Gearing up to Apply For Social Security
No one should file for disability without getting organized first. You might be amazed and overwhelmed with the amount of information Social Security will ask you for as part of your application. It’s better to gather everything before you file so you will have the requested info at the ready as soon as they ask you for it. Here is some of the information we tell our clients to gather before we file their application:
- A list of every doctor you have seen for the past five years. This is extremely important. If you don’t tell Social Security about a doctor, they won’t know to order records from that doctor. When making a list of your doctors, leave no stone unturned. Include any hospitals where you’ve received treatment (including ER visits), chiropractors, counselors/therapists, and specialists. Do not try to gather all of your medical records yourself before you file. Not only is this expensive and time-consuming for you, but we’ve seen many instances where a client has spent a ton of time and effort gathering up their medical records on their own and taken or sent them to the Social Security office thinking that will speed up their case, but the records end up getting lost, mislabeled, or overlooked. Social Security has their own process for obtaining your medical records. Let them follow that process.
- A list of all the medications you are taking. If you regularly use the same pharmacy, you can request a printout from them with this information.
- Information about all marriages, past and present, that lasted at least ten years. Social Security asks for this information because some people might be eligible to draw benefits from an ex-spouse or a spouse who has passed away, which can sometimes lead to a higher monthly benefit. You will need the spouse’s name, social security number, and birthday as well as the date of marriage and city/state you were married in, and the date of divorce or death of the spouse.
- A list of every full-time job you have held in the last fifteen years. This is also extremely important, especially for people who are 50 or older who might be eligible for disability under the Grid rules, which we will discuss in a later blog post. Do not include part-time jobs or jobs that you only worked for a month or two.
But Do I Really Need A Lawyer For This, Though?
Another thing to consider before you file is whether or not to hire an attorney to handle the application for you. Many people assume that an attorney will not want to get involved in your case until your case is on appeal. This isn’t true. While some law firms still don’t handle disability applications, many do, including our office. We also regularly talk to people who want to file the application on their own and see what happens before getting a lawyer involved. Often, these same people end up calling us back months later and becoming clients once their application is denied. You should strongly consider hiring a lawyer and letting them file your application for you. There are many benefits to this:
- A lawyer will make sure that all of the information you are submitting is complete, which gives you a better chance of being approved quickly.
- A lawyer can file your application on your behalf online. You don’t even have to be present—your attorney can gather all the necessary information from you over the phone and file your application online for you in less than an hour. I personally believe that going down to the Social Security office and applying for benefits in person is a bad idea. The Social Security employee you are meeting with may make observations about your appearance or demeanor and note them in your case file. We have taken plenty of cases where the client applied in person before they hired us and then we find something like this written in their case file: “this person was walking fine and didn’t seem to be in any pain” or “her nails were done and her hair was fixed” or “he did not appear to be uncomfortable and was able to recall all the requested information.” Obviously, these kinds of notes and impressions can you’re your case. Don’t give Social Security any more ammo to rule against you by letting an agency employee with no medical training make judgments about your appearance or demeanor. Applying online is the way to go.
- Your attorney will follow up with Social Security to make sure your case doesn’t slip through the cracks. As we will cover in a future post, your application has to go through several steps before it arrives on the desk of the person who will ultimately decide whether or not you can draw benefits. Oftentimes, the case won’t make it where it needs to go without calling Social Security and hounding them a bunch. If your case slips through the cracks and enough time passes by, you will have no choice but to start completely over months later and will lose valuable time in the process, ultimately delaying your chance to draw benefits. An attorney will stay on top of Social Security to make sure your application is moving along like it’s supposed to.
- Your attorney will receive copies of all of the same paperwork that you do and can help hold you accountable on deadlines and advise you on how to complete paperwork. Once your case makes it to the person who will analyze it to see if you are disabled, Social Security will send you various paperwork that has to be completed on a deadline. Your attorney will receive copies of everything that you do. We have had many clients hire us after their application was denied, only to learn that they had been denied due to “insufficient evidence” and “failure to cooperate” because the client hadn’t turned in the paperwork like Social Security asked them to. A lawyer can help you stay on top of the paperwork and make sure this doesn’t happen. A lawyer can also advise you on how to complete some of the paperwork so that you have the best chance of getting your application approved quickly.
- If your application is denied, your attorney will receive a copy of the denial and can therefore appeal it immediately, which may speed up the process.
- Attorney fees might be much lower if your case gets approved at the application stage. Hiring an attorney won’t cost you any money up front. By federal law, disability attorneys’ fees are set at 25% of your past due benefits but can never be any more than $6000. People are often hesitant to hire an attorney for their application because they don’t want to have any attorney fees deducted from their past due benefits when they feel like maybe they could handle it on their own. But most people who are filing for disability have only recently stopped working anyway, and Social Security does not pay SSDI benefits for the first five full months that a person is out of work (that’s a whole other blog post too). So if your case gets approved at the application stage after just a few months of being out of work, you will have accumulated very little, if any, back pay and the attorney’s fee will therefore be either zero or a small amount. If you file your application without the help of an attorney, you run a greater risk of being denied for the reasons already discussed and your case will take much longer to resolve, leading to a higher attorney’s fee in the end and less back pay for your pocket.
Our office often files applications for clients who are approved quickly, aren’t entitled to any back pay yet, and we don’t receive a fee. We are happy when our clients get approved quickly, even if that means we don’t get a fee. It’s good karma!
After you have submitted your application for disability benefits (hopefully electronically), you may think all you have to do is sit back and wait for Social Security to make a decision on your claim. Wrong! Before Social Security will even begin to look at your disabilities, your case has to make it through several hurdles. Unfortunately, this isn’t always as simple as it seems. After we have submitted the application with all of the appropriate information, the next step is all about making sure your claim gets to the right place as quickly as possible.