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.
6. 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.