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Bipolar Social Security Disability Claims

Do I Qualify For Social Security Disability Benefits If I Am Bipolar?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) doesn’t always make it easy for those who are bipolar to get the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income benefits they deserve.  Many claims are denied because SSA says:

(1) Your bipolar disorder isn’t severe enough to qualify,

(2) You can function at a sufficient and consistent level to hold a basic, unskilled job,

(3) Your bipolar disorder is under control with medication,

(4) You wouldn’t be disabled if you took your medication and cooperated with treatment,

(5) Your medical condition doesn’t meet the requirements of or is the equivalent of a Medical Listing,

(6) You can return to the lightest job you held in the 15 years before you became disabled, or

(7) There is other work you can do in the mythical national economy based on your age, education, transferable skills and your residual functional capacity.

Not all cases of bipolar disorder are severe enough to make you eligible for Social Security Disability benefits, but Nancy Cavey has successfully represented many SSA applicants with bipolar disorder. She works to overcome the claims denial by working closely with you and your physician to show that you:

  • Meet the requirements for a disability listing for bipolar disorder, or that
  • Your limitations are too great for you to work at your old job or any other job in the national economy in view of your age, education and transferable work skills.

She offers a free initial consultation and welcomes the opportunity to speak with you about your Social Security disability claim.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depressive illness. It is an organic brain disorder that causes a wide range of shifts in mood, energy and activity levels.  Mood can fluctuate between the extremes of depression and mania. Advanced brain imaging shows that brain tissue changes are more prominent in the areas affecting face recognition, motor coordination and memory.

What Are The Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

People who are bipolar have intense mood states. An extremely depressed state is called a depressive episode. The symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, despair and an inability to see even the possibility for happiness.

An overexcited state is called a manic episode and can include feelings of euphoria with grossly inappropriate energy levels. People in a manic state will take on projects beyond their ability because their judgment is impaired. Those in a manic state can have racing thoughts, insomnia and impulsive behavior.

Sometimes the person can have a mixed state that includes symptoms of mania and depression. This can result in irritable behavior and volatility.  

When Your Bipolar Disorder Meets A Listing

Bipolar disorder is included in the SSA’s “Listing of Impairments.” If you meet or have the equivalent of a Listing, your Social Security disability benefits will be awarded at Step 3 of the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation.

Your medical records must establish that you meet every element of the Listing for your bipolar disorder to be considered disabling.  SSA will review your medical records and look for the followings:

  • A diagnosis for bipolar disorder,
  • A history of specific, severe symptoms of both depression and mania, even if you are currently experiencing the symptoms of only one or the other.

Additionally, you must have had any three of the follow symptoms of mania:

  • Hyperactivity,
  • Pressured speech,
  • Flight of ideas or thought patterns that quickly change,
  • Inflated self-esteem with false beliefs,
  • Decreased need for sleep or insomnia,
  • Easily distracted,
  • Risk-taking by partaking in activities with likely painful consequences, or
  • Paranoid thinking, delusions or hallucinations.

Additionally, you must have had any three of the follow symptoms of depression:

  • Decreased energy,
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking,
  • Loss of interest in most activities,
  • Lack of physical movement or difficulty doing routine physical activities,
  • Appetite disturbance with weight gain or loss,
  • Disturbance of sleep,
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness,
  • Suicidal thoughts, or
  • Paranoid thinking, delusions or hallucinations.

Thirdly, your bipolar disorder must have caused any two of these four problems:

  • Repeated and extended episodes of decompensation,
  • Severe difficulties in maintaining social functioning,
  • Severe difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace, or
  • Severe restrictions in activities of daily living.

What if you can’t meet any of the three requirements? You can get benefits if your diagnosed bipolar disorder has lasted at least two years and has improved somewhat with medical support, but you aren’t expected to work because your condition limits your ability to do even basic work activities and you have one of the following:

  • Repeated and extended episodes of decompensation,
  • A condition such that even a minimal increase in mental demands or a change in your environment is predicted to cause you to decompensate, or
  • A one- or two-year history of inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement and signs that you’ll need to continue that living arrangement.

It can be difficult to get the medical proof you need. It isn’t uncommon for those with bipolar disorder to get treatment at mental health clinics. Mental health clinics often refuse to release your clinical notes that are used by SSA to evaluate the severity of your condition. They’ll offer instead a letter summarizing what they think SSA wants to know.  That is not helpful.

Others with bipolar disorder will get treatment at the VA. While VA records do have some detail about your symptoms, VA doctors refuse to fill out any RFC forms.

Many times your medical records don’t have the necessary detail to establish that your bipolar disorder is disabling enough to meet or equal a listing.

Your medical records should document the entire history of your bipolar disorder, severe or violent manic episodes, treatment and your response to treatment, your compliance with treatment and the side effects of medication.

SSA is often forced to have you undergo, at their expense, a consultative mental status examination. This is a one-time short examination by a consultant who doesn’t know you and who won’t take the time to develop the details about how your bipolar disorder impacts your ability to function on a daily basis.

If possible, have your family or friends provide your treating provider and any consultative examiner with detailed information about what you can and can’t do. Unfortunately, because of these medical proof problems, many claims are denied at a Listing level.

Don’t worry. SSA then will determine your entitlement to benefits based on medical and vocational criteria at Steps 4 and 5.

When Your Bipolar Disorder Makes It Impossible to Work

If your bipolar disorder doesn’t meet a listing, you will have to prove that you:

  • Can’t return to the lightest job you held in the 15 years before you became disabled (PRW), and
  • There isn’t any other work you can do in the mythical national economy based on your age, education, transferable skills and your residual functional capacity (RFC).

SSA or, ultimately the Administrative Law Judge, will answer those questions by determining your residual functional capacity. Your RFC is what you can do despite your bipolar disorder.

Residual Functional Capacity For Bipolar Disorder

The SSA will review your medical records at the Initial Application and Reconsideration stage of the claims process and determine your functional capacity to perform work.

SSA medical consultants often opine that a Social Security Disability applicant with bipolar disorder still can work because there isn’t a significant interference with your ability to do normal activity. For example, if you are bipolar but can still shower, get dressed, make meals, go grocery shopping and interact with the public, you probably are not eligible for benefits. There must be a marked interference with your ability to function.

The more limited you are in your ability to function on a daily basis the lower your RFC will be and the more likely that you can’t return to work. SSA doesn’t tell applicants or mental health providers about the existence of mental RFC forms and the importance of properly completed RFC forms that will explain the severity of your symptoms and impact on:

  • Your activities of daily living, including cleaning, shopping, cooking, using public transportation, paying bills, maintaining your home, caring for yourself, using the phone and the post office,
  • Social functioning, including your ability to interact independently, appropriately, effectively on a sustained basis with family, friends and the public,
  • Your ability to follow directions and remember details,
  • Concentration, persistence and pace that allows you to have focused attention and concentration long enough to timely and appropriately finish tasks in the work setting, and
  • Repeated episodes of decompression, which are exacerbations or temporary increases in symptoms with loss of functioning.

This is not an exhaustive list of all of the questions on a mental RFC forms. But you can see that having an explanation of what you can do physically, cognitively and emotionally is key to winning your case.

Many SSA cases are lost because the applicant did not obtain an RFC or the right RFC form, because their treating physician didn’t properly complete the RFC form, or because it wasn’t signed by the supervising physician. Those are just some of the reasons you should have an experienced Social Security attorney like Nancy L. Cavey represent you in your claim.

How Your Residual Functional Capacity Is Used At A Social Security Hearing

Many claims are denied both at the Initial Application and Request For Reconsideration stages of the claims process.

At the hearing stage, the Administrative Law Judge will determine your mental RFC and give hypotheticals to the vocational evaluator (VE) who will testify at your hearing. The judge will ask the VE to take into consideration your RFC, as determined by the judge, your age, education and prior work experience in determining:

  • Whether you can return to the least demanding job you held in the last 15 years,
  • Whether there is other work you can do or could learn to do.

It is crucial that you are represented at a hearing to make sure the right questions are asked of the VE.

How Do I Get The Social Security Disability Benefits I Deserve?

Bipolar disorder can interfere not only with your daily activities but with your ability to work. If you no longer can work or your doctor has told you to apply for Social Security disability, you should hire Nancy Cavey to help you:

  1. File your initial Social Security Disability application. The application process is confusing and designed so you make mistakes that can result in a delay or even a denial of your benefits.
  2. Appeal a wrongful denial of your Social Security disability application or Request for Reconsideration.
  3. File an Application for Hearing and represent you at the hearing with the Administrative Law Judge who will decide if you get benefits. She will have your physician, if possible, complete the right RFC(s), prepare you and any friends or family members who will be testifying on your behalf for the hearing, prepare a hearing brief, and be prepared to cross-examine the VE.

The SSA is in the business of denying claims and will use any reason to deny your benefits. The odds of getting your Social Security benefits are greater when you are represented by an experienced Social Security Disability attorney like Ms. Cavey.

Contact Social Security Disability Attorney Nancy L. Cavey, Who Can Help You Regardless of Where You Live in Florida

Bipolar disorder can make it difficult, if not impossible, to work. You owe it to yourself and your family to get help today! Ms. Cavey can explain the Five-Step Sequential Evaluation process used in every claim, the claims process and how to get your disability benefits.  Call today for a free consultation at 727-894-3188.