If you experience an injury or develop a condition that keeps you from working, and you meet the strict criteria established by Social Security, you may be entitled to Social Security disability benefits. You are strongly encouraged to seek the help of an experienced disability benefits attorney who can guide you through the process from application to appeal to, hopefully, an award letter. As you explore your options, it is important to think about the documents you will need to assist you with filing a successful claim.
Before we discuss the specific documents that you need to prepare for your Social Security disability application, regardless of whether you are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), note two things: 1) Social Security usually wants originals or certified copies of documents (they will return the originals to you); and 2) if you have not located each document, do not let that stop you from applying—Social Security will assist you in locating them if you do not have them at the time of application.
At some point in the application process you will need to provide the following documents: proof of birth or birth certificate; W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns for the last year; proof of citizenship or lawful alien status (if not born in the United States); medical evidence you currently have in your possession (i.e., test results, doctor notes, medical records); United States military discharge papers if you served before 1968; settlement agreements, pay stubs, award letters, or proof of temporary or permanent receipt of workers’ compensation (or similar) benefits that you receive.
You will also need to have the following information on hand: names and dosages of medications you take; proof of your age; your Social Security number; a summary of the kind of work you previously performed and where you worked; the formal names of all your medical conditions; the dates of diagnoses; and the names, addresses, and phone numbers of case workers, hospitals, clinics, and doctors who treated you, as well as the dates of your visits, treatments, and/or surgeries.
You should also be prepared to provide Social Security with information for others who are aware of your conditions and the struggles they pose to your day-to-day existence. These people could be family, friends, or social workers. Make sure you know their full names, phone numbers, and addresses.
Beyond the above items, what you will need to provide to Social Security largely depends on your unique circumstances and the type of benefits for which you are applying. It is important to work closely with your attorney and with Social Security to answer any questions and provide any information that is requested of you.
The easiest way to get Social Security what it needs is to track down all available medical information. Here, an attorney’s assistance can be extremely beneficial. Your attorney and his or her legal staff are trained to request endless amounts of medical records, doctor notes, and test results, and they will continue to follow up with the offices and hospitals until the information is received. Having them do it instead of you can take a great deal of stress off of you during an already stressful time.
Many people wonder if obtaining a letter from their doctor will improve the chances of receiving a favorable decision. A letter from your doctor simply stating that you are disabled and unable to work is not sufficient. A detailed statement regarding your limitations and impairments, however, can go a long way in ultimately getting disability benefits.
A good doctor letter provides a detailed explanation of your situation that is supported by objective medical evidence, his or her opinion of what your limitations are, and an explanation of why and how he or she formed that opinion. This kind of a letter is called a medical source statement. Your doctor should also outline the formal diagnosis and onset date of your disability, the diagnostic procedures used to diagnose your condition, the treatments you have undergone to mitigate the effects of your illness or injury, including any side effects, the outlook for your condition, and the symptoms you suffer from, as well as an explanation of how these symptoms affect your ability to work.
Exactly what your doctor needs to provide depends on your unique circumstances. But the completion of a residual functional capacity (RFC) by your doctor can make a huge difference in your claim. An RFC is a detailed assessment of your ability to perform work-related activities given your injury and/or condition. Your RFC is the most you can do regularly and on a sustained basis.
If your doctor is completing a physical RFC, he or she should note the following: how far you can walk; how long you can sit down without interruption; how long you can stand without interruption; how much you can lift and how often; how much you can carry and how often; sensory limitations; environmental restrictions; and postural restrictions.
If your doctor is completing a mental RFC, he or she should note the following: your memory; whether you are reliable; how you react to authority figures; how you react to criticism; your ability to interact with co-workers; whether you can maintain appropriate dress and hygiene; how your condition affects your ability to concentrate; and your ability to understand, remember, and complete simple instructions.
It is possible that Social Security will not agree that your medical information supports your claim. If that is the case, Social Security will request that you appear for one or more consultative exams. These exams range from neurological tests to mental status exams to routine physicals. The results of these consultative exams will have great bearing on whether you are ultimately approved for benefits.