Filing a claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits can be a long and complicated process. The Social Security Administration will require you to complete an application, fill out multiple questionnaires, and may even send you to see an independent medical provider in order to obtain their opinion as to whether you qualify to receive disability benefits. In order to improve your chances of being approved for Social Security Disability Insurance or SSI, you need to avoid the common mistakes that most claimants make in the fight to obtain benefits.
Common Mistakes to Avoid in Your Claim for Social Security Disability Benefits
Here are the top 10 mistakes Social Security Disability claimants make (and that you should avoid) during the Social Security disability benefits application and claim process:
- Failing to allege all of your severe impairments while filing your application for benefits,
- Failing to obtain treatment with any doctor or failing to follow doctor’s orders, including failure to take medication as prescribed,
- Failing to switch doctors when your doctor does not support your disability claim,
- Abusing alcohol and/or drugs (prescription and street),
- Continuing to work full time when applying for Social Security Disability Insurance or SSI,
- Collecting unemployment while applying for Social Security Disability Insurance or SSI,
- Failing to periodically check the status of your SSDI or SSI claim, even after long periods of time,
- Missing the deadline to file an appeal of a denial,
- Failing to properly prepare for a Social Security Disability Hearing before the Administrative Law Judge, or ALJ, and
- Assuming that you cannot afford to hire a Social Security Disability Attorney to represent you.
Failure to Allege All Impairments on Your Application
Failing to allege all of your severe impairments while filing your application for benefits, including mental conditions, is one of the most common mistakes made when a person is filing a disability benefits claim. Some claimants will have multiple conditions which contribute to an inability to work, but they only list their most severe condition on the application for disability benefits. You should list all of the physical or mental conditions (including emotional or learning problems) that are related to your ability to work, not just your most severe conditions. Social Security will evaluate all of your conditions. If you have already made this mistake, you can also list your additional conditions on any appeals that may be necessary.
Failure to Obtain Treatment or Follow Doctor’s Orders
Another common mistake is failure to obtain treatment or failing to follow your physician’s recommended treatment plan. Failure to obtain medical treatment means there will be few medical records to support the claim, and the SSA may determine that you are not disabled since you do not require regular treatment.
It is also important that you follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan. When you fail to follow treatment recommended by an attending physician, then you are considered to be “non-compliant”, and your non-compliance will be noted in the medical evidence. You will have the best chance of winning your disability claim if you are in a position to testify that you still continue to suffer from a severe impairment despite doing everything your healthcare provider has asked of you.
Failure to Switch Doctors When Your Doctor Does Not Support Your Claim
Your doctor needs to have a good understanding of your symptoms and limitations, and how those symptoms and limitations prevent you from working. If you believe that you are disabled and your doctors do not support your disability claim, or will not fill out paperwork in support of your claim, then you should seek out different medical providers.
You may be worried that this will be considered “doctor shopping”. When we talk about doctor shopping, we are not talking about people who are looking for a second opinion on a diagnosis, or who are seeking out a medical provider that is willing to complete a Residual Functional Capacity form. We are talking about people who spend time searching for doctors that agree with them on their diagnosis and often will prescribe them the medications that they request.
An example of this would be a person who thinks they have rheumatoid arthritis, but their primary care doctor says they do not. If this person continues to consult with multiple doctors until they get a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, this would be considered doctor shopping.
Drug and Alcohol Abuse
Abusing drugs and alcohol is a problem because the Social Security Administration may deny disability benefits if it finds such use is a “material contributing factor” to your disability. You or your attorney will need to prove that you are disabled as a result of your medical conditions and that any drug or alcohol abuse does not contribute to your disability. Treating the underlying substance abuse disorder may also improve your chances of being approved to receive a monthly disability benefit.
This one should be obvious, but some claimants submit an application for benefits while they are still working on a full-time basis. If a claimant is earning a certain amount of money per month, then he or she may be considered to be gainfully employed, and thus not eligible for benefits. To learn what the Social Security Administration considers “substantial gainful activity” (SGA), see our article on the SGA earnings limits for disability.
While seeking disability benefits your situation may change, causing you to reduce work activity or stop working altogether. If so, be sure to provide updated information to the SSA. If your claim is denied, provide updated information during the appeals process.
Another one of the most common mistakes in an SSDI claim is filing for unemployment benefits. When filing a claim for unemployment benefits you will have to indicate that you are capable of working, but you simply cannot find work. However, this statement directly contradicts what you would claim in a Social Security Disability claim, which is that you are unable to work due to your symptoms and resulting limitations. You cannot claim that you are both capable of work and disabled.
Failure to Check the Status of Your Disability Benefit Claim
It is important that you check the status of your claim to make sure your file hasn’t slipped through the cracks or been buried on a desk somewhere at your local SSA office. There have also been cases where the SSA sends denial letters to the wrong address by mistake, and the claimants had no idea that their claims had been denied, that it was necessary to file an appeal, or how to start the appeals process.
Missing Appeal Deadlines
If your claim is denied you have 60 days from the date you received the denial letter to file an appeal. As a general rule, the SSA assumes that a claimant receives the letter 5 days after the date of the letter. If you miss your appeal deadline you may have to start the process over. If you have a good reason for missing your deadline the SSA may allow late filing of the appeal. If not, you will have to submit a new application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. The best practice is to make sure any appeals are filed within 60 days from the date of the denial letter.
Failure to Properly Prepare for Hearings
One of the most important aspects of preparing for a hearing is to obtain medical evidence to which demonstrates that you are disabled under the SSA law. The judge will also ask you questions about your educational history, your past work, and your limitations, so be prepared to discuss these topics.
At Ortiz Law Firm, we take hearing preparation very seriously. Each client receives access to the Disability Academy online training program, which includes over 5 hours of video content to help prepare you for your disability hearing. We also schedule a pre-hearing conference with your attorney so that you have an opportunity to discuss your claim prior to the hearing.
Assuming You Cannot Afford to Hire an Attorney
Many claimants think that they cannot afford to hire an attorney that is an expert in disability law, but that is not the case. In most situations, you will not have to pay any attorney fees upfront. Most attorneys that practice in this area of law use contingency fee contracts, meaning they only get paid if your claim for benefits is successful. Most attorneys will only collect a fee equal to 25% of the past-due benefits awarded by Social Security (up to a maximum of $7,200), so you do not have to worry about owing more than you receive in benefits. You can also read our full report on how disability attorney fees work.
Schedule a Free Case Evaluation With the Ortiz Law Firm
The experienced legal team at Ortiz Law Firm is ready to fight for the benefits you deserve. We represent Social Security Disability claimants nationwide and accept claims at each stage of the trial phase, including initial applications for benefits, requests for reconsideration, and hearings before an ALJ. Led by Social Security Disability lawyer Nick A. Ortiz, our firm will help you obtain the disability benefits you have been seeking. Contact our office online or call us today at (888) 321-8131 to schedule a free case evaluation.