We have represented disabled men and women in hundreds of Social Security Disability hearings over many years. This experience gives us a strategic advantage when preparing for your Social Security Disability hearing, and it has also given us the wisdom and insight to know that you are single most important factor in winning your case at the hearing level.
How to Maximize Your Chances of Winning
This is because the real way to win a Social Security Disability hearing is in the preparation, even more so than what happens at the hearing itself.
It is almost always a very long wait from the time we file for a hearing to the day we actually get to make our argument before a Social Security Administration law judge. But this is far from idle time. The first step you should take, right away, is reading and rereading the denial letter you received from Social Security.
This denial letter usually contains three very important elements:
- The reasons you were denied
- An explanation why you were denied in terms of your age, education, medical impairments and vocational background
- The medical records in the possession of the Social Security Administration
The Social Security Administration uses more than 150 “listings,” which are simply a catalogue of different medical conditions. If your medical condition “meets or equals a listing,” you will be granted benefits without having to make further preparation or argument. However, in the event that you must continue to a hearing it is important to understand how to think about the concept of a disability in the way that Social Security does.
A disability is really a loss of functionality. That is, what, if any, work capacity do you retain after the administration considers your impairments? Your Residual Functional Capacity, or RFC, is used to decide whether you can return to your “past relevant work,” or if you can do “other work.”
This means that you should immediately make a list of your “past relevant work,” and remember what that work was. “Past relevant work” goes back 15 years, as long as the job lasted long enough for you to learn it, and as long as it was serious enough to be considered “substantial gainful activity.”
Keep Track of and Record Everything
It is important to have a complete recollection of your past relevant work because the administration, and ultimately the judge, will be considering that closely. You need to be able to discuss with your doctors the sort of activities you previously were able to carry out, to determine whether you are now disabled from carrying them out.
It is also important to immediately read and reread the denial letter to make sure that the administration has all your medical records; often decisions are made with only a partial medical record. A complete medical record gives the administration, and ultimately the judge, the most complete picture of your overall disabling medical conditions.
Continue Your Medical Treatment
Another way to prepare for your Social Security Disability hearing is to continue with your medical treatment as long as your doctors tell you to, and to talk to your doctors about your pain and limitations, and how they affect your daily activities, and about the sort of activities you carried out in your past jobs. It is very important that you not rely on your doctors to ask you the right questions, or to put all the necessary information in their notes. Remember that even when you have an experienced lawyer fighting for you, you must continue to be an active advocate for your rights. Doctors and their staff are very busy, but you must remind them how important your case is, and how important it is that you and your doctor keep talking about your limitations, and that he or she puts all that information down in your treatment notes.
Remember, Social Security is not looking at whether your doctors feel that you are disabled – that is a legal/administrative determination – but whether your doctors can document that you have functional impairments that affect your ability to carry out a job.
In addition, you should keep a journal with dates and entries for any recurrent headaches, seizures and respiratory attacks that may occur on a regular basis. If you attended any specialized school or had special tutoring needs you should try to get those records from your school.
The judge may also consider non-medical evidence, such as statements from your spouse, religious advisers or social workers familiar with your daily restrictions.
While your evidence at the administration is gathering and becoming complete, and you have your diary/journal, any supporting statements from non-medical people familiar with your case, a thorough written history of your relevant work, and medical evidence from your doctors that details the functional limitations in your daily activities caused by your medical condition(s) – you and your lawyer can then begin to work out the best strategy for approaching your Social Security Disability hearing.
So you can see how the correct preparation for a Social Security hearing is as important – if not even more important – than the actual hearing itself.