I am an attorney experienced in handling hundreds of Social Security disability claims. Here are some of my best disability secrets and tips in Social Security Disability Insurance Benefit claims and Supplemental Security Income claims:
1. Identify every one of your medical providers to the Social Security Administration. Don’t say, “I went to that bone doctor on Davis Highway. You know, the one near the intersection with Brent Lane.” You should provide the doctor’s complete contact information, including the doctor’s full name, business address, and phone number.
2. When I say medical provider, that includes hospitals and clinics. Some clients do not mention hospitals when asked, “Any other doctors?” If someone asks you to list your doctors and medical providers, you should mention emergency room hospital visits, clinics, and Baker Acts.
3. Be sure the medical record is complete in your disability claim. Social Security will make one request for medical records from each of the medical providers you identify. If the doctor’s office does not provide the records in response to this one request, Social Security does not make any follow-up requests for the records. If your doctor does not respond with any records, they records are simply left out of the decision. You do not want a decision made on your claim without all the evidence, do you? It is up to you to make sure all records have been submitted.
4. Submit all your medical records as soon as you obtain them. Do not wait until you have all the records together in one neat package before submitting them to Social Security. You can, and should, submit the records as you obtain them.
5. Obtain Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) forms from your doctors. You may have a mental Residual Functional Capacity form. You may have a physical Residual Functional Capacity form. Or you may have both. These forms go beyond restating the diagnosis of your medical conditions. They identify your resulting limitations and impairments from the conditions.
6. Identify all of your medical conditions when you apply, whether you think an individual condition is minor or not. I have had claimants say things like, “My main problem is my mental problems.” After meeting with the client for awhile, he may disclose, “Well I did suffer a herniated disc in my back five years ago.” This is a significant impairment in addition to the mental health impairments. It is critical that Social Security has an opportunity to consider all of your conditions in combination to evaluate how they limit you.
7. If you do have an attorney representing you, you should be sure to stay in touch with the attorney and keep him or her up to date on all your current contact information. I know times are tough, and you may move or change your phone number. You should always make sure your attorney is kept up-to-date on how to reach you.
8. Don’t be offended if your attorney calls upon you to collect some of your medical records. We do our best to obtain the records directly from medical providers. However, some providers are simply lousy at record keeping and we have significant problems obtaining the records. Within the past couple of months, my office requested records from one doctor seven times in writing, and the records were not produced until we requested assistance from the Administrative Law Judge in obtaining the records. In short, please be understanding if your attorney asks you to pick up some of your records.
9. Read the letters you receive from Social Security. If they are requesting information from you, and you fail to respond, you may be denied for non-compliance. For example, if Social Security needs you to sign a medical release for SSA to have access to your medical records and you never sign a release, Social Security will deny your claim because it will not have any medical records to support the claim (because it could not obtain the records without your release). Always provide Social Security with all of the information necessary to evaluate your claim.
10. This goes along with the prior tip. Always appeal any denials immediately. The denial letter will spell out exactly what you need to do to preserve and protect your appeal. You do not have years to file an appeal. You typically only have 60 days. If you are cut-off of benefits, you only have 10 days to elect ongoing benefits while you appeal. These deadlines can go very quickly. Make sure you take the appropriate action within the appropriate time limits. This is also important because if you do not file your appeal in time you may have to start over. This could cost you both time and past due benefits.