Welcome! This site is written for Social Security disability claimants, for their legal representatives, and for the network of people involved in the Social Security disability claim process. I hope you find it helpful.
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Each month, I shine the spotlight on a previous post that discusses an issue regarding Social Security disability law that remains highly relevant today.

It is more important than ever to make your disability claim as strong as possible for your hearing. One aspect of developing the claim file that is often overlooked is a written statement from a person who knows you well, and can provide insight about your situation. It can be persuasive evidence.

The written statement should be submitted into the claim file ahead of the hearing, so that it is in the record when the administrative law judge first reviews the file. 

Please read: Statement from a Spouse, Parent or Friend

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Get help with your disability claim

If you are considering an application for Social Security disability benefits, or have already applied and want assistance with your claim, please contact Gordon Gates.

 

It has been a little over a year since I published my e-book, entitled 10 Steps to Prepare for Your Social Security Disability Hearing. Those who are waiting for their Social Security disability hearings will find helpful information in the book, and can learn how to make their claims stronger. That is more important than ever this year, because allowance rates are down.

Although I wrote the book for my clients, it is available on my law firm website to anyone as a free PDF download. The book has been downloaded thousands of times.

There is no form to fill out; no name or email address is required to download the book. This link will take you to the page on my law firm website to download 10 Steps to Prepare for Your Social Security Disability Hearing

Here are the ten steps:

  1. Appeal within 60 days
  2. Prepare for the wait for a hearing
  3. Determine why your claim was denied
  4. Learn how Social Security evaluates disability claims
  5. Think about your functional limitations in a specific way
  6. Know your work history for the past 15 years
  7. Continue with your regular medical treatment
  8. Obtain a medical source statement
  9. Consider a statement from a spouse, parent, sibling or friend
  10. Get legal help

Again, you can download 10 Steps to Prepare for Your Social Security Disability Hearing for free, without providing any information about yourself to me.

I hope the book empowers you to make your claim stronger for your Social Security disability hearing. 

In the New England states, we are fortunate to receive 75-day notice of disability hearings. This is a carry-over of the DSI process which was implemented in SSA Region I. We also must submit evidence 5 business days ahead of the hearing. See 20 C.F.R. 405.331. In the rest of the country, you only receive 20 days notice of administrative law judge hearing, but you can bring new evidence to the hearing, and it must be considered by the ALJ.

Ideally, all your evidence is submitted well ahead of the hearing. This is one of the best practices of Social Security claimants' representatives. Nevertheless, sometimes there is an important piece of evidence, usually a medical record or a treating doctor's opinion, that could not be obtained earlier.

The regulation specifies 5 business days. Weekends and holidays are not counted. And when counting the 5 days, our judges at the Portland, Maine ODAR do not count the day of the hearing. As a result, the 5-day rule is really an 8-day rule. For a hearing that is held on a Thursday, your evidence must be received by Wednesday of the previous week. This is a trap for the unwary. 

Continue Reading In New England, the 5-day rule is really an 8-day rule

I like to get a statement from a spouse for Social Security disability claims. I think a non-medical, or "lay," statement is helpful to the claim. These statements are often quite powerful, because they describe the loss that has accompanied the inability to work, and often describe the struggles the household has undergone as a result of the claimant's disability. The statements provide good evidence in support of a claim for disability benefits.

Further, the statement is already in the claim file before the ALJ first reviews the claim, so the judge can get a good idea of a claim in advance of the hearing.

Statements are not limited to spouses, however. Anyone with knowledge of the disability applicant's situation can write a statement, and these statements must be considered by the judge. See 20 CFR 404.1513(d)(4).

I had a meeting last week, in preparation for an upcoming hearing, with a client who obtained four statements in support of her claim: her husband, her mother, her best friend, and a previous employer who is also a friend. The four statements together paint a clear picture of the client's limitations. They add quite a bit to the overall case. Each statement describes similar problems that the client is having, but describe the client's limitations in different ways. Each statement is very genuine, and together they offer persuasive evidence of disability.

Two thoughts on presentation of the statements:

  1. Sometimes handwritten statements are very hard to read. In such cases, my legal assistant types the statement, and we submit the typed version together with the original handwritten one. You want the judge to be able to read the statement, so type it if necessary.
  2. A speaker at a recent conference suggested that statements should be submitted in the form of an affidavit: typed, sworn and notarized. The speaker's thinking was that, if you end up in federal court, the affidavit format is familiar, and the statement would carry more weight. In my view, it is the authenticity and genuineness of the statements that make them such good evidence. An affidavit is a lawyer-produced document, and seems less persuasive to me. I think the statement in its original form is more effective at the hearing level.

Regardless of the format, get statements in support of your claim!

Update: Please also read Statement from a former employer can enhance credibility


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Download our free ebook:

Ten steps to prepare for your Social Security disability hearing

 

A headwind is blowing for those applying for Social Security disability benefits these days. It is getting harder to get claims approved, and it is more important than ever to have excellent representation before the SSA.

If an administrative law judge is now just granting 50% of claims, you had better make sure that everything possible is done to make your claim one of the 50% that is approved rather than one of the 50% that is denied. You must be prepared for your hearing.

The same is true for those filing an initial application for disability benefits. In the current environment, the opportunity to have your benefits approved at the initial application should not be squandered. In my view, a lawyer's help from the beginning provides many benefits, particularly for those who are age 55 or over.

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Get help from a lawyer with your disability claim 

If you are considering an application for Social Security disability benefits, or have already applied and want assistance with your claim, please contact Gordon Gates for a free consultation.

 

As I talk with clients and prospective clients, and dig into the evidence supporting a claim for disability benefits, clients sometimes say something like this: “I don’t understand why my claim wasn’t approved, I have a friend/neighbor/acquaintance who got disability benefits right away, and there is nothing wrong with him/her.”

I have heard variations of that statement dozens of times.

Ohio attorney Gretchen Esselstein discussed this issue in her recent post entitled Debunking Common Social Security Disability Myths. Describing myth #4, Ms. Esselstein writes:

My friend, neighbor, relative, etc. was approved, but there is nothing wrong with them. The truth is, an overwhelming number of recipients have severe conditions that you are unable to see or they simply do not tell you about. It is likely that they too had to fight for their benefits. Therefore, your efforts should focus on your claim and what you need to do to be successful on appeal.

 

I completely agree. Do you think your neighbors and acquaintances realize how debilitating your impairments are? I bet they do not. Likewise, you are unlikely to have a complete picture of another person’s impairments and functional limitations.

Do not be distracted by someone you know who is receiving disability benefits but appears outwardly to be fine. Focus on your own claim, and get the help you need to obtain disability benefits. 

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With many Social Security administrative law judges allowing fewer claims at the hearing level, the initial application for disability benefits deserves much more attention. The allowance rates from the state DDS agencies are just as high as the allowance rate of some ALJs. That means that your initial application is more important than ever. The opportunity to obtain disability benefits at the initial application should not be squandered.

I recently assisted a new client over the telephone with his initial application for Social Security disability benefits. It went very well. I asked questions, the client answered, and I typed the application right then as we spoke. As we were completing the application, I was able to counsel the client on what to expect from the disability claim process, the importance of fully describing past relevant work, and why the SSA was asking certain questions in the application.

I have done this before, of course, but this recent experience made me realize that I should do it more often, because it is a valuable service to a new client, and it starts the claim process on the right foot.

There are several benefits of working with an experienced Social Security disability attorney at the very beginning of your disability claim.

  • The disability claim is supported by a winning theory of the case
  • The issues in the claim are properly framed from the beginning. 
  • Common mistakes, such as not properly describing past relevant work, are avoided. 
  • You have a guide throughout the disability claim process.
  • I make a plan for obtaining the medical evidence (particularly the medical opinion evidence) that you will need to support your claim.
  • The claim may be decided more quickly, because your attorney will keep in touch with the SSA on the status of the claim, and supply any missing evidence. 
  • If necessary, an appeal will be filed quickly.
  • You pay no attorney fee unless the claim is successful. 

One of the benefits of having legal help with the application over the telephone is that you do not need to have a nearby lawyer who specializes in Social Security disability law. Because Social Security is a federal program, an attorney anywhere in the country can assist you with your claim. And the various states follow the same rules, embodied in Social Security's Program Operation Manual System (POMS), when making a benefits determination.

Legal assistance with the disability application is particularly important for those age 55 or older, because your vocational background plays a major role in the determination.

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Apply for disability benefits on the phone with a lawyer

If you have been out of work for 6 months or more due to a medical condition, please contact me to assist with an initial application for Social Security benefits.


Law firms practicing Social Security disability law come in all shapes and sizes, from "nation-wide" practices to one person offices. Is there a right size? In my view, a law firm should be “right-sized” for the needs of its clients.

More important than size however, is the distinguishing characteristics of the lawyer and firm. Look for these important qualities:

  • Specialization. Seek a lawyer that spends most of his or her time doing this kind of work. Social Security disability claims are not like other legal cases. It is not a place for dabblers.
  • Experience. Believe me, you do not want to be the client of the lawyer I saw last week, who did not know the location of the bathroom at the hearing office. Seriously, if your representative has not spent enough time at the hearing office to know where the bathroom is, imagine what else is unknown. Your lawyer should have conducted dozens, hopefully hundreds, of disability hearings.
  • A local or regional presence. Your lawyer should know, have experience with, and have a relationship with the administrative law judges that may decide your claim. Also, familiarity with the professional staff at the Social Security offices is very helpful.
  • Attorney involvement early in the process. Your lawyer should not wait until a hearing is scheduled to get involved in the claim. You may miss opportunities to develop the claim, to obtain opinions from treating providers, and to frame the issues in the disability claim. Early involvement by the lawyer is advantageous. Furthermore, for claimants with physical limitations who are age 55 or over, a lawyer should be involved when the claim is first filed.
  • Responsiveness. Are you getting the answers you need? You should not be kept in the dark about your case. Regular communication with your lawyer and law firm staff are helpful to your claim. 

Keep these qualities in mind as you choose a Social Security disability lawyer. There is a permanent page on this site, with a link on the sidebar, that provides with more details about choosing a disability lawyer.

Judging by the incoming phone calls, emails and requests for a case review, the New Hampshire DDS, which makes the decisions on initial applications for Social Security disability benefits and SSI, just denied a bunch of claims. For some reason, they seem to send out denial letters in batches.

If you received a denial notice from Social Security, be sure to appeal your denial right away. Although you have 60 days to appeal, there is no reason to wait. 

The NOSSCR website has a new feature that is very useful. The site has a set of Google "search boxes," each focused only on the SSA website, or the Social Security Act, or the Regulations, or the Rulings, or the HALLEX, or the POMS, or Google Scholar. Take a look.

This is a very handy tool, particularly for the searching the HALLEX or POMS, both of which have terrible indexes that make finding a particular provision difficult. With search, it is easy. Go ahead and type "good cause" in the POMS search box. You will find exactly what you need.