While most of the Social Security Disability application for SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 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 disability claim.
Your local Social Security Office can provide a disability starter kit to help you apply. You can also order the kit online. 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 a benefit approval).
- 1 1. Determine when your disability began to interfere with your ability to work
- 2 2. List every condition that limits your abilities to work
- 3 3. Don’t downplay your symptoms
- 4 4. Don’t exaggerate
- 5 5. Be detailed about your condition
- 6 6. Be specific about the requirements of your job and work history
- 7 7. If you don’t know the answer to something, write “I don’t know”
- 8 8. Explain how your condition affects your day-to-day activities
- 9 9. Give them as much information about your treatment as possible
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 Social Security benefit 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 income of $1,090 or more gross before taxes or any deductions, you won’t qualify for disability payments, 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 for SSD benefits. 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 initial 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, the applicant risks losing medical eligibility for a monthly benefit.
“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 tell the Social Security office, “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 and work history
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. If the SSA office decides there is not enough information for a medical determination, you will likely be asked to take a consultative examination.
“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. It’s always a good idea to talk to a disability lawyer before filling out the online application. Being thorough and detailed on your SSDI 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.
10 Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp
It’s back-to-school season again. And even if you’re not heading to classes this fall, there are still lots of ways you can develop healthy habits that improve your thinking skills.
By finding simple brain training exercises to keep your mind sharp over the years, you’ll not only improve overall brain health, but also prevent cognitive impairment over time. To give you some ideas, here are 10 things that have been proven to improve brain function and cognitive skills.
1. Get plenty of sleep—Perhaps not the first tip you were expecting, but getting enough rest does an awful lot to keep your mind fresh and invigorated. Plus getting seven to nine hours of sleep consistency has been linked to improved brain function and a significant increase of memory functions. On the flipside, frequent sleep deprivation is also linked to cognitive decline in old age. The relationship may not be causal, but it’s definitely something to think about.
2. Journal by hand—Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that handwriting, the kind that involves a pen and paper and no technology whatsoever, has actually been shown to sharpen your mind? Studies have also found that when you take notes by hand, you are exponentially more likely to remember them afterwards. So if you want to give your mind a workout and remember something, write it down the traditional way.
3. Drink lots of water—Yes, yes, I know how tired you are of hearing this one, but staying hydrated really does improve every aspect of your health, including your long-term mental health. Water cleanses your body and your brain tissues, and it also helps boost your energy, increase alertness, and curb hunger too. A study published in 2006 actually discovered that people who stayed well hydrated and also consumed a healthy diet of fruit and vegetable juices had a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Always continue learning—It stands to reason that the best way to keep your brain in tip top shape is to use it, especially for older adults. You don’t have to be in school to keep learning, so look around for opportunities to try new things. Attend a local seminar. Learn some new software at your local library. Take a meditation class at a community college. Reading new books and interesting articles online is my personal favorite way to keep learning, so do whatever you find most interesting.
5. Break your routine—This might be a hard one if you’re a just-so creature of habit like me. But learning a new skill or just altering your day-to-day routine is actually a great way to stimulate different parts of your brain and prevent both your life and your internal chemistry from going stagnant. I fully give you permission to break out of your shell and do something a little crazy that maybe you’ve never tried before.
6. Use all your senses—All five of your senses are linked to separate parts of your brain, so using all of them regularly is a great way to both stimulate your cognitive abilities and invigorate yourself. Looking at beautiful art, browsing a fancy candle store, trying exotic new foods, and attending a live concert are all great options. Plus unique sensory experiences also boost your memory. Did you know you’re much more likely to remember pictures and experiences when they’re paired with specific scents? Food for thought . . . or your nose I guess?
7. Get some regular exercise—Physical exercise is another great refresher for the brain and has actually been proven to reduce the risk of dementia. So get moving. Living a generally active lifestyle and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every other day will do wonders for both your physical health and your mental health. Aerobic exercise is also a great break from technology and a good old-fashioned way of increasing blood flow and lowering your stress levels naturally.
8. Stimulate your brain—If you’ve heard any advice about keeping your mind sharp, it’s probably this one. A brain game is a fantastic way to challenge your brain cells and reduce your risk of age-related memory loss. So give some a try. Sudoku is my personal favorite, but crossword puzzles, Mah Jongg, and brainer teasers like these are great too. Remember the key is to introduce novelty to your brain, plus the feeling of accomplishment when you defeat a particularly tricky puzzle is well worth the effort all on its own.
9. Believe in your healthy brain—There are a lot of myths about memory loss wandering around out there, and it’s actually in your best interest not to believe what you hear. Studies have actually shown that people who feel stress about losing their memory or put too much stock into mental decline stereotypes are much more likely to experience mental decline and memory-loss difficulties. So give your brain power the benefit of the doubt.
10. Don’t be too hard on yourself—Along with believing in your brain, be kind to yourself and take it easy on your memory skills. Everyone has little slip ups and moments of forgetfulness, so don’t beat yourself up for being human. Feel free to invest in a good planner to help you remember things, and keep in mind that forgetfulness is sometimes a sign that you’re packing too much into your brain. So give yourself the freedom to forget the little things that really don’t matter all that much in the long run.
Quick Tip: List Your Attorney as a Contact for the SSA
As you’re preparing your application for Social Security Disability, one of the best things you can do to help your case is to list your disability attorney. Every application has a section for relevant contacts that the SSA can ask about your case, and who better to have them call than the person who knows the most about getting you approved?
Keeping an open line of communication between the SSA and your disability attorney is arguably the number one thing that will get your application through on the very first try for all kinds of reasons:
1. Your disability attorney is intimately acquainted with your case. Because of this he or she will be able to answer the SSA’s questions in a way that will accurately and effectively represent you.
2. Your attorney knows the SSA lingo. While your close friends or your family doctor might know an awful lot about your condition, your attorney is the one who will know how to translate your case into terms that will make sense to the SSA—and increase your chances of approval.
3. They’ll know how to handle any obstacles that arise. If your attorney is in regular contact with the SSA, he or she will be right there to resolve objections and stop approval-killing obstacles before they become a reason for your application to be denied.
4. Your attorney knows what NOT to say. There are things that will improve your case and also things that will not improve your case. Since your disability attorney is familiar with the ins and outs of approval, they need to be right on the front lines to help you steer your application to success. Why else would you have hired them?
For even more fantastic benefits of working with a disability lawyer, check out this great blog post.
Can Social Media Activity Affect My Disability Case?
In the age of social media, nothing is private anymore. Every day, millions of people from older adults to adolescents upload personal information about themselves and their social relationships. Most of the time, we do it without thinking about how their social media posts could be used by others.
If you are filing for Social Security Disability benefits, you should be highly aware of what you are posting on social media sites. Even things that may seem innocuous have the ability to affect a disability examiner or administrative law judge’s opinion about your disability claim and your status as a disabled person.
While the Social Security Administration has official rules prohibiting examiners and judges from searching the Internet for information about disability applicants, that doesn’t mean it never happens. It just means that social media activity cannot be cited as a primary reason for denial in a disability decision. Public information about you could still be found, and could color a case evaluator’s perception of your claim.
We’re not trying to scare you off Facebook and Twitter forever. Social networking and following the right influencers can be a beneficial source of social support within the disability community. We just want to you to be aware of what information is publicly visible on your social media accounts. As long as you’re being honest about your disability issues, mental health, physical activity, and functional limitation on your Social Security Disability application, you shouldn’t have any problems. But just in case, you may want to do an audit of your social disabled community to see what information about you is publicly available.
Delete anything you feel could affect your case for benefits. Even an innocent status update posted in jest such as “love all this free time I have waiting for disability benefits,” could raise some eyebrows by the Social Security employees evaluating your claim.
Once you’ve cleaned up your social media sites, consider making them private if you haven’t done so already. Not just because you are applying for disability benefits, but because it’s simply a good idea for your protection. You never know how people will use your information, and the last thing you want is for it to fall into nefarious hands.
Finally, as you move through the disability process, be mindful of what you are sharing and how a disability examiner or administrative law judge could react to it. While your profile may be set to private, there are other ways it could end up in front of public eyes.
In the end, your social media accounts probably won’t have much of an impact on your Social Security Disability case, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you have any concerns about your claim for disability benefits, including whether your social media activity could be hurting your case, you should consult with an experienced Social Security disability attorney.
Curious on what other behaviors might have a negative impact on your Social Security Disability claim? You’ll definitely want to read our article with “10 Things You Shouldn’t Do When Filing for Social Security Disability.”
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