We have many clients come to us suffering with back pain who can no longer work because they can’t sit at a desk or stand for any length of time, walk far, or cannot lift much. These clients are ready to apply for Social Security Disability. Sam was one of these clients. He had been working for a grocery store, stocking shelves. When his back problems became too severe to lift the heavy boxes, he was transferred to customer service, which was less physical; however, he still found the pain of standing or sitting to help customers, was overwhelming.
As his attorney, I told Sam what we needed to build his case so a disability adjudicator or administrative law judge would rule in his favor. This evidence included:
- Diagnostic test results such as an MRI or CAT scan showing disc herniation, spinal nerve root impingement, spinal stenosis, or other abnormalities;
- Treatment notes from one or more doctors, preferably specialists, dating back months or years (“alternative” treatments such as chiropractic, or other holistic care does not hold much weight with SSD judges);
- Evidence that conservative treatments such as physical therapy or epidural injections had not worked;
- Evidence Sam had been told he needed surgery or already had surgery that did not relieve his pain;
- Proof he had been referred for long-term pain management.
- Statements from his doctors giving limitations that are below sedentary work.
We also needed Sam’s work history to show he had been working and contributing to Social Security for at least 20 quarters of the previous 10 years. It helped that Sam had been working for the same company for 18 years because ALJs look most favorably on workers who have been employed consistently for 15, 20, 25 or more years. Lastly, we needed the story behind Sam’s pain. When did it start? What caused it? Was it the result of an accident or long-term wear and tear?
Clients who show they have tried to work through their pain and really do not want to be labeled, “disabled,” are more successful than those who appear reluctant to try to work. Those who can show they have symptoms that prevent them from carrying out simple everyday activities and that they have experienced these symptoms over months or years suggests their impairments are serious and permanent. They may have muscle atrophy, foot drop, numbness and tingling, or pain radiating into their legs. Often, clients with back pain also develop other conditions such as depression, anxiety, diabetes, and heart problems, which also make it difficult for them to work.
In Sam’s case, we were able to prove he could not work at any simple, entry-level job due to the day-to-day effects of his back pain. Sam’s age, 48, made it more difficult to prove his disability, so it became critical that we show he had extremely serious orthopedic and neurological problems. Fortunately, the ALJ who heard Sam’s case recognized the vocational limitations he faced and the fact he would really have preferred to be able to work until he reached retirement age.
Proving a disability claim for back pain, especially for someone who is younger than 50, is a complex and demanding process. If you suffer from back pain and can no longer work, you’ll find that retaining an experienced attorney is well worthwhile.
If you or someone you know can no longer work due to an illness or injury, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC are available for a consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-343-8537. Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys has been handling Social Security Disability claims for more than 38 years.