10 Things You Definitely Shouldn’t Do When Filing for Social Security Disability

Elderly woman with rolling pin

Applying for disability benefits is a long, drawn-out process. It’s not necessarily time consuming to apply, it’s just the waiting for answers part that takes forever. Don’t draw the process out longer by doing things that could potentially hurt your case.

When applying for disability benefits, you should avoid doing these 10 things:

1. Applying when your medical condition isn’t severe – Disability benefits are for people who will be out of work for one year or longer. Conditions that are only expected you keep you out of work for a few months, such as broken bones or pregnancy, do not qualify for Social Security disability.

2. Continuing to work until you reach a favorable decision – The whole reason you’re applying for disability benefits is because you can’t work. If you continue to work while you await a decision, you’re just showing the Social Security Administration (SSA) that your condition doesn’t inhibit you.

“Social Security will not even evaluate your claim if you are working over the level of ‘substantial gainful activity’ while you are applying. In 2015, SGA is $1,090 gross (before taxes) per month,” said Kevin Kerr, a disability attorney at Schneider Kerr & Gibney. “If you are working and earning more than $1,090 per month at the time you apply, SSA will issue a technical denial of your claim without even considering your medical conditions.”

3. Applying for disability AND unemployment – Unemployment is for people actively searching for jobs. Disability is for people who cannot work. The two programs contradict each other; they are not interchangeable. You’re either looking for work or you can’t work — apply for the program applicable to your situation.

“In order to collect unemployment you have to state that you are ‘ready, willing, able, and available’ to work,” said Kerr.  “Some judges or SSA disability analysts may consider it inconsistent to say that you can work for purposes of unemployment while saying you can’t work for purposes of Social Security. The standards for the two programs, unemployment insurance and Social Security Disability Insurance, are different.”

4. Filing a new application after a denial – If you file a whole new application, it will most likely be denied again. Your chances of approval significantly improve during the appeals process.

“Filing reconsideration is the only way to move your claim through the appeals process. Statistically, claimants have a better chance once they are able to explain their medical conditions to a judge, face-to-face. Most claimants get two denials, which they have to appeal, before they can testify before a judge and get their claim approved,” said Kerr. “Note that there are some states where there is no reconsideration level; in those states you would file a Request for Hearing after your initial denial. Additionally, SSA applies a legal concept called ‘res judicata’ to claims that are not appealed and can procedurally bar you from getting benefits for a period of time prior to a final decision that is not appealed and becomes final.”

5. Applying for the wrong disability program – There are two disability programs under Social Security: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. Make sure you’re applying for the right one. You can read the qualifications of each in this article.

6. Not going to the doctor – We understand that you don’t feel well, or may even have problems paying for medical care, but it’s important to keep regular doctor appointments to document the details of your condition. The Social Security Administration relies on this information to make a decision. If you don’t go to the doctor or provide enough information, they may decide your condition isn’t severe enough for benefits.

“The first two decisions on your claim are made based on an analyst’s review of your medical records. While SSA may send you to see one of their independent doctors for a “consultative examination,” generally the first two decisions on your claim are made entirely based on your medical records,” said Kerr. “Additionally, while you may eventually have the opportunity to testify before a judge, it is essential for the judge to have medical records to review in order to evaluate your credibility. Basically, many judges will assume your medical conditions are not that severe if you do not seek medical treatment.”

7. Giving up – Don’t just give up if you receive a denial. Notify the Social Security Administration that you’d like to appeal. Nearly 70 percent of initial claims are denied, so the majority of people get approved in one of the appeals stages. You can read more about that process here.

8. Not providing your own medical documentation – While yes, Disability Determination Services may send you to a consultative examiner to gather more information, you shouldn’t rely on this doctor to provide a detailed analysis of your condition. Generally, they will only provide what the disability examiner requests. Make sure Disability Determination Services has as much detailed information about your condition as possible by providing your own records.

9. Waiting to file for benefits – Many people have a hard time accepting help, especially from the government, so they exhaust their own resources before applying. Don’t do this! You will need these resources while you are awaiting a decision on your case. This isn’t a government handout. You need these benefits.

“Best-case scenario, your claim will be approved in three to four months. In most cases, it takes two to three years. You are best off starting the clock now, rather than waiting,” said Kerr. “If your condition improves you can always withdraw the claim. Additionally, in the case of SSDI benefits, you can only be paid up to one year before the date you initiate your application. Even if a judge were to find you became disabled 10 years ago, you can only get paid, at most, one year before your ‘protective filing date.’”

10. Going through the process alone – People with legal representation are much more likely to be approved for benefits than those without. Lawyers know exactly what the Social Security Administration is looking for, and they have a lot of experience going through the process. Plus, you only have to pay them if they help you win benefits.

Now that you know what not to do, you’re probably wondering what you should do. Our 9 Useful Secrets For Filling Out the Social Security Disability Application article features great tips on strengthening your disability claim.