Six Things Not To Do When You Apply For Social Security Disability

It is getting harder to get social security disability benefits. Misleading articles and television reports have helped to create an environment that is hostile to disability claimants.

Some of us who represent claimants feel that judges are under political and bureaucratic pressure to deny more claims. We know that they are denying more claims and that more of their favorable decisions are being reviewed and changed by the powers that be. If you, or someone you know, is disabled and cannot work, now-more than ever--you need good basic advice.

We've put together a few pointers about what not to do if you're applying for disability.

1. Do not apply while you are still working.

This may sound obvious, but we hear it all the time-"I'm dragging myself to work every day...I'm missing so much time that I'm in trouble with my boss...I'm only working because if I don't I'll lose my home."

If you go to your local Social Security Administration office, or apply on-line and you still work, at the SGA or substantial gainful activity level (currently $1090 month gross for most people) your application will not be accepted. The very first question when the Administration reviews an application is: "Is the claimant working?" And if you are still working, and making more than the limit, you will not be eligible for disability.

2. Do not go without medical treatment.

If you don't have documentation from your doctor of your illnesses or injuries the Administration will not be able to grant you benefits-regardless of how sick you or how much pain you are in.

This is another common problem-you are sick but have no insurance or cannot afford treatment. If that is your situation, you need to obtain medical insurance, or look for free clinics-most importantly for your health-but also because you will not qualify for the benefits that you need unless there is medical evidence of your condition and limitations.

3. Do not tell the Administration your life story.

The Social Security Administration is interested only in your medical conditions and limitations. That is because the law does not allow them to consider other factors-the local economy, your personal financial problems, your complicated family situation, or other hardships.

The only relevant questions are: what are your medical conditions and how do they prevent you from working on a regular daily basis.

You do not help your case by talking to a caseworker about your many other problems, or by writing about them in SSA forms. In fact-and this is important-- in some cases you may very well unintentionally hurt your chances by volunteering irrelevant information.

4. Do not disregard your doctors' instructions.

It can be hard to get to your appointments when you need to be there. And sometimes the medications your doctors prescribe don't work, or cause side effects. But it is very important to go to your appointments with your medical providers, and follow their instructions.

If you cannot get to an appointment, be sure to call as far in advance as possible and reschedule. If your medications aren't working, or make you sick, tell your doctor right away and ask what alternatives you have. If you don't follow your doctors' advice, it can be used against you-as a reason to discredit your claims.

The most difficult thing, of course, is beating addictions. The first advice you will get from your doctor-not that you need a doctor to tell you this-is that you need to stop using illegal drugs, or excessive alcohol. The hard fact is that if alcohol or drug addiction is a "substantial factor" in causing you to be unable to work, the Administration is required under the law to deny your claim. Obviously, the most important reason to overcome your addictions is for your health. But you also cannot get the financial help that you and your family need if drugs or alcohol are causing your disability.

5. Do not exaggerate-or understate.

Here is another obvious one. Of course you should always tell the truth. It can be tempting to exaggerate a little-after all, as I hear a lot, your neighbor got disability and from what you can see he isn't half as disabled as you are. (Keep in mind that many disabilities are not visible.) Or maybe you're so depressed that you can barely drag yourself out of bed, but that doesn't sound disabled enough...perhaps if you say you "hear voices", they'll take you more seriously?

Being unable to work is stressful and sometimes when we are under stress we make bad decisions. I cannot emphasize this more strongly: the worst thing you can do is lie. About anything, at any stage in your claim, to anyone-your doctor, the Social Security doctor, the Administration caseworker, the judge, your lawyer.

This does not mean you should volunteer information that is not relevant to your claim, or go on and on about your problems. (See number 3!) What it means is one of the most important things in your case is your credibility-whether the Social Security worker, or the judge, thinks that you are telling the truth.

And in this climate, they are looking for evidence that you are not telling the truth. It makes their difficult job easier-It makes it easier to deny your claim and move on to the next in the huge pile of disability cases on their desk.

6. Don't go to an administrative law judge hearing without an attorney.

In this hostile environment, I recommend, much more than I used to, that claimant seek legal advice as soon as possible, even at the initial application stage. However, the most important time to get an attorney is after you have been denied at the initial and reconsideration stages, and are facing a hearing before an administrative law judge.

These hearings are complicated legal proceedings and your chances of winning without an attorney are greatly reduced. Also, in some cases, if you appear at a hearing without an attorney, the judge will postpone the hearing and recommend that when it is rescheduled you appear with an attorney or representative.

The hearing is your trial-the result will have enormous consequences for your future. Treat it with the seriousness is deserves, and consult with a lawyer who has experience practicing social security disability law.

P.S. For a more detailed description of the Social Security Disability process, call us at (860) 278-1270, and ask for a copy of Your Guide to the Social Security Disability Process.

Here is the link to the official site for the Affordable Care Act.