Will my social security disability judge (ALJ) look at my Facebook account?

The Importance of Social Media in Social Security Disability Claims

Before the advent of the Internet, investigators had a much harder job. Collecting information, verifying statements and making sure everything added up is a lot more difficult without the help of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networking services. The rise of these websites has encouraged people to post a plethora of personal information about themselves online for anyone to access. It’s important to understand that friends and family are not the only people taking notice. While this information is primarily useful in the personal injury context, it can be equally valuable when it comes to Social Security Disability claims.

Disability benefits exist to offer support due to those unable to work due to a debilitating condition. Would a quick look through your social media profiles indicate that you deserve such benefits? Better hope so, because it could spell disaster for your case if you’re claiming a terrible back injury yet have pictures plastered across Facebook of your recent tango lessons or bungee jumping adventure.

Investigators and judges use social networking websites and could conceivably check up on what you’ve been doing while you’re claiming injury. And it’s not just your profile that could cause problems, being tagged in a photograph by a friend who does not have privacy settings on a Facebook page can also spell trouble.  While this article should not be read as encouraging deception, disabled parties should be aware that anything posted online is not 100% private.

The following are some suggested steps for ensuring that your online footprint remains as small and as private as possible.

1. Immediately make your profile “private,” and set all privacy settings to the highest level.

2. Remember to not discuss your accident, injuries or treatment, including any prescribed medication, on ANY social networking sites.

3. Avoid discussing recent activities you’ve engaged in, physical exertion, abilities and limitations, or any other information that may bear on what you can and cannot do because of your condition.

4. Be sure you know everyone who is your “friend.” Do not accept friend requests from people you do not personally know.

5. Review your friend list and block anyone you are not 100% sure you trust. Investigators could pose as a friend or get information from others who are to gain access to potentially incriminating information that could negatively affect your claim.

If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits or have questions, call The Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.


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Can I get SSI benefits for Pain?

I Have Chronic Pain, Can I get Disability?

pain managmentIf you suffer from chronic pain you understand just how variable the condition can be. For some the pain is continuous, for others it is intermittent, some suffer terribly while others live with less severe pain. Chronic pain is broadly defined as pain that cannot be eliminated by standard medical treatment, pain that persists after an injury or illness has resolved, or pain for which no origin can be determined. Though the suffering is real, many with the disorder have trouble convincing the Social Security Administration that their pain prevents them from working. The difficulty of quantifying pain presents unique difficulties for those with chronic pain seeking to receive disability benefits. Given this, it is important to note that simply telling the SSA that you have disabling chronic pain is not enough, it must be clearly demonstrated through testimony and medical evidence.

It may surprise some to know that chronic pain is not a listed disorder in Social Security’s listing of impairments that may automatically qualify you for disability benefits. This does not mean that hope is lost, as there are many other diagnoses that are often related to chronic pain, including:

• inflammatory arthritis;
• somatoform disorders;
• back injury;
• chronic renal disease; and
• inflammatory bowel disease.

If you do not qualify under another a listing category, then you will have to qualify for disability benefits through a “residual functional capacity” (RFC) assessment. An RFC assessment mean that the process for deciding whether disability benefits will be awarded boils down to two important questions:
1) Do you have objective evidence that demonstrates a medically determinable impairment that could reasonably be the source of your pain?


2) If you are able to demonstrate such an impairment, how intense and persistent is the pain and how does it limit your ability to perform basic work activities?

For an impairment to be “medically determinable” it must be an anatomical, physiological or psychological abnormality that can be shown through clear evidence from reliable medical sources. Such sources include testimony from doctors, medical records and lab results. Without these tangible sources, your testimony alone will not be enough to prove your disability before the SSA.

When determining the level of pain, the SSA evaluates both the intensity of the pain and how the pain affects the individual’s ability to do basic work activities. An individual’s statements are important here as the SSA knows that some pain is more severe than can be demonstrated through medical evidence alone. Testimony describing the pain and how it impacts your daily life is considered with the rest of the relevant evidence in the case record when making a decision.

The SSA also considers the following factors when assessing your pain:
• The location, duration, frequency and intensity of the individual’s pain;
• The type, dosage, effectiveness and side effects of any medication the individual takes or has taken to alleviate pain;
• Treatment, other than medication, the individual receives or has received for relief of pain;
• Any measures, other than treatment, the individual uses or has used to relieve pain.

If you are 45 years of age or older you may be found disabled under the SSA’s grid rules. For a FAQ of the rules check out www.disabilitygridrules.com

If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits and have questions, call The Nationwide Disability Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.

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What questions will the ALJ ask in my disability SSI / SSDI hearing?

What kind of questions will I be asked at my disability hearing?

ALJ questionsMany people are interested in knowing details about their disability hearing. For instance, how many and what kind of questions can you expect? Most hearings will be over in under an hour and some even less than that. As a result, you should not have to answer questions for an extended period of time. No matter how short, this hearing is many people’s first experience in such a formal setting and can be quite nerve-wracking. The following is some background information on the process and tips for how to effectively handle the hearing. Whether your hearing is in Dayton, Ohio, Dallas, Texas or Gary, Indiana, the questions asked by the judge will fall into four broad categories: 1) background information; 2) work history; 3) medical conditions and symptoms; and 4) activities of daily living.

As the name implies, background questions provide the judge general information about you. These questions can include your educational history, marital status, income, military service or even past criminal charges. Drug and alcohol use could also conceivably come up, though certainly not always.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) might ask for additional information about your job including your responsibilities, the requirements of the job and how your condition has affected your job performance. This last item is the most important. Giving the judge specific examples of problems your condition has caused meeting performance standards, as well as attendance issues that result from your disability can help convince the judge that you are indeed prevented from working.

Although your medical records are on file the judge may want to ask some clarifying questions to make sure he has all the necessary information to make a proper decision. The judge will almost definitely ask you how your medical condition affects you. What type of pain do they cause you? How do you try to relieve the pain? Are your medications effective? How much can you lift and carry? How long can you stand, sit, and walk? This is your chance to explain how your condition affects your life and your work so think through these questions prior to going to the hearing.

When answering medical questions it is important to give clear answers that paint a picture of your level of impairment. If you suffer from back problems and the judge asks you for a description, use words like “burning,” “tingling,” “aching,” “shooting,” or “dull.” Also clearly describe the location of any pain. This will help the judge know decided whether the symptoms are consistent with the recognized symptoms of your condition.

You may also be asked about your activities of daily living. These include normal things like bathing and dressing yourself, cooking, cleaning, yard work, and grocery shopping. If you have children the judge will likely asking for details about how the children are cared for. This provides yet another good opportunity to showcase how your disability impacts your life. It is crucial to explain that even if you are able to help out around the house, your medical condition creates limitations.

With all the above-mentioned categories it’s important to be honest and avoid the temptation to exaggerate. Some may feel that it will help to make their symptoms sound worse than they actually are. This kind of dishonestly usually has the opposite effect. The judges are very experienced and hear many similar cases every year. They are experts at recognizing exaggerations and you do not want to lose credibility in their eyes.

Having an experienced disability attorney help prepare you for your hearing is a wise decision. If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits and have questions, call Nicholson Disability at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.

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Can I get SSI and still work?

Collecting SSI Disability While Working Part Time


Many people mistakenly believe that if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits you have to be totally unable to work. That’s not the case and it is possible to be gainfully employed and still receive some SSI disability benefits. The Social Security Administration applies a very precise formula to determine how additional income affects SSI disability benefits. The first thing that the SSA does in calculating how work will reduce your SSI disability benefits is to disregard the first $65 of income that you receive in a given month. That threshold of income is bumped up to $85 if you do not have any other income. Next, your disability benefits are reduced $1 for every $2 of income you receive in a given month.

For example, if you receive $250.00 a month in income and that is your only income, the Administration will calculate your benefits as follows.

• $250.00 – $85.00 = $165.00. This means that only $165.00 of your monthly income will figure into the calculation for reducing your benefits.
• $165.00 ÷ 2 = $82.50. This means that $82.50 will be reduced from your monthly benefits from the SSA.
• If you receive the maximum amount of $698.00 per month, your new benefit amount for the month will be $698.00 – $82.50, for a total of $615.50 per month.

If you require the use of additional items to help you work, the costs of those items can be deducted from your monthly income if: (1) you have paid for the items yourself; (2) you will not be reimbursed by your employer for those expenses; (3) you can provide the Administration with proof of payment; and (4) the Administration approves your expense. The Administration calls these items “impairment-related work expenses” and they are deducted before the Administration reduces the benefit amount by $1 for every $2 in earned income.

Blind disability benefit recipients can also receive special deductions for any of their work related expenses. The SSA calls these expenses blind work expenses. These are deducted after the monthly benefits are reduced.

If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits and have questions, call The Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.

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Can I get disability for my chronic fatigue syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & Social Security Disability

chronic_fatigueAccording to information from the National Institutes of Health, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause severe and ongoing tiredness that cannot be improved by simply resting and that does not result from another underlying disorder. The exact cause of the condition remains a mystery, but some have theorized that exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus might be to blame. Age, gender, prior illnesses, and stress are also believed to play a role. Symptoms of CFS can be wide ranging and include sore throat, headache, low-grade fever, painful joints, memory or concentration problems, swollen glands, and generalized muscle weakness.

According to the Social Security Administration’s Fact Sheet, you must prove that the symptoms of your CFS prevent you from working in order to qualify for disability benefits. To make this determination, the SSA will use the medical evidence you have provided in support of your claim to evaluate whether your symptoms reach the level of severity necessary to qualify for disability.

The diagnosis of CFS requires that you experience at least four of the following symptoms for at least six months:

• memory or concentration problems that cause a serious reduction in your level of activity;
• frequent sore throats;
• tender lymph nodes in the neck or under the arm;
• muscle pain;
• pain in multiple joints without redness or swelling;
• headaches of a different magnitude then those that you had prior to the onset of CFS;
• sleep that never leaves you feeling refreshed; and
• a general feeling of being unwell that lasts at least 24 hours following a period of exertion.

Your medical records must contain documentation that satisfies the above criteria for a diagnosis of CFS and that shows these symptoms did not begin prior to the onset of your chronic fatigue. If your medical records show that the symptoms predate your CFS then your disability claim will likely be denied given that something else may be to blame for your condition.

CFS can be an especially tricky disease to document clinically. Medical tests don’t always capture the severity of the illness and how terribly it can impact a person’s quality of life. It is important to understand going into the process that the SSA will not approve a disability claim based on the description of symptoms alone, though how symptoms affect your daily life is considered in the decision.

If you think you may be entitled to Social Security Disability benefits and have questions, call The Law Offices of John T. Nicholson at 1-800-596-1533 for a free consultation today.

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