Monday, April 28, 2014

The Three Pillars of a Social Security Disability Case

In my "other life" as a non social security disability lawyer I am reading "The Three Pillars of Zen" by Roshi Philip Kapleau. Last week, as I finished preparing a claimant for her upcoming hearing and went back home to catch up with some reading, I decided that the title of this week's blog title will be "The Three Pillars of a Social Security Disability Case".  It occurred to me that claimants need straight forward guidance when preparing for their cases.  I believe that every social security disability claimant must focus on three basic aspects or "pillars" in order to win benefits.  Unfortunately, claimants spend too much time wandering around the complicated maze of social security disability law and fail to focus on the most important points needed to succeed.

Here are the three most important areas that a claimant must focus on in order to be able to present a winning case: 1.  Work History and Skills Acquired, 2.  Daily Activities and, 3.  An estimate of Your Limitations Based on Medical Findings.   

A large number of claimants claimants who call my office looking for help are unable to provide me with much information in these three areas.  Most callers seem to be overly concerned about their specific medical condition and their diagnosis.  The actual medical diagnosis not as important as most people think.  This might sound shocking but as long as the claimant is: receiving adequate medical care, follows up with all medical conditions and takes the prescribed treatment; he or she should not have to worry too much about the medical side of the case.  

I believe that claimants would have a lot more success in their cases and would be able to obtain better legal services, if they focused more in these three areas than in any other aspects of their cases.  Here is a brief explanation of each one of these three areas or pillars:      

1.  Provide Your Work History and Skills Acquired:  Social Security looks at the jobs that a claimant performed in the 15 years prior to the time when he or she became disabled.  For this reason, it is essential for all claimants to remember all the jobs held during this period of time.  Claimants who cannot remember what jobs they held during this period of time usually make very bad witnesses.  What is important is the nature of the work performed, not its actual title or the name of the company where it was performed.  Be prepared to describe the specific duties performed with specific emphasis on the physical requirements of the job.  For example, be prepared to answer questions such as whether the job was performed standing up, sitting down and whether it required any lifting of heavy objects.  Claimants will also be required to provide estimates such as the highest weight lifted and the number of hours that the claimant was required to stand or walk.  Also, a claimant must be ready to state the highest grade completed and whether he or she received any specialized training.      

2.  State Your Daily Activities:  Social Security places a lot of emphasis on the daily activities engaged in by claimants.  Based on a claimant's daily activities, social security will infer whether a person is capable of working or not.  If a person states that he or she is able to perform all major house chores without any problems, it is very unlikely that social security will grant him or her disability benefits.  Also, keep in mind that the ability to do activities which are very demanding physically are a clear indication that the claimant is able to work.  Therefore, if a claimant is able to do yard work, take care of children throughout most of the day and go on far way vacations, he or she is probably not disabled.

3.  Estimate Your Limitations Based on Medical Findings:  Social Security needs to know your physical and mental limitations.  Therefore, a good claimant must be able to provide estimates in these areas.  For example, a claimant must be able to provide estimates such as: how far he or she can walk or stand or, how long can he or she concentrate.  In order to win the case, these estimates must be consistent with the medical record and the doctors' opinions.