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Social Security Disability Application, Build A Foundation

The process to obtain benefits can be a long and challenging adventure even in the best of cases.  A rare medical condition, unique work history, or cracks inside SSA can all lead to your denial of benefits.  This post is the first in a series of posts about the process to obtain benefits and the foundation that is required to be successful.

Social Security begins with an initial application.  If you are filing for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and for Supplemental Security Insurance (SSI) it will be necessary to complete two different application.  However, filing of the applications and their processing of the claims is done together the advice below applies to both types of claims.

If the administration makes a denial of you application (which happens over 50% of the time) you move into the appeals process.  These steps include reconsideration, Hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and review by the Appeals Council.  In February of 2011 the Social Security Administration estimated in its 2012 budget overview that during FY 2012 it would process 744,000 reconsiderations, 823,000 hearings and 120,000 Appeals council Reviews. As Social Security is faced with so much volume and so much documentation it can not be stressed strongly enough that claimants for disability benefits start at the very beginning the construction of a strong foundation.

Please consider the following as you decide when and how you want to begin the process of filing a Social Security Disability Claim.


If your (a) physical or mental disability is severe, (b) condition limits your activities of daily living, (c) medical impairment will last or has lasted longer than 12 months, and (d) doctor agrees with this assessment, you have a claim for Social Security disability. However, answering yes to these questions is not where the review ends.


  •  Medical evidence. As is the case with most legal claims, what counts in disability evaluations is what you can prove. If no medical records exist to support your claim of disability, you are unlikely to be successful. SSA figures that if your medical condition is severe enough to keep you from working, then it should justify doctor visits, tests, diagnosis, and treatment.
  • Failure to follow treatment. SSA expects you to try to get better. That means doing what your doctor prescribes. If you do not believe that your doctor’s recommended treatment will help, then be sure your doctor documents the treatment’s odds of success or failure.
  • Keep good records. Conversely, if you do follow your doctor’s prescribed treatment, document your efforts. Without records, you are unlikely to remember the date of every doctor visit, lab test, medicine taken, and therapy received. Obtain the business cards of every doctor you see and file them. Save your pill bottles. Keep notes of your pain and other medical events.


Many times a claim is not decided until there is a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge.  Part of what that judge does is evaluate you a a person and evaluate your trustworthiness.  It is important to keep that reality in mind as you explain what conditions cause your disability.

  • Symptoms vs. diagnosis. SSA does not expect you to be an expert on medical conditions. Even if you are, SSA would rather learn about your impairment from your doctor and your medical records. What SSA wants to receive from you are details about your symptoms. For example, how severe is your pain? Is it constant or intermittent? What aggravates your pain? What reduces it? Do you suffer from shortness of breath or fatigue? No one knows your symptoms better than you. Do your best to explain them in detail without exaggerating or minimizing. Do not omit or gloss over any lesser conditions just because you have one severe condition and several minor ones.
  • Physical restrictions. What can’t you do? Sit for lengthy periods? Stand and walk? Lift and carry? Bend, twist, kneel, and stoop? Manipulate objects with your hands? Social Security disability is a functional program. SSA will focus on your limitations rather than your diagnosis.
  • Effect of symptoms and restrictions. How does your medical condition affect your daily activities? Tell SSA about the impact on your personal care (hygiene, dressing, bathing), errands and housework (driving, shopping, cleaning), and social functioning (hobbies, sports, interaction with friends and family).
  • Documenting the Above.  If you have a claim for benefits pending it is extremely beneficial if you are keeping a written record of what you are doing physically, the problems with that activity, and your feelings associated with your medical conditions.  For some claimants they are able to keep a written diary that documents their efforts and experiences.  However, as more an more of us have cellular phones with voice recording, taking couple of seconds to records what is happening into you phone can also provide excellent documentation of the struggles associated with disability and poor health.

Consistency, accuracy, and honesty. Contradictions, errors, memory lapses, and discrepancies all work to erode your credibility, and nothing will sink your claim faster than questions about your truthfulness.  Throughout the process it is important to not just tell the truth but to tell the whole truth.


How can I apply for benefits? There are several different ways you can apply for Social Security disability benefits:

*Call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
*Visit SSA’s website and apply online.
*Go to your local SSA field office and file an application in person.
*Contact me for advice and assistance.