You may have been given this bit of advice if you’ve ever told friends you were calling the IRS helpline around tax time: get the name of the person who answers your question and call at least twice more to confirm you’ve been given the correct information. It’s true when you contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) as well. When you are seeking answers, it is unfortunately not uncommon to be given the wrong information, or partial information, or information that almost fits your situation but not quite.
If you are disabled and want to apply for disability benefits, you should know that the application and evaluation procedures for Social Security disability and SSI can be complex, convoluted, and paper-intensive. It is understandable that misunderstandings, miscommunications, and confusion can creep in to the process of information gathering despite your best intentions and despite the best intentions of the SSA representatives you talk to.
To minimize your chances of being misinformed, it is a good idea to ask to speak to a Claims Representative rather than a Service Representative. The telephones are often answered by Service Representatives. While well-meaning and generally well-informed, Service Representatives don’t actually handle cases and so do not have the hands-on experience of Claims Representatives.
When you speak to Social Security representatives, write down the names of the people you speak to and their titles. Jot down the telephone numbers and extensions you call. When you are given an answer to a question, request that the representative give you that information in writing, either on paper or by email. And finally, don’t ask just one person, ask several. If you get several different answers, distrust all of them. If you get three answers that are substantially the same, it is probably safe to act on that information.
Of course once you have information, you have to interpret it. For example, as you review the requirements that a medical condition must meet to qualify as a disability in Social Security’s Blue Book, you will see that a lot of the language used is medical and technical. Will you be able to use it to request the records you need from your doctors? Will you be able to recognize whether or not you have had the procedure in question? When the doctor’s office staff forwards you medical records at your request, will you know if they have sent you the correct documents?
It may be at this point that you come to recognize the value of an advocate, someone who is familiar with the process of applying for Social Security disability benefits, who understands the medical and administrative jargon used by SSA and by the medical profession, and who has enough experience to spot faulty or incomplete advice from SSA’s representatives.