Filing for Disability? 15 Things You Need to Know

(Last Updated On: April 4, 2019)

If you’re interested in filing for disability with the Social Security Administration, then these tips will help!

There are several common mistakes that people make with their applications. If you can learn from their mistakes, you’ll have a much better chance of success!

Start your claim immediately.

Properly preparing a claim can take a lot of time. You won’t be ready to file your claim immediately, but you can start it in advance.

Your effective award date depends on the date you started filing for disability benefits. If you start your application today, you may be eligible for more back pay even if you don’t finish the application immediately.

This earlier start date is called a “protective filing fee.”

Document everything when you’re filing for disability.

It’s actually quite common for Social Security applicants to downplay their symptoms or underestimate the impact of their disabilities. When you’re filing for disability, you need to be very thorough with your documentation.

Be sure to list all of your relevant treatment records.

Medical evidence is the foundation of your claim and it’s critical to your success. Nevertheless, a significant number of Social Security claims are filed without complete treatment records.

Your records should go back at least until the time your disability began. Your records need to be substantial and detailed. If you have been diligent about your medical care, you should have a lot of records!

Obtain copies of your records and review them.

It can take a long time for the Social Security office to receive all your records If you obtain the records for them, you may be able to help expedite the case.

It is also beneficial to review your medical records before you submit them. Sometimes, medical records include negative information that can adversely affect your case. For example, a doctor may say that you are exaggerating or that you don’t have certain symptoms (even though you clearly do).

Once, my husband’s VA medical record indicated that he was an alcoholic even though he’s never had any alcohol in his entire life. Whoever entered the information had answered a yes/no question incorrectly, which resulted in this simple (but significant) mistake.

If you encounter negative information in your medical record, it may be helpful to consult with an attorney. You may benefit from submitting a clarifying statement or omitting that record entirely.

Get detailed about your past employment.

Since the office is supposed to determine whether or not you are too disabled to work, you need to explain your previous employment when filing for disability.

Go into detail about the tasks you were responsible for and why you are unable to continue doing those tasks. You should mention the skill level, attention to detail and physical strain that each and every task required. Be specific about how your condition limits your ability to do each task.

The examiner will look at all the types of work you’ve done in the last fifteen years before your disability. Explaining each role in detail may require a lot of time and effort, but it will be worth it.

Explain your disabilities clearly and in detail.

When filing for disability, it’s important to remember that the decision is made by people who aren’t living with a disability. You need to explain your situation clearly and in detail.

Before filing for disability, become acquainted with Spoon Theory.

If you haven’t already, read this explanation of Spoon Theory and how Christine Miserandino explained her unseen disability to a friend. Many people don’t understand how many spoons it takes to function at a basic level.

Spoon Theory is an excellent way to describe a disability to someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to live with a disability.

As you begin filing for disability, keep Spoon Theory in mind and focus on where you spend your spoons each day. Make sure you don’t overlook or underestimate the strain of basic activities as you complete your paperwork.

List each impairment individually and explain the medication, treatment and side effects.

Yes, many conditions have a great deal of overlap and many symptoms blend into one another. However, you need to make a clear and convincing case about the impact of your disabilities. In order to do this, you need to be very thorough.

For each condition and symptom, you should:

  • Describe the medical or mental impairment
  • List the medication or treatment for the impairment
  • Describe the impact and side effects of the medication/treatment
  • Explain how the impairment and treatment affect your ability to maintain substantial work activity.

Strengthen your claim with supporting statements.

If you can gather substantive statements while you’re filing for disability, it can make a huge difference in the outcome of your case. However, you need to make sure that you’re getting the right statements from the right people.

Get statements from professionals, not friends.

Focus on obtaining statements from physicians, former employers, caregivers, social workers, and other professionals who have firsthand knowledge about your disability. Many employers are hesitant to offer these kinds of letters, so be sure to ask former coworkers and supervisors as well. Any statements that can attest to your job performance or overall health from a professional standpoint are beneficial.

In most cases, letters from family and friends are completely ignored. Unless your family/friend provides care or is otherwise involved in your disability, their statement is probably based on secondhand information and isn’t going to help.

Press for details.

Encourage those who are providing statements about you to include specific examples about your job performance, functional impairments and disability. The more specific they are, the more meaningful their statements will be. Ideally, you want to ensure that all statements indicate that you are unable to work because of the limitations of your disability.

Get them notarized if possible.

If possible, ask the people writing statements on your behalf to notarize those statements. This isn’t required but it does provide clear verification of authenticity. This may help your case.

Submit them to a lawyer first.

Before you submit these statements to the Social Security office, be sure to have a lawyer review them first. Certain statements may do more harm than good. A competent lawyer should review all of the letters to prevent any accidental damage to your case.

Be proactive while your claim is processing.

Start planning your appeal immediately. Since about 70% of initial claims are denied, it’s important to plan ahead.

Be diligent about your medical care. 

It will help your case if you go to the doctor often, follow-up with all requested testing, visit the recommended specialty providers and take your medication as directed.

During your appointments, clearly explain your limitations to your provider. Describe, in detail, how your condition affects your daily life. Many providers document this information, which makes it part of your medical record and strengthens your case.

If your medical record shows that you aren’t following your doctor’s instructions or that you are neglecting your own treatment, this will work against you in your claim.

Keep a journal.

You can submit journal entries with your claim. When you’re filing for disability, it helps to have a journal that can document your disability.

How often did you have headaches or seizures? How severe were your symptoms? Pain can be very subjective, so describe it in detail. What triggered your symptoms? How did you adapt?

The more information that you can document, and the more specific you can be, the better.

Expedite your claim with these Social Security tips.

Doesn’t everyone want their claim to move a little faster? Sometimes, the disability claims process moves unbearably slow. These strategies may help your paperwork move a little faster.

Get updates often.

Calling frequently for updates may help expedite your claim. After all, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!

Remember to document every interaction you have with the Social Security office. Write down who you spoke to, what time/date it was and what they said.

Call your Congressperson. 

If you reach out to your elected Congressperson, you may be able to get some help expediting your claim. It’s not guaranteed to work, but sometimes it can have a great impact on the speed of your case.

Of course, you need to start by finding the contact information for your elected Representatives and Senators. You can contact them over the phone, through email or through regular postal mail. I generally recommend submitting your initial contact over email and then following up with a phone call within a few days.

Explain that you have been waiting for your disability hearing for a long time and that you are in rather desperate financial circumstances. Give a brief, concise overview of your case. Ask them to follow up with a Congressional inquiry about the delay.

Appeal, Appeal and Never Give Up!

It’s sickening but true: Over 70% of SSDI claims are initially denied. Only 30-40% of claims are rejected after your first appeal.

Although you should expect your initial claim to be denied, you should also be persistent in following the appeals process. The more you fight for it, the more likely you are to win. That’s why so many claimants benefit from having a disability lawyer.

If you miss your appeal deadline, you will have to file a new claim. Once again, you’ll be back in the queue where 70% of claims are usually denied.

Appeals have a much greater chance of winning. However, in order to file an appeal, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t miss that very important deadline!

Learn more about disability benefits here!



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