Recently, I had a long heartfelt conversation with a client who was upset regarding how her life has changed since applying for disability. We spoke for a while and after we spoke, I decided I would share with you some of the words that I shared with her. I am not sure if these words give you comfort but I hope I can give some perspective.
- Disability does NOT define you.
People define themselves in a variety of ways. Whether it’s the work they do, the charities they support, or even their marital status, people look to different things to give their lives meaning and to establish what defines them. Unfortunately, for some, being disabled may significantly alter the way you do the things you do. And this can be devastating. We live for certain things and once we believe we are no longer able to do the things that define us, we feel less of a person.
However, this does not in ANY way diminish the person you are. It may change how you deal with things but it does not eliminate the person you are. You still have your wisdom. You still have your knowledge. You still have your spirit and your soul. THOSE things define you and it is those things that carry you when all other things have faded.
- Applying for disability is NOT part of your life plan
When you’re a kid, most of your life plans probably look like this: a) go to school, b) graduate, c) go to __________ (trade school, military, college), d) get a job, e) meet someone special, f) raise a family, h) retire, and i) ride off into the sunset. Now, we all know it NEVER works out like that but the one thing we have during this whole plan is our ability to redirect. WE are in control. We get sidetracked but we still have the ability to get back on track. What gets tough is when something happens that we believe prevents us from controlling our ability to get back on track. So, when you feel you no longer have that control, you get frustrated. So, when you apply for Social Security Disability, you truly feel like you have lost control. Don’t let it frustrate you. Whether you believe it or not, this is just another sidetrack. You do have the ability to get back on track.
- You are still in control.
Which brings me to control. NO ONE likes to feel like they are leaving their fate in the hands of someone else. However, we do it every day. We leave teachers in control of our kids. We leave our cards in control of our mechanics. We leave our professionals in control of our affairs. When you apply, it is easy to feel like you are NOT in control because there are so many moving parts to the process and sometimes, you don’t know what is going on during the process. Just remember, your case is still YOUR case and whether it’s feeling out a form, going to a doctor, or writing a statement, you are still in control.
- You are APPLYING for Disability, not BEGGING for Disability
I know this is tough to here but we live in a society where you have to PROVE you are entitled to receive most things. No one will just GIVE You a job. You have to apply and PROVE you deserve it. No one will just GIVE you a college degree. You have to apply and PROVE you deserve to be admitted AND do the work to graduate. There are many instances in life where you have to apply and prove you are entitled to receive something. Unfortunately, the Disability process is tough because you truly NEED the benefits and you don’t want to have to feel like you’re begging for it. I know it feels like you’re begging but you’re not. You’re applying and having to prove that you are entitled to receive it. Millions of people are doing the same thing so don’t think you are begging for handouts.
- We live month to month but applying for disability could be year to year.
There are two tough realities: a) most people live month to month and b) most people don’t save. And this is worse when you have lost the ability to work and earn a living month to month and you don’t have any savings. So, the notion of having to wait possibly years is terrifying. The reality is that you may have to wait an extended time to obtain benefits.
- Your new normal doesn’t mean you have abandoned the old you
I have a couple of friends who have received disability benefits. They are just feisty, energetic, free spirited and outspoken as they were when I first met them. In my eyes, the only way I know they received disability benefits is they told me. Otherwise, regardless of what health problems they experience, they are STILL the same persons I know. Don’t let your change in your health circumstances cause you to believe that you are no longer the person that you were. Trust me. You ARE the truth!
- It’s ok to be frustrated but don’t give up because you are STRONGER than you know
You don’t truly appreciate what survival is until you have to SURVIVE for a prolonged period of time. You never had to ask for help. You never had to ask for a loan or sleep on someone’s couch or apply for food stamps. All of these are completely new to you. But you know what? You did the damn thing! When you stop and look back and realize how long it’s been, you don’t know it but you are a WARRIOR! Don’t let yourself overlook the fact that you were able to survive all these months and years. You are the TRUTH!
I know these words may not replace the fact that you truly need disability benefits but I do hope it puts things in perspective. Disability does not DEFINE you and you should never let disability DEFEAT you!
Here are just a few of the tips the video addresses regarding what you should do after my Social Security
Disability hearing, part II.
Clean up any medical conflicts in your records:
- What is a conflict?
- Why is this important?
- The court has to address conflicts
- If you leave it to the court, you may not like the outcome
- Conflicting doctors statements
- One doctor says one thing
- Another doctor says another
- Ask one of your doctors to review both statements and clarify
- Be aware you may not like the answer
- Internal conflicts within your doctors’ records
- Your doctors say one thing
- But the notes in their file says something else
- Ask your doctor to clarify and address the conflict
Check out our show which focuses on two questions for the morning
LegalBEAT in the Morning (SSI, savings accounts, and finding an attorney to answer your disability questions for those who are already receiving disability benefits)
I know a lot of you have been waiting a long time and have really found yourself frustrated going through this disability process.
But wouldn’t it make you mad, if you did something that was within your control and then you did something that screwed up your entire case? I know this sounds overly simplified. But the reality is, you are in control of one very powerful aspect of your case. Your credibility. So why would you do anything that would jeopardize your credibility? Everything that you fill out, sign, or even testify, is under oath. You are telling the federal government that you promise to tell the truth. Not some version of the truth. Not some variation of the truth. You’re committing to telling the truth. So why would you do something with the hope that you don’t get caught? Why would you leave out some very key information in the hopes that the government doesn’t ask you about it or bring it up?
Keep in mind, you’re dealing with people. And people can be very skeptical if somebody decides to selectively keep certain information away from them or flat out lies. So I say this not to frighten you but to remind you that you have a responsibility to prove that you are disabled. So don’t do anything that would jeopardize your ability to present your case in the best and most positive way possible.
The last thing you want to have happen is you misrepresent some facts or even lie and have the person who is responsible for evaluating your case, cast a lot of doubt on what you have been saying about how disabling your condition really is is.
Daily activity tips: How do you get dressed?
This activity is probably the one routine we do over and over again that we tend to oversimplify. We get up in the morning. We put our clothes on. We go about our day. However, we sometimes forget that ‘getting dressed’ may be a task within itself.
- Is putting on your shoes a problem? We sometimes forget that we have to kneel or crouch to put on our shoes and tie our shoe laces. This task may seem easy to some but difficult to others.
- Is putting on pants a problem? Think about how you raise your leg to put it into your pants leg. Some of us can do it standing. But if you have problems, you may have to do it seated, or leaning against something or have someone help you.
- Is putting on a shirt a problem? Do you wear button shirts or pull overs? Are you able to button the buttons? Are you able to get the shirt over your head?
Now, I hope you can see as I describe these actions that getting dressed may not be as easy as we would like to believe. It’s important to understand that no one from Social Security Administration will be helping you get dressed. If you don’t describe it, they won’t know.
Daily activity tips: How do you shop for groceries?
Now, I know you are scratching head wondering “What does grocery shopping have to do with anything?”. Well, grocery shopping is a big thing in terms of how it pertains to your application for disability benefits. I know it may not sound like it but stop for a second and ask yourself a few questions:
- Are you able to function with the crowds at Grocery Stores? Some people just don’t handle crowds well. So, this question may be important if interacting with people is a problem.
- How do you go up and down the aisles? If you have problems with your back or legs, do you have problems going up and down the aisles? Some people lean on carts. Some people need to ride in the motorized scooter. If reaching is a problems, how do you get things off of the shelves? Again, these are little things that may be a big deal.
- How do you carry your items? Ok, some stores will have staff who carry the items. But what if the store did not have staff? Can you carry the items yourself? Can you carry items from your car to your house?
Unless you can get a worker from the Social Security Administration to go with you to the Grocery store, you need to make sure you don’t overlook how you accommodate shopping for groceries.
Daily activity tips: How do you do laundry?
Now, we all do this activity on such a frequent basis that we probably totally overlook how we accommodate this situation. Clothes in washing machine. Clothes in the dryer. No big deal. We just keep on trucking. But stop for a second and think about HOW you do your laundry?
- Do you have laundry machine at home or do you have to go somewhere? If you have to go to a laundry mat or someone’s house, taking your laundry may be adventure. Do you have problems taking your laundry to the laundry mat? How do you carry them? Do you need help?
- Is putting your clothes in the washing machine or dryer a problem? Here’s where it gets tricky. You may not have a problem putting clothes into the top portion of a washing machine but what about transferring them to the dryer? How about getting the clothes out of the dryer?
- How often do you do your laundry and why? Some people like to wait until all of their clothes need washing. But if you are struggling moving bundles of clothes, you may have to be more strategic.
I know all of this sounds wild but, as I have stated repeatedly, the Social Security Administration does not live with you so if you don’t take the time to educate them about your circumstances, they won’t know.
Daily activity tips: How do you clean?
Now, I am sure you are thinking that this is a completely dumb question. What do you mean ‘how you do you clean?’? You clean like everybody else, right? Well, not necessarily. Sometimes, when we think of cleaning, we look at it from a larger perspective. We think “Sure, I clean. What’s the big deal?”. Well, think about it like this:
- If you clean the bathroom, do you have problems cleaning the toilet, the sinks, and behind the toilet? Think about it. If you have problems with your back, shoulders, knees or legs, how does this affect your ability to get on your hands and knees to clean a tub or a shower? How about kneeling or crouching to clean the toilets? If you know these things are problematic, you better be prepared to explain how you do them.
- Do you have a problem with cleaning supplies? If you have breathing problems, how do you deal with chemical odors and fumes?
- How about dusting, sweeping, and mopping? Do you realize how much energy it takes to bend over, ring out a mop and push it and pull it across a surface? How about reaching overhead to dust things? What about sweeping or vacuuming? Are these a problem?
Remember, as I have said before, the Social Security Administration is not familiar with your day to day activities. So, if you don’t do an effective job of educating them about your situation, they will not know.
Daily activity tips: How do you cook??
I am sure you are probably telling yourself that this is a dumb question. It is probably a dumber question when you are applying for disability benefits. However, it’s important to remember that “HOW” you perform your daily activities may have a bearing on what you say you can or can’t do. Most of us probably don’t time or even pay attention to how long it takes for you to do certain things. But, think about it like this for a moment:
- What kind of meals do you prepare? It’s easy to blow off this question but think about it. If you are preparing microwave meals, is there a reason why you prepare these types of meals.
- How do you prepare your meals? Can you make a meal and stand the entire time? Do you need help making particular meals that you used to make on your own?
- What types of meals do you NO LONGER make? If you are big cooker or baker, why don’t you make certain types of meals? Are the pots and pan too heavy? Do you have a habit of leaving the stove on? Does the sitting or standing in the kitchen hurt you in any away? Do you forget certain things or ingredients?
Remember, when you are disabled, you learn how to accommodate your conditions. These conditions become a part of your ‘new normal’. However, you used to do things differently before your condition affected you. The Social Security Administration does not live with you 24/7 so if you don’t educate them about your condition, they will not know.
A few years ago, I answered this question in a video.
When you are applying for disability benefits, you constantly hear people saying:
“My doctor won’t fill out a form.”
“My doctor won’t write a statement.”
“My doctor won’t say I’m disabled.”
Yes, I know it gets frustrating. It’s even more frustrating due to the fact that the Social Security Administration stresses the importance of relying on medical records in order to prove you are disabled. So what do you in this situation? How do you deal with a doctor who won’t say you’re disabled?
Here’s a few things to consider:
1) The doctor is not obligated to say you’re disabled. The doctor is not obligated to fill out forms. The doctor is not obligated to write a statement for you. The only thing the doctor is obligated to do is to treat you for your condition.
2) The limitations are more important than the statement. Any doctor can say you’re disabled but if the records don’t provide the basis for how the doctor reaches this conclusion, the statement may not be that helpful. In other words, you should care more about what the doctor says you can or cannot do as opposed to saying you’re disabled.
3) Social Security Administration determines if you are disabled. Not the doctor. The doctor’s medical records should support your medical condition. The treatment, testing, evaluation, and treatment plan should support your claim you are disabled.
4) You doctor may say you are not disabled. What are you going to do then? You have been stressing your doctor about writing a statement and then ‘BOOM’, they put a statement in your file that says they don’t believe you are not disabled. Now what?
The important part of the process is the fact you are getting medical treatment. Don’t stress if your doctor won’t say you are or are not disability. Just make sure they are actively documenting your conditions and giving you the best care possible.