Step One – Prepare Before You File
You might think the first step in a disability case is to file the application, but that would be like running a marathon before you put your shoes on. Before you file, you need to get prepared. Preparation at its most basic level means gathering the information you will need when you go to file your application. However, it also means preparing the people who will support your application. In this section, I will first describe the information you will need to get organized. Then I will explain how you need to prepare the people who will support you.
When you file your application, social security will need several pieces of information. Unless you want an incomplete application or to spend several hours filing the application because you’re looking up information as you go, you’ll need to gather that information before you start the application.
The first and most important information you will need is a list of your doctors and hospitals where you have received treatment. You should gather your doctors’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. At the initial stage of your application, Social Security will request your medical records for you if you tell them who your doctors are. This can save you a great deal of time and money. If you forget about a doctor, they won’t get those records and that might hurt your chances of winning. If you have to look up the doctors’ names while you’re filing the application, it will take you an eternity to file the application. As part of my initial intake with new clients, I ask for this same information and I can’t tell you how many times people can’t remember the names of any of their doctors and we have to spend an hour trying to figure it out. It’s a frustrating waste of time. So, have your list of doctors ready before you file the application.
Along with your doctors, Social Security wants to know what prescription drugs you are taking. The prescriptions aren’t as important as your doctors, but the application will go more quickly if you have everything listed. When I ask this question as part of my initial intake, I’ve come to expect my client or my client’s wife to start pulling pill bottles out of the bottom of her purse. Get organized. You do not want to be sorting through pill bottles while you’re trying to file your application.
Social Security also needs to know your work history for the last fifteen years. If you’ve bounced around from job to job, it might be difficult to remember everywhere you worked so take some time and think about it before you apply. You will need to list your job duties with each employer as well. This is not the time to exaggerate your job duties. Pride can hurt your chances of winning. Social Security looks at whether you have transferrable skills to lighter work than you used to do. That means, if you claim you were a supervisor when you were really more of a lead worker, then you’re hurting your chances of winning because supervisors have transferrable skills to sedentary work.
If you’re applying for SSI rather than SSDI, social security is going to need financial information to make sure you don’t make too much money. You’ll need to gather bank statements, tax appraisals for any property you own other than where you live, life insurance policies, titles for cars, and anything else that could be property to you. Additionally, social security will need information about your living arrangements. For example, they’ll need a copy of your lease or a rent receipt or a copy of the deed or property tax bill. They’ll need the names, dates of birth, and social security numbers for everyone living with you. Finally, they’ll need information about household costs for things like rent food and utilities. If you are applying for SSI, you’ll need all of that information with you when you apply for benefits.
In addition to the above information, there are miscellaneous things social security might need. For example, if you have an active workers’ compensation case or settled a workers’ compensation case, you’ll need to get a copy of anything showing what you were paid in that case. If it settled, a copy of the settlement is necessary. If you have a VA rating, bring a copy of the rating. Your rating might cause your case to get expedited.
Your Support Group
Before you file your application, you need to talk to your doctors. You want to find out before you apply if your doctors support your decision to apply for disability. A lot of weight is put on the treatment notes and opinions of your doctors. You will want to ask your doctors if they are willing to write letters about your ability to work or fill out disability questionnaires. Some doctors don’t think anyone is disabled. If you go to one of those doctors and finding a different doctor is a possibility, then now might be the time to find a new doctor. However, your doctor might be right. Even though you can’t do your past work, you might be able to do some kind of work. If you can’t convince your own doctor that you’re disabled, you have a tough case ahead of you. Do not file an application for social security disability unless you’re sure you can’t work.
If the above doesn’t apply to you because you don’t have any doctors, now is the time to find a doctor. You cannot win a social security disability case without medical treatment. I understand you don’t have insurance or any money to pay a doctor out of pocket, but you need medical treatment. Your testimony that you have pain or fatigue or any other symptom is not enough. You need a diagnoses from a doctor that explains your symptoms and you need ongoing treatment to document your symptoms. Check to see if there are any free medical services in your county or if your family can help you pay for a doctor. Most counties have free mental health treatment. You simply cannot win your case without medical treatment so do everything you can to get treatment.
This brings me to your family. Your family needs to know what you’re about to go through. It can take years to win a disability case. You’re going to need support from your family. Let them know that it might take a while and that you might need their help financially if that’s a possibility. Don’t let pride keep you from taking this step.
Talking to your doctors and family before you file is mostly about preparing yourself and making sure you’re going to be able to survive and have a chance of winning before you file. Social Security cases are not fun and it’s not easy to win a social security disability case. You need to do your homework before you apply. If you’ve done that research and you’re ready to move forward, it’s time to file your application.