APPLYING FOR DISABILITY
Applying for disability can seem like an intimidating process. Many people believe that the Social Security Administration (SSA) will turn you down a few times before you get approved, but this is not true. 30% of applicants get approved on their initial application and following these simple steps can increase your chances of being in this 30%.
Get Started Right Away
You should apply for disability benefits as soon as you become disabled. It can take a long time to process an application for benefits (three to five months depending on your state) so do not delay when applying.
Seek Legal Representation
It is strongly advised that you retain a lawyer or non-lawyer representative to help you through the process. They should be able to help you present evidence and testimony in a persuasive and organized fashion. Although the hearings are not very technical, it is best to put on a presentation rather than just answering questions.
Build Your Case
Start keeping detailed records that recount your personal experience with pulmonary hypertension, or any other debilitating disease:
- Keep a diary of your day to day activities and emotions.
- Keep a record of all medication and medication changes, any restrictions you may have and how often you take the medications.
- Keep a log of how much time you spend traveling to and from the doctor or clinic and how much time you spend at the doctor's office.
- When something is wrong, don’t delay in seeking the doctor’s advice – or speaking with the nurse – so it will be entered into the medical records. And, make sure you follow their medical advice.
- Record and keep copies of all of your correspondence with SSA.
Gather Additional Information
While you are recording your personal experience, you should also be gathering additional information to submit in the disability application. You will need:
- Social Security number and proof of age (birth or baptismal certificate).
- Names, addresses and phone numbers of doctors, hospitals, clinics and institutions where you have been treated, as well as dates of treatment. You will also be asked for your patient/chart number from each doctor's office. You can get this information by calling the various offices.
- Names and dosages of all medications you are taking.
- Medical records – everything you can get your hands on, including lab work, x-ray reports, echocardiograms, sleep studies, CT scans of the chest, arterial blood gasses and angiograms. The primary treating physician's opinion carries the most weight. Have your doctor do a complete examination and write a letter explaining your condition in detail; the SSA has their own template form they require your primary physician to fill out.
- Summary of your employment history. If you have a resume, you can use this for the initial application. You will then receive a second work history form that will require more in-depth information.
- Your most recent tax return.
Fill Out and Submit the Application
When you are filling out your application, remember that you are putting a presentation together and not just answering questions. Here are a few tips:
Did you know…
In-office interviews are being phased out, and online and telephone intake do not allow for much opportunity to provide information beyond what is asked. To provide additional information, you will need to take advantage of the follow-up paperwork you are asked to complete. That is your opportunity to tell your story. Don’t forget to add extra sheets as needed as you try to paint a realistic picture of what your daily life is like.
- Do not understate your condition, but do not overstate it either.
- Fill out every question in detail on the forms and make sure that you are answering the question being asked.
- Be descriptive about your condition and how it affects your life.
If you have high speed internet access and reasonable writing skills, then the best way to file is online. If you complete your own online application, you know exactly what is in it and you are not under time constraints. If you have difficulty navigating the website, or with writing things down, try to find someone with those skills to help.
If you'd rather not file online, call the national toll-free number (800)772-1213 or your local Social Security office to schedule an appointment to apply over the phone or in office. After your appointment, you will get a copy of the report they submit with your application. Be sure to read the entire report and if there are errors, refuse to sign it until those errors are corrected.
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Double Check and Follow Up
After anyone else has helped you fill out forms, whether it’s SSA or a representative like Caring Voice Coalition, ask Social Security for printouts of everything that was submitted right away. Then proofread them carefully to make sure the written reports match the truth of your case and include all medical evidence about your condition.
Regardless of how astute and professional your representative is, there is still room for misinterpretation between what you say and what someone else hears. Take the trouble to get it right before the evaluation begins. It will save far more time, effort and delay down the road.