No matter how your apply for disability (online, by phone or in person), you will find yourself filling out a lot of forms over the next two years. You will be asked to fill out forms during every stage of the application process and every step of the appeal process.
Over the years, Social Security has changed the forms but rarely shortens them. In many cases, what amounts to the same question will be asked multiple times on a form.
Social Security’s forms also do not contain much in the way of helpful instructions. For this reason, many disability applicants choose to hire an attorney early on in the application process just to avoid the hassle of dealing with hundreds of pages of forms.
As a practical matter, what you say on the forms is far less important than what your medical records show. If you choose to try to work on the forms yourself without an attorney here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:
- your capacity to work is the main issue in your disability application. Every substantive answer you provide should focus on this point. For example, one of the forms asks you what you do during a typical day. No one at Social Security cares what you do, but they do care if you engage in daily activities that seem equivalent to work. So when you answer this type of question make sure to also include information about any difficulty you may be having, and talk about how much time simple activities are taking.
- Specifics are better than generalities when completing SSA’s forms. Don’t say “I can’t lift very much.” Instead say something like “I can lift 8 to 10 lbs. with difficulty. I can remove a gallon of milk from my refrigerator if I use both hands and I struggle to get it to the kitchen table. I could perform this and similar tasks no more than twice a day because of constant neck and back pain.”
- If the form does not give you enough space to say what you want to say, then attach a separate piece of paper that includes your name, Social Security number, and the number and page of the form you are writing about.
- Make copies of everything you send to Social Security. If you mail documents, use registered mail, return receipt requested. If you fax documents, keep your fax acknowledgment receipt.
Focus less on completing SSA’s forms perfectly and work instead to get them completed as accurately as possibly as quickly as possible. Again, your medical records are a lot more important than forms but Social Security no doubt employs dozens of form designers who need to justify their salaries.