We represent selected individuals in their efforts to obtain disability benefits. In addition to the laws of the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration has issued thousands of pages of regulations and rulings that are followed in determining whether a person is considered disabled for the purpose of receiving disability benefits. Despite these many written rules, regulations and procedures, it is not possible to know if benefits will be awarded in a particular case. This is because a human being, in particular an administrative law judge (ALJ) at the hearing level, not a computer program, makes the decision. Although ALJ’s are required to follow the same five step determination process, their allowance rates vary significantly. It may be a judge who issues a favorable decisions 75% of the time, or it may be a judge who issues denials 75% of the time.
In our opinion, based on first-hand experience and knowledge of the disability determination process, you can improve your chances of being found disabled by doing the following:
1. Get medical treatment on a regular basis for your health issues. There must be objective medical evidence of your impairments; you saying or appearing to have a particular problem or symptom is not enough.
2. Follow your provider’s advise and treatment plan. If your treatment is not working, or you don’t like your doctor or therapist, don’t just stop following the advise or going to the doctor or therapist. Consider discussing other options with your provider or find a new provider. Missing appointments or turning down medical help that is available does not look good and will be held against you.
3. Obviously you need to be honest with your provider so you get the treatment needed, but what you tell your doctor or therapist will be in your medical records, and will be carefully read by the Administrative Law Judge. Make sure you tell your provider all of your problems. If you have migraines twice a week, but never tell your doctor about them, the Administrative Law Judge is not going to find that migraines are a severe impairment for you. If you tell your doctor you are doing well, or can work, the Administrative Law Judge will consider this as evidence that you are not disabled. Of course, if in fact you are doing well and can work, than you don’t need disability benefits.
4. Keep track of your visits and treatments, and periodically get a copy of your medical records Social Security will want to see all of your records related to the severe impairments that are keeping you from working.
5. If you have a history of alcohol abuse, or using illegal drugs, stop. Administrative Law Judges do not like to give benefits to people who are likely to use the money towards alcohol or drugs. Plus, alcohol or drug abuse cannot be the reason for your disability.
6. If you smoke, try to stop, especially if smoking is contributing to your disability. I have yet to meet anyone who has regretted stop smoking.
7. If you believe you can work, than you should try. If you are successful, then you will more likely be better off than being on disability. If you don’t succeed in finding or keeping a job, then that is further evidence that you are disabled.
8. Don’t say you can’t do something, then show the world you can on Facebook, or other internet sites. If you claim to not get along with others, or can’t go out in public, or can’t walk more than one block, but the Administrative Law Judge finds out otherwise by typing your name in on the internet, your credibility will be severely compromised.
9. The Social Security Administration notes all of your contacts with them. If you applied in person for benefits, the person who interviewed you will evaluate how you appeared, understood and answered questions. If you claim that 15 minutes is the maximum time that you can sit without having to stand up, or pay attention, and you sit without any visible discomfort, or answer all questions without a break, the interviewer may well include this in the file.
10. On the other hand, do not try to act disabled, the person interviewing you has likely interviewed thousands of people wanting disability benefits. You are not likely to fool them.
Winning a disability case is not easy. We cannot assure you that following the above steps will result in receiving disability benefits, but doing so will help eliminate some common reasons disability claims are denied.