While most of the Social Security Disability application is fairly straightforward, some parts are a little ambiguous. It can be hard to know what information the Social Security Administration (SSA) is looking for as it evaluates your claim.
Assuming you already know the basics, like your name, Social Security number and the name of your spouse, here are nine secrets that will help strengthen your disability application (and hopefully lead to an approval).
1. Determine when your disability began to interfere with your ability to work – The SSA will ask for the date you became unable to work due to your condition (question No. 10). Think long and hard about this one. The date you write down will determine how much backpay you receive.
“Social Security goes through a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether someone is disabled or not, and the very first step of that is whether you’re working,” said Wayne Giles a disability attorney in Bountiful, Utah. “If you’re making $1,090 or more gross before taxes or any deductions, you won’t qualify for disability, regardless of your medical condition. So, looking at the date your disability begins, typically you’ll look at your last day of work and say your disability began the next day, because you’re not going to qualify before that point.”
2. List every condition that limits your abilities to work – Not just the one you think will lead to an approval. You never know if a combination of conditions may classify you as disabled.
3. Don’t downplay your symptoms – Sometimes people downplay symptoms, especially mental ones, in an effort to save face. It’s important to be as accurate as possible on your application. The SSA is not going to judge you, they’re just trying to get an accurate picture of your health.
4. Don’t exaggerate – At the same time, it’s important not to exaggerate the severity of your symptoms. Disability Determination Services will get copies of your medical records, and if your claims don’t match up, you risk losing credibility.
“If you’re downplaying or overstating symptoms, your medical records are going to vary drastically from what you put in your own words, and doing that could hurt your case, because these cases are based primarily on medical evidence anyway,” said Giles. “Especially if you’re overstating your symptoms, that’s going to come through if all your medical records say mild and you’re saying severe.”
5. Be detailed about your condition – Don’t just say “I can’t work because I have liver cirrhosis.” Be specific. “I have cirrhosis of the liver. I frequently experience variceal bleeding, and subsequently am in the hospital three to four days at a time about once a month.”
“As long as you’re putting your diagnosis, putting how it’s affecting you personally on a day-to-day basis, and just being totally upfront and honest in how it’s affecting you, I think people are fine,” said Giles. “I don’t think there are any traps. Social Security is not trying to trick you in those applications. They just want you to really put down what is going on and tell all the doctor’s you’ve seen so they can get that medical information.”
6. Be specific about the requirements of your job – Don’t just say “I work in construction.” Say “I am a construction worker. My job requires me to be on my feet eight hours per day and very frequently lift more than 100 lbs. The herniated disc in my back does not allow me to lift more than 10 lbs and I’m not able to stand for more than 20 minutes.”
7. If you don’t know the answer to something, write “I don’t know” – You don’t want the SSA to think you overlooked it. Alternately, you could estimate and note that your answer is an estimation.
8. Explain how your condition affects your day-to-day activities – It’s important to be very thorough when filling out the activities of daily living section. Be honest, but make sure to mention any limitations you may have when performing day-to-day activities.
“I think that the best advice I could give is that you have to understand that Social Security Disability is looking at whether you have the physical and mental capacity of working eight hours per day, five days per week,” said Giles. “When you’re giving your limitations, or what you can and can’t do, you have to keep it in that context. If you’re putting down things and not giving enough information, saying ‘sure I can cook, I can mow the lawn, I can do housework’ or whatever you’re putting on those function reports, Social Security’s going to think that means you can work full time, eight hours per day, five days per week, but that may not be what you mean. If you can do it for a short period of time and then you stop and rest because of your medical condition, you need to give enough information so that they know how long you can actually do something without needing to rest.”
9. Give them as much information about your treatment as possible – Write down which doctors you’ve received treatment from, what medications you’ve tried and the results of each treatment. If you’ve experienced medication side effects, be sure to mention those as well. Disability Determination Services will be contacting your health care providers to gather your medical evidence.
“I know sometimes it’s a frustrating system. It’s almost always a frustrating system because the timelines are long,” said Giles. “But I think Social Security does want to help you. No one is just looking to make your life more difficult. Some of the decisions may make you scratch your head and wonder how they came to a conclusion, but I do think they’re pretty sincere and if you just give them enough information, you’ll have a good chance.
Hopefully these secrets give you a better understanding of how the SSA evaluates its disability claims. Being thorough and detailed on your application will make sure your claim is as strong as possible; which is key for winning disability benefits.
Want to know why Social Security denies claims? Check out our 9 Common Reasons Social Security Disability Claims are Denied article.