In an ideal world, all individuals who become disabled would have the physical, emotional, and financial support to assist them through such a difficult time. The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program was developed to offer income support to those who have become permanently disabled due to an illness or injury.
In 2017, there were over 2.1 million disability applications filed with the Social Security Administration (SSA). However, only 35% of those disability claims were granted approval. Many disability requests are denied on the basis that they fail to meet basic eligibility requirements. However, other deserving disability applicants are denied benefits based on incomplete applications or insufficient medical documentation.
There are concrete actions that you can take to improve your chances of winning your Social Security disability case. In addition to improving your odds of approval, following these steps may also help to expedite your award.
1. Ensure That Your Application is Complete
Before beginning your disability application, take the time to prepare yourself and to gather all of your required documentation. The SSA has developed a very helpful checklist that can be printed out. By doing so, you can see what information you have on hand and what you might be missing.
In addition to providing your basic personal information such as citizenship and birth information, marriage and divorce history, and names and birth dates of your children, you should be prepared to answer questions about your health.
You will need to provide extensive information on your medical conditions, treatments that you have received, hospitals or clinics that you have visited, and the names of your doctors and other healthcare providers.
Finally, you will be required to share information on your job history for the last 15 years, as well as your educational background and training.
2. Keep Accurate and Complete Medical Documentation
Disability experts will tell you that SSDI claims are won or lost on sufficient medical evidence. Prior to starting the application process, it is wise to gather all of your medical records and documentation. While the SSA will request the medical records directly, physician’s offices and hospitals are overwhelmed with clinical care needs, as well as paperwork. By requesting and organizing your medical records yourself, you will ensure that all of the documentation makes it into the right hands.
Further, once you have completed your application, be certain to continue to gather any new medical evidence that you can. For example, request the results of new medical tests that you may require, such as blood work, x-rays, or treatment records.
To enhance your case even further, begin a journal that records the dates of all interactions that you have had with any health care providers. Be sure to include all health practitioners, even if it doesn’t seem relevant to your case. For example, if you are seeing a psychiatrist for anxiety, but your application is for cancer, be certain to include this in your documentation.
3. Maintain a Good Relationship With Your Physician(s)
Up until 2017, the SSA put a tremendous amount of weight into the opinion of a claimant’s treating physician. It was rare to see for an administrative law judge or a claims examiner to go against the advice of an applicant’s physician. However, a new rule enacted in 2017 makes it such that the SSA no longer gives special consideration to a patient’s doctor. Instead, the SSA will consider all medical opinions on the merit of consistency and supportability. In other words, how well does the opinion match the medical evidence on file?
Regardless of the new rule, it’s imperative that you maintain good relationships with your treating physicians. First of all, you may want to enlist your doctor to provide a written statement describing your condition and how it limits your ability to work. Asking your doctor to complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) evaluation will enhance your claim. Further, if your case ends up going to a hearing, having your physician as an expert witness is always helpful.
4. Keep Close Tabs on the Status of Your Claim
The SSA works with millions of claimants a year. While you might be quite ill and deserving of benefits, you are among a large group of people in similar situations. To ensure that your case is being handled appropriately, you will want to stay in close contact with the SSA.
If you have questions about the status of your claim or other pertinent information, contact a claims representative. It might make sense to keep a separate log of your communications, including date, name of the person that you spoke with, and their phone number.
Keeping a close eye on the status of your claim will ensure that you do not miss subsequent important deadlines. For example, if your claim is denied, you have a short timeframe to appeal the decision.
5. Follow up on all Treatment Recommendations
Be certain to follow all of the recommendations made by your physician, including taking medications as prescribed, attending all treatment appointments, and following any lifestyle change recommendations. Do your best to attend all scheduled appointments. Regular health care visits enhance the volume of medical evidence, thus strengthening your claim.
The Social Security Administration wants to see that you are doing everything you can to improve your condition. If you stray from your prescribed treatment, you could face an SSDI denial.
Chances of Getting Disability Benefits With a Lawyer
Even though you may think you are eligible to receive disability benefits because you have a disability that prevents you from working, this doesn’t mean that you will get these benefits automatically.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) carefully evaluates claims before reaching a decision.
Unfortunately, 70% of disability claims are denied initially which means you have to file an appeal to try again to get the disability benefits you believe you are entitled to receive. When the appeals process gets underway your chances of winning your appeal may improve if you worked with a disability lawyer.
When you reach the hearing level, your disability lawyer can argue your case in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
The key reason for hiring a disability attorney to help with your disability claim is that your chances of your claim being approved are much increased.
Evidence shows that the SSA is more likely to approve an applicant’s claim if she or he is represented by a disability lawyer. From the first application to the hearing date a disability attorney understands how to present a case that favors the disabled client.
Best Way to Apply for Disability Benefits
The best way to apply for disability benefits and the simplest is to file the application online on the SSA’s website. You may begin the process at the time that is most convenient for you.
It is recommended that you have all of your paperwork and medical evidence handy when you are applying. If you have any questions regarding your application, you can call the SSA toll free at 1-800-772-1213.
If you prefer you may file your claim in person at one of your state’s Social Security office. Once you have made the decision there is a large amount of documentation required by the SSA.
This includes copies of documents proving your status in the country. These have to be clear, readable copies.
You will also need to provide all the medical evidence proving you have as disability. This includes:
- a diagnosis in writing from your doctor and likely recovery time, if any;
- a written history of your medical condition;
- the results of clinical tests;
- laboratory findings from x-rays;
- prescribed treatment including your response;
- a statement from your doctor about what you are still able to do.
You will need to prove that your disability can be found in the SSA’s Blue Book. The Blue Book is the list of conditions that qualify for disability. If it is easy to find, it makes it easier to win a disability benefits claim.
How to Win Your Disability Claim
How to win a disability benefits claim is by showing you have a severe medical condition that has lasted, or will eventually last, a whole year.
It must be so severe that you can't go back to your past work. And it must be severe enough that you can't do some other type of work, based on your age, skills, and education.
Working with a disability lawyer and having as much medical evidence as possible to support your claim can help you win your disability claim.
Your lawyer will help to determine if your disability meets a listing in the Blue Book. If it does, the attorney will review the requirements described in the listing and compare them to the evidence that you have provided for your case.
If your lawyer thinks additional testing is needed so that the evidence proves your disability is in the Blue Book he or she will arrange for this to be done.
\When you make contact with a disability lawyer he or she will conduct an initial interview with you so that relevant facts about your disability and your case for disability benefits can be assessed.
If your case doesn’t have much chance of winning the lawyer will probably be unwilling to represent you. If the lawyer decides you have a case for winning a disability benefits claim he or she will ask you to provide all the medical records you have.
These will be reviewed to determine if you need to undergo anymore testing. Your lawyer may ask the SSA to organize a consultative examination (CE) with one of their doctors if this is required and will help to support your claim for disability benefits.
Most disability lawyers will speak with their clients by telephone, but may ask your lawyer to meet you in person if you prefer.
Before the pre-hearing meeting with your attorney, he or she will have studied your file and will have highlighted what issues still need to be assessed.
When meeting with your lawyer you should carry around with you or the relevant medical documentation for your case. Your lawyer will ask you some questions that you will most likely be asked at your hearing.
This will help you put on a good performance at the hearing and offer the best chances of getting disability with a lawyer at hand.
Hire an Experienced Social Security Disability Attorney
If the above recommendations feel overwhelming, you are not alone. The Social Security disability application process is complicated and cumbersome. Most individuals who have navigated the process will tell you that the best thing that you can do to enhance your chances of winning your claim is to hire a Social Security lawyer or disability advocate.
An experienced Disability Attorney can assist you with all of the above recommendations, including obtaining records on your behalf, keeping a close eye on the status of your claim, and even communicating with your physician. Disability claimants who are represented by an attorney or advocate have a much higher chance of being approved for SSDI benefits.