The Social Security process is a long and frustrating one; one that can take years before benefits are awarded. Prompt filing of initial applications and appeals and consulting with an attorney are important, but what more can a claimant do to help their case?
The one thing all claimants should do is continue to get treatment and keep appointments with their doctors. If you have a chronic illness and have not seen a doctor recently (i.e., within the last three months), schedule an appointment immediately. The disability determination will be made on the basis of your condition and if you have not been receiving treatment or been seen by a physician, those outdated medical records will not carry the day. If you are just making your first application for disability benefits, submit any and all medical records you have with your initial application.
If you begin to see a new doctor after your application or appeal, notify your representative or Social Security immediately. This holds true for any hospital stays, emergency room visits or testing (including X-rays and MRIs). Keeping your representative and Social Security up to date on your treatment can go a long way in shortening the time you have to wait for a decision.
Talking to your doctor about your application can also be beneficial to your case. In many instances, doctors are ready to assist a claimant in any way possible but they are unaware that the patient has applied for benefits. Keeping the lines of communication open regarding your application status is also useful when you need to request your doctor complete a Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) form. These forms are often requested by your representative to assist in your case by outlining your ability to perform work related tasks. On that same train of thought, do not be afraid to talk to your doctor about work and your ability to do it. While Social Security’s rules require that you be unable to work, discussing your former jobs in comparison with current symptoms and restrictions can provide valuable discussion in your medical records about your doctor’s impression of your ability to perform work related tasks. [This discussion can also be useful if you find benefits are denied because you will already have explored with your doctor what restrictions you are under.]
In addition to having open communication with your doctor, do not overlook the benefit of your own observations. You are your own best advocate when it comes to your day to day life. Keep a regular journal, whether daily, weekly or monthly that documents your condition and its affect on you. Describe limitations you encounter such as having to give up a hobby or reducing how far you can walk without having to rest. Be detailed; discuss the symptoms or side effects that cause you to abandon a particular hobby or the day-after soreness when you’ve pushed yourself too the limit. Keeping these notes can provide Social Security and your representative with a clear picture of how you maintain your day to day activities. You can also get your family and friends involved in this by asking them to write down what changes they’ve noticed in your activity level and personality. Remind them to be detailed and to discuss their observations in relation to your condition.
Finally, anyone who knows this process knows that it is long and frustrating. We understand the hardship endured by claimants and we are sympathetic that the process is quite unforgiving. The process, however, outlines the steps of the game known as Social Security and we are all bound by its rules. Be patient with Social Security and your representative. Try not to take out your frustrations on your representative and NEVER take them out on a Social Security employee; it will only hurt your case. That being said, stay involved in the process and contract your representative or Social Security every few months to check the status of your case. Most stages (other than having a hearing scheduled and receiving a written decision) take at least 90 days. Do not be offended if there is no change though; just knowing that your case hasn’t been forgotten can help ease some of the frustration.