Social Security Disability is a safety net
for people who become too sick or injured to work anymore. But disability claims are
difficult to prove. The process is long—well over two years in most cases—and the system
seems determined to deny as many cases as possible.
Hi, I’m David Henson, managing partner with HensonFuerst Attorneys. If you are unable
to work and plan to apply for SSD benefits…or if you have already applied and have been
denied, there are 7 things you can do to improve your chances of being approved.
1. Don’t give up! More than half of all claims are denied at the initial stage of application…and
more than 80% are denied during reconsideration. But you can reapply, and if you have proper
guidance, it is possible to get approved even if you had been denied previously.
2. Get proper treatment for your physical and mental conditions. The foundation of your
case is your medical records. The judge will look at your diagnosis, expert opinions about
your ability to work, and the history of your medical treatment. If you don’t see a doctor,
or if you don’t follow through on treatment recommendations, the courts may see that as
evidence that you are not as sick or injured as you claim.
3. Keep good records. In order to provide the courts with the full and proper documentation
of your medical situation, you need to keep your own records. Keep track of all your doctor
visits, hospital visits, prescriptions, assistive devices, X-rays, MRIs, and any other medical
information. Use whatever system works for you—whether that means a handwritten log
or a computer spreadsheet—but always keep physical copies of documents, if possible.
If you are in the middle of your treatment, ask your doctor for copies of your medical
notes, and ask your pharmacist for a list of all your medications since the beginning
of your illness or disability. Then, keep your personal records up-to-the-minute, which
will make life easier when it comes time to prove your case.
4. Promptly respond to any and all letters or calls from Social Security. The agency
is unforgiving when it comes to deadlines and requests for information. Always respond.
If you don’t understand what they are asking for, call and ask. If you think you’ve already
sent what they are asking for, send it again. AND if you have a lawyer handling the case
for you, make sure they know anytime the SSA contacts you, no matter what the correspondence
is about. 5. Get RFCs from your treating doctors.
RFCs—or Residual Functional Capacity forms—are evaluations of your physical or mental limitations.
They delineate what you can still do, despite your injury or illness. For example, an RFC
will talk about your ability to do various work-related activities (including sitting,
standing, walking, lifting, climbing stairs, or typing)…tolerate environmental conditions,
including heat, humidity, or fumes…maintain concentration and attention…carry out instructions…cope
with change… and various other work-related situations. Without an RFC, a judge will have
to guess what your abilities are, and if you have a type of disability that isn’t visually
obvious—such as back pain or a brain injury—then the judgment will not go in your favor. Get
RFCs from all your doctors so that the judge won’t have to guess.
6. Prepare for your hearing. The final step in gaining approval for SSD benefits is the
hearing. This is your last best chance to state your case. While most of us like to
make a good impression in court, this is one time when you don’t want to try to “fake”
how good you feel. The purpose of the hearing is for a judge to see and hear you…AND your
level of disability. As you prepare for the hearing, dress the way you do most days—don’t
dress up, or wear fancy jewelry, sculpted nails, wigs, perfume or cologne, or excessive
make-up. At the same time, dress in a way that is respectful of court, which means no
inappropriately casual or sexy clothing. Bring any assistive devices you normally need. You
don’t need to make a “good” impression, you just need to be honest and be yourself. The
truth is your best preparation. 7. Work with a lawyer. In my opinion, having
a good lawyer work with you on the case is just as important as any other preparation.
An experienced SSD attorney knows the system, how it works, how to improve your chances
for approval, how to cross-examine the experts in your hearing, and what arguments to make
in front of the judge. Throughout the long application process, your lawyer can explain
what is going on, and what your legal rights and options are…and help you fight for benefits
at a time when you’re sick or injured. This is David Henson, of HensonFuerst Attorneys.
For more information about your legal rights with regard to Social Security Disability,
please visit our website at lawmed.com/SocialSecurityDisability/ and to talk with us about your specific case,
feel free to contact us at 1-800-4-LAWMED. If you have questions, HensonFuerst has answers.