I am legally blind, can I receive disability benefits?

Requirement for receiving disability for Legal Blindness

According to an April 2011 report from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than one million people in the United States over the age of 40 are legally blind. Most of you have heard the term “legally blind” but you likely don’t know what qualifies a person for disability benefits due to severe vision problems. Legal blindness is defined in two sections of the Social Security Act: § 216(i)(B) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 416(i)(B)) and § 1614(a)(2) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(2)). Both sections of the Act define “blindness” as:  central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of a correcting lens. An eye which is accompanied by a limitation in the fields of vision such that the widest diameter of the visual field subtends an angle no greater than 20 degrees shall be considered for purposes of this paragraph as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less.

To qualify for Social Security disability under the umbrella of blindness due to a lack of visual acuity, you will need to start by obtaining a basic eye examination that provides measurements of your best-corrected visual acuity. Simply having myopia does not qualify you for disability, if it did, over 32 million Americans older than 40 would be receiving benefits.

Nor is simple visual impairment, defined as being capable of at best 20/40 vision even with corrective lenses, enough to qualify for benefits. To be declared legally blind by the SSA, you need to prove that even with the best possible corrective lenses, your best eye can only achieve 20/200 visual acuity. In other words, even the good eye can only see an object sitting 20 feet away as clearly as someone with perfect 20/20 vision can see that same object if it were 200 feet away.

Another somewhat surprising way to qualify for disability due to blindness is through a severely diminished visual field, basically no peripheral vision. A person with a healthy visual field can typically see at least 60 degrees in all direction without moving his or her eyes. Those who qualify for legal blindness due to loss of visual field cannot see more than 20 degrees in any direction. In other words, the person afflicted has almost completely lost his peripheral vision, something that is usually a symptom of other problem such as glaucoma. Again, the best place to start is with a standard eye examination which will reveal the extent of your visual field.

Unlike most other reasons for receiving Social Security disability, documentation of the cause of the statutory blindness is not required, as long as it is something detectable with a basic eye examination. For blindness caused by abnormalities not readily observed from a standard eye examination, such as traumatic brain injury to the visual cortex, documentation of the source of the injury must be provided. Also unlike many other bases of disability, you do not need to prove that this blindness has been present for any particular length of time, the fact that you are afflicted now is all that matters.

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 consultation today.

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Which medical records are the best for winning my disability claim?

What kinds of medical records do you need for your disability claim?  Before you can begin collecting disability benefits, the Social Security Administration requires that you prove that you are unable to work. The best evidence of this is, obviously, medical documentation. Medical evidence can take many different forms. These can include notes, mental health records, blood work, imaging studies, as well as a multitude of other reports. If you have timely, accurate, and sufficient medical records that come from your treating physician, you will greatly increase your chances of being approved for disability benefits. Each of these qualifiers – timely, accurate, and sufficient – has specific, SSA definitions.

Timely records are those that are relevant to your current medical condition. If you are attempting to claim disability for something that occurred last year, medical records from ten years ago would not be considered timely. Deciding what is timely falls within the purview of the treating physician. The nature of the ailment or condition is one factor in determining the timeliness of the records. If the condition is recurring or continuous, older records regarding the ailment or condition may be timely. If, on the other hand, the condition is one that resolves itself quickly or one that changes, older records may be less relevant and therefore not timely. The doctor knows best in these kinds of situations.

Accurate records are those that properly describe your condition according to acceptable medical sources. The Social Security Administration only accepts medical opinions from certain types of health care providers: (1) licensed physicians; (2) osteopaths; (3) optometrists; (4) podiatrists; and (5) speech pathologists. If the records or opinions do not come from one of these five kinds of health care providers, it may not, in many cases serve as acceptable medical source of evidence to the Social Security Administration. It is important to keep in mind that evidence from lay-persons, chiropractors and the like will be considered by the administration, however, these records will likely not carry as much weight as opinions from the aforementioned sources.

Finally, sufficient records are those that contain enough information for the disability judge to make a determination about your eligibility from those records alone. To be frank, the Administration wants to see that you have been treated for this condition prior to filing for disability. The treating physician’s notes and opinions carry the most weight with the Administration.

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 work and get SSI disability at the same time?

Collecting Disability While On The Job

ticket_to_workMany people mistakenly believe that if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits you have to be totally unable to work. That is 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, in 2012, 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 (subject to COLA increases each year) 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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My disability claim was denied. What happens next?

My disability claim was denied. What happens next?

If you have filed a claim for disability benefits and it was denied then you may be wondering what options you have for moving forward. Applying for disability can be very confusing for those not dealing with it on a daily basis and it’s important that you be familiar with the appeals process.

Chances are you don’t agree with the Administration’s decision in which case you can file an appeal, asking the Administration to review your case again. As with everything when the federal government is involved, there’s a regimented process that must be followed. If you want an appeal, and you should, you need to make a written request within 60 days of receiving the Administration’s official letter denying your initial claim.

In most states (several states have eliminated the reconsideration step) there are four levels of the Social Security appellate process. The first is known as reconsideration and it involves a full review of your case by someone who was not involved in the first go-round. New evidence will be considered during this phase as well as the evidence that was part of your initial claim. Your presence is not required during this phase of the appellate process.

If after the reconsideration you are still not satisfied with the outcome, you can move on to a second level of review, a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ will serve as a completely neutral party and will not have been part of either the first review or the second round reconsideration. At this hearing before the ALJ you will be permitted to call witnesses on your behalf and the ALJ is empowered to ask questions of those who testify at the hearing. You can and should be represented at the hearing and, if you are, your representative will also be permitted to question witnesses at the hearing. After listening to all of the evidence and reviewing the previous decisions in your claim process, the ALJ will make a decision and the SSA will send you the judge’s final opinion in writing.

The third step of appeals process involves a review by the aptly named Appeals Council. If the Council believes that the ALJ made the right decision, the Appeals Council will not review the case and the decision of the ALJ will stand. The Appeals Council can also choose to disagree with the ALJ directly or remand the case back to the ALJ for further consideration. You will, as always, be notified in writing once the Council has made a decision.

The fourth and final level of review is to file a lawsuit in the nearest federal district court. It will be handled like any other lawsuit. At every stage of the process, it’s wise to have the help of counsel, but if you are going to appeal the decision of the Administration, you should absolutely contact an experienced attorney. 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 receive disability SSI / SSDI for my anemia?

Anemia CellsIt is estimated that more than three million Americans suffer from anemia. That already high number is expected to grow as the population of the country continues to age – currently 10% of those over the age of sixty-five have some form of the disease. Red blood cells are rich in a substance called hemoglobin, a protein that is responsible for carrying oxygen molecules to the body’s other cells. In adults, hemoglobin-rich red blood cells make up between 35% and 52% of a person’s blood; this number is called the hematocrit level. Normal variations in the hematocrit level occur and depend on factors such as gender and a person’s physical fitness. Anemia is said to exist when a person’s hematocrit levels drop too low, indicating that their red blood cells are not properly transporting oxygen to the rest of their body.

The American Society of Hematology believes anemia has two basic causes: a low amount of red blood cells and red blood cells that don’t function properly. Social Security has a section (Hematological Disorders, Section 7.00) that addresses both forms of the disorder.

For anemia caused by low hematocrit levels, the key factors considered are “chronicity” and impairment. Chronicity is demonstrated by proof that a person’s condition has existed for at least three months. This can be shown by at least two medically acceptable tests over a three-month period showing hematocrit levels below 30%. Impairment can be demonstrated by showing that this low red blood cell number has affected an individual’s body systems. Blood transfusions at least once every two months or an evaluation by a doctor will both suffice as proof of impairment.

Sickle cell anemia falls into the second anemia category – anemia caused by malfunctioning, or malformed, red blood cells. Normal red blood cells are shaped like discs, which allow them to travel through an individual’s blood vessels, including capillaries that are only wide enough to allow one cell to pass through. Sickle cell anemia occurs when red blood cells form more rigid, sickle shapes. These bizarrely shaped cells are more easily trapped in smaller blood vessels which can impede proper flow and cause severe pain. Sickle cell is an inherited trait that affects certain groups in particular, especially African Americans.

To qualify for disability due to sickle cell anemia, a claimant must show either:
A. Documented painful (thrombotic) crises occurring at least three times during the 5 months prior to adjudication; or

B. Requiring extended hospitalization (beyond emergency care) at least three times during the 12 months prior to adjudication; or

C. Chronic, severe anemia with persistence of hematocrit of 26 percent or less; or

D. Evaluate the resulting impairment under the criteria for the affected body system.

If you believe that 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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