There are things that definitely help your chances of receiving a favorable decision in your claim. Five of my favorites are as follows:
1. Take your time in choosing an attorney and/or representative to represent you in your matter. Again, the process from start to finish is long and taxing to say the least. In most cases, it is a time of not only physical stress, but emotional and financial stress as well. Your emotions will run high, and it is important that both personalities (yours and your attorney) are compatible with each other. In order words, you are engaging in a professional relationship with your attorney, so make sure you both can work together.
Although your attorney/representative is the expert in the field of disability, it is important that you understand how the process works as well. I disagree with the saying “knowledge is power.” While that may be true to a certain degree, I believe that acting on the knowledgeable is more powerful. By you knowing the basics, you will automatically prevent some of the frustrations normally experienced by claimants. Ask as many questions as you need in order to get to the point where you feel comfortable with your attorney’s knowledge and his/her ability to handle your matter.
2. It is critical that you are completely honest with your attorney/representative. It is extremely hard for even the most skilled attorney to implement a strategy with only parts of information. It is your responsibility to answer all of your attorney’s questions truthfully. Some critical information that your attorney needs to know are things such as prior medical history, previous psychiatric history and treatment, and a true depiction of wages earned past and present. A rule of thumb to follow is to tell your attorney/representative everything. They are trained to know which information is needed. In other words, they can weed through the information and only use what is needed. By being up front with your attorney, he/she can develop a strategy that works in your best interest.
3. You must always appeal a non-favorable decision. I have talked about the need to file a “Request for Reconsideration” within 60 days from the date of the unfavorable decision. Social Security has absolutely no tolerance for late filings. A rule of thumb is to have your paperwork completed and mailed around the 45th day. This allows time for processing. Remember that weekends and holidays count in the 60-day rule.
4. Complete and detailed records. I have previously explained the need for complete records. Your records are your voice. They tell your story. Up until the time that you have a hearing, you have no opportunities, other than through your medical records and file, to convey your story. Having incomplete medical records is like reading a book with missing chapters. The chapters (your medical records) will not support each other and at best will leave the reader with many unanswered questions. Take the time to ensure that the office handling your matter has ALL the records. You can request a listing of the records that are in your file by contacting the social security office where you filed your claim. It is worth every minute it takes to review the records that social security has on file for you. Previously, I spoke on the need to make sure that the supplemental records are filed with the correct office, that being the one that has your file. Do not be afraid to ask both your attorney and the disability office questions. They are used to it and are glad to help to you.
See a specialist. General physicians are great doctors and their work contributes in volumes to a healthier world. Chiropractors are equally as great and their work often alleviates pain and discomfort when all other treatment fails. However, if your medical condition warrants additional testing by a specialist, then schedule an appointment immediately. For instance, nerve damage patients will require testing by physicians specializing in nerve damage as well as other doctors specializing in bone health, etc. Most all diseases cause emotional distress. More often than not, individuals with RSD, Fibromyalgia, and other debilitating diseases (for example) require the need for psychologist/psychiatrist services. Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for these services if you need them. These type professionals help individuals with the mental aspect of dealing with continuous chronic pain. Another example is individuals who suffer from migraines. They may start their treatment with their general physician, but also need to the services of a neurologist and perhaps even an optometrist as their condition progresses.
If you are in doubt whether you need to see a specialist, ask your attorney. He/She is the expert. They are well-versed in those things needed to substantiate your disability claim.
*On a procedural front, numbers three, four and five can either make or break a disability case.