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What’s With All the Forms?
No matter how you file, you’ll be amazed at the amount of paperwork that goes into it. We have had clients joke with us that buying a house had fewer documents than filing for SSD or SSI! What do all these forms do and what questions do they ask? Let’s look at the major ones.
The first real test of how much you have learned from us comes in the form called SSA-3368, the Adult Disability Report. For this questionnaire, you will have to give more than simple “yes” or “no” answers. It is your first opportunity to give your own assessment of your medical condition and why you feel it keeps you from working. Remember, you will always be telling the truth. Our job here is to make sure you think through all of your answers and give the most complete and helpful responses. The way that you answer these initial questions will also prepare you for answering them again later if you need to appear before a judge.
This form askes a number of crucial questions. For example, Section 3 askes about your medical condition. Your jog: tell them everything. Don’t leave out any impairment that you feel contributes to your disability. If you are worried about forgetting something, try to start at the top of your head and work down to the bottoms of your feet. Along the way, ask yourself, “Do I have any medical problems here? How about here? And here?”
We cannot stress enough how important it is for you to be thorough here. It is impossible to count the number of times we have heard judges say, “This is the first I am hearing about this part of your disability. Why didn’t you indicate this when you first filed?” Let Social Security deal with figuring out what is severe enough to qualify and what is not. Don’t do the screening process yourself.
The next danger zone is Section 4. You will be asked things like, “When did your condition first start bothering your?” This is often hard to remember. IF you had an injury, such as a fall, the date may be easier to recall; if you have a long slowly progressing illness, this can be tough to pinpoint a date. Do your best, and make certain that you put a date no later than the day you last worked or last day you felt you could work if you were unemployed at the time. What Social Security is looking to find out with this question is how long (if at all) you were able to work after your condition began. They want to know what got so bad that you had to stop all together.
This section also asks you whether your condition forced you to stop working and if so, when. This is very important to get right because it can affect your chances of winning, as well as the amount of past-due benefits you can collect. The crucial part for you to keep in mind is that it asks about when your condition made you stop working. This may be different form the date you actually last worked. IF you lost your job for an unrelated reason, and then got sick some time later, you have to indicate this later date. Many people know the exact date. Others chose to call their last employer to track this down. But sometimes the date you last worked is after the date of onset and frequently after the date you last got paid.
To help understand this very important issue of getting the date right, lets suppose an imaginary claimant named Eric had a heart attack in May 2002. After being out of work four months, he returned. Things went well: He watched his diet, exercised, took his medication. Nevertheless, he then started having signs of heart problems: shortness of breath when walking; and chest pain when he was in
stressful situations. His doctor told him to stop working. His job gave him 30 days severance and then he applied for short-term disability in his state. When is his onset date? The date of the heart attack? The dated the doctor ordered him to stop? The date he last got paid? The date his short-term disability (usually 12 months) ended? Generally, it is the day he stopped working. But if the heart attack was only a few months before, the period he returned to work might be an unsuccessful work attempt and the date of the heart attack would be the onset date. It would not be when the severance ended or when short-term disability ran out.
Do the best you can, but make sure that you at least have the year correct. Also, be sure to give the date that you felt it was just too much to go on working. Don’t sell yourself short by giving a later date when, for instance, you received an official diagnosis of a particular illness.
Section 6 asks questions about your job. Question 6D asks for a breakdown of how much time you spent sitting, standing and walking at work each day. Answer this buy first figuring out how many hours you worked per day. For most of us, this is 8 hours. Then divide up the 8 hours into the three categories. We know that one day can be very different from the next. What we’re looking for here is an average of all the days. Make sure that he walking, standing and sitting hours total up to 8 (or how ever many hours were in your workday). List what you lift – if you occasionally lift 20-40 pounds, put it down. Don’t describe what your official job duty is; describe your job as it really was.
Section 8 of the form asks about your medical records. Social Security wants you to do the “leg work” for them by giving them doctors’ names and addresses. They also want this information for hospitals you have been to. You have the right to list every doctor you have ever seen. Our approach, however is to make sure you provide accurate information about those doctors who treated you on at least a few occasions. After you have done that, you turn to the numerous specialists that you may have seen only once, then give information for each hospital where you were admitted, or where you often go for emergency care. Try to make Social Security’s life as easy as possible by giving them the big names up front. Your case could move through more quickly this way.
Some of our clients have been extra helpful by putting together a list of doctors’ names, addresses and phone numbers before they come in to fill out forms. This is a great idea if you can do it. It insures that you won’t forget anything when you actually go to fill out the form. Also, it makes the application process go a lot faster for you so you can get home as soon as possible.
One problem with these forms is that they don’t always let you explain yourself as fully as you would like to. But with SSA-3368, you can give additional information about how your condition keeps you from working. Even though the forms does not leave a lot of space, you can use Section 11 to add “remarks.” But if you are going to elaborate in this wat, there are several rules to follow for this one.
- Tell them everything. Explain how each of the conditions affects your ability to work. Do you have pain? Tell them about it. Do you have limited movement? Tell them. Do you have trouble concentrating? Tell them. Does your medication make you drowsy? Tell them. The more you leave out, the less serious your condition looks. Don’t assume that Social Security with think that your knee injury causes pain in your whole leg. You need to let them know that.
- Remember what you we wrote on previously about what it means to be disabled. If you are a younger person – under 45 or 50 years old – You are going to have to prove that you cannot do any job at all. Check your pride at the door. Don’t boast to Social Security about what you sill can do; tell them what you can’t do. We feel that the best way to interpret Question 3B is to answer how your condition keeps you from “working” in general, at all jobs. Don’t limit your answer necessarily to how it keeps you from just doing your job.
- Don’t over-do it. If you have been to the emergency room 25 times for asthma, you don’t need to list all 25 times. This would only make the folks reading your form pay less attention to the information that really matters. Instead, you can summarize by saying “frequent hospitalizations for asthma.”
Aside from SSA-3368 there are other forms that you will have to complete for your application. One is SSA-16-BK which is mostly just basic information about you. But watch out for Question 24 which asks about your condition, and Question 25, which asks you to indicate when you became unable to work (your onset date). These may seem like simple questions, but they have an effect on your case down the line, so answer them carefully. You can use the space for “Remarks” on page 5 of this form to elaborate on your condition.
Another form you will encounter is SSA-827, which are the “medical release” authorizations that allow Social Security to contact your doctor directly for information about your condition. Also, if you have children, you will be asked to complete a form on their behalf. This will make them eligible for SSD benefits if they are under 18 during your disability period. To move thigs along quickly, you should come prepared with your spouse’s and children’s Social Security numbers as well as your own.
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