The Social Security Disability application process provides a path to secure vital support for disabled individuals who can no longer perform work in the national economy. However, various things to avoid can derail claims that should otherwise win. The key factor to winning a disability case is to ensure that all medical information pertaining to disability is communicated timely and effectively to the adjudicator or administrative law judge. This allows that person to understand the full extent of the facts. Different circumstances can prevent this goal, and hiring competent local counsel is a good way to avoid such pitfalls.
This article will lay out some common things to avoid that could damage a claim that should win, and how to avoid them. These issues include lack or treatment and a strong treatment relationship, keeping physicians uninformed about the disability process, ensuring the timely entry of evidence into a case file, lack of diligence when preparing a disability application, and appearing late to a disability hearing.
1. Things to Avoid: Lack of Treatment and Lack of a Strong Treatment Relationship
This may be the most common issue harming disability claims, and it can also be the most frustrating issue. Often disabled individuals are trapped in a cycle where they cannot pay for healthcare because they have lost insurance, because they cannot work. Yet, Social Security judges expect Claimants to get regular treatment, roughly 4 to 5 times a year per specialty, to provide medical evidence that their issues continue.
We therefore strongly recommend that Claimants seek care a free or low cost clinic in their local community as often as possible. Furthermore, we strongly recommend that these individuals develop a relationship with a treating professional, so that that professional can write letters of support explaining the full extent and nature of the disability. To search OBF’s list of free and sliding scale clinics, please click here.
Remember that a disability judge is likely to assign credibility to a claimant’s testimony only if those claims are supported by medical evidence. The more that a claimant can secure medical evidence that accurately and fully reflects all of their illnesses, mental and physical, the more likely a judge is to accept their testimony at hearing. Therefore, it is critical to get as much care as is reasonably possible while awaiting a disability hearing. It is also critical to try as much as possible to develop a relationship with one’s treating professionals and keep them closely aware of the need to document everything pertaining to their disabilities.
2. Things to Avoid: Keeping Physicians in the Dark About the Disability Process
Even if one has done all they can to get as much treatment as possible, they can still harm their chances of winning a claim they otherwise should win if they are not properly communicating with their physicians. A judge can and will penalize a Claimant for reporting to their physicians that they are doing “fine”. Sometimes, a Claimant will even report to the doctor that in fact they are not “fine” but are suffering many serious problems. Yet, physicians in a rush may not document all reports. This can be a very frustrating reality, but can be avoided with clear and concise communication.
Claimants need to take their claim into their own hands, as much as possible, by choosing a doctor or treating professional that will be diligent and fully document all of their problems each time they receive treatment. Also, ensure that every single time you see a doctor or treating professional, you remind them that you are applying for disability. Kindly ask that they carefully tend to each medical report or record that they write on your behalf as if it was evidence in a disability hearing.
Remember, you may be acutely aware that you need disability and that you are waiting a long time for it. However, your doctors and treating professionals may see thousands of patients similar to you in a short span of time. Remind these very busy individuals every time you see them that you are counting on them to take a few extra moments to make sure every record that they produce is 100% thorough.
3. Things to Avoid: Not Staying In Touch with the Attorneys Office
Assuming all of these things to avoid have been successfully navigated thus far, your attorney can do nothing to ensure that this critical evidence is submitted unless they are timely informed about it. A claimant is strongly advised to stay in close contact with their attorney’s office and to keep them closely informed about every time they receive treatment. To further complicate matters, Social Security has a “5 day rule” which states that any evidence not submitted 5 days before a hearing may be ruled inadmissible unless there was a good reason that it could not be admitted. Judges are not likely to admit critical evidence that didn’t get submitted on time for the mere reason that a claimant did not keep in touch with their attorney.
The Marietta, Georgia Disability Attorneys of O’Brien & Feiler are extremely diligent in following up with clients on a regular basis to proactively seek updates. We recommend that our clients reciprocate by also staying in close contact with us, especially concerning new health developments, and ongoing treatment.
4. Things to Avoid: Lack of Care in Filling out the Disability Application
A judge is bound to consider all evidence in making a disability determination. This includes the information that a Claimant supplies in writing when filling out their initial disability application. Of course, everything said and written to Social Security must be truthful, but a claimant should be careful when writing their initial application that they do not assert that they could perform certain physical and social activities when actually unable to do so. A judge can and will use such statements against Claimants in an unfavorable decision.
Claimants are advised not to simply check boxes indicating that they, for example, can interact with others or can shop on their own, if they actually struggle with those activities. The application section always has space at the end to qualify statements about abilities and disabilities. One must answer all application questions truthfully, but claimants are strongly advised to qualify any statements about their abilities that may need further clarity. It is not in a Claimant’s best interests for the judge to get the wrong impression that the Claimant is fully able to do certain activities when they are not.
5. Things to Avoid: Appearing Late to a Hearing
Claimants wait years to finally see a judge, and it is very unfortunate if that date is missed because of a lack of preparation. This can cost clients a claim that they had been waiting on for years. Plan to get to your hearing early, and take a test drive if necessary to judge traffic and distance. Though some claimants are specifically disabled because of mental health issues which could reasonably make difficult to keep appointments, all Claimants are strongly advised to start planning to get to their hearings early, and that planning should begin as soon as the hearing time and location has been set. We strongly recommend relying on any family, friends, social workers, or other support networks to develop a plan, as soon as possible, to ensure the hearing is not missed. For an interactive map of North Georgia Hearing Offices that are frequented by OBF attorneys, click here.