When starting a Disability case by filing for SSI or Social Security Disability, there are a number of items to evaluate. Here are OBF’s list of 10 Things to Know Before Starting a Disability Case. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it contains a number of things Claimants will want to consider when deciding to take this journey.
- Seeking medical treatment is vital – Getting care from physicians who document an illness, track its progression, and prescribe treatment is vital. Medical records will be used to establish the presence of a severe mental or physical impairment and will also serve to provide insight regarding how the illness progresses over time. Failing to get care can cause adjudicators to believe that the condition may not be so severe as to be disabling, and Claimants should also not count on getting supportive evidence from the SSA doctors who will likely evaluate them.
- Compliance with Dr. orders is important – Going to the doctor is not enough. If a physician prescribes medication or treatment, adherence to that treatment is important. If there is a problem with the treatment recommendations, discuss these problems with your doctor before making a decision to cease treatment or discontinuing medication. Not every treatment is effective, but having documentation about failed therapies can be helpful.
- Substance abuse can derail a case – It does not matter whether the substance is legal (like alcohol) or illegal. If the adjudicator believes that a severe condition is made worse by the use of substances, they can decline to consider this condition when evaluating disability.
- Drawing unemployment benefits can cause problems – Health problems often lead to the termination of employment. Very often, people that become unemployed will file for unemployment benefits. When filing for unemployment, a worker attests that they are “ready, willing, and able” to work, but can’t find work. This notion is at odds with a disability filing, which attests that one is incapable of Substantial Gainful Activity. Though there is room for interpretation, this conflict can cause problems for Claimants.
- Being unemployed is not necessary – A person can claim disability and work, but must stay below Substantial Gainful Activity levels, and that person should also know that the nature of the work that they continue to do will be evaluated by adjudicators who are determining whether a Claimant is disabled.
- All of your medical records will be reviewed – This process involves the review of years of medical records. All medical records from the claimed period of disability are required to be submitted for consideration. This includes visits where sensitive or embarrassing medical issues have been discussed. Though all parties are respectful, be mindful that every medical record will be read and considered during this process.
- The process takes a long time – The initial decision typically takes three to five months. The reconsideration decision takes three to five months, and the wait for a hearing will often take well over a year. This can present a hardship for many Claimants and speeding up cases may be available in certain limited circumstances but prepare for the process to be lengthy, even if Dire/Critical status is granted.
- VA Disability and private disability policies have different standards – It is a common mistake for Claimants to believe that because they receive payments under the VA disability program or through private disability policies that Social Security will automatically grant benefits. This could not be further from the truth, though certainly the SSA will consider the conditions that gave rise to the disability payments from other sources.
- The odds improve at the hearing level of appeal – Individuals filing for disability are most often denied at their initial and reconsideration filings. If a Claimant can hold out for a disability hearing, their odds increase considerably. This happens for a number of reasons, not the least of which is due to the length of the appeals process, one can establish a lengthy continuum of care throughout the appeal, which will then be evaluated by an ALJ.
- There is no partial or temporary disability – Though other disability programs (the VA and private policies notably) will pay partial disability or will pay disability for a pre-established length of time (short term disability), the SSA does not. The SSA will only pay disability for those individuals with a severe impairment that has lasted or is expected to last a year or more or result in death.
If you live in Georgia and need help with disability, please contact the attorneys at O’Brien & Feiler for a free consultation.