November 2014

5 tips on filling out the application for Social Security Disability

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Preparing with a Chicago Social Security attorney

Mistakes on Social Security Disability applications often lead to delays or claim denials, as any Chicago Social Security attorney knows. In 2010, over 30 percent of applications were denied for technical reasons, according to the Social Security Administration. People pursuing SSD benefits in Illinois often benefit from seeking legal assistance to complete their applications. However, applicants should also keep the following tips in mind.

Providing accurate information

Nothing guarantees SSD claim approval, but a few factors can improve the likelihood of a claim being successful. Applicants should make sure to do the following when completing their applications:

  • Include all impairments. Many people may feel ashamed of mental conditions or believe minor impairments are irrelevant. However, if the SSA evaluates an individual’s Residual Functional Capacity, the inclusion of more impairing conditions increases the odds of the person receiving a medical vocational allowance.
  • Provide full contact information. The SSA can obtain medical records more quickly if the applicant lists the names, phone numbers and addresses of treating physicians and care facilities. If the SSA cannot easily reach an applicant or a medical source, the claim may be denied.
  • Give detailed information in the work activity section. Many applicants focus mainly on documenting their impairments, but the SSA also uses employment information to determine whether an applicant can resume any past jobs. Vague information may result in a determination that the applicant is ineligible for SSD benefits because he or she can work gainfully.
  • Establish the correct onset date. Onset date determines whether a person is entitled to back pay. Unfortunately, determining when a gradual-onset condition became disabling can be difficult. Applicants should review their medical records and talk with people close to them to identify an accurate date.
  • Avoid broad or vague statements. Applicants should describe symptoms, daily limitations and work history in detail. Medical records and job titles usually do not provide enough insight to support an SSA decision, so applicants should offer extensive information to back up their claims.

During every part of the application, applicants should focus on accuracy. Exaggeration can lead to a loss of credibility, while understatements can lead to claim denial.

Additional application steps

When filing the SSD claim, applicants should also submit their medical records. This ensures that the SSA has accurate, complete information to evaluate. It may also prevent delays in the claim decision process.

Applicants should additionally follow up with the SSA on the status of the application. People who applied online or mailed in their applications should always verify that the SSA received the necessary documents. This measure can also help reduce unnecessary delays.

SSA rules concerning addiction and disability benefits


Substance use does not preclude benefits

Over 17 million Americans abuse alcohol, according to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence. Another 20 million have taken illegal drugs in the past month. Sadly, many Illinois residents struggle with both substance use and disabling conditions. These people often believe they cannot qualify for Social Security Disability benefits. However, as any attorney Social Security can explain, substance use does not always prevent a person from collecting benefits.

Material factors

The use of various substances can affect a person’s disability claim. In addition to illicit drugs, the Social Security Administration may consider prescription drugs taken without medical cause. When evaluating claims involving substance use, the SSA must determine whether the substance use is a material factor contributing to the disability. To do so, the SSA evaluates the following variables:

  • Whether drug or alcohol use is the person’s only impairment. Benefits are not awarded if a person does not suffer from other disabling conditions.
  • Whether the substance use affects the person’s other impairments. Substance use may be considered a material factor if it worsens or contributes to the impairments.
  • Whether the combined effects of the substance abuse and impairments render the person disabled. If the person’s disabling medical condition would not be disabling in the absence of substance abuse, the person does not qualify for benefits.

The SSA can only consider how current substance use affects a person’s impairments. Past substance use cannot count against an SSD applicant. For example, if someone who uses alcohol develops liver damage, the way past alcohol use contributed to the condition cannot be taken into account. The SSA can only weigh the impact of ongoing alcohol use.

Considerations for applicants

Drug or alcohol use can complicate the disability evaluation process for various conditions. For example, understanding how substance use impacts mental illnesses, such as depression, can be difficult. Claimants should have a psychologist or psychiatrist describe in writing how the condition would affect the individual in the absence of substance use.

When evaluating claims, the SSA must project how severe a condition would be without substance use. These projections are not always accurate. Periods of sobriety can strengthen an applicant’s claim, as the effects of the impairment can be observed without the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The SSA may consider periods as short as 30 days as evidence. During these periods, it is important for the applicant to seek medical treatment and establish a record of the impairment and its effects.

SSD applicants should always provide honest information about their substance use. Credibility is decisive in disability claims, since many of an applicant’s symptoms and functional limitations may be self-reported. Applicants caught concealing substance abuse may lose needed credibility.