Top 7 Tips and 7 Mistakes to Avoid
Top 7 Tips for winning Social Security Disability or SSI
1. Start building medical evidence before stopping work and applying for disability.
You must have medical evidence of a disability in order to be successful. Find a doctor who will be on your side and help prove the case. Remember, the Burden of Proof that you are disabled is your responsibility, not Social Security. If you do not get medical treatment for a condition, Social Security assumes that it is no longer an issue. In the Oklahoma City area, the main medical provider networks are Alliance, Integris, Mercy, OU Medical Center, and St. Anthony. You may also follow these links to organizations that provide free or reduced cost medical services.
2. Apply for DIB immediately upon stopping work .
At most you have 5 years to prove the disability claim. This date is known as the Date Last Insured. I know that 5 years sounds like a long time, but you will be surprised how quickly the time passes. If you wait too long, you will no longer be eligible, no matter how disabled you become. The time frame may be less than 5 years depending upon your age and specific work history.
3. Submit all evidence and ask if the doctor will complete a Medical Source Statement.
Submit ALL relevant medical records to your attorney or Social Security. Social Security is the most interested in medical records beginning about 2 years prior to when you stopped work through the present. Including all tests performed such as MRIs, X-Rays, blood work, EMG’s, heart studies, etc. Also submit doctor’s treatment notes, emergency room visits and hospital admissions. If you have a doctor, who believes you are disabled, try to get him or her to give you a detailed written report of your condition and how it affects you. This is known as a Medical Source Statement. This is the best evidence of the disability and can be extremely persuasive in helping you win your Social Security benefits. My firm has specific Medical Source Statements for particular ailments or injuries.
4. Keep a diary or journal.
Start a diary or journal. Begin the diary or journal before applying for Social Security Disability or SSI benefits. If you are reading this after you already applied, then start now. You may use a spiral notebook or there are several Apps available for your Cell Phone such as My Pain Diary and Symptom Tracker or My Migraine Buddy.
Write how your condition limits you on a daily basis. Include how your disability keeps you from performing your past work. Some factors to discuss include:
- Medication side effects.
- Pain at rest and with activity.
- Changed sleep patterns.
- Changed personal hygiene, (less frequent, takes longer, breaks, no longer care).
- Changed ability or desire to drive.
- Shopping independent or do you need help either physically or emotionally.
- Inability to participate in family events, dinners, holidays, kids activities, etc.
- Difficulty walking, standing, sitting, lifting. Do you lay or recline?
- Difficulty cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. Are you doing 10%, 20% or etc. of the overall house physical.
- Difficulty maintaining focus and attention to complete daily activities timely.
- Can you maintain concentration to read, watch TV or pay bills.
- Do you forget appointments.
- What difficulty to you have holding onto things?
- As the pain level rises how does your ability to perform these activities change?
- What activities have you stopped, (sports, going out to movies or eating, keeping up with your grandchildren, etc).
- Changed need for frequent bathroom breaks.
5. Minimize Social Media.
Many people today have Social Media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Social Security and the Judges can see the page and all posts and pictures. You maintain a physical or mental problem. Yet the Judge sees a picture of you at your child’s or grandchild’s birthday party having a great time, laughing and enjoying life. Yet, you maintain that you can no longer go out due to pain or the inability socialize. This conflict is hard to reconcile because there are not usually dates identifying if this is from the present or the past.
6. Be prepared for your hearing.
Be to the hearing office at least 30 minutes before your hearing. Dress nicely- pants and a polo or dress shirt. If you have tattoos cover them. Have clean fingernails.
7. Be prepared for your Consultative Physical or Mental Exam with one of Social Security’s doctors.
Social Security will likely send you for a Consultative Exam (CE) or two. Before you go, make sure Social Security has as many of your records as possible before your exam date. If you just had an X-ray or MRI or other testing take a copy to the exam and give it to the CE doctor. Tell the CE doctor of all medical conditions affecting you. If it is a CE for physical problems the doctor will perform a physical exam. The doctor will examine your range of motion in your neck, back, hips, knees, feet, shoulders, elbows and hands. Keep in mind that the doctor is observing you during the entire whole appointment – including the waiting room. If the CE is for a mental condition you can expect to be asked a series of questions pertaining to your ability to Understand/Remember, Socialize, Concentrate and maintain a pace and to perform Activities of Daily Living. Again, the doctor will be observing how you answer the questions, your mood, your demeanor, and your appearance. When answering the questions just be truthful. Do not try to trick or fool the doctor. The worst possible outcome of the CE would be if the doctor stated that you were malingering or applying for disability for secondary gain.
Top 7 Mistakes made that deny Social Security Disability or SSI
1. Using illegal drugs such as Marijuana, Methamphetamine, Cocaine or Heroine.
Using non-prescription drugs is illegal in the United States and violated Federal Law. Yes, many states have passed medical or recreational Marijuana laws. That only means that possession is legal as far as the city police or county sheriff are concerned. But, it is still a Federal Crime. Social Security is a Federal program and the Federal laws of the United States apply.
2. Not using a local attorney.
Just because someone advertises on television does not make them a good choice for you when seeking legal advice from an attorney. To these national law firms, you are just a number, not an individual person. With the national law firms you meet the attorney or representative 15 to 30 minutes for the first time on the day of the hearing. I on the other-hand have met with you in my office for an initial consultation, and a pre-hearing conference. You may also stop by for a brief conversation as you need. I will contact you to discuss the appeal. I also welcome your calls and your update concerning treatment and medication.
3. Giving up after a denial or not appealing within 60 days.
Social Security hopes that if they deny your case then you will give up and go away. They built the process to be discouraging and to put up as many roadblocks as possible to discourage you. So, they deny the case over and over. Social Security has a long process to evaluate cases. Be sure to meet the 60 day appeal deadline. I can help you with the appeal, or, you may complete the appeal on-line at https://www.ssa.gov
4. Not getting an attorney to help you complete the Function Report and Work History report.
Near the beginning of your case and later during the appeal stages Social Security will ask you to complete a Function Report and Work History Report. You need an attorney to look over the document. They ask questions in a way to force you to say that you have no difficulty with an activity. Just because you can complete an activity such as showering does not mean that you did not have difficulty or that it took more time than normal. This applies for all questions on the form.
5. Get medical treatment and take your prescribed medications.
Many claims are denied because claimants stop seeing their doctors or stop taking their medication. Social Security frequently wrongfully assumptions that because you are not getting treatment and/or you’re not taking your prescribed medication that your condition resolved. In my experience, the lack of treatment or failure to take your medication only hurts your chances of winning Social Security Disability or SSI benefits.
If you cannot work then it is logical that you cannot afford to continue to get treatments or medications. However, as you know, it is extremely important for both your condition as well as your claim that you get regular treatment. Do the best you can to get treatment and, there are numerous programs that you can get help through a charity care program. You may also need to swallow your pride and ask family for help.
6. Filing for Unemployment.
Filing for Unemployment is often a huge mistake. When you apply for Unemployment you must verify that you can physically and mentally work. When you apply for Social Security Disability and SSI you are stating that you cannot work. These things are in conflict. The only way to repair the matter is to stop Unemployment.
I understand that when you left your last job that you planned to return to work. But, then your disability worsened. Thus, you did not intend to deceive anyone. It is just that plans changed. If this is your situation please stop the Unemployment.
7. Part-time work.
Part-time work is a mistake. Technically Social Security rules allow part-time work. The rules allow in 2018 work activity up to $1180 per month. The problem however is that it is very difficult to explain why you can work 20 hours per week but not 40 hours, absent a specific statement from your physician stating such.