Winning Your Social Security Disability Claim:
15 Mistakes You Can Not Afford to Make!
Scott E. Davis, Esq. and Scott M. Harris, Esq.
Mistake #1: Assuming that what SSA tells you is true. Unfortunately, some of the advice Social Security Administration (SSA) employees provides to the public is incorrect. So if you aren't happy with what SSA told you over the telephone, you'll be glad to know it may not be correct. The problem is, many people have told me they did not file a disability claim for years (and went without benefits they deserve) simply because a SSA employee gave them bad information.
Mistake #2: Assuming the SSA Administration will approve your claim. Not true. Many people believe that because they have paid into SSA, their claim should easily be approved when they apply for disability benefits. Many people believe it's just a matter of filling out the forms and going through the process. But this isn't true. SSA denies 70 to 75% of first-time claims. SSA denies 82% of claims that are appealed for Reconsideration. However, the good news is that when cases are heard before judges, nationwide over half (53%) are approved.
Mistake #3: Assuming the disability forms you fill out will win your case. Usually they will not. Claimants hurt their case by overstating what they can do. In most cases, SSA and judges rely heavily on medical records as well as your doctor, psychiatrist and/or psychologist's opinion about your ability to work full time. If the judge isn't happy with you…if he doesn't believe what you're saying…or if he is looking for a reason to deny your claim, he may look for inconsistencies in answers you provided earlier on the forms. For example, if you answer one way on the form and testify at a hearing to something else, the judge may use the answer on the form to undermine your credibility and support a denial of your claim.
Mistake #4: Assuming that your medical and/or psychological symptoms will be enough for the judge to approve your claim. Not true. You need detailed medical records which document your symptoms and limitations and specific opinions from your doctor, psychiatrist and/or psychologist if you hope to win your case. Their opinions will only be given weight by the judge if you have received continuous and consistent medical treatment. If you are not treating regularly with your doctor you are jeopardizing your case!
Mistake #5: Assuming your diagnosis will win your claim. It won't. It's true that SSA needs a diagnosis. But SSA also needs medical proof that your diagnosis causes limitations that are so significant and severe that they preclude your ability to work full time on a sustained basis.
Mistake #6: Assuming SSA will be persuaded by any type of medical treatment you choose. It will not. You can choose any alternative therapies and holistic treatments you desire. After all, you should do whatever it takes to try to get better. However, be aware that SSA and judges are most persuaded by mainstream doctors (M.D., D.O., psychologists) and how you respond or fail to respond to mainstream treatment. If you are not taking medications or are not receiving mainstream treatment by a mainstream doctor, you may be jeopardizing your claim.
Mistake #8: Assuming your doctor will support your claim for disability benefits. He may not. Some doctors refuse to help patients with their disability claims. Many doctors do not know SSA's definition of disability and believe that one has to be bed ridden to qualify. In general, doctors are very conservative in their opinion about a patient's ability to work. Because SSA and a judge will want to know if your doctor supports your claim, it is critical you know the same information! After you have established a relationship with your doctor you should discuss with them the fact that you have filed a claim for disability. Ask if they will support your claim if they will not, you should consider finding another doctor because their opinion is not likely to change! It is critical your doctor supports your inability to work full time on a sustained basis!
Mistake #9: Assuming you have to go to SSA's doctor for a medical examination. Often, SSA wants to a claimant to go a disability examination with a doctor/psychiatrist/psychologist it chooses. Unfortunately, the doctor is not really "independent" and probably performs many of these examinations for SSA each month. In my experience, the majority of the time the doctor will conclude you are not disabled and can return to work. Once this opinion is included in your file SSA and a judge will have sufficient evidence to deny your claim. Here's the good news: SSA rules allow your doctor perform the disability exam and SSA should pay for all or at least part of it. Naturally, if your doctor supports your disability claim he will probably conclude your condition precludes your ability to work. Once your doctor's exam report is in your file with a conclusion that you are disabled, SSA and a judge may have sufficient medical information to approve your claim.
Mistake #10: Assuming an entire year has to pass before you can file a disability claim. Not true. SSA law requires that before you can be approved one of the following must be true: (1) you have already been disabled and out of work for one year, or (2) your doctors expect that you will be unable to work for a minimum of one year from the date you last worked, or (3) your medical condition is expected to result in death. Too many people have told me that an SSA employee said they could not file a claim until one year had passed since they last worked. This information is totally incorrect and if followed, will almost certainly cost you disability benefits and medical insurance!
Mistake #11: Assuming that if you lose before a judge at a hearing, you can simply file another claim. When you have a hearing before a SSA judge, you do not want to lose. This is because, practically speaking, your best chance at winning is at your first hearing before a judge. True, you can file a second application if you lose at a hearing; however, the second time you go through the process, SSA and a judge will know your first claim was denied. In my opinion, this may have a detrimental effect on your second claim as the second judge will know.
Mistake #12: Assuming you can handle your case without a disability lawyer. Most people can't. SSA disability laws are complex, even many lawyers do not understand them. To win your claim, you need to very carefully prepare your case from the very beginning. In addition, it is critical to understand what you need to prove legally in order to win your case; if you do not know what you need to prove why would you risk going before SSA or a judge without knowing how to win your case? The fact that you and your doctor agree you are disabled is not enough to win your case.
Mistake #13: Assuming any lawyer can help you win your claim. Not true. You want a disability lawyer who is familiar with SSA laws and regulations. Similar to doctors, attorneys generally specialize in a certain area of the law. You wouldn't go to a dentist for a physical examination, so do not pick just "any" attorney to represent you in your disability claim.
Mistake #14: Assuming you should not hire a lawyer until your case has initially been denied. Not true. You can hire a lawyer any time you wish. Unfortunately, many employees at SSA will tell you that it is not necessary to hire an attorney until you have been initially denied. Following this advice could be fatal to your claim! Why? Because in general, SSA will begin preparing a case against you from the day you file your application!
Mistake #15: Assuming that you cannot afford a lawyer. Not true. In almost every case, you will only pay the attorney a fee if and when you have won your case and received benefits. SSA law limits the amount of money your lawyer can earn from your disability claim. Generally, by the time you win your claim you will have accrued back benefits. The law mandates the fee can only be 25% of your past benefits and is capped at $4,000. In other words, if your back benefits total $1,000.00, the attorney's fee would be $250.00. The law does not allow your lawyer to charge a fee on your future benefits. What may be at stake? By way of example, assume a claimant is 45 years old and their monthly disability benefit is $1,000.00. If the person never returns to work before age 65, their disability benefits would total $240,000.00! This amount does not include the value of the lifetime health insurance they would also receive through Medicare or Medicaid.
Scott E. Davis and Scott M. Harris are social security and long-term disability insurance attorneys in Scottsdale, Arizona. They are the founding partners of Harris ? Davis, PLC. Although they have experience representing clients with a broad spectrum of physical and/or psychological disorders, the majority of their disability practice is devoted to representing individuals with FMS and/or CFIDS. Mr. Davis and Mr. Harris represent clients throughout the United States. In most cases a fee is charged only if their client obtains benefits. They invite your questions and inquiries regarding representation via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or facsimile (480) 367-1609.