Completing the Forms

Are there any secrets that you need to know about completing Social Security's forms that might help you obtain an early, favorable decision?   Several years ago, I published a "how to" book called the Disability Answer Guide that contains specific guidance about how to fill out each of the forms you will see in an average Social Security case.

One of the major themes of my book focuses on the need to present a clear and organized argument for your disability.  Social Security speaks its own language, and y0u need to use their terms of art when you fill out the forms.

Here is an example of what I mean by this:

Many of the forms you will encounter will ask you why you believe that you cannot work.   Here are two ways to answer this question:

Answer 1:  I hurt all the time and I can't work any more.  My last job was at a warehouse and my back kept freezing up and I just could not do the job.  My supervisor kept sending me home.  My back pain is very severe and even the medicines from my doctors do not help much.  I have to lay down all the time at home and take the medicine to reduce the pain.  In addition I have bad diabetes and my sugar level is always at 250 or more, regardless of what I eat.  I am tired all time and I need some help.

Answer 2:  I have two medical conditions that prevent me from working even a simple, entry-level job.  The most severe problem I have is back pain, which arises from herniated disks at L4/5 and L5/S1.  Physical therapy was not successful in reducing my pain level, nor did a series of 7 epidural injections help.  My doct0r, Dr. ____ , is now recommending surgery but I have not agreed to surgery because I am concerned that it will not help.  My pain level is always at 5 to 6 on a 10 point scale, and at least three times a week, it spikes up to an 8 or 9 for 2 to 4 hours at a time.  When my pain is at an 8 or 9, I cannot sit in a chair for more than a minute, nor can I stand – I go to bed, take a pain pill and try to sleep.

In addition to my back pain, I am an insulin dependent diabetic and I have a great deal of trouble keeping my blood sugar at acceptable levels, despite a controlled diet and medication.  Over the past 6 months, my blood sugar has been measured at 25o or higher at least 50% of the time my blood sugar is measured.  I experience numbness and tingling in my hands and feet daily and I experienced blurred vision at least 50% of the time.  My endocrinologist, Dr. _____, has discouraged me from undergoing back surgery because of my uncontrolled diabetes.

Obviously, Answer 2 is much more detailed and persuasive and it addresses specific work capacity issues that Social Security employees are concerned with.   I understand that most non-lawyers are not going to be able to write an answer like Answer 2 but I want you to understand that this is the type of detail that a Social Security adjudicator would consider persuasive.

In filling out the forms, the most important things you can do include:

  • identify each and every medical condition that produces work activity limitations
  • start with the most severe condition and work backwards
  • try to include specifics – stay away from "I can't walk very far."  Instead, write "I can walk no more than 25 yards before the pain in my back gets so severe that I have to stop, sit down and rest for 10 minutes before I can continue."
  • reference your treating doctor and, ideally, the date where he discussed activity limitations with you
  • ask your doctor to write a narrative report that discusses  your activity limitations and how you cannot perform any substantial activity for a full 8 hours
  • mention side effects like drowsiness and frequent urination as these are important limitations on your functioning