How to get approved for Social Security

logo-fb-shareGetting Social Security is a complicated nightmare, however, there are a few key points that have assisted my clients and I in getting them approved for benefits faster.

This is all about your ability to function at work

Loads of diagnoses, medications, and doctors are great but that alone will not necessarily get you approved for benefits. It is important that you and your doctors closely document how your condition(s) cause you to be unable to work.

Keep your own records and submit them along with your functional capacity assessments. This is basic stuff like morning stiffness causing difficulty with getting dressed, needing help with things like making meals due to fatigue, pain, and arthritis. The big stuff is important too, like long periods off of work due to flares of Lupus, etc. Though how often you can’t hold a pen, not to mention concentrate well enough to write with one is what Social Security really cares about. The more concrete details you can submit the better. I also have this lovely PDF from Social Security on how they view Functional Capacity1.

If you really want to have some fun submit how difficult it was for you to complete the functional assessment! Seriously, people have done just that, and it seems to go just fine with Social Security.

It’s ok to guide your doctors

Good doctors know when they stink at forms, and most of them do. They do doctor stuff, not paperwork. As a social worker who works side by side with doctors I can tell you they write almost none of their own letters and reports. Guess who does? Me! I make sure our clinical opinions match, and then I go to town and do my social work thing, then they read and sign. However, most doctor’s offices don’t have a me on site to help the doctors with documentation. We as patients need to be our own social workers.

So as you figure out what you need from Social Security let your doctor know, offer to even provide boiler plate letters, forms, articles, etc. If your doctor is a good one they will be very excited and thankful, if not, time for a new doctor. If you’re disabled you will need your doctor to back you up repeatedly, if they won’t do it for Social Security what else will they balk at supporting you for? Disability Secrets, has some more in depth information on how your doctors should document2 your case.

See your doctors as scheduled!

Not only is keeping your appointments important to building up your frightening stack of medical records for Social Security, it is crucial that you be following up on everything necessary in regards to your care. No follow through on tests, labs, appointments, medications, etc means no records and looking like you’re not taking care of yourself.

If you do not have insurance and are unemployed due to disability thanks to the Affordable Care Act you’re likely eligible for Medicaid. Healthcare.gov3 is an easy to use site and can help you determine you’re eligibility and where to apply.

The RIGHT records are better than ALL records

Yes, the more records you can throw at Social Security the better, however, there often is a bad apple in the bunch. Most of us when we’re at the point of applying for disability have an entire team of specialists. My GI doctor may not feel that I meet the requirements for disability. However, since I have Lupus in my brain the ones that really count are my Neurologist, Rheumatologist, and PCP. So, for assessments and provider forms I am not going to have my GI complete them. I’m also not going to lead with those records, however, I am not going to withhold them either (that’s fraud!). My GI by the way is amazing, so she would likely complete disability forms in my favor BTW.

For whatever reason all disability offices, government or private, love hospital records. However, there is a bias towards admissions not ER visits. ER visits alone can actually be a red flag as this can be viewed as med seeking, or ER visits due to not following up properly with outpatient care.

If you use the ER always involve your doctor’s office in your visits. If your doctor does not have an after hours service, then you may want to consider switching to one that does. Having your doctor’s office as a participant in ER admissions makes your doctor happy, the ER happy, Social Security happy, and it should make you happy too.

Keep in mind that not all medical services respond to records requests equally. Track the medical systems that are needing to provide records and regularly check in with the medical records departments starting a few weeks after Social Security has submitted the release. The records do need to be supplied by medical records, and getting your own copies is also pricey. So being a nag is your best bet.

I often joke that it is almost like when Social Security sees a big enough pile of documentation they just pull out the rubber stamp and declare you approved. By documentation I also mean your own meticulous daily functioning information! The reality is though is that they do read what they receive and the content does matter. How we behave as patients, and how our doctors describe our condition is critical to the process.

A Lawyer can be extremely helpful

The role of an attorney in a disability case is unique. Any disability attorney worth going to will not ask for any sort of retainer, nor any sort of payment unless you win. They also only tend to get a percentage of the back pay up to a certain amount. Back pay is the amount of Social Security you would have received from the date of application to the date of approval. Social Security grants this amount once someone is approved. Typically a Social Security lawyer will get 40% up to a certain amount that is determined when you contract with them.

A lot of times just having a lawyer on record speeds the process along and leans towards approval, once again I joke about the rubber stamp. A lawyer also will make sure that all the records are in, are documented properly, and essentially help you put your worst foot forward in the best way possible. Winning a disability case is all about the worst foot, this is the time to look sick on the record.

An attorney is often critical if there is going to be any sort of appeals hearing. If you think your case is borderline for approval an attorney is also a good idea. If you are worried about your ability to manage all the paperwork, then once again an attorney is a good idea. Social security lawyers speed up the process by knowing all the in’s and out’s of how the Social Security disability process works, and they only get paid from your back pay, really there is little to lose.

It is important to make sure that your potential Social Security attorney is playing by the rules. You want someone who only does Social Security, only draws from back pay, does not request a retainer, etc. The other beautiful thing about your attorney being paid through back pay is that this involves this being documented with Social Security, as Social Security will pay them directly. This also means the government will have an eye on your lawyer and your payment agreement with them. Disability Secrets4 also of course has some keen things to say on how much a Social Security Lawyer should cost5.

Like most other things it’s all about HOW it’s said

Properly worded and documented it is possible to get disability for just about anything. However, someone can be completely dependent and get denied because their case was not documented correctly. Having the right information to submit is a lot of work, and it may be worth having an attorney even if it is your first time filing. I often say to my client’s that being disabled is a full time job, and being your own case manager often means working overtime.

It is also equally important to be a good patient, and to be honest. Social Security can request information about you from any provider, and how well you are following through with care is critical. That being said it is also important to have the right doctors, ones that will have your back. Getting approved for Social Security approval is a team effort.

I did a scan through some of the more critical topics on Disability Secrets, and I have to say it really reflects what those of us in the field say and recommend in regards to Social Security. I highly recommend Disability Secrets4 as a resource for learning more about the process.


PS: No, I have no affiliation with Disability Secrets, the site is just that awesome in my eyes. I will always state any affiliation and always seek to provide up front any bias I may have.

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