Applying for Social Security Disability (SSDI and/or SSI) can be a complicated process.
Having a competent Social Security Disability lawyer on your side can greatly improve your chances of winning benefits.
However, there are many things that you can do on your own to help your case. Here is a list of some helpful hints on applying for SSDI and/or SSI:
- Make a List of all Doctors and Hospitals: Many Social Security Disability Claims are denied or delayed because the Social Security Administration is unable to obtain important medical records. This problem usually occurs because the name of the doctor is spelled incorrectly or the doctor’s address is incorrect. It is also important to be prepared to give the Social Security Administration fairly accurate dates of medical treatment. You must also write down the names of all the hospitals, clinics and emergency rooms you have visited. This sounds like a fairly straight forward task but unfortunately it is not. Persons who suffer from chronic conditions often find themselves overwhelmed with the extensive number of medical appointments. For this reason, it is probably a good idea to ask a friend or a relative to help keep track of all this information.
- Don’t Miss Any Appeal Periods and Keep Records of Your Appeal: A Claimant has 60 days to appeal a denial of benefits. (There is a 5 five day grace period that takes into consideration the time that the denial letter takes to be delivered by mail. Therefore, in reality the appeal period is extended to 65 days.) It is important not to miss this deadline. It is also extremely important to obtain a written confirmation from the Social Security Administration that shows that an appeal has been completed. In addition, you must make a note to yourself with the date and time that you filed the appeal. Be as detailed as possible in your note. (See Tip # 3 below) If you talk to someone at the Social Security Field Office when filing the appeal, write down the person’s first name and Field Office Location. (Social Security employees don’t like to give their last names.)
- Document All Your Contacts with the Social Security Administration: Unfortunately, Social Security offices are understaffed and many of their employees are over worked. Our office finds that, in some instances, paperwork is lost or/and applicants are given the wrong information by the SSA Field Office personnel. For this reason, it is a good idea for applicants to maintain a written log of all the contact that they have had with Social Security and the exact nature and content of the information provided by Social Security. This might be extremely helpful later on in the process, particularly if you decide to hire a Social Security Disability Lawyer and he or she is attempting to maximize the amount of retroactive money that you will receive for your Social Security Disability case.
- If You Are Represented and Get a Denial Letter, Call Your Lawyer: If you are represented by our office and you get a denial letter, we ask you to call us right away. The reason for this is that we have found that lately, Social Security has forgotten to send us a copy of denial letters, even though we have duly documented our appearance on the file. We find that this happens more often on our Connecticut cases than on the Massachusetts ones. To be on the safe side, if you get a denial letter, give us a call and fax, email or mail us a copy of the letter to make sure we can file an appeal on your behalf.
- Follow up on your medical conditions: You need to make appointments with all the doctors that have been treating you, particularly those that know the most about your disability. The purpose of the visit is to make sure that the medical files are updated with the status of your condition. Sometimes conditions have worsened but the medical files do not reflect your current status accurately. You should also ask the doctor if he or she would be willing to complete a questionnaire or write a letter detailing your limitations.
- If working on a limited basis, be careful not to work over the SGA: To be eligible for disability benefits, a person must be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity (SGA). A person who is earning more than a certain monthly amount is considered to be engaging in SGA. The monthly SGA amount for non-blind individuals for 2015 is $1090 a month. Often disabled individuals take limited part-time jobs to make ends meet during tough economic times. In many instances, when the pay received is under the SGA level, this practice does not impact their eligibility for Social Security benefits. However, a Claimant who is working under the SGA level while waiting for a disability decision must be extremely careful not to work above the SGA amount. Working above the SGA level, even when it is just by a few dollars, can jeopardize a claimant’s eligibility for benefits.
- Prepare a work history: Every claimant should prepare an outline of the jobs held during the 15 years prior to the date of the onset of the disability. Be ready to describe the nature of each one of these jobs with specific emphasis on the physical requirements of each one of the occupations held. It is important to remember the dates, the general duties and the approximate pay rate of each job. Social Security judges often ask claimants specific questions about their prior jobs. Judges disfavor claimants who can’t remember or provide an adequate description of their prior occupation.
- Be Careful on How You Characterize Your Activities of Daily Living: In the early stage of the application process, you will be asked to describe the things that you do in your daily living. The Activities of Daily Living Report (ADL) provides the claimant with a great opportunity to make their case to the Social Security Administration. Unfortunately many claimants blow this opportunity by providing inaccurate information that is often turned against them by Social Security Examiners. Here is a typical example on how a claimant unintentionally hurt her case by what she wrote in her ADL. Once we saw an ADL where the claimant stated that she “babysat her nephew everyday”. This statement was used against the claimant during the initial disability review process because Social Security assumed that the activity of babysitting children was indicative of the claimant’s ability to work. However, when the claimant came to our office and was asked for more details about how she baby sat her nephew, she explained that her nephew was already 12 and that he was dropped off at her house by the school bus everyday. She explained that the 12 year-old stayed at her house just for a few hours until his mother picked him up after work. Moreover, she stated that the child often helped her with everyday house chores such as taking out the garbage, microwaving food, reaching objects in the kitchen cabinets and carrying the laundry basket. In this particular example, it is evident that the claimant could have actually helped her case if she had been more specific about her babysitting activities.
- Don’t Settle Your Worker’s Compensation Case Until You Talk to Your Social Security Disability Attorney: A workers’ compensation settlement can reduce the amount of Social Security Disability benefits that a claimant receives. To prevent this offset of Social Security disability benefits, a workers’ comp settlement agreement should always contain language that spreads out payments over time. Absent this “spread language” in the workers’ comp agreement, the lump sum payment will reduce the Social Security disability benefits to which the claimant is otherwise entitled. For this reason, if you are considering applying for Social Security Disability subsequent to making a workers’ comp claim you should talk to an experienced Social Security Disability attorney before signing any workers’ comp settlement. In many occasions, attorneys who practice workers’ compensation are not aware of the Social Security rules and fail to include “spread language” agreement to protect their client from a future Social Security Disability offset.
- Maintain a good relationship with your Doctor: Having a doctor on a claimant’s side makes a world of difference in a Social Security Disability case. Unfortunately, many of the persons who are considering filing for disability seem to be unaware of this important fact. The opinion of the doctor or doctors who treat a claimant can make or break a disability claim. In order to make the best use of the opinion of a doctor in a Social Security case, a lawyer needs to establish that the doctor has been treating the patient long enough to be able to form a credible opinion. Simply stated, the more the doctor knows you, the more weight Social Security is required to give to his or her opinion. Your doctor’s opinion has to be given controlling weight, unless the judge can cite specific reasons why it should be disregarded.
- Know your date of last insured: SSDI works as an insurance program which is paid out of your payroll taxes. If you stop working, at some point in the future, your insurance coverage ends. The point in time when you are no longer insured is called your “date of last insured” or DLI. If your date of last insured (DLI) has passed, there is a possibility that you could still win benefits if you prove that you became disabled before your DLI. In order to properly develop a Social Security claim, a good Social Security Disability lawyer must find out the claimant’s date of last insured. This date can be obtained directly by the claimant by calling the Social Security Field Office.
- Assume that everything that you tell your Doctor will be in your file: Many of our clients are unaware of the fact that doctors often transcribe in the medical record the content of their conversations with their patients. In fact, doctors are known to record specific statements made by their clients that pertain to their disability claim. Unfortunately, we have found several instances where our clients’ statements have ruined their chances of getting their claim approved. Disability claimants should be very careful with what they tell their doctors when they ask for a medical opinion. Don’t joke around with the doctor on how desperately you need the money from Social Security or how you have to look really bad in order to win disability. Keep in mind that your comments could be misconstrued very easily and remember, it is never a good idea to suggest to a doctor to exaggerate the severity of a condition or an illness, or to ask the doctor to be dishonest in any way.
- Take All the Medications Prescribed by Your Doctor: If Social Security finds out from your medical record that you are not taking your medications, you will be asked if you have any good reasons for failing to comply with medical treatment. If you are unable to provide good reasons to the agency, there is a good possibility that your claim will be denied.
Be Mentally Prepared for the Slow process but Don’t Give Up!: It is estimated that approximately 70% of the initial applications for disability are turned down. However, your chances of success greatly increase once you hire a lawyer in the appeal process. Recent estimates show that persons who file appeals turn their denials into accepted claims at a very high rate: approximately 60% to 70%. If you persevere, you are likely to succeed!
At Ramos Law, we know how to use Social Security Disability laws to win benefits for our clients. Not only do we know how to use the law to your advantage, we win more for you because we put our heart into what we do.
Our office represents Social Security claimants throughout both states and has offices in Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA.
For a free consultation with a Connecticut or Massachusetts Social Security Lawyer, you can contact us or call toll free (855) 946-7266.