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MISTAKES IN PROVING YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY CLAIM WHEN UNREPRESENTED BY AN ATTORNEY

1. ASSUMING THAT YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY FILE IS COMPLETE AND CURRENT

 As part of the application process, you sign a "release," allowing Social Security to obtain your medical records. Do not assume,however, that Social Security will obtain all of the information necessary to prove your claim. Some Social Security examiners are impatient; if your doctors don't send the records immediately, your case may be decided without a complete record. Other times, medical records alone are not enough to prove a Social Security disability claim. Your claim may required detailed medical opinions and other in-depth analyses. The claim examiner typically will not develop your case in that much detail. Instead, he or she may order a brief "consultative examination," review any available records and issue a decision.

It can take six months for Social Security to evaluate an application for benefits.  If your claim is denied, it typically takes more than a year before a hearing is scheduled. During this time, a lot can change. Your medical conditions may worsen-or new conditions may be diagnosed. Your medications may result in new (and negative) side effects. You may find a new who recalibrates  your entire treatment plan. You cannot rely on a busy claims examiner to search your medical records for new doctors or diagnoses or other information, or even to make sure your file is complete. 

Bottom line: It is your responsibility to ensure Social Security has all the information it needs to issue a favorable decision and award you benefits.

2. FAILING TO SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT

It is easy to feel overwhelmed with medical bills, especially if you have limited or no insurance.  However, you should not use this as a reason to avoid medical treatment. It is important that Social Security applicants get consistent treatment from licensed medical providers. Again, Social Security will only consider "medically determinable impairments" when evaluating a disability claim. You cannot win your Social Security claim without substantial medical evidence. Additionally, Social Security may question the severity of your impairment if you do not receive consistent and ongoing medical treatment. This is particularly true in cases involving chronic conditions or conditions that can wax and wane(like some types of multiple sclerosis).  For this reason, it is important to see your treating doctor(s) regularly and keep all scheduled medical appointments.

3. FAILING TO KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR SYMPTOMS

One of the best things you can do in support of your application for Social Security disability benefits is to keep a symptom diary. A symptom diary is a written record of the nature of your symptoms and the impact of your symptoms on your daily life. This diary can take many forms including, e.g., a traditional, handwritten journal; a wall calendar; a pocket calendar; a computer spreadsheet or handwritten chart. Any format that allows you to regularly and routinely record you symptoms over a prolonged period will work. Use a diary to chronicle your pain; headaches;fatigue or other symptoms; or to record your treatment,including your medications and their side-effects.

Why is a symptom diary do important? A symptom diary can play a key role in the success of your Social Security disability benefits claim because it will you provide compelling testimony at your hearing. There is likely to be a long delay between the time you request a hearing and the day your hearing is scheduled. No matter how good your think your memory is, it will fade over time, and events will become muddled.  With your symptom diary as a reference, you will be able to give detailed responses to the judge's questions, and detailed testimony is always more persuasive than vague generalizations.

4. MINIMIZING OR EXAGGERATING YOUR SYMPTOMS AND LIMITATIONS    

Be honest in all your dealings with the Social Security Administration and with your doctors. Your credibility throughout the application and appeal process is essential to a successful claim for benefits. When you are completing a Social Security form, be honest about your current abilities and limitations. Do not list hobbies that you are no longer capable of doing; if you need extended breaks or rest periods, make sure you note this. Tell your doctor about all your symptoms, so that he or she can properly document and diagnose your conditions(s). If the SSA sends you to an examination with an "independent" doctor, be honest and forthcoming with your evaluation doctor.  If you exaggerate your symptoms, the doctor will report this to Social Security, and your hyperbole will damage your credibility. On the other hand, if you minimize your problems, the doctor is likely to report that you are able to work. Be honest.            

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