By Cheryl Coon
The information provided in this article is intended to give a general overview of the topic and is not intended as legal advice. For information specific to your situation, please talk with your Social Security/Disability professional.
Article #2, Twenty Tips to Help You Win Your Case for Social Security Disability Benefits
- Apply in person at your local office of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and get assistance from SSA staff when you fill out your application. The online application process can be tricky.
- Bring a list of the names, addresses, phone numbers, and dates of treatment for all the healthcare providers, hospitals, and clinics you’ve seen for your injury or illness.
- Bring a list of all your medications, including current dosages.
- Bring a list of all the jobs you’ve held for the last 15 years.
- While SSA will request your medical records, make it your job to get these into your record as well. Submit with your application as much medical evidence as you can. That includes hospital records, doctor’s reports, and treatment notes.
- List all your medical conditions in your application, not just the worst one. Sometimes it’s a combination of problems that will win you benefits.
- When filling out the forms about your prior work, don’t exaggerate! Be honest about your past work and how you performed it.
- Fill out the application and all other forms completely. This is not the time to be hasty or incomplete. Then, make copies to keep of all documents and forms that you provide to Social Security.
While you wait for a decision:
- If, after you submit your Social Security application, you’re asked for more information or paperwork, respond promptly.
- SSA will send you a Function Report that requests information about how you are limited in your day-to-day functioning. Fill it out completely. Don’t exaggerate, but don’t under-report your symptoms either.
If you don’t get approved:
- Pay close attention to appeal deadlines and be sure to appeal in time.
- Keep a detailed journal of your medical problems and how they limit you. Include all the things you cannot do. If you have seizures or headaches, include the time and how long they last. If you know what triggered episodes, be sure to note that too. If you are taking medication and it has side effects, note that too.
- Ask a spouse, partner or family member to help you with your journal; they may notice things that you miss.
- See your doctor regularly and follow your doctor’s recommendations. If you want to change medications do so through your doctor, not on your own. This is not the time to change healthcare providers unless your current provider is not supportive of your application.
- If you have a mental health issue, see a counselor (if possible, with the credentials of M.D. or PhD as Social Security considers only these people to be acceptable for purposes of a disability application).
- If you use alcohol or illegal drugs, keep in mind that this is a basis for denial of your disability application.
- Do not give up just because you get a denial. Your case may be one that won’t be won until a hearing or even a federal court appeal. If you give up and later file a new application, you will lose your past benefits.
- If you’re thinking about working while you wait, be sure to consult with your lawyer on how best to do that without harming your case.
- Find a lawyer to represent you. It costs you nothing (that’s the law) unless you win your case. Ask your lawyer if he or she is able to represent you at all stages, from administrative through federal court appeals.
- Keep your lawyer up-to-date on all changes in your life, from healthcare providers to medications to addresses.
Cheryl Coon previously led the social security disability section of Swanson Thomas Coon & Newton of Portland, Oregon, where she represented disabled individuals seeking benefits, at all stages of the process from application to federal court appeals.
In June 2016, Cheryl Coon founded RDBO. Refugee Disability Benefits of Oregon. RDBO takes a unique approach, in which attorney Cheryl Coon, works closely with health care providers, case managers and counselors, as well as the refugees they serve, to ensure that refugees’ cases are presented competently and compassionately. We handle cases at every step of the disability process, from initial application to hearing to federal court.
The social security disability process can be frustrating. We believe it is important for potential applicants to be realistic about their chances for approval. We carefully evaluate the merits of each person’s case and suggest alternatives when we do not believe their case is strong. These alternatives may range from vocational assistance to waiting until a stronger medical record has been established.