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What to Say When You File Your
Application for Social Security Disability

   Although there is no cost or difficulty involved in filing for disability with the Social Security Administration, you may be wondering exactly what it is that you should say when you actually have a Social Security claims representative on the line.

   After all, there is not really a written set of instructions about the Social Security claims process and most people make the difficult decision to file after either a medical crisis or because a doctor has suggested that Social Security disability might be a good idea.

If you have not yet filed (and even if you have) it is helpful to have a clear idea in your mind about how to communicate with Social Security:

  • Be aware that when you meet with or speak to an SSA claims rep, the rep will write down exactly what you say.  Thus, you can help yourself build a solid and consistent record
  • if you meet with a Social Security claims rep in person, the rep will write down his or her impression on the internal SSA form that becomes part of your claims file. Thus, if you claim to be in extreme pain, but your demeanor and attitude are not consistent with someone in great pain, that will be noted for the record.
  • If you remember nothing else about Social Security disability, recognize that your disability case is primarily about your ability to work.   Every bit of information your provide to Social Security should address your work capacity issues.  Your medical diagnosis, while important, is actually less important than the mental and physical activity limitations that arise from that diagnosis.   For example, if you have a herniated disc in your back, but it does not prevent you from sitting all day with occasionally breaks to stretch, you may not be found disabled.  By contrast, if you have irritable bowel syndrome that flares up three days a week, and results in your having to use the restroom for ten minutes at a time every 30 minutes, your probably will be found disabled.  No jobs permit unscheduled breaks totaling 20 minutes an hour, but there are plenty of jobs that offer a sit-stand option.
  • when you speak with a Social Security claims rep, stay away from statements like “I can’t walk very far,” or I can’t sit very long,” or “I don’t get any sleep at night,” or “my back hurts all the time.”  Instead, try to be very specific:
    • I can only walk about 30 yards, then I have to stop and sit down because my back tightens up.  If I overdo it and walk more than 3 blocks, the pain in my back gets so intense that I have to go to bed for at least two days.
    • I can only sit for 15 minutes at a time before I have to stand up and walk around for 5 to 7 minutes.
    • I only sleep 2 1/2 to 3 hours per night and I do not feel rested when I wake up.
    • On a scale of 1 to 10, my back pain is always at a 5 or 6, but it spikes up to an 8 or 9 at least four days a week, and it stays at that level for five hours or until I take a pain pill that puts me to sleep.

The Main Issue in Your Case

   Recognize, too, that in most cases, the only issue in your case is whether or not you are able to perform a simple, unskilled sit down type of job such as working as a ticket taker in a movie theatre, a hand packer or a circuit board assembler.  It do es not matter that you could not feed your family with a job like this, or that you are not aware of any jobs like this in your neighborhood. The only question - could you perform this job 5 days a week, 8 hours a day if it was magically made available to you.

 Resources like attorney Jonathan Ginsberg’s Disability Answer Guide and Child SSI Disability Answer Guide can provide some guidance as to how to word your allegations when completing Social Security’s disability forms. Other resources include the NoLo Guide to filing for Social Security Disability and the NOSSCR web site.

The big picture about what to say is that you must speak Social Security’s language if you want to make it easy for them to find your disabled.  Any evidence that addresses these vocational issues should be in your claim file.

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