Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Common Mistakes When Applying for SS

Are you pursuing a Social Security disability claim? The process of applying for disability can be a lengthy process, avoid these costly mistakes so you don't end up dragging your case out further, or even worse, getting denied!

1) Incomplete Records- One of the most important, if not the most important, piece of information you and your representative will provide to the Social Security Administration is your medical records.  It is important that you frequently see your treating physician(s) and obtain documentation related to your visits.  A representative can help you both obtain your medical records and ensure that they are forwarded during any stage of your application.

2) Lack of Specificity-  Many claimants will say something in their application like, “I just sit and watch TV all day.”  While this statement seems reasonable, it will be interpreted by the Social Security Administration to mean that you could sit and answer phones all day instead for gainful employment.  It is important on your application to be as specific as possible related to what you can actually do.  So instead of saying, “I sit and watch TV all day” you should explain how long you can sit in one place without having to lay down, stand up, or readjust.  Be sure not to exaggerate the extent of your disability as this can cause a judge to be suspicious of an otherwise legitimate claim.

3) Loss of Contact With The Social Security Administration- Many applications are denied simply because The Social Security Administration is unable to find the claimant.  It is very important that you notify your representation and the SSA of any change of address or contact information or you may be denied Disability Benefits simply because you missed some form or update.

4) Drug and Alcohol Abuse-  You may be denied Social Security Disability Benefits if drug or alcohol is a contributing factor to your disability.  It is important that you do not abuse substances in order to qualify for benefits.

5)  Not Taking Medication or Following Up Treatments When Filing a Disability Claim- When applying for Social Security Disability it is crucial that you take your medications as prescribed. If you are not taking the medications that are prescribed to you by your doctor then it will be very hard for an examiner to determine whether or not your condition is actually severe enough to warrant Social Security Disability benefits. In some cases, a Social Security Disability applicant will refrain from getting or following medical treatments, thinking that the treatment will interfere with the severity of their condition and may prevent them from obtaining the disability benefits they need. The fact of the matter is that the Social Security examiner reviewing your claim will also review your treatment history

6)  Filing a New Disability Application- It is very important to file an appeal within 60 days of your letter of decision if you are denied your initial request for Social Security Disability benefits. Many people make the mistake of filing a new disability claim rather than appealing the original one. Your chances of successfully obtaining Social Security Disability benefits are much greater if you go through the appeals process rather than just starting over from scratch with a brand new application.

7) Giving Up-  Unfortunately the process of applying and obtaining Social Security Disability Benefits is often times a long one.  Often it will take over 2 years from the time of initial application until benefits are awarded!  Even if your initial application is denied, with the help of your representation you will have many more chances of being awarded benefits (including an official appeals process and eventually the opportunity to state your case in front of an Administrative Law Judge).  It is very important you continue to stay in contact with your representative and the SSA as well as continue to see your doctors, though the process may be long eventually you will be able to win your benefits!

Evaluating Severity of Mental Impairments

 When evaluating the severity of mental impairments, SSA must follow a specific technique at each level in the administrative review process.  The technique is meant to:
  1. identify the need for additional evidence to determine impairment severity, 
  2. consider and evaluate functional consequences of the mental disorder as relating to ability to work, 
  3. and to present findings in a clear and consistent manner.
SSA first evaluates pertinent symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings to determine whether a medically determinable mental impairment is present. If determined that a medically determinable mental impairment exists, SSA must specify the symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings that substantiate the presence of the impairment and document findings.

Rating the Degree of Functional Limitation
The degree of functional limitation resulting from the impairment is then rated.  Assessment of functional limitations is a "highly individualized process" that requires consideration of all relevant evidence to obtain a picture of overall degree of functional limitation. All relevant clinical signs and laboratory findings are considered, along with the effects of symptoms, and how ability to function may be affected by factors such as chronic mental disorders, structured settings, medication, and other treatment.
The degree of functional limitation is based on the extent to which one's impairment interferes with ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis. 
  1. Thus, such factors as the quality and level of overall functional performance, 
  2. recurrence of episodes, 
  3. the amount of supervision or assistance one requires,
  4. and the settings in which one is able to function must all be considered.
SSA has identified four broad functional areas in which to rate the degree of functional limitation: Activities of daily living, social functioning concentration, persistence, or pace, and episodes of decompensation.

The first three functional areas are rated using a five-point scale:
None, mild, moderate, marked, and extreme.
The degree of limitation in the fourth functional area is rated using a four-point scale: None, one or two, three, four or more.
The last point on each scale represents a degree of limitation that is incompatible with the ability to do any gainful activity.

Determining the Severity of a Mental Impairment
If the degree of one's limitation in the first three functional areas is "none" or "mild" and "none" in the fourth area, the conclusion is one's impairment is "not severe," unless evidence indicates there is more than a minimal limitation in ability to do basic work activities.

If one's mental impairment is severe, it is then determined whether it meets or equals a listed mental disorder. This is done by comparing the medical findings and rating the degree of functional limitation to the criteria of the relevant listing. At the initial and reconsideration levels of the administrative review process, the presence or absence of the criteria and the rating of the degree of functional limitation is recorded on a standard document, known as the Psychiatric Review Technique.

The decision must also include a specific finding as to the degree of limitation in each of the functional areas described above.
If determined that a severe mental impairment neither meets or equals a listing, one's residual functional capacity is then assessed at step four of the sequential evaluation process, as in any other case