The first thing I do when I review a new Social Security case is determine the theme of the case. Ultimately, the theme is the reason you cannot work, but I like to call it theme because of what that word means. The dictionary defines the word “theme” as an idea that “pervades a work of art or literature.” Your theme needs to pervade your case. Your medical records, your answers on paperwork, your testimony, and anything else related to your case needs to reflect the theme of your case. Your theme needs to pervade your case.
What is a good theme? This might seem like a simple question, but it’s not. I ask new clients all the time why they can’t work and some will say things like, “I can’t drive a truck anymore because my blood pressure is too high” or “I can’t do my warehouse job because I can’t stand for a long time.” Depending on your age, those are likely losing themes.
In order to get your theme, you need to start with the most basic things that every employer requires. Every employer requires you to show up on time, stay on task, and only take scheduled breaks. Employers will not let your take naps or elevate your legs above your heart for several hours a day. To get your theme, think about which of your symptoms would be a deal breaker for any employer. Do you have fatigue that would require extra breaks? Do you need to lie down during the day to relieve pain? Would you have flare ups of your symptoms several times a month that would cause you to call in sick too often? These are winning themes.
If you are over fifty or fifty-five, the rules are different. The ability to do past work becomes much more important and the skills you learned in those jobs are important. For more information about those rules, I’ve written this linked article. For now, just know that the theme of your case will likely be why you are reduced to sedentary or light work and why you cannot do your past work.
Once you have your theme, use it. When you go to your doctor, tell your doctor about the symptoms that match your theme. If you have flare-ups of your symptoms that keep you in bed all day from time to time, tell your doctor and make sure it is documented. If your theme is the need to lie down, tell your doctor that lying down helps with your pain. When you fill out your function report, make sure your answers match your theme. When you fill out your job history, remember your theme. Again, your theme needs to pervade your case. Lastly, never exaggerate. It’s not necessary and will only hurt your credibility.