“How can I win my Social Security disability claim early?” This is one of the first questions disability claimants ask their lawyers for good reason. In many areas of the country, if you are not approved within the first three or four months after applying, you will most likely find yourself waiting two to three years for a decision on your claim.
Obviously, if you are truly disabled and unable to work, a two to three year delay can be devastating. At best, you will have to rely on the generosity and support of family and friends.
Understand that not every case will qualify for a early decision based on Social Security’s decision making process. But if your medical issues potentially do support an fast decision, you can and should do everything in your power to pursue that early decision. Here are some common factors we see in early decision cases:
Show that You Meet a Listing
If you want to get approved early, you need to be able to show that your medical condition meets a Social Security listing. As discussed here, meeting a listing is one of three legal arguments for disability you can present to Social Security. As a practical matter, however, if you want a quick approval, the listing argument is, by far, your best bet.
What does it mean to meet a listing? Stated simply, if your medical impairment is at listing level, Social Security will assume that your capacity to work has been so reduced that you would not be able to reliably perform any type of work. And remember that Social Security defines disability as your inability to perform reliably even a simple, entry-level job.
You can look at Social Security’s listings here. First, identify the body system that applies in your case. For example, if you suffer with a heart problem, look at listing 4. If you suffer from severe back pain, look at listing 1. If you cannot work because of mental health issues, look at listing 12.
Once you have identified the appropriate listing category for your impairment, we suggest that you print out the listing and take the printout to your doctor. Ask your doctor if he/she will support your claim for disability and will the doctor write a narrative report identifying your diagnosis, describing attempted treatment and concluding that, in fact, you do meet the listing.
Without this type of support from your doctor, you will have a very difficult time convincing Social Security that you meet a listing.
Assuming you have support from your doctor, you will also want to do everything in your power to make sure that Social Security has copies of your doctor’s notes and treatment records. The Social Security claims adjuster (called an adjudicator) will request this information from your doctor, but you need to verify that your doctor’s office has received the request and that they have forwarded the records in a timely manner. You also need to confirm that your doctor’s office has sent the narrative report to the adjudicator.
Fill Out the Forms Correctly
While your medical record remains the prime factor in determining whether or not you get approved early, improperly or carelessly completed forms can cause the adjudicator to mark your file “to be denied” before the medical record even comes in. Understand that disability adjudicators are overworked and under tremendous time pressure to move files through the system. You want to do what you can to make the adjudicator’s life easier by presenting a clear and organized file.
Remember (and you will see this reminder repeatedly on this web site) that Social Security defines disability in terms of how your medical condition negatively impacts your capacity to work. Therefore, whenever you are answering questions on the forms about your medical problems, your daily activities, your prior work activities, or anything else of substance, make sure to frame your answer in terms of work or work like activity limitations.
A simple way to think about this is to be specific with your answers. Instead of saying “I can’t sit very long, or lift very much,” say “I can only sit for 10 minutes at a time before the pain in my back becomes so severe and I lose feeling in my legs. I have to stand up and walk around for 5 to 7 minutes to get the feeling back in my legs and to relieve the cramping. I can sit for a total of 90 minutes during the day and I can stand and walk for a total of 60 minutes during the day. The rest of the time I am in my recliner with my legs extended trying to avoid pain.”
Why Your Case May Not be Approved Early
Some cases simply are not going to be approved early, so don’t be surprised or upset if you get a denial notice. Above all else, don’t get frustrated and give up – you have 60 days from receipt of your denial to appeal and you should either file an appeal yourself or have your lawyer file it for you.
Our experience has been that certain cases will likely not be approved early
- cases where you have previously filed and were denied
- cases where your disability arises from two or more conditions, and no one condition is disabling on its own
- cases where there is no diagnostic test to document your medical condition. Many chronic pain and autoimmune conditions fall into this category
- cases where there are time gaps in your medical record
- cases where there are one or more doctors who do not support you (this is especially true if you are filing Social Security after pursuing workers’ compensation)
- cases where you are younger than age 45
Social Security disability should not be as complicated as it has become. If you would advice from an experienced disability lawyer, please complete the form on the side of this page and we will get right back to you.
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