Four misconceptions about the Social Security Disability “system”

    • I would like to share some questions posed to me over time that highlight some misconceptions we all share about how the “system” works when applying for Social Security Disability.

1     I have back pain and cannot work so why do you recommend that I see a psychiatrist? 
While it may be possible to win a claim based on one impairment alone, it is unlikely.  Most cases are won because a person has demonstrated multiple impairments.  Our law is written such that an adjudicator must consider the combination of impairments:

In determining whether an individual’s physical or mental impairment or impairments are of a sufficient medical severity that such impairment or impairments could be the basis of eligibility under this section, the Commissioner of Social Security shall consider the combined effect of all of the individual’s impairments without regard to whether any such impairment, if considered separately, would be of such severity. If the Commissioner of Social Security does find a medically severe combination of impairments, the combined impact of the impairments shall be considered throughout the disability determination process.

42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(2)(B)
I always recommend to my clients that they begin mental health counseling if they are not currently seeking it.  Likewise, if they claim they have a mental impairment, I encourage them to go to a doctor for a medical check-up.  Our physical and mental parts are all interconnected.  Often the physical and mental go together.  Our law requires an adjudicator to look at the combination so there is no reason not to document both.  Often documentation of both is what wins the case.
2.     I thought the staff at the Social Security Administration would try to help me
The staff at the Social Security Administration is there to assist you in completing an application and adjudicating it.  The claim representatives are not advocates and they are not social workers.  They will ask you for your treating sources and attempt to gather your medical records but you cannot be sure that they do this unless you check.  They will not order evidence more than a year old so if you want to present more, you will need to obtain it.  They will not go out of their way to seek out the opinions of your doctors and will generally defer to the opinions of their own doctors.  They do not advocate on your behalf because this isn’t their job.  Their job is to adjudicate what is before them and that is all.
3.     My friend is receiving disability benefits and he isn’t disabled. Why was I denied?
This is certainly a tough question.  The answer is that you do not know what your friend’s impairment(s) is/are.  Maybe he does not wish to discuss them with you.  Every case is different.  It is impossible to know why your friend received it.  You just have to concentrate on your own case not worry about your friend’s.
4.     Why do I need an attorney if I can do everything myself?
I would agree that you do not need an attorney if you can do “everything” yourself.  Most of my clients though cannot do everything themselves and this is why they are applying for disability benefits.  There is a lot that goes on, especially at the hearing level, that my clients do not see.  They do not see my repeated requests for medical records from their treatment sources and often do not see my requests for letters or statements from their doctors.  They do not see my research on their medical condition, the framing of my legal argument, the drafting of my pre-hearing brief and the preparation for their hearing.  Generally speaking, lawyers do not simply show up at the hearing and win.
The bottom line is that it is best to be prepared for battle when applying for Social Security Disability benefits.  Assert all impairments, gather the medical evidence yourself if necessary and hire an attorney.

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