1. Begin NOW!
Don’t wait until your financial resources become tight. Success in your claim is based only on your disability, not on how much money you have in the bank. Applications can take over a year to process, and up to two years if you need to request a hearing or appeal an unfavorable decision from the Social Security Administration. You do not have to deplete all of your assets in order to receive Social Security disability. You can receive benefits from multiple sources at the same time without affecting your Social Security disability claim.
2. Strongly Consider Hiring an Attorney
Living with a disability in itself is overwhelming; trying to navigate a Social Security claim alone is unnecessary and usually not cost effective. The better organized your claim is, the better your chances of a quick and favorable decision. Being represented by an attorney from the beginning will reduce your stress level and will increase your chances of winning the highest possible award at the earliest possible date.
By law, all attorneys’ fees are subject to approval by the Social Security Administration. Many attorneys charge the same fee for all work up to the first hearing, no matter when they get involved: 25% of any back due benefits.
A good disability attorney will:
- patiently answer all of your questions,
- help you fill out your paperwork, and
- appear with you at a hearing.
An excellent disability attorney will ALSO:
- file your initial application for you electronically,
- help you from day 1 in organizing your case,
- collect a complete and accurate medical record for your claim,
- request additional information from your physicians, and
- aggressively follow up to make sure that your claim is processed quickly and fairly.
Hire an attorney now—avoid making mistakes and eliminate the unnecessary stress of trying to handle your claim by yourself.
3. Keep Careful Records of Your Condition
Dedicate a notebook/journal to your disability. Record of all your medical appointments, and keep all of your medical receipts. Document all of the medical treatments you have undergone and medications you have been prescribed — and note how successful each has been. If you have chronic pain, keep a diary.
4. Document All of Your Disabling Symptoms and Conditions
Every symptom, physical or psychological, may be relevant to your claim. Many medical disabilities result in psychological strain, and often there are powerful emotional and psychological components to disabling illnesses. If you have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, or if you are undergoing any type of mental stress or pressure following your disability, document your mental state in your disability notebook/journal.
5. Involve Your Doctor
You will need copies of all relevant medical records, which your physician’s office should provide. For a successful Social Security disability claim, your doctor should provide you with a letter detailing how your medical conditions limit your ability to return to work and to do everyday activities. Many doctors are reluctant to involve themselves with the paperwork you require for a successful claim, but if you have an attorney, he or she should make sure that your medical records are clear and complete. The information your doctor provides will have a huge impact on your claim.
6. DON’T GIVE UP!
We believe that the initial claim denial is actually meant to discourage you from appealing your claim. Over 60% of all claims are denied at the initial claim level. If you are denied benefits, appeal and keep appealing. Find an excellent Social Security disability claim attorney who will aggressively pursue your case.
7. The Real Fight Begins on Appeal
If your initial claim is denied, which is not at all surprising or an indication of the quality of your claim, the process will be adjudicated to an administrative law judge. You will only have 60 days after the SSA rendered the initial decision to file an appeal. While in some cases, it may be in your best interests to refile the claim (something you can discuss with your lawyer) in the majority of cases, filing an appeal will be the correct route to take.
This will require that you and your attorney file an appeal letter outlining why you think the committee that determines disability benefits erred in their judgment. Each denial letter has an explanation that gives the reason for the denial. You and your attorney will attempt to rebut this reason by providing the court with sufficient evidence to prove your claim.
Common reasons for denials include:
- Your disability is not severe enough to prevent you from working;
- Or, there is simply a lack of evidence that you cannot work because of your disability.
8. Get Your Doctor to Sign Off on Your Claim
You will want to involve your doctor as much as possible, as we have stated earlier. But it might also be a good idea to pump him or her for opinions on what you can and cannot do in a workplace environment. For instance, if your disability prevents you from standing or leaves you in a considerable amount of pain, this might preclude you from fulfilling your duties at work.
In the initial phases of the Social Security disability applications claim process, a statement like these will not move a claims examiner to consider this information. On the other hand, at a disability hearing, such statements can have a major impact.
Many cases hinge on subjective considerations such as pain level or the extent of an individual’s symptoms. For more information, see number 9.
9. Have Your Doctor Fill Out an RFC Form
An RFC form can significantly help your claim. RFC means “residual functional capacity.” The Social Security claims examiner uses this to determine how much “functional capacity” you have given your disability. Once it has been established that you can no longer function in your or last job, the claims examiner will attempt to determine if you can do any job.
The claims examiner will elicit the aid of a doctor to fill out an RFC form. By having your own doctor fill out an RFC form, you have a powerful piece of evidence on your side.
10. Neither Exaggerate Nor Understate Your Symptoms
Those who will be rendering decisions on your disability case have heard thousands before just like yours. If the information doesn’t add up, they will pick up on it immediately. The best course of action is to be very specific about your symptoms and neither exaggerate them in an attempt to sway the committee or understate them.
Hermann Law Group PLLC Can Help
Our attorneys have years of experience representing those who are applying for disability. We take cases we believe in and fight our clients. This means talking to doctors, vocational counselors, and ensuring you present the best possible case to the disability board and judges. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help.