In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, I covered 7 major ways people can sabotage their Social Security disability claims.
Here are some more examples of how I have helped my clients win their Social Security Disability claims and receive benefits as a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability attorney.
1. Gather statements from family members and co-workers.
Family members and co-workers are eye witnesses when a disabled person loses his or her ability to work full time. Early in the processing of the claim, the adjudicator might send a Third Party Function Report to a family member to get their perspective. As a Southern Illinois Social Security Disability representative, I go a step further in many cases and get statements from people who know my client. I try to show the judge what the claimant has had to give up, how others have had to pick up the slack, and how hard he or she tried to remain in the work force before filing for disability benefits. This evidence can tip the scales and result in a win instead of a loss.
2. Make sure clients know about the judge’s pet peeves.
After several hearings with a particular judge, I start to learn the judge’s pet peeves, their blind spots, and their prejudices. Judges are human beings with their own set of experiences. Some simply cannot tolerate drug and alcohol use. Some think that an incident of domestic violence is a sign of lack of credibility. Some think everyone has pain, and a person just has to learn to work through it. Some have medical problems of their own and think everyone with that medical condition should be able to work, too. Some think a person who still cares for small children at home could not possibly be disabled. Some think a child support arrearage means a person wants disability benefits to avoid parental responsibility. Some think a person who can perform basic household tasks or care for an aging parent or volunteer for a charitable cause is capable of a full time job. I use my experience as a Southern Illinois Social Security attorney to prepare my clients thoroughly before their hearings so they don’t blunder into a danger zone with the judge.
3. Explain how working for cash, doctor shopping, and appearing as if you are drug seeking can turn the judge against a client.
When I get involved in a claim, I explain to my clients that they must keep a detailed work log for me for any work they do whether it is for cash or not. One of the best ways to lose a winning case is to work a little bit for cash on the side and think the judge will never figure it out. Most of the time there are clues in the medical records that tip off the judge. Once that happens, the client’s credibility is ruined if they have not disclosed the work. Since the whole case turns on whether the judge believes the client, this is an incredibly important bit of advice.
Another tip I give clients is not to change doctors too often unless there is a legitimate medical reason. I have seen clients damage their cases beyond repair by going from doctor to doctor for the same condition.
Perhaps the single most damaging impression a client can make on a judge is making the judge suspect the client is using too much narcotic pain medication or other controlled substances. I caution the clients to think of what their medical records look like through the judge’s eyes. If they run out of pain medication too soon every month, something is wrong. If they have all sorts of incredible stories about what happened to their medications, the judge is going to assume they are either abusing or selling the medicine.
One of the most important things I do when I prepare for a hearing is to help a client see the facts through the judge’s eyes.
4. Make a compelling argument that drug or alcohol use is not a material factor in a client’s disability.
If a claimant uses illicit drugs, abuses prescription drugs, or frequently consumes alcohol to excess, the judge must determine whether or not the claimant would still be disabled if he or she did not use or consume those substances. The analysis is fairly complicated. You can see the steps in this Program Operations Manual System (POMS) section– https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0490070050.
One of the most effective approaches is to show the judge that the disabling symptoms and limitations persisted even in situations when there was no drug or alcohol use, for example, during extended hospitalization, rehabilitation or incarceration.
Without a knowledgeable attorney, claimants might not get the benefit of the regulations that require certain analytical steps in cases involving drugs or alcohol.
When a client retains a Southern Illinois Disability attorney, he or she benefits from the lessons the attorney learned representing other clients. My 15 years of experience with the Social Security Administration and over 1,500 clients have given me a keen insight into the major pitfalls that could derail my clients’ Social Security disability claims. Watch for the 4th and final installment in this series, in which I will discuss these topics:
- Neutralizing evidence that might make makes a judge think a client can work, e.g. taking vacations, hunting, fishing, babysitting for grandchildren, volunteering, or caring for an elderly parent or disabled spouse.
- Showing the judge that your disability did not occur in the course of the commission of a felony.
- Keeping clients from losing their eligibility for SSI by doing things like buying a second car, putting their name on someone else’s checking account for convenience, moving out of the house they own and renting it to someone else, failing to disclose a life insurance policy with cash value, and getting free room and board.
- Advising clients how to review and correct their earnings record if there are missing earnings.