There are literally hundreds of different factors that impact the likelihood of winning your disability case. Everything from your age to the current mood of the disability judge deciding your case will play a role in whether or not you win. For this reason, it is important that you work with an experienced attorney who will know which of these many factors are most significant in your unique situation. An experienced Social Security attorney will be able to give you customized advice based on your specific situation.
Factors That Are Within Your Control
It is important to recognize that you have no control over many of the factors that will determine the outcome of your case (e.g. the judge assigned to your case, or your past work history). Likewise, there are other factors that you have a great deal of control over. Many of these factors play a very important role over whether you win or lose. I always advise clients to focus on the things that (1) they can control and (2) that will make the biggest difference on whether or not their case is approved. I find that the following five tips are almost universally applicable to all my clients trying to obtain Social Security Benefits. If you faithfully follow this advice then you will give your attorney much more ammunition to win your disability benefits:
- Go to the doctor as much as possible. When you present your case for getting disability benefits you will certainly have your own testimony that will demonstrate why you are unable to work. However, as the saying goes, “talk is cheap.” SSA will expect a doctor to backup the things you say. The best way to support your claim is showing how often you have to get medical treatment.
- Get the best type of treatment possible. Getting lots of medical treatment is very helpful. However, not all medical treatment is created equal. SSA will respect some types of treatment more than others. I generally group types of treatment into three categories: Good, Better, & Best
- Therapy (Physical, Occupational, etc...)
- Psychiatric Counseling
- PCP visits
- ER visits
- Specialist Visits
- Surgery or Surgical Recommendation
The reason therapy and psychiatric counseling fall into the “good” category is because of the type of medical professionals usually involved are perceived by the government as credible but less objective. The “best treatment” types are the opposite, they usually involve medical professionals with higher credentials and are perceived as more objective. They also represent an escalation of treatment, which is usually directly related to the severity of a person’s condition (i.e. how disabled they are).
- Do everything you can to live a healthy lifestyle. This advice has everything to do with your credibility. If you are disabled due to insulin-dependent diabetes but the doctors note that your diet is terrible, a judge is going to wonder if your problems are due to your poor diet rather than your diabetes. Judges like to see a person that is doing everything in their power to get better. Therefore it is important that you are able to walk into your hearing and tell the judge all the things you are doing on your own to get better (e.g. living a healthy lifestyle, following all doctor’s orders, doing the home exercises prescribed to you, meditating, etc…).
- Ask your doctor to fill out a Medical Source Statement. If a doctor has treated you for an extensive period of time, then their medical opinions can be very useful to a disability judge. However, it is important to remember that your doctor only has the expertise to describe your limitations. As hard as it is to believe, your doctor does not have the qualifications to say that you are disabled, so any simple statements like “unable to work,” or “patient is disabled,” carry almost no weight with a disability judge. Your attorney should be able to provide forms that will help your doctor describe your limitations in a way that is helpful for a disability judge.
- Try to return to work. Judges like to see people who are doing everything they can to return to work. This is especially important for people under 50 and do not have a long work history. If you try to go back to work, you might find a job that can accommodate your disabilities, in which case you don’t need disability. But if you have tried to return to work and failed, then you will be able to go in front of the judge and honestly explain that you have done everything you could to try to go back to work.
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A few years ago I saw this strategy work in dramatic fashion. We had a client who was denied by a Judge. He reapplied for disability. While his new case proceeded, he tried to do the specific jobs the previous judge said he could do. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to return to work. When he went in for his second hearing he explained to the new judge, “At the last hearing the judge denied my case saying that I can do these three jobs. I said to myself, ‘okay I’ll go do those jobs.’ I went and tried those jobs and wasn't able to complete them because…” He went on to explain how despite his best efforts he couldn’t hold any of the jobs. The new judge was very impressed with his efforts and approved his case.