1. Apply for benefits as soon as you become disabled. Many people mistakenly believe they must wait 12 months from the date their disability began before applying for benefits. As long as your disability is expected to last more than 12 months, you can file the minute you stop working. However, you must have medical evidence that supports your disability will last more than 12 months. If you go back to work before the 12 months is over, you will no longer have a case as you have not met the “durational” requirement for disability.
2. Complete the initial application. To increase the chance that your claim will be approved, it is important to answer the questions on the disability application. Write down all of the information regarding your medical history as it relates to your disability, including dates, provider names, medical procedures and tests performed. The information in the application is the basis of the claim and how the examiner will obtain medical records and reports that will support you claim.
3. Cooperate with SSA. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will ask various forms to be completed and promptly returned or call to ask questions about your treatment or a medical provider. SSA also may ask you to attend a consultative medical exam. Make sure SSA has your current address and telephone number. By providing such information, this helps the decision making easier.
4. Medical evidence of your disability. Before you file for benefits, you should be receiving treatment for the medical condition which is the basis of your disability. Your treating providers hopefully have ordered all of the necessary tests to properly diagnose your condition. Such testing include reports of x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds, along with laboratory results and reports of tests such as EEGs or pulmonary function tests.
5. Follow prescribed treatment. Not only is it important to be receiving treatment for your disabling condition, it is important to follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment. SSA may be able to deny your claim for “treatment non-compliance.” This is because Social Security can find that you would be able to work if you took the medicine, had the surgery, or otherwise followed the treatment recommended by your doctor. While there are some exceptions to this rule, it is important to follow your physician’s prescribed course of treatment to the extent possible.
6. General doctor’s statements do not prove your case. Eligibility for disability benefits is based on proof of your medical impairment and the severity of said impairment. SSA has very specific criteria that covers not only the type and severity of injury or illness, but the specific type of medical documentation required to substantiate each of these disabling conditions. You need more than just a general statement from your doctor stating that you are “disabled”.
7. Clear up any outstanding legal issues. You will not be eligible for disability if you have an outstanding warrant, even in another state. Bottom line: benefits will be denied if you have an arrest warrant. SSA has become increasingly aggressive in its review of the criminal records of those who seek to receive disability benefits.
8. Your initial application will most likely be denied. Don’t be frustrated. Many people who apply for benefits will be denied during the initial review. However, a denial can be appealed, and most times the chances that your application will be approved increases at the next level of appeals.
9. Be Credible. Whether you are at the initial levels of your case or testifying before a judge, it is important to answer questions truthfully. Do not leave out important information, bend the truth, or try to use evasive language. Try to stick to the question and not go off on unrelated topics. Don’t be melodramatic and/or exaggerate your issues.
10. You can hire an attorney to assist you during any part of the process. There is no requirement that you hire an attorney to help you apply for benefits. However, your chances of approval increases if you hire an experienced attorney. Most attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means that you don’t pay unless your claim is approved.