One of the most frustrating things my head injury clients face is being able to “prove” what they’re dealing with on a daily basis to be able to get the Social Security Disability after traumatic brain injury.
The CT and MRI were normal, but you can’t seem to remember new information, you seem to get angry at things that never used to bother you, and things you used to do with ease like reading, writing or giving back correct change now seem to be impossible tasks. (There are many symptoms people can have as a result of brain trauma, these are just a few common symptoms).
After struggling to maintain your employment, your boss tells you to focus and improve your performance or else. A short time later, you are notified you’re no longer needed because you can’t do your job.
After following your doctor’s orders and trying to get better, your doctor tells you you’ve reached “maximum medical improvement and your condition is permanent.” Your doctor asks if you’ve applied for disability.
You muster all your strength and apply for Social Security Disability online, in person, or over the phone, struggling all the while to provide the information that’s being requested. If you’re lucky a friend or family member help you get through the process and then you wait and wait and wait some more.
A letter finally arrives from Social Security, they denied your claim. “How can they deny my claim?” “My doctor said I can’t work.” Whether Social Security says you can do your prior work, or you can do other work, or simply states they don’t have enough information so they are denying your claim, this is the point at which you may feel like taking drastic measures.
Before you lose it completely, I’d like to share some information with you.
THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
• Over 70% of applications are denied. That means 3 out of 4 people got the same denial you received, so don’t despair. The denial does not mean you won’t get benefits.
• You should hire an attorney to assist you with your appeal. If you can’t find one prior to the 60 day appeal deadline, go ahead and file the appeal, but keep looking for the right attorney.
• All attorneys are not created equal. This is true in every area of law including Social Security Disability appeals. What’s important is that you have someone that you feel comfortable and confident with. An attorney with experience handling head injury claims is also recommended.
• If you can’t find an attorney you like, or you want to help to select the attorney you do hire, here are five (5) things you can do to significantly increase your ability to get a favorable decision.
1) Remember that employer that terminated you, that employer may be willing to work with you and your attorney to provide a statement and your employment records that document the challenges you were having trying to work. This is very helpful information because it shows Social Security how you actually function in the workplace and can corroborate or bolster your statements.
2) Social Security is supposed to obtain all your medical records, but… they usually don’t have them all. This is especially true after the reconsideration stage, and prior to you having a hearing. Don’t assume all your medical records are in the file. If you have an attorney, they will be able to see what Social Security has in your file, and work with you to make sure any missing information is obtained and uploaded into your file. If you don’t have an attorney and your case is set for hearing, review the “disk” Social Security sent you or have someone help you review it, to see if all your records for all your treatment dates are in your file. (Medical records are vital to a successful appeal because Social Security MUST have medical record evidence that documents your disability to be able to grant a favorable decision.)
3) See if your doctor is willing to make a statement regarding your diagnosis, your functional limitations and reference any testing that supports his/her opinions. An attorney working with you will do this for you, and will likely provide a form your doctor can fill out that covers several areas regarding your function that Social Security is looking at when making a decision.
4) Have family and friends write letters/statements regarding what they’ve noticed you have difficulty with. (If you have someone that is clearly unbiased, like your barista or dry cleaner that has noticed your challenges–all the better.) Friends and family have likely observed many more challenges with your function than you are aware of. Don’t feel bad if they bring up things that you didn’t know were difficult since your injury, they are giving you a gift by trying to explain what it’s like to be with you on a daily basis. They have observed you struggling to complete tasks, and likely have a better memory or recall of what you’re going through. If you have a lawyer, your lawyer can obtain this information for you, which can help lessen any concern your loved ones may have in being truly honest for fear of hurting your feelings.
5) It’s highly recommended you work with a psychologist or mental health counselor to deal with the major life change that has occurred. Depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental conditions often start after the brain has been traumatized. This is extremely common, and a counselor can assist you in learning how to handle these symptoms. The counselor’s records can also become very helpful in providing evidence to Social Security of the ongoing challenges you’re facing. Social Security can find you disabled because of one condition, or several different conditions, that together make it so you cannot work. So, don’t self-select what records you feel are important for Social Security to have. Give them all your treatment records.
If you haven’t noticed, the overriding goal you are trying to achieve in obtaining and submitting all this information is to “show” Social Security what it’s like to live in your shoes, and why you cannot work.
There are many other rules and arguments that can be made depending on your specific situation, which is why getting an experienced attorney is recommended.
However, even if you are going it alone, making sure you provide as much of the above information as possible to Social Security will greatly increase the likelihood of a favorable decision.