It may seem as though being organized and obtaining disability benefits have absolutely nothing to do with each other. To the contrary, sometimes being organized is the difference between winning and losing a case.
When you are preparing for a hearing in your disability case, you want to make sure that the Administrative Law Judge has every relevant piece of information available about your situation in order to make the best, most informed decision about your case. Some good points to keep in mind:
- Work: The Judge may need to know about any work you have done or have attempted to do since your disability began. Or he or she may need to see how your income dropped off for a period of time before you stopped working completely. If you had performance reviews that reflected too many absences, or you were reprimanded for a decrease in productivity or for not being able to perform all of the duties required by your job, the Judge needs to know all of this. If you had difficulty getting along with coworkers or customers and there is documentation of that, it is important to let the Judge know. If you saved copies of your paycheck stubs, or can obtain letters regarding your difficulties on the job from former employers or coworkers, this may be helpful for your claim.
- Retraining or Education: If you have sought re-training through DARS or a similar agency, any paperwork regarding your conditions, your attempts at learning skills for a new occupation, or documentation of failed attempts to work will be important to your claim. Also if an agency has told you that they cannot help you because of your physical or mental disabilities, that information definitely needs to be presented to the Judge.
- Benefits: If you receive VA benefits, it is important to produce your award letter and any ratings determinations you have received because they contain explanations as to what the ratings are based on and that can be helpful to the Judge in determining when your conditions became disabling.
- Worker’s Compensation: If you received Workers’ Compensation, you must be able to produce information about the amounts you received each month in order for Social Security to calculate your benefits in light of the Workers’ Compensation benefits. You will not be paid on a winning disability case until Social Security received this information. Impairment ratings and paperwork from your insurance carrier are also important to your disability case.
- Financial Records: If you retain financial records, such as tax returns, let your attorney know, as there are certain situations in which those may be needed for your hearing.
- Medical Record folders or Notebooks: If you have folders or notebooks with your medical records, especially if you have had treatment from a doctor who moved or stopped practicing or at a clinic that is no longer in business, it can make the process of obtaining your evidence much quicker and possibly more thorough. Let your attorney know if you have any records from past or present doctors, clinics, or hospitals.
- Foreclosure or Eviction: If you are going to lose your house due to being unable to pay the note or keep the utilities turned on, keep all paperwork and letters you receive, as you may be able to get a hearing set sooner if eviction actions have been taken against you. But SSA will not even consider moving up your hearing without the proper paperwork that indicates you are in immediate danger of losing your residence.
Basically, any paperwork regarding your health, finances, or employment history could be very valuable for your disability case and it is very beneficial to keep these documents together and organized in a way that makes it easy for you to access them. When you are disabled, it is likely that many things will change in your life and sometimes that one doctor visit or that loss of a car, home, etc. may be something you think you’ll never forget. However, because disability claims can be lengthy, it is best to keep good records so that you don’t forget these important things and you can rely on the expertise of your attorney to turn your good record keeping into a strong disability claim.
by Paul B. Burkhalter Managing Partner of Morgan & Weisbrod, Board Certified in Social Security Disability Law.