Factors That Make a Strong SSD Claim
12 Factors That Make a Strong Social Security Disability Claim
In 2017, our clients won 87% of their Social Security cases. Contrast this with the national average of claimants only winning approximately 43% of their cases at the hearing level. The year before, our clients won 91% of the time, so 2017 wasn’t a fluke. What makes the difference? We screen our cases carefully considering the factors below and only take the cases we believe have a good chance of winning. Actually winning the case still takes a lot of work in developing the medical evidence, writing a persuasive brief and presenting the case well; but if the frame-work is in place you will win a high percentage of the time. Also, the ALJs know we screen our cases, and I tend to think we get the benefit of the doubt on close cases as a result. Below are the primary factors we consider.
- Solid Work History. If you have a steady work history, this can really help your disability case. I have heard numerous ALJs comment about what good, steady workers my clients were prior to their disability. If a client demonstrated a good work-ethic over the last 15 years or more, it goes along way with most ALJs. The reasoning goes, this person has always been a worker, and they would still be working if they were able to do so. This is especially true with higher wage-earners. Conversely, a spotty, gap-filled work record will result in greater scrutiny by the ALJ.
- Regular Medical Care. It is critically important that a claimant get consistent medical care. That can be challenging if the claimant is not on workers compensation, doesn’t have a spouse with group coverage, doesn’t have minor children in the household making the parent eligible for some form of Medicaid, or otherwise having a way to pay for medical care. However, sometimes we are able to direct claimants to free or low- cost medical care. Even frequent trips to the ER are better than a claimant receiving no medical care. In the minds of many ALJs a lack of medical care is equated with a lack of a serious medical impairment justifying disability.
- Supportive Treating Physicians. One of the first questions we ask potential clients is whether their treating physician is supportive of their claim. Sometimes the doctor has already written a letter indicating their opinion that the claimant is disabled. While such conclusory statements are usually given little weight by the SSA, we can build on that opinion. We will have the doctor complete a form, often customized for the particulate medical condition. If the doctor has treated the claimant for an extended period of time and/or is a specialist and their treatment notes are consistent with their opinion, the ALJ will likely give the opinions considerable weight in their decision.
- Positive Consultative Examinations. The SSA will often send claimants for a one-time evaluation with a doctor the SSA selects. This is referred to as a consultative examination. Often, their reports are not supportive of the disability claim. However, when they are supportive it is a very good thing. Even when they are not supportive of the claim a good lawyer may be able to help you overcome the negative effects of the evaluation. The SSA’s rules say generally the opinions of a consultative examination are not supposed to be given as much weight as the opinions of your treating physicians, who have been providing ongoing medical care, thus giving them a better opportunity to evaluate your medical conditions.
- Age. There is no set age threshold which must be met before you are eligible for Social Security disability benefits. However, as a general rule, the older you are the easier it is to qualify. This is especially true if you are 50 years old, or older. Claimants from age 50-54 are considered approaching advanced age. Under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (Grids), if you are limited to a sit-down job, cannot lift over 10 pounds frequently, cannot perform your past work, and have no transferable skills to a sit-down (sedentary job) you will likely qualify for disability. At age 55, if you are limited to what is considered light work (lifting no more than 20 pounds) cannot perform past work and have no transferrable skills, you will likely qualify for disability. While being older is a positive factor in qualifying for disability, a person with a serious medical condition which prevents them from performing any type work on a regular, full-time basis can win their case (even in their 20’s).
- Surgeries. If you have undergone serious surgeries, such neck or back surgery, your chances of winning your case are increased. Many ALJs will presume about 6 months of disability will naturally follow a spinal surgery. So, multiple surgeries, which have failed to provide significant relief from pain, will be even more persuasive. Cases involving non-surgical spine conditions are more difficult to win, unless there is well-documents pain management with consistently high pain scores, and other invasive procedures, such as injections, nerve ablations or spinal cord stimulators.
- Handicapped Parking Permits. If your treating physician has completed paperwork recommending a handicapped parking permit, we submit that paperwork or at least a copy of the handicapped parking placard into the record. The longer you have had the permit, the better. And a permanent permit is better than a temporary one. If a claimant does not have one, if their medical condition does affect their ability to walk and stand, we suggest claimants ask if their physician would fill out the paperwork for a handicapped parking permit. Handicapped parking permits which are issued in Georgia for these conditions are particularly helpful: conditions which limit your ability to walk 200 feet without stopping to rest; cannot walk without the assistance from a brace, cane, crutch, another person, a prosthetic device, a wheelchair, or other assistive device; has certain levels of lung disease; uses portable oxygen; has a cardiac condition at level III or IV according to the AMA; or is severely limited in their ability to walk due to an arthritic, neurological, or an orthopaedic condition. See OCGA Sec. 24-9-101.
- Assistive Devices. When your impairments require the assistive devices listed above, regardless of whether you have a handicapped parking permit, this strengthens your disability claim. Other assistive devices which help are the use of motorized wheelchairs, motorized carts at grocery stores and Walmart, mobility scooters, lift chairs and stair lift systems.
- Medications. The consistent use of strong, narcotic pain medications can be evidence supporting a finding of moderately severe levels of pain resulting in disability. Other medications which have side-effects of drowsiness, dizziness, or impairment of the ability to maintain attention, concentration and focus on a consistent basis can also support a finding of disability.
- Frequent Hospitalizations. A history of frequent hospitalizations for conditions such as mental health issues, cardiac issues, lung problems, cancer treatments, or diabetes can strengthen a disability claim. The greater the frequency and longer the duration of those hospitalizations increase the likelihood of a favorable disability decision.
- Credible Witnesses. The most important witness in any disability case is the claimant. Your presentation at the hearing must be consistent with your allegations and treatment records. If you say you cannot sit for more than 15 minutes at a time, but remain seated through the entire 45 minute hearing, your contentions are not going to be believed. If you say you cannot stay focused, concentrate and stay on task, but have no hesitation or difficulty answering questions you probably will not be found credible. If your answers to the ALJ’s questions are inconsistent with the forms you completed, this can cost you your case. Your overall likability is another intangible in the credibility equation. Sometimes, when the claimant has problems telling their story, or there is a friend or family member who is a compelling witness we will have them testify at the hearing as well, and if they are credible it can make the case.
- Certain Occupations. In our experience, law enforcement, firemen or military personnel (especially wounded warriors) tend to be viewed favorably by ALJs. Those who go to war for us, serve, protect and pull people from burning buildings are owed a debt of gratitude from us all. It is still necessary to prove a serious medical condition, but claimants from these occupations tend to get the benefit of the doubt in close cases.
If you or a loved one has a serious medical condition which keeps you from being able to work, you may need the help of a qualified, experienced Social Security disability attorney to fight for you and get you the compensation you deserve. At Murphy & Garner, LLC, our Social Security disability lawyers have years of experience representing people before the Social Security Administration and are here to help you. We can guide you through all the rules and regulations of the Social Security disability claim process. We can help you get medical care available, gather the necessary supporting medical documentation and present your present your case in a compelling manner to the Social Security Administration.
The attorneys at Murphy & Garner, LLC offer free consultations for disabled individuals seeking Social Security disability benefits. We are located at 202 Carrollton Street, Suite 108, Bremen, Georgia 30110. To set up your appointment, call (678) 563-1584 today or visit us online at www.murphyandgarner.com.
Disclosure: All cases are different and there is no guarantee of victory, so the mere fact we had an 87% approval rate in 2017 does not mean your particular case has an 87% chance of success. However, if we agree to be your representative, you can count on the fact we believe you are disabled, and we will do our very best to see that the Judge sees it that way as well.