioning of the heart or the circulatory system.  These impairments may be congenital or acquired, and the listings describe cardiovascular impairments based on symptoms, laboratory findings, and functional limitations.

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Family members of a disabled worker who is eligible for Social Security disability benefits may themselves be eligible for family benefits. These benefits are paid to certain family members who demonstrate a financial dependence on a disabled worker.  Family benefits apply to disabled workers collectihandsng Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) but not Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The definition of disability under Social Security differs from other programs because benefits are payable for total disability, meaning that a worker is unable to work. This means they cannot perform work they did before, they cannot adjust to other work due to a medical condition, and this disability is expected to last at least one year.

Each member of the family who is eligible for a monthly Social Security benefit may receive up to 50% of the monthly disability benefit paid to the disabled worker. Factors that affect the amount paid to each family member include whether the member is a minor child, a disabled adult child, a retirement-aged spouse, or a young parent caring for disabled children.

There is a limit to the total amount of money that can be paid to a family on one Social Security record. The total amount, called the Maximum Family Benefit, depends on the benefits amount paid to the disabled worker and the number of family members who also qualify on the same record. Generally, the total amount that a family can receive is approximately 150% to 180% of the primary worker’s disability benefit.

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