5.2 How to Strengthen Your Case
What Can I Do To Strengthen My Case?
Kirsten Jansen, Esq.
The most important factor in winning your disability claim is your medical evidence. The strength of your case is determined primarily by (1) your medical treatment records and diagnostic evidence, including evidence such as x-rays, MRI’s and blood work results, or, in the cases of psychiatric impairments, your treatment and progress notes; and (2) the medical opinions from your doctors and therapists that describe the limitations that reasonably result from your medical impairments, as well as the opinions of social security medical personnel. For this reason, it is important that you seek regular treatment for your conditions. It is also important that you get opinions from your doctors indicating why it is your symptoms prevent your from working. It is not enough to establish that you have depression, back pain, asthma, or diabetes; you must prove that these conditions cause symptoms that are severe enough to keep you from working.
For example, if you are alleging disability due to depression, bi-polar disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and/or other similar psychiatric conditions, you may not be able to maintain the focus and concentration required for most jobs, and/or you may not be able to attend to a regular schedule. You may have anger issues that prevent your from interacting appropriately with others. To strengthen your disability case and put you in the best possible position to win your case, our firm will send you mental capacity assessment forms to take to your treating psychiatrists and therapists. These forms can be extremely helpful to your claim. Social security adjudicators are required under the law to give your treatment providers controlling weight if their opinions are well supported by the diagnostic and clinical evidence and are not inconsistent with the other substantial medical evidence. (https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-1527.htm) If your treatment providers complete these forms in a supportive fashion, meaning that they identify serious limitations in areas of concentration, social functioning, persistence and adaptation, you are in a much better position to win your case. Single statements from your doctor that you are “disabled,” or “unable to work,” though helpful, are not typically enough to win your case. Social security adjudicators need to know what limitations you have from your medical conditions that make you “disabled,” which is why the forms that we send to both you and your treatment providers are so critical to your case.
Similarly, when you have physical impairments such as spine impairments, arthritis, cancer, HIV, carpal tunnel syndrome, heart conditions, asthma, uncontrolled diabetes, or some other physical condition, which conditions result in significant limitations in your ability to sit or stand for a full day’s work, lift, use your hands, attend work on a regular basis, etc., we will send you a residual functional capacity assessment form to take to your doctors, physical therapists, and other treatment providers. These forms allow your doctors to provide their opinions as to how long you can sit in a day, how long you can stand, whether or not you would need breaks, whether or not you would be able to maintain a schedule, among other areas of functioning. Again, these forms, if completed supportively by your doctors, are extremely helpful to your case.
We recognize that it is not always possible to get your doctors to complete these forms. However, many doctors are willing to write brief paragraphs that detail your medical conditions and the symptoms and limitations caused by these conditions. When your doctors provide support that would indicate your symptoms would prevent you from sustaining full time employment, and they offer details concerning how your symptoms limit you, these opinions significantly strengthen your case. Again, the more specific your doctors can be as to how your symptoms prevent you from performing any full time job, the better it is for your case.
Keep in mind that if you are younger than 50 years of age, you must prove that your medical conditions prevent you not only from doing the work that you performed in the past, but also from performing any job whatsoever in the economy on a full time basis. Your treatment records and the opinions from your doctors and therapists are the most important factors in your claim, so if you get regular treatment and your doctors’ opinions would indicate that you cannot work, you are putting yourself in the best possible position to win your disability case.
Finally, there are other little things you can do to strengthen your disability case. Your family members and friends are often times in a good position to comment on how your medical conditions have affected your ability to do things around the house, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and childcare. These are what social security calls “activities of daily living.” In most cases, your medical conditions have affected your ability to do these things. The people closest to you typically see you regularly, and may have seen your mood swings or depressed states or may have witnessed the limitations caused by your back pain, and so on. Try to get letters from the people who help you with these things, including, spouses, children, siblings and neighbors. Ask them to document the changes they have seen in you since your illness, and why it is they must help you with these activities of daily living. Though these letters are not nearly as important as the opinions from your doctors and therapists, they are nonetheless evidence that adjudicators must consider.
By seeking regular treatment and getting support for your case from your doctors, therapists, and other medical treatment providers, you are building the strength of your case and putting yourself in the best possible position to win your disability case.